John Johnson, Assistant Vice President and Head of E-Commerce at Pep Boys, was on his way to work when he heard a strange noise in his car. Moments later, he lost steering control.

Dodging two tractor trailers at 85 miles an hour, Johnson made it safely to the side of the interstate, where he brought the vehicle to a stop. It was a harrowing experience, and he later discovered one wheel had become underinflated and almost completely fallen off the rim.

Johnson said the near-catastrophic accident could have been avoided if he’d paid attention to his tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), which had begun displaying an error message a week or so earlier, and taken time to get the vehicle repaired. Johnson equates this experience to the important role vigilance played throughout the cloud migration journey he recently oversaw at Pep Boys, an American automotive aftermarket service chain.

“In our vehicles today, we all have modern technology solutions available to us,” he said. “But if you don’t take care of those platforms, you’ll end up in the same place where I was: stranded on the side of I-76.”

During a recent ASUG webcast, “Overcome Challenges and Achieve Growth During Cloud Migration at Pep Boys,” Johnson detailed the process of migrating from an on-premises commerce solution to SAP Commerce Cloud, a project that lasted from December 2022 to May 2023.

According to Johnson, regular attention and maintenance are mandatory for technology professionals embarking on transformation projects to anticipate and mitigate problems before they occur. For Pep Boys, such considerations were essential to overcoming business challenges through migration and ultimately expanding the enterprise's e-commerce operations, growing its business margin by 10% in just one year.

Addressing Business Challenges

With about 1,000 company-owned stores and over 70 million customers, Pep Boys describes itself as a friendly neighborhood auto maintenance service store. Customers can buy auto parts—such as tires and batteries, either online or in store—and schedule installation if necessary. Customers often use Pep Boys’ website as a gateway to service, researching parts, finding their closest store location, and scheduling times to bring in their vehicles for repairs.

As Pep Boys evaluated its future as a business, driving more website traffic became a priority, as did updating its website to better support its e-commerce operations. Beyond housing product information, Pep Boys’ website needed to functionally enable customers to schedule service appointments at available locations based on technicians’ current workload and customers’ service needs.

To improve its customer experience and raise conversion rates, the business also required more advanced search capabilities, guided selling improvements, intelligent selling services, and special financing options to help customers overcome sticker shock.

When Pep Boys first implemented SAP Commerce (1905) six years ago, shifting from a previous on-premises solution, the project took place on an accelerated three-month timeline. “In a hurry to get this done, we were mostly copying and pasting our existing functionalities into a newer platform,” Johnson said. “From a technology management point of view, it was a nightmare.”

Application performance was inconsistent, and legacy code issues needed to be remediated to enhance application stability. In addition, legacy integrations with store systems were creating data discrepancies, and orders were getting lost as a result. “Whatever interactions [customers] have on the website must be communicated with the store,” Johnson said. “We don’t want you to go to a store with an appointment and employees have no idea who you are.”

Disconnected flows required dual maintenance to keep systems in sync with each other. Maintenance and troubleshooting of legacy integrations required intensive manual work. And that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Pep Boys’ challenges. Other issues abounded with page tags and titles, site navigation, lack of personalization, and an outdated check-out process. New APIs were needed to integrate with Pep Boys’ channels, to improve product availability and reduce data issues, and to improve online product offerings and search.

Pep Boys also wanted to improve the quality of its website’s content quality, offering more than simple product information to create a more modern, intuitive customer experience. Achieving this would require integration with third-party applications along with improvements to the site’s online offerings and search functionalities.

“All of these challenges were opportunity areas we couldn’t reach, because we were struggling to run our platform correctly,” Johnson said.

Keys to Success Through SAP Commerce Cloud

To build a healthier e-commerce cloud platform, Pep Boys upgraded to the 2211 release of SAP Commerce Cloud, working with SAP to initiate the project with an out-of-the-box functionality upgrade, followed by a custom code adaptation by Pep Boys’ own internal team.

Upgrading to the latest SAP Commerce Cloud environment with the assistance of SAP’s Preferred Success team, Pep Boys experienced no issues in production, soon finding that its team was empowered with self-service capabilities and newly able to take advantage of cloud computing features such as autoscaling.

“We’re no longer undergoing any major, big-bang projects for upgrades,” Johnson said. “We update SAP Commerce Cloud twice a year, so we’re always on the latest platform. And three-week sprints no longer separate technical projects from business initiatives; each sprint can accommodate performance tuning, technology adjustments, and business-related process updates.”

One of the biggest assets to Pep Boys throughout the project was the SAP Preferred Success team, which Johnson referred to as the “alpha and omega” of the upgrade project.

“We didn’t want SAP to sell us the license then leave us to work with an implementation partner,” Johnson said. “Instead, we teamed up with SAP Preferred Success so successfully that their program became an extension of our team.”

Sustained engagement with SAP helped Pep Boys understand what out-of-the-box capabilities they could leverage and where additional customization was needed to achieve their desired functionality. “That back-and-forth helped us to not build anything SAP is already building for everyone,” he said.

In this way, Pep Boys was able to streamline their innovation road map and move through cyclical reviews and quality assurance processes on the code platform. Johnson highlighted A/B testing as another vital process. The team was able to test code functionality on the back end before customers interacted with it on the front-end.

"A True Turnaround”

The SAP Commerce Cloud upgrade was a success. Johnson estimates that, post-upgrade, Pep Boys’ website runs at least 23% faster, with an average page load time under two seconds. The e-commerce platform is stable, with no unplanned downtime since the cloud migration.

Pep Boys also improved the user experience for its customers and is already reaping the benefits, with 25% better performing pages all throughout the site, especially its most revenue-generating pages.

Improved website performance led to a reduction in operating costs, with Johnson saying Pep Boys reduced maintenance costs by 60%, essentially paying for additional feature development. Before the project, Pep Boys had a 24/7 website monitoring team in place to ensure it could tackle issues and mitigate downtime. Since upgrading to 2211, it’s been possible for Johnson to move those employees over to the development team.

At Pep Boys, e-commerce operations continue to grow. Its website revenue and margin growth outperform its physical stores, despite similar products and services. Thanks to this success, Johnson says Pep Boys is now using the e-commerce platform as a “litmus test” for new ideas and strategies that will drive the organization’s overall future.

“This was a true turnaround for us,” Johnson said, reflecting on the value that SAP Commerce Cloud has delivered for Pep Boys. “We were having second thoughts around our use of the platform, because it wasn’t working out for us. We thought it wasn’t the right solution for our industry. All those doubts were gone once we did the right things in the right way.”

Want to dig deeper into Pep Boys’ SAP Commerce Cloud improvement project? You can watch the full on-demand webinar here.

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