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Columbia House's Consolidated Club

Retailer gets a single customer view and improved sales opportunities
Columbia House routinely offers new customers 12 free CDs. But tapping into the company's IT system for a single view of its music, video, and DVD club members wasn't such an easy deal. Now, after completing a complex back-office IT integration project, the retailer has that consolidated view and is developing ways to improve sales.

Columbia House links the music, video, and DVD portions of its Web site to a mainframe running the CICS transaction-processing system and 40-year-old pricing and customer-management applications. The problem: Because the company's music, video, and DVD clubs were started at different times, links between each club's Web page on Columbia House's Web site and the mainframe were based on different architectures.

The retailer considered using customer-relationship management software, but adapting packaged applications to fit Columbia House's unique business model would have been difficult, says Chris Arnold, project manager at Tallan Inc., the IT services firm that managed the project. That's because prices vary according to a club member's purchase history.

Instead, the mainframe applications were left intact and Tallan developers built new APIs between the legacy systems and the Web site, Interwoven Inc.'s content-management software, and custom front-end customer-service applications. Java-based gateway software from IBM provides access to the CICS system that, in turn, accesses a database with consolidated information about all of Columbia House's products.

Ann Gambardella, systems development VP of Columbia House.

Columbia House's new architecture will reduce costs, Gambardella says.
The improvements consolidate data from the retailer's mail, phone, and Web sales channels. They also give club members Web access to account balances and let them update their music and movie preferences. The simplified architecture also cut maintenance costs. "Having one code base that supports all our channels will certainly be more cost-effective for us," says Ann Gambardella, systems development VP.

The back-end integration project was completed late last year. Tallan is now building an interface to the system for Columbia House's 200 service representatives, giving them access to the consolidated customer information and improving their selling capabilities with targeted sales and promotions.