While intensifying competition has eliminated some retailers from the Finnish market and forced many others to scale back their store networks, some businesses are heading in the other direction. One of these is Carlson, which has created a business where the online store and its bricks-and-mortar sites complement and reinforce each other, rather than cannibalising each other’s sales.
Carlson can trace its beginnings back to 1859 in a hardware store in Kuopio. Today, the company has a chain of stores employing around 400 trade professionals, and the product range has expanded from hardware to home decoration and fashion. Carlson has a network of stores in Eastern Finland some sites in Jyväskylä and Greater Helsinki.
Building an online store on a solid foundation
In late 2017, Carlson and its sister company, Halonen, opened online stores. The timing was a result of the need to update Carlson’s backend systems, and the intention was to handle this properly before setting up an online store.
The original impetus for an online store was down to a change in consumer behaviour.
“Today, consumers want to look through the product range and prices before they decide to buy anything. Now that we have set up an online store, our entire product range, including the in-store availability, is at our customers’ fingertips,” says Kyösti Karhunen, Carlson’s CEO.
From the very beginning, it was clear that Carlson’s online store would not be a separate sales channel but that it would be a genuine part of a multichannel experience where the online store and the brick-and-mortar sites worked in close cooperation with each other. This is why the role of the brick-and-mortar stores was taken into consideration from the very beginning of the project in terms of how orders are picked and collected.
“When you are aiming to build a multichannel solution, the design must take note of various sub-areas. How and when the orders and picked, how and where the orders are packaged, and how the products move from one store to another. This requires a full understanding of the business.”
Home store concept helps Carlson branch out
After it opened its online store, Carlson set to work towards its other objective: expanding its network of stores. Carlson expanded into Greater Helsinki with a home store concept in 2018 once a suitable site was identified in the Redi shopping centre in Helsinki. The next store opened its doors in spring 2019 in the Jumbo shopping centre in Vantaa.
Karhunen says that the online store has played a part in the brick-and-mortar expansion.
“Online store orders have enabled us to identify where we should expand our brick-and-mortar network. More than half of the online store orders are placed in Greater Helsinki. This underpinned our intention to enter the region with our home store concept.”
The company’s Eastern Finnish roots have proven a strong competitive factor when new stores have opened.
“Lots of people in Greater Helsinki are originally from Eastern Finland, and plenty have some connection – such as a summer house – here in the east. This lends Carlson a degree of familiarity, and we have received positive feedback for expanding outside Eastern Finland.”
According to Karhunen, the online store has already earnt its place alongside the brick-and-mortar stores, becoming a significant part of the retail chain.
Competing with a large selection
Thanks to the online store, Carlson is now a national player. There is still plenty to be done to raise awareness of the company, but Carlson believes in its strengths.
“The product range on our online store is genuinely in a class of its own on a Finnish scale. For example, we are the only retailer to have the entire Villeroy & Boch product range available on our online store,” Karhunen says.
Carlson also works closely with Halonen on its product range. For example, Halonen is responsible for sourcing Carlson’s fashion range.
Digia was responsible for online store implementations for both Carlson and Halonen. The online stores were built on a shared enterprise resource planning system maintained by Digia, and they are being developed side-by-side.
“Because we need a whole package in which the online store is closely connected to other backend systems, we also need a partner with the understanding and knowledge of all these layers. Digia is our full-service partner, and with them, we can comprehensively develop our business,” Karhunen concludes.