January 29, 2003, 12:00 AM

How PerformanceProducts.com revved up its web site

Performance Products, retailer of parts for Porsche sports cars, often found its site unable to handle customers` data-intensive searches for products among thousands of SKUs. Its solution: rebuild on Microsoft’s .Net platform.

Performance Products, for more than 30 years a major source of products for customizing Porsche sports cars through its paper catalog, hit a bump in the road after launching its web site in 1996. The web site, designed also as a parts store for Mercedes Benz and several American pickup trucks, often couldn`t handle customers` data-intensive searches for products among thousands of stock-keeping units. "We`d constantly have to restart our web servers," says Kirk Palmer, the retailer`s web developer.

But with an average 800,000 unique monthly visitors to the web site and online sales growing--web sales hit 26% of overall sales in 2002, up from 17% the year before--Performance Products decided last year to rebuild its site on Microsoft Corp.`s .Net platform. The result, Palmer says, has been faster page downloads and constant reliability. "On the new .Net platform, we haven`t been down once," he says.

He adds that the .Net platform is more scalable for building additional site features and more flexible for getting daily reports on site activity.

The main problem with the old site, which was built on Microsoft`s Site Server 3.0, was that its underlying technology could not be easily customized to accommodate the large amount of data the site needs to retrieve and display the proper products a customer wants, Palmer says. To find a particular product, a customer must enter several bits of data about a car, such as year, make, model and a description of the requested part. But each part may come in several versions, and each version can differ for each year and model of a particular make. Site Server provides a set of templates for building different sections of a web site, but it would require extensive customizing to accommodate the search and display requirements of PerformanceProducts.com, Palmer says.

By using the .Net development framework along with a new Microsoft Commerce Server, Palmer says his IT staff of three to four people was able to rebuild the site within a few months. One advantage that .Net brings to developers, he says, is a richer library of prebuilt components, such as for building hyperlinks and displaying data from a back-end database.

Now if Performance Products sees a dip in online sales for a particular category, it can concentrate on things like pricing and merchandising strategies, without also wondering if the dip is due to a poorly performing site technology, Palmer says. "Now when we have a problem, if sales are down, it`s due to a performance measure we have control over, not because the infrastructure is slow," he says.


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