June 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

Edwin Watts Golf discovers why it’s better to look before you launch

Edwin Watts Golf’s initially rocky transition to a new platform shows why retailers need a web strategy and not just a site.

When Edwin Watts Golf recently moved onto a new e-commerce platform, it expected easy access to functionality lacking on its old platform – instead, its experience on the new platform proved so frustrating that the company came close to abandoning it. Many such issues could have been avoided by better aligning the site’s needs with platform vendor prospects prior to purchase, USinternetworking Inc. senior director of e-commerce Rhett Daniel told attendees at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

The retailer’s experience underscored Daniel`s message to retailers that when investing in a pricey and complex business purchase such as an e-commerce platform, there’s no replacement for due diligence on both a vendor’s offering and the retailer’s own requirements. In a session entitled “Back to square one: Refocusing and starting over,” Daniel described Edwin Watts Golf’s experience with replatforming its site and the role of USi, an application service provider (ASP), managed hosting and e-commerce development vendor, in finally guiding the retailer’s transition successfully onto a new e-commerce platform.

Working with its previous, initial platform provider and its previous development partner exposed the difficulties of a retailer choosing a platform provider and launching a site without first having a web strategy and a thorough assessment of its current and future needs, according to Daniel. “It’s like building a house,” he said. “If you don’t start right, with a good foundation, you are going to have to tear it down and build it again.”

Edwin Watts Golf had put up its initial site with little long-range planning and was surprised by its rapid growth online, Daniel said. Its initial platform could not support that growth curve and its then-current previous development partner couldn`t adequately support its transition to the IBM WebSphere platform. For example, the previous provider couldn’t support partner sites or microsites, a requirement that had never been discussed in choosing the new system. The transition was proving so problematic that Edwin Watts Golf considered scrapping its new platform.

Instead, USi, called in as a development partner, was able to stabilize the site on the new platform and get from it the functionality the retailer needed. The experience, said Daniel, points up what retailers should keep in mind when selecting a new e-commerce platform and new technology and service partners. First, he said, e-retailers should leverage what they already have . “Don’t be too hasty to scrap an investment,” he said. “Take a long-range view of your requirements and be realistic in your expectations.” That includes identifying which partner relationships are working and which aren’t, he added.

Daniel also advised multi-channel retailers to build an online strategy that complements their offline strategy. “Determine what you want from your online channel,” he said. “View your web site as a way to support and augment other channels, not as a replacement.” Finally, retailers should evaluate and work with vendors that “get” the retailer’s business, according to Daniels. “Use partners to help find a solution that meets business and technology needs,” he said. “Do your due diligence. We have seen failed implementations when retailers rush in the requirements gathering process.”

Daniels added that once Edwin Watts Golf was stabilized and fully functioning on its new platform, online sales rose from less than 20% of its business to about 40% of revenues currently.

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