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ERP solution helps online sports retailer Fanatics respond to customer demand
Fanatics' adoption of a new ERP solution helps the company cater better to its customers.

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Retail at its core is a pretty straightforward industry. Regardless of a retailer's vertical, sales channel(s), customer base, or any other distinguishing characteristic, at the end of the day the goal is pretty much the same. Jay Omdahl, VP enterprise resource planning for online sports merchandise retailer Fanatics, sums it up succinctly: "Get the best product at the right time to the right place."

However, as most retailers know, achieving that straightforward goal can be a very complicated process. And when a retailer's business model includes supporting the e-commerce operations of six major professional sports leagues, major sports media brands such as ESPN and NBC Sports, and more than 200 professional and collegiate teams, as well as its own stores and e-commerce site, giving customers what they want when and where they want it suddenly becomes even more of a potential challenge.

This is the enviable but tricky situation Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fanatics deals with every day. From its humble beginnings in the mid-1990s as a small store in a Jacksonville mall specializing in merchandise relating to the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, Fanatics has ballooned into an online giant. Along with its own e-commerce site, it supports the back-end operations of numerous sports entities' websites.

Since its founding, Fanatics had relied on a RetailPro ERP system. However, in 2008, the company realized that its evolution into an omnichannel retail entity that also managed back-end ERP activities for numerous third parties meant an upgrade in ERP functionality would be needed.

"We needed the ability to look at how to plan, present and control products to a vast array of customers," Omdahl explained.

After a careful review of enterprise retail solutions from various companies, Fanatics decided to implement Microsoft ERP technology. An advantage was that the retailer was already using other Microsoft tools, such as Excel, Word, Windows, SharePoint and Outlook.

"It's technology people see multiple times a day," Omdahl said. "It all fits together pretty nicely."

Furthermore, Fanatics wanted to "make a change and not a re-change" on its new ERP platform, meaning the company sought scalability, extensibility and the ability to diversify the solutions it would run on the platform as the business grew and changed.

In 2009, Microsoft worked with IT project consulting firm Junction Solutions to build a prototype of a platform based on Microsoft Dynamics AX retail ERP solutions, such as finance, AP, AR, and inventory planning and forecasting. Omdahl said the platform supports "typical ERP tasks," including management of business processes, data and transactions, and Fanatics has steadily expanded the platform's functionality as the business has continued growing in the past few years.

According to Omdahl, Fanatics is receiving several specific benefits in getting customers the products they want, when and where they want them, as a result of employing Microsoft Dynamics AX solutions.

"It's easier to make website changes and put them in a container and then build on those changes inside the container with rare 'ripple effects' on other parts of the site," he added. "We were also able to implement a product zoom feature, which required high-resolution product photos as pixelated photos don't sell well."

Omdahl said successfully enacting the product zoom feature required creating a lot of "pictures, data, flags and settings in the right time and right place" on both the front and back ends, which Dynamics AX allowed Fanatics to accomplish with minimum fuss. Other customer-facing omnichannel benefits include the ability to email customers about the brands and products they are interested in (on an opt-in, cookie-based basis) and a "user-friendly, intuitive" online experience.

"Customer satisfaction scores are going up all the time," Omdahl added.

Internally, Fanatics employees also find the ERP system intuitive to use, and Dynamics' natural interface with a common underlying SQL server database foundation further eases making front- and back-end site changes when necessary. Based on its success with Dynamics AX ERP solutions, the online retailer is considering implementing sales and marketing solutions from the Dynamics CRM product line in the future.

Ultimately, Fanatics is achieving the basic end goal it set out to accomplish when it first investigated Dynamics AX technology five years ago.

"Customer experience management comes up in conversation around here several times a day," Omdahl noted. "We want to give customers the products they want, not the products they'll return."

© 2014