Wacoal America has a well-established reputation for its high-quality women's intimate apparel—bras, panties, and shapewear. Its products have been a staple at many of the nation's leading retailers, including Dillard's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as specialty boutiques.
But as e-commerce began to capture a bigger share of retail sales, Wacoal, like many other companies, grew increasingly interested in the direct-to-consumer channel. Last year, the company took the plunge into the online business arena by establishing Wacoal Direct.
"We considered getting into the e-commerce business for a while," says Cathryn Hondros, vice president of information systems for the company, an affiliate of Japan-based Wacoal Holdings Corp. "It offered us a number of benefits. We can represent the brand and tell the entire story about Wacoal's fit and comfort.
"The second benefit is the opportunity to increase our margins," she says. Hondros adds that opening an e-commerce channel also benefits customers by giving them access to the company's full line of styles, colors, and sizes—something they're unlikely to find in a single retail store.
Starting an online store meant that Wacoal would have to make some adjustments to operations at its U.S. distribution center in Lyndhurst, N.J. It would also require some changes to the warehouse management systems used at that facility. Several years back, Wacoal had implemented a warehouse management system (WMS) from Manhattan Associates to enable electronic data interchange, advance shipment notifications, standardized bills of lading, and UCC-128 bar-code symbology compliance.
The transition turned out to be surprisingly straightforward. In fact, rather than complicating matters, the warehouse management tools—which allow the company to do things like provide customers with precise shipping information and produce customized shipping labels—actually made it simpler for Wacoal to start its online business.
As Karen Merz, Wacoal America's director of e-commerce, puts it, "Our warehouse and distribution operations were already so sophisticated that adding Internet sales was relatively easy."
The changeover has been essentially transparent to the 65 DC employees directly involved in the shipping and receiving processes, and the 14 other DC supervisors and clerks employed at the site. Today, orders are processed in waves, with each wave dedicated to a single retail customer or to e-commerce sales. For consumer-direct orders, selectors can pick as many as five orders at a time, scanning each product as it's picked and placing goods directly into shipping cartons. As a further check, each carton is weighed at the packing station to ensure it meets the expected weight for the order. All together, the single-shift operation in the 100,000 square-foot-facility ships about 40,000 pieces a day.
The same staff that picks retail store orders also picks Internet orders. "Once they come to us, we treat all orders the same," says Ismael Vicens, Wacoal's director of distribution. However, if an order is shipping directly to a consumer, DC workers take garments off their hangers and wrap them in tissue before they are packed. Packing requirements are also different for e-commerce orders than for shipments to retailers. For instance, cartons destined for consumers include a specialized packing slip with return instructions and a return shipping label.
Implementing Wacoal Direct only required minor changes to the WMS, Vicens says. In particular, Wacoal had to set up special accounts for the U.S. Postal Service and UPS within the software. Hondros credits the Manhattan WMS with providing all the processing power Wacoal needed for the transition. "We leveraged a lot of what we had here," she says.