Energising eCommerce: QNET’s Digital Transformation
The eCommerce sector is expanding rapidly, and so are customers’ expectations of eStore functionality. QNET’s CIO and CTO have devised a plan to conquer the industry — and it is about to go live
"Changing a global platform is not a small initiative,” says Malcolm Chiu, the Chief Information Officer of Hong Kong-based direct selling titan QNET. In the rapidly-expanding world of eCommerce, user experience is a crucial factor in turning casual browsers into buyers. Chiu, and the firm’s Chief Technology Officer, Ivan Woo, have long understood the role of personalisation and agility in creating a dynamic eStore. Four years ago, they also realised that QNET’s existing legacy platform could not accommodate many of the features that customers were coming to expect from an online shop. In 2012, QNET set about the mammoth task of creating an entirely new Next Generation Platform (NGP) — which is due to launch this year.
“This is the largest IT project in the company’s history,” Chiu explains. “We had our entire platform built in-house about 10 years ago and we grew that platform to serve hundreds of countries and many languages.” However, as time went on, there proved to be some legacy issues with the firm’s original platform. “It was really imperative that we transform or migrate the platform to a much more modern and robust solution,” Chiu says.
QNET’s unique sales model and wide global reach requires a highly personalised web platform capable of producing detailed analytics. The company relies on teams of independent representatives (IRs) to sell its products to consumers in their communities. The IRs are then compensated based on the sales volume of their referrals and the revenue of the other IRs in their teams. Retail customers can only purchase QNET products if they are given access to a representative’s referrer ID.
“We sell many different kinds of products,” says Chiu. “From vacations all the way to cosmetics. And we have many networks — they build their business and target customers on different segments — so they have many different needs when they go back to the shop.”
Woo explains that QNET’s legacy platform hasn’t evolved as quickly as customer needs and expectations. “Our platform was created ten years ago, so at that time there was not as much social media and not much analytic information,” he says. “Basically, we built a platform that was highly customisable, but heavily dependent on IT. So down to a single price change or a single banner change, everything has to be done by IT.”
According to Woo, IT risked becoming a “bottleneck” for business growth at the organisation. One of the primary reasons for the creation of the NGP was to free QNET’s tech professionals from day-to-day web maintenance tasks and afford them more time to focus on development. The firm has partnered with web content management provider Sitecore for the creation of its new platform — which has more recently become known as Next Step for Sitecore (NS4S).
“Our second objective is to bring agility and scalability to a more modern eCommerce platform,” Woo explains. “With Sitecore technology this is very much achievable. They are one of the best in analytics and with their structure and mechanics we can easily scale up.”
With NS4S, QNET will also be able to more actively engage with the world of social media. At present, the firm makes use of platforms like Facebook and Instagram purely for social purposes and has not been able to convert these platforms to sales portals, but there are plans to expand promotion to a wider range of digital networks.
“We want to catch up,” Woo affirms. “All the things we talk about: digital transformation, social media engagement, mobile-friendliness, are features that our legacy platform lacked. With Sitecore solutions this is something that we can achieve.”
Chiu summarises the anticipated benefits of the NS4S platform using “three As” — attractive, agile and analytical. The company worked alongside a team of web designers to ensure that its new, customer-facing site is as visually enticing as possible. Secondly, QNET marketeers will be able to carry out a number of initiatives themselves, including promotions and product updates, with minimal reliance on IT intervention. The third expected advantage comes as the result of big data analytics. “The platform will allow us to collect valuable information about how customers engage with our sites,” the CIO says. “We will be able to get a lot of insights to help us determine what actions we need to engage customers more effectively.”
Development of the platform is expected to be completed in late October, with the help of Delaware|Digital, one of the most experienced partners on Sitecore technology. Pilot sites will launch in Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates in November. The two countries were selected because they are among the top performers in QNET’s two respective business models and what they refer to as world and local plans. The former involves transacting in US dollars, whereas the latter allows sellers to trade in local currency and be subject to local taxation. Business in Sri Lanka is conducted under the local plan model, and the island’s triple-language requirements make it an ideal place to gauge just how effective the new Sitecore capability translates.
“These are key markets for us,” Chiu says. “In the direct selling world, our hybrid distributor-consumers are also earning income and we have a high level of income-earning distributors in the UAE. And we have a very cohesive team in Sri Lanka. We can have more input in these two countries as we launch.”
QNET’s digital transformation isn’t solely limited to the new platform, either. It is a holistic revamp of the way the firm presents itself across multiple digital landscapes. Earlier in the project timeline, Woo supervised a significant data centre merge, which saw a 10-year-old data centre integrated with a more modern one at Hong Kong’s CyberPort site. In the process, some of the company’s ageing data equipment was replaced. Woo is also currently exploring the best ways to utilise cloud technology within the business.
“The programme has multiple facets,” explains Chiu. “We have the main eCommerce website and then we have the mobile site. We also run a commission engine where we distribute commissions to millions of distributors around the world on a weekly basis. There are a lot of elements to this digital transformation that we’re embarking on.”
Ultimately, Woo and Chiu hope the project will enhance how customers perceive and interact with QNET — but the duo has a larger goal in mind:
“We believe we will become a digital leader in this industry,” Chiu says. Malcolm Chiu has since been promoted to COO, a position from which he will continue to drive digital transformation into other areas of operations.