October 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Order up!

(Page 2 of 2)

The flexibility the system offers in automatically updating inventory records while also accommodating manual input will continue to support higher levels of efficiency and customer service, Odorico says. “We are on a journey from the Stone Age to the Space Age,” he says.

Supporting that journey from a technology standpoint is a level of web-enabled application integration that has evolved in recent years to make it easier for applications to work together, experts say.

Jos. A. Bank`s new e-commerce site, developed by the retailer`s in-house I.T. team on IBM Corp.`s WebSphere Commerce platform and iSeries web-compatible servers, uses XML, web services and other flavors of web-enabled integration tech built into IBM infrastructure to integrate with the Micros-Retail software suite from Micros Systems Inc., including the order management system, inventory management and financial accounting applications.

Not that it was easy to do. Building that integration took about a year of hard work in conjunction with technology experts at Rosetta Interactive Agency, Zophy says. “The hardest part of deploying a web site is the integration to back-end systems.”

Not your father`s platform

But, compared to what the same project would have required a few years ago, it went fast, and produced a reliable and effective system. “In the past, the technology and processes to build this kind of integration was not very efficient; it could take years to build, and it was more likely to break down,” Zophy says.

With the new ability to leverage that back-end integration in promotions on its e-commerce site, Jos. A. Bank also is able to better compete online with promotions that appeal to a wider audience-while also using the web as a testing ground for stores, says Scott Toth, divisional vice president in charge of I.T. “For example, we`re expanding our Big & Tall offerings, and now the e-commerce site provides us with the opportunity to conduct more promotions and market tests on the web as one big online store before rolling them out to our 469 physical stores,” he says.

While Jos. A. Bank used internal I.T. resources and Rosetta to build its new integrated environment on IBM and Micros-Retail platforms, other retailers resort to turnkey platforms from vendors like Stone Edge Technologies Inc., CoreSense Inc., Morse Data Corp., NetSuite Inc. and ShopVisible LLC.

Window treatments e-retailer Payless Décor is a good example. It expects to continue annual sales growth, despite the downturn in home sales, with the help of a more integrated order and inventory management system on its ShopVisible platform, president and CEO Seth Roseman says.

“Our growth has been slower because we`re closely tied to the housing market, but we`re still growing 5-10% year over year,” he says.

Payless Décor, which does close to $3 million in annual sales, attributes its ability to maintain growth to a new system designed to integrate customers` online orders with its back-end inventory systems on a new e-commerce platform from ShopVisible, Roseman says.

The retailer sells about 50 to 60 basic products in various styles of blinds, shades and other window treatments. Because customers can order each product in a wide variety of lengths and widths, the number of actual SKUs is massive.

Speedy configurator

In the past, it could take as long as 40 seconds for product data to load on a web page after a consumer specified what she wanted, and it was difficult to match orders with available inventory. The new platform is designed to not only speed up the product configuration process, but better match it with inventory so that shoppers are more likely to see updated and accurate product information and to have their orders shipped quickly.

“It`s better for us to tell customers up front that something is not in stock, instead of telling them two days later it`s not in stock,” Roseman says. “This way we can better manage customer expectations up front and create a better shopping experience.”

The ShopVisible platform also integrates the order management application with Payless Décor`s back-end QuickBooks financial accounting application, software from Inuit Inc. that is used by many small and midsized businesses. For larger retailers, the ShopVisible platform can integrate with more sophisticated financial accounting applications from enterprise software companies like Oracle Corp. and Lawson Software Inc.

ShopVisible`s small-business implementation packages start at $5,000, but can go up to $50,000 or more for larger companies based on the amount of custom design, systems integration and services, CEO Sean Cook says. The company also offers a percent-of-revenue model.

With such systems, integrated order management and enterprise systems aren`t just for the biggest retailers. Like Jos. A. Bank, Payless Décor is stepping up its game by better connecting customers with the inventory they want to buy.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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