May 20, 2010, 6:12 PM

Born in open source, an e-retailer migrates to NetSuite because of growth

When it launched online five years ago, U.S. Cargo Control chose open source technology for its flexibility and low cost. But now, with several sister sites, it’s trading in those benefits for the efficiency of a comprehensive e-commerce platform.

When it launched an e-commerce site five years ago on a whim, guessing people might buy moving equipment like tie-downs and protective blankets online, U.S. Cargo Control quickly decided to use open source technology platform for the flexibility and low cost it offered. But now that it operates several sister sites and wants them all to operate on a common platform, is migrating to NetSuite’s comprehensive e-commerce system, says co-founder and chief technology officer Shaun Linderbaum.

The retailer based its original system on an open source shopping cart called Zen Cart, and then did its own integration with other features it needed, such as Intuit’s QuickBooks for accounting.


“We initially chose Zen Cart for the flexibility it offers as a open source platform,” Linderbaum says. “It offered lots of add-on software modules for a lot of functionality that modern shopping carts today are just starting to get—for example, product reviews, cross-selling related items, and multiple sizes of product images.”


Plus, he says, there were plenty of I.T. experts throughout the world experienced in open source technology and available through the Internet at reasonable labor rates. “If something we wanted wasn’t available from Zen Cart, we just hired a programmer to develop a new software module.”


Over the past few years, however, U.S. Cargo Control—now operating under Clickstop Inc., the parent company started by Linderbaum and CEO Tim Guenther—has expanded into a network of seven e-commerce sites through acquisitions. And Clickstop is migrating them all to a common hosted e-commerce platform from NetSuite Inc., part of a software suite that includes warehouse management, accounting, order management and content management, as well as a shopping cart.


As the company has grown—it’s on course to do close to $10 million this year, up from $5 million last year—Clickstop realized it was ready to trade the flexibility of the open source world for platform ready-made system designed to accommodate multiple e-commerce sites, Linderbaum says.


“Having a single platform eliminates the work of having to tie together all the applications that support larger shopping carts, such as warehouse management and accounting,” Linderbaum says.


The move hasn’t been without its challenges. “We’ve come across plenty of issues with NetSuite, but it’s just a matter of learning how the technology works,” Linderbaum says. Clickstop is already operating four of its sites on the NetSuite platform, including its flagship USCargoControl.com, and plans to add three more this year, he adds.


In particular, he says, Clickstop misses the functionality it had in its Zen Cart shopping cart—and the ease of hiring open source programming experts to make modifications.


With NetSuite, it tried working with two consultants experienced with the platform, but found they were either unqualified in working with HTML, Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript in the NetSuite environment, or simply weren’t able to put in the time necessary to modify the platform’s shopping cart, Linderbaum says.


But the third try at hiring a programmer worked like a charm, he adds. Clickstop hired a consultant without much NetSuite experience, but who quickly learned how to work with its technology. “The new guy fixed things broken by the former consultants and he figured out the most difficult areas, which were primarily in areas of content layout and display sale prices.”


Time will tell if the overall move to NetSuite will provide ClickStop the value it expects, Linderbaum says. But for now, he’s happy with the move.


“It’s giving us a lot of the efficiencies we wanted, and so far about 90% of the functionality we want in e-commerce.”


Moreover, he figures the NetSuite platform will be able to scale up to support Clickstop’s planned growth. “This should scale up to $50 million or more, maybe to $100 million,” he says.

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