“Turn off that computer and go play outside!”

We all heard it growing up. After all, if you were busy learning to code or playing the latest video game, you probably weren’t also free-climbing Half Dome or hiking the Appalachian Trail.

REI logoThe team at REI, though, has long been dedicated to proving that technology can actually make adventuring in the great outdoors even greater.

In addition to its status as the nation’s largest consumer cooperative, with 16 million members devoted to the organization’s legendary customer service, REI has always been a leader in e-commerce. “We had a website in 1996 and we have had a pretty progressive approach to technology and e-commerce,” notes Todd Wilson, REI’s director of platform engineering. But at REI, he adds, “We view the digital channel much more broadly than just the shopping experience…. We feel it’s more about community and being driven by our values and what unites us than just shopping.”

In addition to its 145 physical stores, REI operates numerous websites and mobile apps—including popular activity-focused community apps such as the Mountain Project. And with its #OptOutside campaign, REI turned its decision to close its stores on Black Friday into a viral phenomenon.

Commitment to the clouds

To deliver flawless digital experiences on that kind of scale requires the same kind of commitment, equipment, and attention to detail as an ascent of Mount Rainier. That’s why REI considers the New Relic Digital Intelligence Platform an essential piece of gear as the company ramps up its trek into the clouds.

Yes, “clouds.”

redwood hikersREI is evolving its platform into the public cloud for faster access to new functionality and new capabilities across all its online properties. But rather than rely on a single cloud provider, the co-op takes a multiple-vendor approach, using a particular service depending on which one makes the most sense for a specific use case.

Just as important, those cloud efforts are only part of a larger hybrid model. REI is also continuing to extend its on-premise data center investments where it makes sense. In that light, it is looking at cloud-native services that can extend the capabilities of its existing on-premise data centers.

Automation for the win

In addition to those cloud efforts, the company has spent the last couple years establishing a more automated environment for its IT team. Starting with REI.com, it developed a generic platform based on containers, employing continuous delivery processes and implementing common DevOps practices to make rolling out new sites and apps much simpler and faster. “New Relic has been a key technology through this evolution,” explains Todd.

The results are clear. REI Adventures, for example, was built in just three months and REI replaced its old outlet business with REI Garage much quicker than would have been possible before.

Partners in climb

New Relic is REI’s dependable climbing partner, always there to break a fall when the inevitable slips occur. Todd offers a classic example: “It was our biggest sale of the year, our anniversary sale that happens in May, and we ran into a performance issue around our user account functionality. With New Relic APM, we very quickly were able to diagnose a code change that had started generating excess database calls.”

But it’s not just about solving specific problems—REI is also using New Relic to improve overall performance. Thanks to insights around image optimization, DOM processing, and third-party domains loading tagging pixels and JavaScript delivered by New Relic Browser and New Relic Mobile, for example, REI was able to cut site response times by up to 20% in the last quarter of 2016, with further improvements well within reach.

Experience is everything

starry nightToday, REI’s digital division relies on 30 distinct New Relic dashboards in its pursuit of performance perfection. Those dashboards offer data that can make a big difference on the business side, too. “We’ve been evolving site performance from a technical thing to an actual business driver with an impact on conversion and user experience,” Todd says.

Longer term, REI is working toward building scenarios and revenue forecasts based on performance. “I’d say we’re in the early stages of building our own internal models around that,” Todd acknowledges, “but it’s definitely a direction we’re going in. If we know what something is going to do from a revenue standpoint, it makes it a lot easier to make some of those investment decisions.”

REI CIO Julie Averill puts these efforts into perspective: “Whether it’s buying the right kayak or meeting up with a guide and experiencing Machu Picchu, our goal is to give the best, most trusted experience to our members and customers. New Relic is helping make that happen.”

So, what are you waiting for? Log on and get ready to go play outside!

For more on how New Relic helps REI reach for the UX summit, check out our full REI case study: How REI Extends Its Legendary Customer Experience to the Digital World.

 

B.J. Hinshaw is a freelance writer based in Northern California. View posts by .

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