December 4, 2007, 12:00 AM

How SitStay.com fit Big Blue into a smaller budget

IBM’s WebSphere software is usually found on the e-commerce servers of big e-retailers like Staples and L.L. Bean. But a much smaller online merchant, SitStay.com, found a way to use WebSphere to take on bigger pet supply rivals.

 

Among the online retailers that use IBM’s WebSphere e-commerce software are Staples, which is No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and No. 23 L.L. Bean. But SitStay.com, which has yet to crack the Top 500, found a way to acquire the IBM technology at a fraction of the usual cost, and now aims to use the new software to take on much bigger pet supply retailers.

SitStay.com went live with WebSphere Nov. 7 after working out a deal with systems integrator eGlobal Solutions Corp., which developed the links between WebSphere and the order management system SitStay.com uses, OrderMotion. Now eGlobal will market this system to other OrderMotion users, says Kent Krueger, vice president of SitStay.com. “We didn’t have to put out as much money as we would have otherwise,” Krueger says.

That’s important because SitStay.com, an online-only retailer, does under $10 million in sales per year. The retailer also kept the price down by licensing a stripped-down version of WebSphere, with some features deactivated. In all, the implementation cost about $100,000, whereas it normally would have cost $200,000 to $300,000, Krueger says. The e-retailer also pays a hosting fee in the range of $2,000 to $3,000 per month, he says.

WebSphere replaces software Krueger developed himself in 1997. With the old software, each page’s contents were fixed. That meant that changing a price or product description on a dog leash, for instance, meant making the change on every page where the leash was displayed.

With WebSphere, each page is built on the fly, drawing the products from a central database. Changing the price in the database means the new price will show up on every page where the item appears. “If we want to put everything in toys on sale,” Krueger says, “a couple of clicks does that.”

Other new features include one-click checkout for customers that have registered their payment and shipping information, wish lists that can be e-mailed to friends, and multiple address storage for customers that head south for the winter, Krueger says.

Sales go directly into the OrderMotion system for fulfillment, eliminating the manual handling required previously. And the new system lets SitStay.com trap orders that meet certain criteria, such as dollar amounts over a specified threshold or orders being shipped to certain countries. All in all, Krueger estimates the new system will eliminate a person-year worth of maintenance on the site, allowing him to better deploy the company’s 11 employees.

Krueger says he’s just begun to implement all that’s possible with WebSphere. Among the enhancements planned for next year are product videos, improved site search and customer reviews. “It will allow us to play with the big boys,” Krueger says. “If you look at our site compared to Petco and PetSmart we’re similar in look and feel to them, although we’re a lot smaller.”

 

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