August 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Special Report: Where top e-retailers turn for HELP

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"Although a redesigned site provides a new look and feel, it may not necessarily represent a significant increase in sales, while better back-office reporting can significantly improve productivity and lower operating costs," Rodriquez says. "Sometimes the technologies that are nice to have are not always the best to have. Technology partners ought to be able to provide retailers a true cost benefit to their business for new technology."

The newest version of 3dcart's platform, released last month, supports mobile sites and includes the tools that can help e-retailers become a Google Trusted Store, and use services such as Checkout by Amazon, PayPal Payments Advanced and MailChimp. It also offers, through an integration with FedEx, real-time shipping rates and labels for services including SmartPost. 3dcart plans to add integrations with Endicia and Canada Post later this year. The e-commerce platform company, which also provides web site design and search engine optimization services, has more than 15,000 clients, including The New York Times, Candy.com, Blue Diamond and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

One technology expected to yield a substantial ROI is text messaging. Consumers' growing reliance on smartphones is prompting more of them, and not just teenagers, to text. Retailers can embrace this opportunity by building an opt-in list so they can text customers about sales, special offers and news about the latest arrivals. A retailer can also, with a consumer's permission, use the GPS device in a smartphone to text offers when the shopper is near one of the retailer's stores to bring in shoppers who might otherwise have walked past the store.

"Texting is more of a real-time form of communication than e-mail, and that makes it a powerful marketing tool," Buzzeo says. "Texting a customer that an item they've looked at is on sale, or that an item on back order is available or has shipped, takes customer communication and service to a whole other level."

No surprises

As powerful as these technologies can be, a retailer has to be sure that the company providing a product or service can deliver superior support. Before entering into a relationship with any technology provider, retailers should take the time to clarify the level of service they will be getting from the supplier and what services are not included in their contract.

Asking technology providers such questions as whether their contract includes end-user training, 24/7 phone support, full systems redundancy and guaranteed compatibility with legacy systems can spare retailers from unexpected, and costly, surprises down the road.

"Retailers need to know what level of service they will be getting and what it will cost," Rodriquez says. "We charge a flat monthly fee and do not require a contract, so if a retailer wants to move off our platform, they can do so at any time. We also retain the databases of clients that move off our platform to ensure a smooth transition back should they return."

Finally, retailers want to make certain technology providers thoroughly test any new features added to their platforms before rollout to avoid unexpected problems. "Any new feature has to be compatible with all types of web browsers, regardless of the device used by the consumer," Buzzeo says. "Retailers want to be assured they can install upgrades without any fear of technical issues."

By taking the time to fully vet a potential technology provider, retailers can select a partner that is in tune with their business objectives and that understands how the latest trends in e-commerce are likely to impact their business and is a good cultural fit.

"Relationship building is a big part of being a technology provider, and building relationships comes from taking the time to get to know clients and making them feel comfortable calling you up for advice or to ask questions," Rodriquez says. "The goal of any retailer is to increase sales, and as a technology partner we can only help if we get to know our clients and their business."

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