September 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Getting those new e-commerce wheels

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Demandware directly provides only front-end e-commerce capabilities, but it uses web services technology to integrate with the technology platforms of other vendors for back-end multi-channel integration. It integrates with CommercialWare, for example, for back-end order management and with Loyalty Lab for a loyalty program that serves customers in all selling channels.

Deep roots

Venda also appeared on the U.S. scene earlier this year, offering its multi-tenant software-as-a-service model to mid-size to large companies. Like Demandware, it offers software upgrades immediately without each retailer having to conduct its own migration, CEO Max says.

Venda`s e-commerce roots go back to the mid-1990s, when its predecessor company operated as Dialog, an online information service. Acquired by management from its former corporate owner at a token cost in 2000, Dialog renamed itself Venda and acquired much of the e-commerce technology of Boo.com, an early online retailer known for offering innovative, high-tech online shopping features before it went out of business.

Now, with its experience, depth in e-commerce technology and low operating costs (including a 90-person software development team in Bangkok, Thailand, and another 40 developers in Europe) Venda expects to shake up the U.S. e-commerce market with its flat monthly fee of $10,000 per web site. While other vendors charge sliding fees based on a retailer`s amount of business, rising as the retailer`s sales rise, Venda is determined to stick to its flat fee, Max says, noting that Venda`s platform is designed to scale up without excessive costs as it takes on more clients.

Venda provides a full range of features for operating a retail web site, including site analytics, personalization engines for tailoring content to segments of shoppers, and merchandising tools, Max says. It also forwards order information to a retailer`s in-house or 3rd-party fulfillment center, and it handles customer payment processing at 15 cents per transaction in association with payment processing partners. Recent client wins include RideGear.com, DoItYourself.com and Pokemon.com. "In four years of operating sites, we`ve never lost a client to a competitor," Max says.

The good news for Demandware and Venda is that analysts recognize the strength of their technology platforms. "They have very strong offerings, just as strong as the enterprise guys," says Tamara Mendelsohn, analyst with Forrester Research. "Venda and Demandware offer the same level of customization as any of the others."

The bad news for the upstarts, she and others say, is that many retailers are likely to stick to more established vendors until more and larger retailers sign up as clients. "Until a big retailer steps in and uses a vendor`s platform, it`s difficult to prove the vendor`s position in the market," Garf says.

The difficulty in breaking further into the retail market at least partly overshadows even Venda`s experience in Europe, where for years it has been serving major European players like Virgin Megastores and the European operations of Panasonic and Xerox. Max also notes that Venda is beginning to overhaul the European web sites of a major U.S. apparel retailer.

More alternatives

Still, Europe`s e-commerce is mostly divided into relatively small national markets, and its retailers don`t face the complexity of major multi-channel retailers in the U.S., experts say.

Moreover, although Venda and Demandware each say they can easily scale up with infrastructure as they take on more clients without adding to their fee structures, they still need to prove they can keep functionality up and costs down while serving large U.S. multi-channel retailers, Garf and others say.

Venda and Demandware, of course, are not alone in coming out with new alternatives for hosted as well as licensed e-commerce platforms.

VCommerce, which introduced an on-demand software model two years ago, is winning business for its on-demand services from Overstock.com, Target Corp. and other large retailers who want its range of e-commerce services, says CTO and founder Dan Kennedy.

Vcommerce goes beyond most platforms by offering front-end web site functionality and back-end order management, fulfillment and drop-shipping management. Its all-web-based platform can either sit behind a retailer`s firewall or work as a hosted application managed by Vcommerce.

Ecometry, serving retailers ranging in annual sales from $15 million to $2 billion, also provides end-to-end e-commerce services including inventory management. It`s working to integrate its platform with the e-commerce and e-marketing programs of its new sister company, Blue Martini Software, which analysts say could give it a stronger position in the market. "With Blue Martini, Ecometry will be able to let consumers order online and five minutes later get their delivery status at a store POS terminal," says CEO John Marrah.

CommercialWare, whose OrderMotion e-commerce platform handles back-end order management, customer service and fulfillment, also offers a CW Integrate tool for integrating with retail store systems and third-party applications like inventory management. "CommercialWare will continue to evolve with planning and forecasting tools and more options in hosting and licensing," CEO Donny Askin says.

LaGarde Inc., which provides an e-commerce technology designed to integrate web sites with store POS systems, offers a multi-tenant software hosting service for retailers doing up to about $1 million in sales in addition to more comprehensive platforms for larger organizations like V.F. Corp.’s Lee Jeans and the Schwan Food Co.

The options for e-commerce technology continues to grow in number. Other vendors range from established full-service e-commerce platform providers like Fry Inc., MarketLive Inc. and Advanced E-Media Inc. to newcomers like ThePage.com, which plans to launch this fall a fully functional e-commerce platform for retailers with annual sales ranging from $5 million to $200 million, says president and founder Mike Wachner.

No third chance

The breadth of competition, many analysts say, will be good for both vendors and retailers alike. But it`s the consumer who will be the ultimate deciding factor, Garf notes, and retailers and vendors both better make sure their systems will meet consumer demand.

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