Hats Off to a New Era In Baseball Caps and Customer Experience

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Almost 100 years ago, New Era started making men’s “Gatsby” caps in Buffalo, New York. The company quickly switched its focus to manufacturing baseball caps for professional players, and by the 1980s, New Era caps were available for fans who wanted to show allegiance to their favorite teams.

But things changed for New Era in 1996 when Spike Lee requested that New Era make a Yankees hat in red instead of the traditional blue. That’s when wearing baseball caps became an expression of personal style — and opened up new markets around the world.

Lorenz Gan, chief information officer of New Era, says, “When Spike Lee asked for a New York Yankees a cap in a different color, that was a huge change for the company. Our phone hasn’t stopped ringing since then. Now people see baseball caps as a fashion accessory. We became a lifestyle brand, where you can personalize a cap for your style.”

Gan explains that this new attitude toward baseball caps sparked tremendous global growth for the company, for example in Europe, China, and Japan. Because of New Era’s historic relationship with Major League Baseball (MLB), its baseball hats are seen as “authentic” and have cache around the world. “People aren’t just buying a Red Sox or Yankees hat, but everything that team represents.”

The audience for these hats has also diversified. Gan says, “The breadth and depth of our fan base is different – whether it’s a celebrity wearing our Coachella hat or a boy wearing his first Yankees hat for his first game.” With increased and varied consumer interest, New Era needed new technology to reach those people directly.

Gan came to New Era from Burberry, where he has worked with global software provider SAP, to digitize customer-facing operations. He is on a similar mission at New Era: “When we sell directly to consumers, our core demographic is 13 to 21 and authenticity is key for them. It’s a different demographic that we’ve penetrated but they want everything on mobile.”

Gan was charged to do two things: first, to help bring New Era directly to consumers in six months; second, and related, he needed to create an e-commerce platform that could service both the B2B and B2C markets. This platform needed to be omnichannel, offer a consistent view of customers across those channels, and provide a rich, personalized experience to wholesalers.

Based on his successful partnership with SAP at Burberry, Gan selected SAP Commerce Cloud, part of the SAP Customer Experience portfolio, which was deployed with support from SAP partner, EPAM Systems Inc, based in Mountain View, California.

As Gan explains, New Era primarily has a brick and mortar presence in Asia but it has been beefing up digital commerce for B2B customers in North America, like the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and other sports organizations. “With SAP, we’ve been able to get those channels up quickly and now we can innovate more quickly. This is great because there’s more demand for fast innovation from our customers.”

For example, New Era created a custom cap builder on SAP Commerce Cloud. Says Gan, “This was one of the first things I was asked to look at. We have 3,000 customers that want more real-time imagery. It was taking six weeks to get different reds. Now in 30 seconds, a minor league team can test various reds and place an order in minutes.”

He says customer feedback has been positive: the solution is intuitive and easy to use. “They love it, I’ve had no phone calls. Now we’re extending it to people who previously hadn’t thought to order online.” And of course, it will appeal to millennials who expect user-friendly digital experiences.

As New Era continues to grow its, Gan thinks SAP will be able to keep up: “There are still many heads that are unfitted with hats – you need a global appreciation of the nuances of the markets. So we’re developing these consumer experiences that appreciate the differences among and between different regions. SAP is a good match because they’re also global.”

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