The PipelinePros team recently had time to sit down with Ulta Beauty's Jesse Amerson, IT Director, E-Commerce to talk about their use of Oracle Commerce. The beauty retail giant opens up about their focus on web commerce and how they launched their virtual store.

Q: What problems did you want to solve with Oracle Commerce, and what benefits have you seen from an inventory, sales and operational perspective?
A: For background Ulta has run Oracle Commerce since 2007. Before that time we had tried two other marketing agency-sourced web storefront platforms, but neither of those were able to meet our needs. By the middle of the last decade, it was clear that Ulta’s E-commerce channel would be a significant contributor to overall sales, and we needed a platform that would allow us to build the customer experience we want, showcase our products and services our merchants envisioned, and support the growing traffic demand. With Oracle Commerce, we were able to meet all three objectives and tap into the deep technical talent pool supporting the best commerce platform available.
Our digital store is growing rapidly with a target to be 10 percent of enterprise sales within the next few years. As technology has evolved, we have extended it to other channels, such as consumer native apps and other revenue generating initiatives. It continues to be a platform we leverage for growth.

On the inventory side, we have the ability now to show our guest whether we have the item she wants in stock at the beginning of her purchase journey online — whether adding it to cart or browsing to see if it is available in a nearby store.

Operationally, we manage pricing, promotions, images and specific page-level content layouts using the Merchandising (BCC) and Experience Manager (XM) modules of the product. For us the content operation is not yet 100 percent plug-and-play but it’s close. Oracle’s vision for a multi-faceted platform that enables the core digital transaction flows out of the box, integrations with third-party platforms, content management capabilities and advanced merchandising capabilities is what makes it all work.

Q: What has been your upgrade journey and what version of Commerce are you running now?
A: We are currently running version 11.2 in production and are closely studying the recently released 11.3 version for a possible upgrade in the near future. When I began my career with Ulta, we were running version 2006 of then ATG, and we upgraded to 9.1, then 9.4, 10.1.2, 11.0 and finally 11.2. Our approach to upgrades includes balancing the inherent risk of early adoption with the clear advantages of staying current from a new feature standpoint, obtaining the best support, and of course leveraging the architectural improvements that come with newer versions. On that note, recent improvements to the REST services framework that ships with the product and time-based pricing are examples of framework and feature level changes that have helped us continue to gain additional value from our investment.

Q: Do you utilize System Integration (SI) partners and if so, why?
A: We do. Ulta uses a number of partners for scale, cost / location advantages (i.e. 24-hour development cycle with offshore team members), to tap into emerging development practices / design patterns our large scale partners have pioneered and implemented for other clients, as well as to tap into the innovations smaller, more nimble consultancies bring to the table. Our partner community allows us to “punch above our weight” by giving us the extra hands and brainpower to deliver far more for our business than might otherwise be possible without them.

Q: What would you consider the Ulta Beauty success story as it pertains to Oracle Commerce?
A: Significant success stories include 1) our migration to Endeca Guided Search (GS) as our on-site search platform and implementation of Endeca Experience Manager (XM); 2) our implementation of the REST services framework; and 3) flexibility of customizing the out-of-box framework for greater control of the guest experience. Endeca GS has enabled greater business control and higher performance for our search experience while Endeca XM has provided a rich framework for us to give our business partners much more control over the layout and content for specific pages on the site. Our adoption of the REST services framework to power our native apps as well as our single page application architecture for the website allows us to push new experiences and touchpoints out to our guests faster. Finally the flexibility of the framework has allowed us to program custom business logic to, for example, control how we merchandise a product based on inventory stock levels to drive a continually improving shopping experience over time.

Q: Does Ulta currently use Commerce Cloud or have plans to migrate? Why or Why not?
A: Ulta runs the on-premise install version of Commerce and not Oracle Commerce Cloud (OCC). We are very interested in OCC and are keeping a close eye on the development roadmap to determine when the cloud version is able to match the breadth of features and integration capabilities embedded in the on-premise version; the OCC product team is moving quickly in this direction. For now we are focused on enabling growth through scalability, extensive integrations, and more robust customization options to be able to market, merchandise and transact as our guest demands and the on-premise version is still best suited to this combination of requirements.

Q: Does Ulta currently host internally or externally? If so, who is your hosting partner?
A: We are hosted externally with Rackspace Hosting. Rackspace allows us to spend more time on merchandising our digital store, taking orders and offering post-sales support to our digital guests, by delivering the critical and highly specialized skill of infrastructure as a service.

About Ulta Beauty
ULTA Beauty is the largest beauty retailer in the United States and the premier beauty destination for cosmetics, fragrance, skin, hair care products and salon services. Since opening its first store 25 years ago, ULTA Beauty has grown to become the top national retailer providing All Things Beauty, All in One Place™. The Company offers more than 20,000 products from more than 500 well-established and emerging beauty brands across all categories and price points, including ULTA Beauty's own private label. ULTA Beauty also offers a full-service salon in every store featuring hair, skin and brow services. ULTA Beauty is recognized for its commitment to personalized service, fun and inviting stores and its industry-leading Ultamate Rewards loyalty program.

Customer Spotlight: Ulta Beauty