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Syncing up Automation and Human Touch for eCom Excellence with Hillary Scott of Halstead

Hillary Halstead Scott, President of Halstead, jumped onto the eCom Ops podcast to share the essentials on the transformation of a company towards eCommerce era, using a mix of automation and human touch for excellence in eCom Ops and significance of user experience in the present age. Check out all the other episodes here.

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A family business that shifted to eCommerce – the story of Halstead

Halstead is a family business that began 50 years ago with Hillary’s parents, who used catalogues and mail orders to supply customers with the materials and parts needed to make jewellery. Hillary is the second generation to be running the business after her parents. 

When eCommerce first got introduced, Halstead made the shift and invested in a robust IT system in terms of hardware and software. This has to lead the company to greater heights of success. Nowadays, almost all the transactions are done through eCommerce. However, Hillary says they still use the catalogues for marketing purposes as she thinks print media is an excellent asset to have as well.

Investing in the IT side of the business and relying on great marketing 

The eCom stack used at Halstead is mostly proprietary, thanks to the developers and IT crew at Halstead. They do make use of Znode but do not use any of the major platforms that are commonly used. According to Hillary, using the software as a service can sometimes cut into the business model, and she prefers to be as independent as possible, therefore relying on the in-house tech stack. Hillary tells us that they also do not make use of any of the major platforms for selling, like Amazon. Instead, the company makes all of its transactions through its eCom store, with some accessory plugins for credit card and online payments systems.

Talking about how they attract new clients; Hillary credits her marketing team for their terrific work. As Halstead is well known in their niche, and new players in the jewellery business come to hear of them soon thanks to the great relationships they have with their older customers. 

Using a mix of automation and the human touch for the operations side

Even in the operations side, Hillary likes to remain as independent as possible and not rely on outside parties. Most companies outsource packing and shipping to a third-party warehouse, but Halstead has their warehouse. As the products they supply are minimal in size, they can get by with a small warehouse, which makes managing it easier as well.

Hillary says the work is done through a mix of automation and the human touch. They have a customer services team that processes the orders that come into the website, and also keep customers up-to-date regarding any delays or shortages or special requirements.  When an order is placed, it is sent to the warehouse logistics team who print it out as a list and pick out the required items in quantity required, then pack and ship it out.

Automation has a significant role to play on the processing side, in terms of streamlining the shopping cart orders as they come in and are prepared for the picking and packing steps at the warehouse. 

Has Hillary seen any changes in the way business is done over the years?

As the company is one with a long history, Hillary has seen many changes in the jewellery industry. Previously, they sold a lot of their products to shops that would then resell those products to jewellers, acting as the middlemen. But over time, and with the advance of digitisation, the jewellers now come directly to them.

One way this has affected the company is that they have lesser requests for stock footage or videos of the products to be used in the pipelines. This is because their customers now are artisans who manage to create an end product that is very different from the raw materials being provided by Halstead.

How does Halstead make sure customers consistently have a good experience?

On the supply side, the main focus is to maintain the quality of the product. Since the product they deal with is jewellery, there is an automatic expectation of high-quality items. At Halstead, lots of lab testing is done, and the materials are frequently tested regularly for verification of their standards and purity levels.

On the service side, one thing they pay special attention to is the training process for all employees. Hillary mentions that they have in-house jewellery and metalsmithing education programme where all the employees undergo training in jewellery making and repairing to help them understand the issues faced by clients. This way, employees can help clients on the service side as well as the business side. 

Has the company been affected by the pandemic?

In the beginning, things were a little tricky but thanks to the nature of eCommerce, Hillary says that many of their customers themselves recovered as consumers began to shop online. The net result is that the company has recovered quickly and Hillary says the overall sales growth over the last few months has been pretty much the same as the year before. 

What will the ops team be focusing on in the next two years?

Hillary wants to work on refining the barcoding and picking up batches in the warehouse. She feels that the technology nowadays has advanced to a level where they could make better use of it to streamline the processes and orientate the warehouse setting in such a way that efficiency can be maximised.

Another thing Hillary wants to focus on is managing changed consumer behaviour, as she feels the trends have changed a lot due to the pandemic, and it might be a permanent change. So she foresees the next two years being spent in dealing with and adapting to the changes in sales and business. 

Hillary’s biggest influences in eCom:

She gives a lot of credit to her parents, who started using eCommerce back in the 90s when it was just beginning. She also thinks that they made a very wise investment by focusing on the IT side of the business, as this shift to eCommerce has to lead to the company’s success.

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