Virginia’s Signature Success

Innovative Retail Efforts

Ask yourself what attracts you to your favorite retail store? Is it the choice of products? The level of customer service? The functionality of the space? Eighty-one years after its first store opened, Virginia ABC has modified the shopping experience to better serve customers, creating the Premier Store concept.

According to Elizabeth Chatham, certified property manager and Virginia ABC real property agent, Virginia ABC sought to create spaces in which customers can easily navigate for that pre-planned purchase, yet provide a more intimate and interesting environment to browse and learn more about their products.

“Special focus was placed on tasting areas to bring the community together and create a fun venue to taste and educate customers about how spirits can make occasions special,” Chatham says. “We initiated the retail store project prior to the creation of our marketing division, so we are excited about the ways in which our customer experience can be enhanced even more with the incorporation of unique merchandising and branding tailored to our model.”

Since the project’s completion, the 12-month same-store sales demonstrate an average 14 percent increase for the first two Premier stores—Williamsburg and Leesburg. Sales growth is a result of increased customer transactions, but also reflects increases in the average bottle price of $0.24 and $1.18, respectively, for the first two stores.


To understand customer reaction to the premier store designs, Virginia ABC distributed mail-in post card surveys in each of the premier stores, seeking opinions from customers about the new store design. More than 94 percent of premier store customers indicated that they enjoyed their overall shopping experience more in the new store as compared to the previous store design.

“Even with the significant change to the store layout, approximately 88 percent of customers reported that
locating their desired product was easier in the new store,” Chatham says. “The proven design principles and space-planning techniques used in our premier stores will certainly be rolled out across our base. With each opportunity Virginia ABC has to enhance its retail locations, we will look at ways to incorporate elements and details from the premier stores.”

Embracing Technology

Web sites are a business product, and the statement they make by their appearance and functionality is critical to the business they represent. Virginia ABC recognizes this and earned accolades aplenty for its redesigned web site.


As Judy Napier, Virginia ABC Commissioner explains, the previous Virginia ABC website had been without a major redesign for more than ten years. This meant the look and feel of the website was dated, it was not mobile friendly and content could not be efficiently managed.

‘The redesign was launched with the goals of implementing a modern content management system, making the site mobile-friendly and responding specifically to user needs,” Napier says. “At the same time, it was an opportunity to broaden our digital strategy to include e-commerce to help grow revenue, improve processes and significantly enhance our customer service.”

The redesign began with an extensive quantitative and qualitative study of both business  and customer needs. These included in- depth surveys and interviews with various target audiences.

From the initial research, Virginia ABC developed proper navigation for the site. A content management system, called Sitecore, was the platform on which the new site was built, giving Virginia ABC much greater business control. Sitecore was integrated with numerous IT systems, including the inventory system, to make it possible for customers to check product inventory online in real time. Beyond this, Virginia ABC developed an online ordering capability, giving customers access to purchase products on the website for in-store pickup.

After more than 1,500 hours testing the refreshed site, it launched in March 2015. The results have been dramatic. A sprawling 700 pages of tangled information were streamlined into a clean and orderly site of less than 350 pages.

“We returned to the quantitative approach that began the process and extensively tested the site for usability,” Napier says. “The new site showed significant improvement—both in the time it takes for customers to accomplish a task and in their satisfaction rate. Particularly successful were the results in mobile environments, which now represent upward of 40 percent of our web traffic.”

To provide specific examples, participants searching for happy-hour advertising regulations found what they were looking for only 30 percent of the time on Virginia ABC’s old website, while 79 percent of desktop users and 88 percent of mobile device users can now find that information. Only 70 percent of visitors could find Virginia ABC training classes prior to the new site’s launch, but that number has now increased to 100 percent for desktop users. And only 30 percent of visitors could perform a licensee search on the old website. On the new site, 100 percent can complete that task successfully from their mobile device.

“The website continues to evolve, and analytics and testing continue to inform our decisions about future changes,” Napier says. “The redesigned website is not only important in realizing the agency’s opportunity to grow business through e-commerce, but it’s also vital in fulfilling Virginia ABC’s goal of providing better
customer service.”

Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. She writes for dozens of publications on a variety of business-related topics. When not writing, Maura serves as executive director of the literacy nonprofit, Read Indeed.




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