How Headless Ecommerce Transformed Coates Hire’s Customer Experience from 9-5 to 24/7

Customer Focus with Coates Hire

As the country’s largest equipment supplier, Coates Hire has been helping to build a better future for Australians for over 130 years. With branches in over 160 locations and a fleet of around 2,000 delivery vehicles, Coates Hire’s customers have access to a range of over 1 million pieces of serviced equipment.

Further to the success of My Coates Hire, a web portal for strategic customers to manage hires for large-scale projects, Coates Hire recently turned its attention to improving the online experience for all customers, in the form of an ecommerce web app called Hire Now.

A few weeks ahead of the Hire Now launch, we sat down with John Hayes, Digital Marketing Manager at Coates Hire, to discuss the new service.

John, tell how this all came about?

We’ve always known that we wanted an ecommerce offering, but getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Our business is 130 years old and we have 18,000 product variants, with the added complexity of hire rather than a straightforward one-off purchase process. We have a huge volume of product data; but we had no idea, even five to 10 years ago, that we might need to access information in this way in the future, so simply ordering it in a way that can be utilised by the app has been a major task.

We’d made a large investment in the My Coates Hire portal and, knowing that digital transformation is very much a process of continuous improvement, wanted to set ourselves the next goal. We’re consciously avoiding sitting still and the Hire Now app was the obvious next step.

Often the hardest part of a digital transformation is knowing where to start - how did you settle on the Hire Now app?

We’d started to improve the digital experience for our largest customers with My Coates Hire, but we needed to provide on online solution that worked for all of our customers (including tradies, subcontractors and small builders). Previously, our customers would have to call us or complete an online enquiry form to find out about availability and pricing before they could book equipment; but our customers are busy and often need equipment at a moment’s notice, so we needed to make ourselves more accessible to our customers. We needed to make the service as easy and instant as ordering a pizza or an Uber.

Why was it so important that the service featured ecommerce?

There are two answers to that question; the obvious answer being revenue. We’re already generating significant revenue through our site purely based on our web enquiry form - which has its limitations - so, logically, removing those limitations and offering a faster, better service should have a revenue benefit.

The second point is our ‘cost to serve’; enabling customers to book equipment directly online removes the pressure on our customer service staff. It also transforms us into a 24/7 business, which we’ve never been before. Our branch trading hours are 7am-5pm so, previously, if a customer discovered at 6pm that they needed an excavator the next day, they wouldn’t be able to make enquiries until the next morning; removing that delay not only benefits the customer, but significantly improves our ability to win new hires.

The new booking process means customers can access the web app on their mobile, locate their nearest branch, select a date and instantly browse all available equipment. Once a customer has selected the items they need, the quantity and hire duration, they can see accurate pricing, recommended accompanying PPE and, from that point, follow the standard shopping cart process in just a few taps.

Hire Now is a headless commerce solution - why was this important for your team?

The headless approach enables us to be technology agnostic. We want to be able to exploit the capabilities of Sitecore as a meeting point for all our technological requirements, but also remain flexible. As a large business with a long history, we have a number of different technologies on different platforms; our existing website is on Kentico, but Sitecore is our technology of choice and hosts the My Coates Hire portal. Hire Now is also built on Sitecore, but by going headless it means we can adapt more easily when we eventually migrate to the single platform.

I can see a not-to-distant future where we have a single system for all users, so that our customers and staff are essentially looking at the same system, simply with different levels of data available; that would bring huge efficiencies, eliminate duplicate data sets and create one customer view to better serve our customers.

You mentioned you’re ‘consciously avoiding sitting still’… so what’s next?

The next step will be testing and optimisation to make for a more seamless experience. Further ahead, Switch will be helping us with availability options, so customers can see accurate information on availability across our entire product range and scale the service. Switch will be helping us with on-going work around user authentication, so that our account customers can log in and see pricing based on their specific agreements with us. We also have plans to use paid, social and other marketing channels to drive a higher ROI from our website since, for the first time, it will be actively generating revenue rather than just sales leads.

From there, our aim is to reach a state where testing, developing and improving the customer experience is simply a standard business practice for us, rather than something we’re consciously thinking about. That would be a true digital transformation.

— Nick Jones & John Hayes

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