This isn't your average Shopify review. This one involves knickers, skivvies, panties, boxers, briefs, bras, thongs and slings.
If reading any of these words cause you to suddenly start fanning yourself while blushing profusely and declaring, “The colonel will hear about this impropriety!”, well, you may want to pick another blog post. Also, you may be wrapped a bit too tight for the Internet. Or modern life in general.
‘Cause we’re talking underwear. Cheap Undies, in fact. The kind sold by our good friend, Edward Upton of Whoa Media. Cheapundies.com is a daily deal site and the place to pick up, well, cheap underwear. Over one million unique visitors buy 25,000 pairs of underwear each month. That’s a lot of laundry (or laundry avoided if you’re a one-wear-and-done kind of person).
Ed was an office neighbor of ours, and given the fact that every ByteJam male’s emotional growth ground to a halt at 13 years of age, we were all fascinated with his business models. They were all very nice and quite lovely.
Also his business model. A daily deal site for underwear. “Brilliant”, we said and we set out together to build a system to service America’s insatiable demand for new unmentionables.
Ed was hot off of a success with a previous company with a similar model, called NuWear. NuWear also sold underwear, but it was a tad more to the wild side. Also, the site was written in Magento which is the same system that Satan uses to unload excess soul inventory. He knew he didn’t want Magento for his new site and we knew that we’d choose seppuku over it as well. (Want to know why? Ask us).
We had a few Shopify sites under our belt at this point and Ed was a fan as well, having done an inordinate amount of research, looking at Volusion, Bigcommerce and others, as well as a complete custom build. We knew that this system would require extensive use of the Shopify API, both to manage the daily deals as well as to interface with the inventory management and order fulfillment system we were also building as part of this project. Shopify was up to the task so we jumped in with both feet.
Daily Deals Automation
This was the easy part, the system to manage and rotate the daily deals automatically. Via a CMS tool, Ed and his team can load up deals and their associated products well in advance. Using Shopify’s Collections data construct, the system automatically posts the new deal and archives the old ones at the appropriate time. Deals can be loaded days or even weeks in advance, and changing deals is simple. Various triggers handle events such as low or no inventory, taking pre-programmed steps to address the issue without operator intervention.
Inventory Management and Order Fulfillment
Shopify has a nice set of management tools and they’re adding new features all of the time. However, it doesn’t have a robust order fulfillment or inventory management system as part of the core offering. There are many extensions to Shopify that provide this functionality, but they are built to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Hence, they tend to have a lot of unneeded functionality and a fairly rigid process. Ed ran through them all and didn’t find one that really matched up with the way he and his team wanted to work.
At the core of this business is order volume. Lots and lots of orders. Also, lots and lots of inventory. Most orders are for one or two items, and given the pricing on the daily deals, the orders need to be processed very quickly with a minimum of fuss. So with that in mind, here’s what we put together.
Bins and Totes, Bins and Totes
The model for the system is simple. Inventory is assigned to, and placed in, bins. Each bin has a unique number and a QR code. As inventory is received, it’s scanned in and placed in the appropriate bin. Totes are used for pulling orders. They’re also numbered. Each new order is assigned to a tote and the order picker walks through the warehouse, pulling product and placing it in the tote. Once the order is finished, the tote is placed on a roller ramp, heading down to final processing and shipping.
iTouch Me In The Morning
The driver for all of this is a handheld device based on an Apple iPod Touch. It’s a stock device with a slip case that houses a laser barcode scanner. Through the standard Safari browser, the worker logs into the system and selects the job they want to perform, usually either pulling orders or checking in inventory. When pulling the orders, the iPod prompts the worker to go to the appropriate bin to grab the next item in the order. A quick scan of the item to check it in, and the prompt changes to the next item. Once the order has been pulled, the tote is placed on the conveyor and the worker grabs another tote.
The Little Raspberry Pi That Could
At the bottom of the ramp is a Raspberry Pi computer. In case you don’t know, these are very inexpensive Linux computers that can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks. This Pi in particular watches for totes coming down the ramp and then prints out an invoice as it passes and drops it into the tote, along with the sexy, sexy underwear.
Wrapping It All Up
At the final station, a special printer talks to the system, makes a shout out to UPS for the shipping info, and then prints the address and postage right on the bag. The tote gets dumped into the bag, the bag gets sealed and then some lucky punter gets new togs to cover their naughty bits or titillate their partner.
The upshot is a site that’s been wildly successful. Ed and his team have even been able to roll out their own line of underwear. Using Shopify nicely sidesteps all of the effort required to maintain Payment Card Industry - Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) but still lets us craft a unique site with loads of custom functionality. Ed has a system that works exactly the way he wants it to work, without the investment of a ground-up bespoke solution.