CBC upgrades its e-commerce effort

For an institution as recognized as CBC/Radio-Canada, building a new online shopping site not only had to be easy to navigate, it also had to represent the cultural brand.

The public broadcaster recently launched CBCshop.ca (or www.boutiqueradio-canada.ca in French). The new e-commerce site offers merchandise – books, DVDs, clothing, et cetera – based on CBC/Radio-Canada’s more popular shows, including Hockey Night in Canada and The Red Green show.

Aside from newer and affordable e-com technologies, the growth of high-speed Internet access has been major factor in rising e-commerce adoption. According to Statistics Canada, e-commerce has witnessed a slow but steady climb.

A recent report showed that both Canadian private and public sector online sales jumped 40 per cent to $19.1 billion, following a 27 per cent jump in 2002. The gains were driven by an increase in domestic sales of over $5.7 billion, according to StatsCan. Despite posting a large gain, online sales still accounted for less than one per cent of total operating revenues for private enterprises.

Being one of the most recognized brands in Canada, according to Toronto-based Alan MacNevin, CBC’s director of distribution and marketing, there is significant demand for its programming-related content.

The goal, MacNevin said, was to create an effective merchandizing strategy with a scalable online solution to promote the CBC brand. “CBC branding is fundamental,” MacNevin said. “The number one hurdle in getting people to engage with you online is probably trust in your brand and making sure that you’re actually working or shopping with the CBC.”

Getting to that point involved several requirements. Not only did the site need to be bilingual, it had to be easy to navigate and have the same look and feel as other e-commerce sites. Purchasing online should be dead simple for people to use, MacNevin said. “Functionality allows us to see what products are doing well and manage them appropriately.”

After exploring several options, the CBC decided to go with IT integrator Navantis Inc. As Jason Martin, head of strategic business with Navantis, noted, the situation was unique and was an opportunity to “bring a worldwide recognized brand online to market with a consolidated strategy from scratch.”

In general terms, the e-commerce route that CBC took could feasibly suit any large organization, Martin said. Prior to the upgrade, CBC did have a small online shopping site in place, but it proved ineffective in driving revenue.

Navantis assisted CBC/Radio-Canada through the design to deployment of the site. Built on Microsoft’s .Net framework, and using MS technologies Commerce Server and Microsoft Retail Management System, the new site is unique in that it’s a “bricks-and-clicks” implementation, Martin said, which means that the same warehouse system is supporting the point of sale, the Web site and the call centre.

The bilingual site offers the normal features, including cataloguing, shopping cart functions, checkout and profile management capabilities. Additional functionality is in electronic gift certificates; online product reviews and ratings; synonym-based searches; and a wish list, according to Martin.

Some of the site’s features, such as the “boutique” concept for the more popular programming, are designed to keep customers coming back.

Aside from using resources in-house to manage merchandise and maintain a consistent writing style and tone, the IT technology is managed externally, MacNevin said. Site management is maintained by Navantis and the actual site is hosted by Toronto-based Q9 Networks.

In creating a viable online shopping presence, the key is keeping it simple, MacNevin said. “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Customers are used to a certain process of going through a site.”

The site enables customers to now easily access, find and order a wide variety of products online, presents a cohesive brand, and generates new revenue for CBC/Radio-Canada, he added.

With the costs of implementing an e-commerce site coming down in recent years, the focus was on maintaining the brand, MacNevin said.

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