January 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Gearing Up

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Kugler admits there are limitations to operating on the NetSuite platform. He figures he could get more sophisticated imaging on a more customized licensed or build-your-own platform, but the NetSuite platform suits his needs for merchandising DVDs and routinely offers automated upgrades of platform functionality that can be vital to his business. For example, the platform offers a simple means of creating direct links from his inventory management system to eBay.com whenever DVA wants to move extra merchandise through the world’s largest e-marketplace, Kugler says.

Even more important, he adds, has been his staff’s ability to quickly learn how to use the NetSuite platform for managing vital functions like online merchandising, marketing and inventory updates, he says. “We have no full-time I.T. staff, but this e-commerce platform is intuitive, so an average worker making $30,000 or $40,000 a year can figure it out on his own,” he says.

Even retailers with large I.T. staffs, however, are taking a harder look at options for deploying an e-commerce platform. OvernightPrints.com has a large I.T. staff, and until now has operated a highly customized platform built in-house. Competing in a personalized products market dominated by VistaPrint, OvernightPrints also emphasizes the development of a highly interactive web site with sophisticated product configurators.

But it has decided to migrate to a licensed platform to better keep up with the latest technology and best practices in operating a retail e-commerce site, says Beck, who wasn’t free to name the new platform vendor.

The combination of an established e-commerce platform and a strong I.T. staff for modifying it supports the best technology strategy as OvernightPrints.com grows “and we learn who our customers are and what they need,” he says.

In-house plus SaaS

Jelly Belly Candy Co., meanwhile, is taking still another approach by combining in-house resources with outside vendors. After spending six months exploring technology options, including licensed and SaaS platforms, the retailer and wholesaler of candy products decided to build a new site in house-the fourth time it has taken the build-your-own route.

It chose to stay with the build-your-own option because it requires a platform that can handle a lot of back-end integration among inventory records and trading partners, e-commerce marketing manager Jason Marrone says.

The new site was custom-coded in Microsoft Corp.’s .Net development environment, which uses web services and other forms of web-enabled technology for integrating consumer-facing front-end applications as well as connecting with inventory and other back-end operations.

Nonetheless, realizing the in-house tech team could not do it all, Jelly Belly also brought in outside expertise for crucial areas where it wanted the latest proven technology. For rich media, Jelly Belly deployed technology from Fluid Inc. For site search, it went with a hosted application from SLI Systems Inc.

“These features definitely make it easier for our shoppers to find what they want, while making our products look better online,” Marrone says.

The strategy has already paid off. For the 2008 holiday shopping season, Jelly Belly recorded an 18% year-to-year rise in conversion rates and a 51% surge in retail sales at JellyBelly.com, Marrone says.

To produce that kind of performance, however, retailers need to first do their homework to match available technology options to their e-commerce goals. “Online retailers need to work with e-commerce platform and solution providers who live and breathe e-commerce-and understand the business and consumer expectations,” Forrester’s Walker says.


For the Internet Retailer E-Commerce Solutions Products & Services Guide, click here.

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