Communication Translates to Profits

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Unlike many companies that use their Web sites to maintain contact with their business customers or consumers, Bernina USA uses its Web site as its primary corporate communications tool for both dealers and customers. This has presented both a unique challenge and a host of opportunities. Bernina USA is the distribution arm of Swiss sewing machine and computer manufacturer Fritz Gegauf. Bernina decided in 2000 that it needed to increase traffic to its network of dealers to grow sales. Although the company does not sell directly to consumers, it has used the Internet to communicate with customers and prospects since 1996. But to reach its sales goals Bernina executives felt it necessary to improve its Web site's infrastructure and enhance the presentation of its content, then use it to beef up the company's relationship with partners and customers. "We wanted FAQs. We wanted interactive chats and bulletin boards. We wanted a dealer locator. We wanted email campaign capabilities and improved traffic tracking. And we needed to deliver and manage content more effectively and efficiently. In short, we wanted it all," says Sylvain Bergeron, Bernina's Internet manager. To have it all Bernina selected Blue Martini Software's Blue Martini Marketing and Blue Martini Commerce for the new site. Using the Blue Martini tools would help to offer both customers and partners a consistent experience when looking for new products, finding information about upcoming events, or locating certified dealerships to service their Bernina machines. The redesign, which was completed in August 2001, provides current information about products and regular updates about merchandising promotions; maintains an interactive dealer-locator tool that differentiates premier dealers in a consumer's region; offers regular users a registered account feature to save personal information; saves product selections for future visits and offers a wish-list feature for gift-giving; and presents value-added content about sewing events, techniques, patterns, accessories, and news. The company's Web site has seen a traffic increase of 15 percent since it was launched. Approximately 120,000 visitors and 60,000 unique visitors are coming to the site every month. Bergeron would not give the exact cost of the project, but did say that is was "several million dollars"--a lot for a $100 million company. However, he says it was "a must do" and well worth the initial costs, which will be recouped in 18 months if the Web site increases sales just 1 percent, as it is currently on track to do. For Bernina, its initial success is just the beginning. This past August the company launched a dealer extranet that lets its dealers get product, pricing, and billing information. The new extranet give dealers the ability to set selective access to the system, which means that owners can see all information, while perhaps teachers or instructors are given only product information. While this may be a productivity boon for dealers, it is a significant cost savings for Bernina. The company no longer needs to mail "the Big Bernina Envelope," a package of critical information that was often slow to get to dealers and costly to send. Bernina plans to add transactional capabilities such as ordering processing and order tracking to the dealer system next year, after the company completes the update of its ERP and back-end systems, including order processing and financial systems. The company is currently deploying Blue Martini Marketing to develop an improved profile of the site's visitors and target them for future email campaigns, including customer promotions and event email alerts. Bernina can now capture the email addresses of all types of visitors and expects to grow its email list exponentially in a short period of time. The company is also planning to expand the existing functionalities on its Web site, like adding such user features as a dealer catalog. In addition Bernina will be adding Cognos for business intelligence and will be performing analysis on the data the company has been collecting since the launch of the revamped site in 2001. "We want to close the loop and get much better at knowing and serving our customers," Bergeron says. --Lisa Picarille
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