Leading UK retailer doubles online sales with Akamai

“We’re a retailer and needed to be free to focus on our core business – and Akamai enables us to do this.”

Paul Doeman , Head of Commerce , Office

The Situation

Office is one of the UK’s leading footwear retailers, with over 107 outlets in the UK, Ireland and the US in addition to a thriving mail order and online business. Since its inception in 1981 Office has gained a reputation for originality in its approach to shoe retailing – most recently winning the industry’s prestigious Draper’s Women’s Footwear Retailer of the Year 2009 award. Its pioneering retail concepts include Offspring, inspired by the sports footwear industry, and the Poste and Poste Mistress men’s and women’s boutique designer shoe stores which boast a host of celebrity clients.

The Challenge

As a leading retailer in its market, living up to the expectations of online customers is a key requirement for Office. However, in August 2008 the Office website experienced a major outage due to the volume of visitors responding to a promotional email sent by the company. It was clear that the fixed capacity of its existing UK Internet Service Provider (ISP) was hindering the web performance of the Office website during periods of high demand.

“With this major outage we realised our current website hosting and service was inhibiting the success of our online business so we took the decision to search for an alternative,” explained Paul Doeman, Head of eCommerce at Office.

Alongside maintaining the brand’s reputation for differentiated customer service, Office needed to be confident that website performance and reliability could be maintained as it pursued plans to grow its online business, powered by online promotions, advertising and e-mail marketing programmes that can generate up to 25,000 visitors to its website in extremely short timeframes.

Doeman outlined the business priorities under consideration; “We wanted to avoid having to make direct purchases in infrastructure or equipment as we didn’t want to have to develop an expensive in-house cost centre to support this. So we decided to look at content delivery (CDN) providers and other service-based options.”

The Goal

Alongside delivering the seamless web experience today’s consumers expect, Office needs to drive its online strategy forward with confidence by achieving:

  • A high performance website, even during peak Internet traffic periods
  • Optimised page download speeds, regardless of where users were located
  • Delivery of transactional data in real-time to website visitors
  • Instant cost-effective scalability
  • Eradication of the need for costly infrastructure investment

Having examined the various options, Office and Foresite e-Business Solutions – a UK-based consultancy and solutions provider used by Office to manage its website and infrastructure – made the decision to switch to Akamai.

Why Akamai

Increased Capacity and Performance

The Office website went live with Akamai in November 2008, in time for the important pre-Christmas trading period. The results, according to Doe- man, were almost instantaneous; “We saw an immediate 20% increase in online orders once we went live with Akamai. This suggests that previously customers were, at certain times, leaving our website or were unable to complete a transaction, due to high traffic levels.”

Running on Akamai’s globally-distributed content delivery network (CDN) of more than 42,000 deployed servers in over 1,000 networks across 70 countries, Akamai’s Dynamic Site Accelerator solution accelerates and secures the de- livery of dynamically-assembled Web sites to consumers without requiring costly IT build-outs. In addition, the cloud services solution allows transactional data to be delivered in real-time to site visitors, something that’s critically important for Office which operates a rich media website with content and pricing updated on an hourly basis.

As Doeman confirmed, delivering a consistent web experience immediately reduced abandonment rates and stimulated browse-to-purchase behaviours; “We sailed through the Christmas 2008 period, one of our busiest times of the year, with no performance issues or outages despite record transactions and visitor numbers to our website. Overall we saw a fourfold increase in business on a day-to-day basis in comparison to the previous year’s trading in the same period, with no effect on the availability of the site.”

Instant On-Demand Scalability

Alongside achieving significant improvement in website performance for its UK and US customers, Office now has the scalability it needs to grow its online promotions with confidence.

“Akamai gives us almost bottomless scalability – as a result we’ve been able to pursue an aggressive campaign programme to stimulate traffic to our website, in the knowledge that provisioning for capacity is no longer an operational issue” stated Doeman.

Alongside ramping up the volume of customer email marketing and promotional programmes, Office has recently launched a new online UK trade network affiliate programme to enable links to its website from search engines, blogs and other sites, confident that the performance of the website is consistent and resilient enough to cope with the increased visitor exposure.

Doeman confirmed, “Akamai has provided the springboard we needed to pursue an aggressive online business strategy and we are already well on target – revenues are doubling week-on-week and this year online sales will equate to 10% of overall revenue.”

Reduced Infrastructure Cost and Burden

With more than 80% of all website requests now served entirely from the Akamai content delivery network, Office has been able to reduce the amount of servers, network infrastructure and bandwidth required to support its website, reducing its overall costs in this arena by 40%.

“We’re no longer committed to maintaining a large hosting environment and the associated support liability this entails,” explained Doeman. “We’re a retailer and needed to be free to focus on our core business – and Akamai enables us to do this.”

Office achieved this significant reduction in hardware investment, while simultaneously increasing the reach and scope of its web presence with little administrative burden placed on in-house teams. “Akamai’s monitoring and management tools were vastly superior to the other providers we evaluated and provide us with meaningful information on website utilisation that enables us to manage the website with ease,” said Doeman.

Office has been able to refine the way it delivers content to servers to reduce overall loading whilst enhancing the web performance of online tools that are firm favourites with visitors – like its quick search tool – and populating the site with additional rich content that’s proved a winner with visitors and better showcases products.

Looking to the future, Doeman is confident that basing its online business strategy on Akamai is the way forward; “Making the switch to Akamai has positioned us perfectly to expand our online business with ease and makes the development of our overseas business far more viable. We are particularly keen on the way that Akamai is helping many US footwear retailers with online sales kiosks in retail outlets and we see this as being part of our longer term strategy.”

About Office

Established in 1981, Office currently retails from 64 stand-alone sites throughout the UK and Eire; 8 Offspring stores and concessions; 9 Poste & Poste Mistress locations plus 25 Topshop & House of Fraser concessions in addition to a thriving mail order and world-wide Web site business – Office remains a firm favourite with the fashion pack. Ever since its inception, Office has gained a reputation for originality in its approach to shoe retailing. Uninhibited by the creative constraints imposed by the larger multiples, Office has always managed to effectively marry originality to commerciality in both product and store design. Both the men’s and women’s ranges encompass the whole style spectrum, from designer to sports. Own label designs offer affordable yet directional fashion, reflecting the massive legacy of a company founded on the London style. Visit