February 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Weighing technology choices

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Prior to Venda, MarketExpo had operated an e-commerce platform on its own servers with a collection of applications from several vendors. But with about 12,000 SKUs from 26 suppliers and annual sales now of $1 million, MarketExpo reached the point in 2005 where it could afford a comprehensive, hosted platform from Venda, which charges a flat fee of $10,000 per site per month. “I wanted a platform that wouldn’t limit my growth, yet because I’m using Venda almost exclusively for all of our e-commerce, I can run the site now with just two employees and myself,” Houseberg says.

While Venda provides a full suite of e-commerce applications, including web analytics, site search, e-mail marketing, and fulfillment and inventory management, Houseberg complements the platform for additional functionality with Google Analytics and, for e-mail marketing management, Constant Contact Inc.

Fish story

While rich functionality in multiple applications is important to every retailer, Fish Net, operating under the brand That Fish Place-That Pet Place, has emphasized application integration as it seeks to leverage customer data across its web channel and its single store-a 120,000-square-foot pet supplies outlet that draws customers from several states to its location in Lancaster, Pa., vice president Rick Amour says. With each channel doing more than $10 million in 2006 sales and growing at 30% a year, the retailer in January migrated its technology infrastructure to a Java-based software suite from Profit Center Software Inc.

One of Fish Net’s most pressing needs was accessing customer data across channels to build personalized marketing campaigns. But though some vendors impressed Amour with its marketing system, Amour chose to go with Profit Center for its ability to integrate customer data across store point-of-sale and web order transactions. “Profit Center has great multi-channel integration,” he says. “I really wanted a complete enterprise solution, and with only two IT folks, I didn’t want to be integrating best-of-breed applications.”

The retailer now integrates online, store and contact center sales information with its back-end Oracle database to better analyze customer data and prepare marketing campaigns. One of the first results of this integration is a single cross-channel loyalty program, which has replaced what had been separate programs for each channel. “Now we can have multiple channels on the same customer loyalty program, so we can adjust loyalty marketing campaigns based on store purchasing or web or contact center orders,” Amour says.

Hybrid strategy

Profit Center provides a nearly complete suite of software applications, from the e-commerce platform (including web analytics, site search and order management) to back-end enterprise applications such as inventory management, purchasing and accounting applications. “We use Profit Center for all but payroll and human resources management, which we outsource,” Amour says.

Still, it will be a long time before retailers go to a single source for all of their software, experts say. They may rely on one vendor for most of their needs, but still bring in others for certain applications. “Over the next 10 to 15 years at least, retailers will still be operating in a single-source/best-of-breed hybrid environment,” Garf says.

The need for flexibility in infrastructure, of course, never ends-especially not for growing retailers. At Ritz, for example, Tahmin figures on continuing to build on its WebSphere platform. “We’re using Vcommerce now to expand into consumer electronics, then we’ll look at other new areas as well,” he says.


Click Here for the Internet Retailer Guide to Providers of E-Commerce Technology

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