GAK (www.gak.co.uk) is the UK’s leading retailer of musical instruments, based in The North Laines in Brighton and doing half of its business online. Most of its customers are individual musicians, though GAK also supplies the education sector.
The company, which is over two decades old and turns over £20-30 million annually, has always been a top player in its market, and was one of the first to set up a mail order and online business many years ago. Its web business has soared in recent years as it has become second nature to purchase even high-value items online – especially for people in their teens to their early 30s.
GAK prides itself on being one step ahead of customer needs, and providing a rich user experience through all of its sales channels. “Customers’ expectations are increasingly all the time,” notes Max McKellar, GAK’s co-Managing Director.
As web browsing has moved from the desktop to mobiles, and strong communities have formed on social media, GAK wanted to be able to reach its customers where they are, and harness all of the latest tools to help them choose and buy its products. This meant providing high-quality images that could be appreciated just as well on mobile devices, video content showing its instruments in action, and the ability to buy in convenient ways – from Paypal to easy finance options.
The company’s previous web site wasn’t flexible enough to meet these needs – it didn’t integrate readily with other systems, didn’t support Paypal, and wasn’t mobile friendly. GAK had outgrown the platform and needed to rethink its entire front-to-back retail set-up. It didn’t have sufficient control over its existing back-office system either, being tied to a licence fee with costly charges for new development. This was holding back the business, which now wanted to raise its game online and go after new sales opportunities internationally.
As an off-the-shelf system would mean too much of a compromise, GAK invited two development companies to quote for a new end-to-end retail system. It chose DCSL Software because of its deep experience and pragmatic approach to what was possible.
The project was one of the most ambitious DCSL had ever tackled. A team of 12 worked with GAK on the new system for a year, including extended days and weekends as the go-live date neared. They harnessed the latest technology (including the ASP.NET MVC 5 web application framework and SQL Server) to create a highly secure and resilient system. This is run via Microsoft Azure, with a highly resilient, scalable, secure and fast configuration. It includes CloudFlare, a Content Delivery Network for transmitting image data in the fastest way possible. The website regularly attracts thousands of concurrent visitors.
Rather than develop different variations of the web site for different screens (eg desktop vs mobile), DCSL created an intelligent, adaptable front-end which automatically detects and optimises the user experience for each device.
The added functionality is very powerful. High-quality images and videos enhance GAK’s product pages, while a seamless Paypal link makes payments effortless and an integrated finance option eases sales of higher value items. “These are powerful sales tools,” Mr McKellar says. GAK can also engage with communities on social media more readily now, tailoring its content to each audience, exploiting share/like features, and connecting to GAK blogs.
DCSL Software delivered all of this without having access to GAK’s previous systems, using ‘screen scraping’ techniques to capture existing data, and managing the transition seamlessly despite not being able to test the new system in a live environment. As a result of this, and the high impact of the new system, GAK rated DCSL the maximum five stars in a detailed customer review (https://clutch.co/developers/review/platform-development-online-music-retailer).
The proof of the project’s success was seen immediately in GAK’s financial results. In its first quarter of being live with the new retail system and web site, it saw revenues grow by 10% compared to the same period a year earlier.
DCSL has given us incredible value for money
“DCSL has given us incredible value for money,” Mr McKellar says. “Most importantly we now have a very powerful business asset – our relationship with DCSL is such that we own the code, which gives us control over our future without being locked into a licence fee. Meanwhile the system is so scalable and flexible we can develop it however we choose.”
The system is so scalable and flexible we can develop it however we choose.
Thanks to the enhanced digital experience and support for Paypal, GAK has seen an increase in sales from outside the UK – without actively marketing its products abroad. It sees this as its next business opportunity. GAK wants to exploit the easy adaptability of the new system to develop tailored web front-ends for different audiences, each with its own branding and imagery but linked to the same logistics systems. “This is a project we’re continuing to roll out in phases,” Mr McKellar says.
Other plans include a choice of shipment options, page translations for international markets, and regional advertising. GAK is also talking to DCSL about developing its own mobile app. “As well as offering the best possible mobile experience, this would be a great sales tool,” he says. “Nothing is out of bounds now, thanks to the freedom DCSL has given us.”
Nothing is out of bounds now, thanks to the freedom DCSL has given us.