(Editor's note: This is the first of a possible series of general business technology features from Nation's Restaurant News sister publication Chain Store Age. These features, while not focused on foodservice operators, nevertheless may prove of value to multi-unit business operators and enterprises large and small. More information about CSA is available at www.chainstoreage.com)
Christmas may not be 1-800-Flowers.com's top-selling season, but the gifting retailer still needs to be able to handle the onslaught of shoppers who visit the site desperate to find a gift.
The company originally added an MPLS, or multi-protocol label switching, network to ensure that the shopper experience would never falter due to volume increases or network disruptions. Now the network is managing its remote call-agent staff — just in time for the pending holiday season.
1-800-Flowers.com, based in Carle Place, N.Y., is a multichannel retailer that operates approximately 100 stores nationwide, as well as direct-to-consumer channels via the web and its call center. The company, which also features BloomNet, a florist-fulfillment network comprised of more than 9,000 local florists, reported revenues of $919.39 million at the end of its fiscal year in June.
Several restaurant chains and companies in recent years have deployed MPLS networks, or engaged third-party service providers offering such technology. Among those foodservice entities and their service providers are Lenny's Franchisor LLC, using Cybera Inc.; Outback Steakhouse parent OSI Restaurant Partners Inc., Verizon Business; Noodles & Company, with integrated voice and data circuits from Paetec; Arby's Restaurant Group Inc. and Papa Gino's Inc., MegaPath Inc.; YO!Sushi, Internet Technology Products Ltd.; and Taco Bueno and Braum's Ice Cream & Dairy Stores, SageNet.
Harried holiday shoppers are common to 1-800-Flowers.com. In fact, it is not unusual for the retailer to service up to 35,000 visitors during peak shopping periods. It also processes up to 180,000 orders per day.
"During peak times, there can be 1.5 hits per second on our website," explained Steve Bozzo, the company's chief information officer, or CIO.
These volume levels are what originally pushed the company to add an MPLS network. "We wanted as close to 100 percent reliable service as possible across our website, as well as through our call center — especially during peak times," he said. "We also wanted a network with a 'self-healing' capability."
More specifically, the IP-based platform routes different data streams around link failures, congestion and bottlenecks. This ensures all data continues to flow through the pipeline, eliminating service delays or disruptions.
The chain added a network from AT&T, New York City, to meet its objectives.
The network is hosted at three of the company's Internet data centers. Bozzo would not reveal where they reside.
The company also installed six cells, or routers, in each facility to conduct the data flow between locations. There are two cells installed in each data center, and every cell is active at all times to maintain real-time redundancy.
If one cell happens to fail, traffic is routed to another cell, keeping the data and customer experience flowing without disruption. The cells are monitored via websites, and the company uses reporting software to uncover any network issues or view any rerouted traffic.
Since adding the network and reporting software three years ago, 1-800-Flowers.com has been able to pinpoint exceptions and monitor when and where traffic has been rerouted. "But we have not had an outage in that time," Bozzo reported.
Currently, the network is supporting the company's remote call-center staff.
1-800-Flowers.com began migrating certain members of its call center to a home-agent network approximately 12 months ago. All remote agents stay connected with incoming callers through a VPN that links them with the contact center.
"We have been using the self-healing MPLS, as well as a VoIP [voice over Internet Protocol] network that supports calls through the IP framework, extensively as we expand our home-agent network," he explained.
"The network is not only reliable, but it is a cost-effective way to route calls from the contact center directly to the remote agents," he said. "It is a project that would definitely not be possible without the core MPLS network in place."
To date, 1-800-Flowers.com supports approximately 750 home-based agents.