How Birkenstock went D2C with eCommerce

A 200-year-old business, Birkenstock has always sold its famous sandals and shoes wholesale, but two years ago the brand decided it wanted to start selling direct to its consumers.

“We started with 0% B2C activities and we were a 100% B2B business, with no connection to our end customers at all,” said Oliver Hoeck, project lead for global rollout, noting how Birkenstock started with no digital team or software, just a “clear vision” of where to take the business.

Building a new digital team

“The speed of roll out was the most important target,” said Hoeck, speaking at the Salesforce Xchange event in Copenhagen last week. “We said we would never ever change the launch date and this was a sentence we stuck to and succeeded with all of the projects and roll outs.”

Birkenstock created a brand new digital team in Munich – 600 km away from its HQ in Cologne. This team had no experience of shoes, but were skilled in digital and many came from start-up companies.

“Munich isn’t a cheap city, but there are great talents in Europe and experienced employees – it was a very conscious decision not to go to HQ.”

Birkenstock built its digital team up to 45 over the last 18 months, with plans to expand this to 60 by the end of this year, with smaller teams in Asia and the US.

“If you want to go digital and be successful in the digital space, you have to change the company’s DNA and culture,” continued Hoeck. “The HQ company culture needed to change and that’s a very hard thing to do which takes years.”

Rolling out around the world

Working on the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform, Birkenstock partnered with a local integrator, Be Excellent, to scale its websites quickly and also chose Arvato for its European fulfilment strategy.

“Partner selection, to most people, doesn’t sound sexy, but it's a vital part of digital success,” he added.  

Once the partners were selected, Birkenstock launched its first D2C website in April 2016, choosing German-speaking Austria for a soft launch, followed by a hard launch in Germany a month later. Over the following months, the retailer launched websites in almost every European country, while tackling the US in November 2016.

“The US was a really hard launch to do because we did it parallel with the European launch, but it has a completely separate fulfilment infrastructure,” he described. “It was hard stuff to do and some of my wrinkles go back to that time.”

Birkenstock plans to go live in Japan in the coming weeks, with China and the Middle East also launching before the end of 2017 and South America soon after. “Some countries we will use cross-border shipments, others we will set up a completely new infrastructure in terms of fulfilment.”

Personalising for a varied fan base

The retailer is also using the Salesforce Marketing Cloud to improve its personalisation efforts and grow revenue by 10%, while substantially reducing work load.

Hoeck explained how the ‘Einstein’ artificial intelligence arm of the Salesforce platform was used to drill deeper into customer behaviour because the brand is received so differently in different countries, leading to a very varied fan base.

“In Germany we’re seen as a slippers company to some extent – people wear them at home, to BBQ and mow the lawn, but they’re worn by celebrities in the US, and in Asia it’s seen as a high fashion brand,” described Hoeck. “People love this brand very much, but it’s a diverse group of people who wear our shoes and to be successful we need to be relevant and person in our communications.”