July 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Crafting a web business

Few retailers in Internet Retailer`s Top 500 can do it all themselves. Here’s a look at the leading vendors to Top 500 retailers in key categories.

Web retailers and home builders have a number of traits in common, although thankfully the condition of their respective markets isn’t one of them. Both rely on skilled craftsmen who know how to wield the tools of their trade to create safe and secure domains.

Like those carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other craftsmen and women who piece together a house, web retailers rely on specialists and their technology tools-both internal and external-to construct and maintain their e-commerce businesses. Similarly, e-retailers depend on information technology tools in helping them build their own information systems, working with third-party providers and service companies, or mixing the two.

But retailers’ own technical skills are all across the board in terms of their ability, and sometimes willingness, to acquire, implement, deploy and manage their e-commerce applications. That’s where software and services providers come in.

In the Internet Retailer 2008 Top 500 Guide, retailers identified whether they develop technology in house, work with providers or do both. The following report examines the vendors in their respective technology categories that were cited most often by Top 500 retailers. The top three vendors in each category were determined by research for and published in the Top 500 Guide. Data was gathered by Internet Retailer from January through April of this year and the provider rankings are based on the frequency with which those providers were cited by merchants in the 2008 Top 500 Guide.

Affiliate Marketing

Steady business

Affiliate marketing is a perennial revenue producer for e-retailers, made doubly attractive because of the low investment and risk involved. 72% of this year’s Top 500 retailers use one of three providers to help manage their affiliate programs. Commission Junction, a subsidiary of ValueClick Co., led the way in the 2008 Top 500 with 167 retailer users, followed by LinkShare Corp. with 103. DoubleClick Performics, a unit of Google Inc., was next with 88 retailers. The three providers serve 358 of the Top 500 merchants. Commission Junction’s Top 500 customers include HP Home & Home Office Store (No. 5) and SonyStyle.com (No. 13); LinkShare’s Top 500 customers include Office Depot Inc. (No. 3) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 14); and DoubleClick Performics serves merchants such as OfficeMax Inc. (No. 6) and Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 8).

Content Delivery Network

Serving up video

As web retailers become more adept at using video online, they need technology to ensure speedy loading and high quality images. Content delivery network service providers such as Akamai, Mirror Image Internet Inc., GSI Commerce Inc. and Yahoo Inc. provided services to 96 of this year’s Top 500 retailers. Another 106 Top 500 retailers, 21%, handle the task in house. Akamai was cited most often as content delivery network provider with 81 retailers, including top five retailers Staples Inc. (No. 2) and Office Depot Inc. (No. 3). Mirror Image Internet serves seven customers in the Top 500, including LEGO Brand Retail Inc. (No. 140) and Furniture.com Inc. (No. 164). GSI Commerce is used by four Top 500 retailers, such as the National Football League (No. 130) and RadioShack Corp. (No. 235), while SuperMediaStore.com, a unit of Linkyo Corp. (No. 233), and UnbeatableSale.com Inc. (No. 355) are among four Yahoo clients.

Content Management

Real time placement

Content management applications are helping e-retailers transform the way they present product images, video and other content on their web sites. Today’s technology enables them to change product placement based on consumers’ viewing and buying habits as they shop. Most Top 500 retailers-267-develop their own technology in house. Among many providers, GSI Commerce Inc. was cited most often this year, by 18 retailers including Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. (No. 43) and Ralph Lauren Media LLC (No. 87). Escalate Retail and Interwoven were next with nine each and Fry Inc. with seven. Escalate Retail clients include Saks Direct, a unit of Saks Fifth Avenue (No. 46), and Kohl’s Corp. (No. 63); Interwoven clients include Staples Inc. (No. 2) and Quixtar Inc. (No. 26); and Fry serves Orchard Brands Corp. (No. 60) and Team Express Inc. (No. 218).

CRM Systems

Retail relationships

Customer relationship management technology enables retailers to learn more about consumer browsing and buying habits. As retailers expand into multiple channels or better understand existing channel sales, CRM tools help them track shopper behavior in store or online. 185 Top 500 retailers manage CRM entirely in house, while another 18 combine third-party provider tools with internal efforts. Escalate Retail led CRM providers with 13 Top 500 clients, followed by GSI Commerce Inc. with 11 and LivePerson Inc. with six. Escalate customers include Macy’s Inc. (No. 28) and Redcats USA (No. 29). GSI Commerce’s clients include Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (No. 123) and The Timberland Co. (No. 408), while LivePerson’s list features Campmor Inc. (No. 272) and Rugs USA (No. 284).

Customer Service

Monitoring all channels

Customer service was broken out as a separate technology category in the 2008 Top 500 to help distinguish it from CRM technology. Applications are designed to help online and call center customer service reps coordinate customer orders, changes and returns, and access cross-channel data to assist with upselling and cross-selling initiatives. 111 Top 500 retailers develop customer service technology internally. Among customer service applications providers, RightNow Technologies Inc. was cited most often, by 14 retailers. Clients include HSN (No. 25) and Overstock.com Inc. (No. 30). GSI Commerce Inc. was next with nine mentions and Escalate Retail followed with eight. GSI Commerce customers include BabyCenter LLC (No. 239) and Spanx Inc. (No. 379); Escalate clients include Redcats USA (No. 29) and Nordstrom Inc. (No. 32).

E-Commerce Platform

Complex choices

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