February 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Weighing technology choices

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Ritz’s ability to take a best-of-breed approach by bringing in Vcommerce stems from a decision several years ago on how to upgrade its e-commerce technology, which it launched in 1999 on the Net.Commerce platform from IBM. Having outgrown Net.Commerce and looking for something that offered the flexibility to let it add applications and handle rising volumes of sales, it checked out several platform options, but decided to stay with IBM and migrate to its WebSphere Commerce e-commerce platform. “WebSphere offered the right feature set and IBM offered staying power in the industry,” Tahmin says. In addition to WebSphere’s core e-commerce application, Ritz also uses its tools for auctions, live chat and wish lists.

WebSphere also offered the flexibility to bring in outside applications when some of its inherent features proved less than satisfactory, Tahmin says. “We could have used WebSphere tools for search and navigation, but we realized they weren’t best-of-breed,” he says. Instead, Ritz brought in a site search and navigation application from Endeca Technologies Inc.

The move quickly paid off. “We had Endeca integrated within a month or so, no downtime at all,” Tahmin says. “It paid for itself in a better shopping experience for customers and higher conversion rates.”

Choosing the leader

Ritz also has integrated other applications into WebSphere. It relies on CommercialWare Inc.’s CWDirect order management system to handle customer orders for multiple Ritz sites, Google Inc.’s Google Analytics for monitoring and analyzing customers’ online shopping behavior, and fraud-screening management technology from CyberSource Corp. “We could have built our own fraud-screening tool, but we felt it was in the best interest of our company to go with the leader in the field,” Tahmin says.

Ritz also recently went live with a customer-reviews application from PowerReviews Inc. While incorporating several best-of-breed applications, WebSphere Commerce continues to provide strong web-services-based application integration technology that Tahmin says should support Ritz as it grows. “We can scale up with what we have, which gives us another reason to go with the WebSphere platform,” he says.

Road Runner Sports, which like Ritz is running with an aggressive growth strategy, has taken more of a single-source approach to its technology needs. After a broad review of the technology market to find a replacement for its former platform, Road Runner chose ATG because it believed that ATG presented the strongest overall platform with built-in application functionality that suited the retailer’s goals, says Taylor, the retailer’s general manager. “We wanted the best of all worlds,” he says. “The best software tools to manage product merchandising ourselves, a good interface into our Oracle database, and a technology environment where we can grow.”

More specifically, Road Runner wanted something that would inject more personalization features into its retail web sites while having the flexibility to scale up with additional sites as it enters niche areas beyond its general running-shoe site RoadRunnerSports.com and its women-focused ActivaSports.com. The ATG platform offers that functionality, while providing Road Runner direct control over personalization strategy and the development of content for future sites, Taylor says. “The merchandising customization is all within our control, so we trigger product offers based on shopping behavior, and we can run multiple product catalogs out of a single database so we can continue to create additional micro sites,” he says.

ATG impressed Road Runner both with its ongoing investment in Java technology and the expansion of its hosted platform through acquisition of best-of-breed applications, including Primus site search-and-navigation and eStara for online click-to-chat and click-to-call features, Taylor says.

At the same time, Taylor adds, the ATG platform has offered Road Runner the flexibility to bring two outside applications into the core platform-Coremetrics Inc. for web analytics and Scene7 Inc. for rich media imaging displays.

Making music

Musician’s Hut Inc., an online retailer specializing in selling guitars and drum sets, wanted the high functionality of an ATG-type platform, but at less cost to stay within its targeted technology spending ratio of about 2% of revenue, CEO Eric Archuleta says. And with particular merchandising needs to help it compete while planning to grow in a tough market, it wanted a platform that would support a fast launch while offering enough flexibility to customize applications. It launched MusiciansHut.com in December 2005 on a hosted platform from Demandware, which provides software on-demand over the Internet.

“Demandware offers advanced merchandising tools not available on other e-commerce platforms for less than $100,000,” Archuleta says. “This allows us, a small retailer with minimal capital, to have the features found in the top 50 online retail sites.” He notes that Musician’s Hut spent less than $30,000 to get his new site up and running in about a month in late 2005.

Musician’s Hut has implemented several features through Demandware, including a customer wish list, e-mail-a-friend, checkout, site search and a customer reviews application. Demandware also has been particularly good at optimizing MusiciansHut.com for natural Internet search rankings, Archuleta says. When Google introduced a service for submitting site content via XML to its index, “Demandware had the tool installed within weeks, so our IT guy just has to click a button to feed our content to Google,” he says.

For all of Demandware’s features, however, Musician’s Hut also relies on third-party providers. Without built-in e-mail management as is available through other platforms, it uses an e-mail management system from Vertical Response Inc., a vendor that has proven to be effective at getting e-mail marketing messages beyond spam filters and into consumers’ inboxes, Archuleta says. And though Archuleta figures that Demandware will be able to support Musician’s Hut’s growth for years with most of its e-commerce-related applications, he figures he may have to eventually go beyond Demandware’s built-in order management and add on an order management application from OrderMotion Inc. to handle higher volumes.

Hitting home

The desire to plan for growth without worrying about having to constantly modify multiple applications drove home-and-garden e-retailer MarketExpo.com to switch from a custom-built e-commerce platform about a year ago to Venda’s hosted platform, which provides nearly all of the retailer’s e-commerce technology, says founder and CEO Denise Houseberg.

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