July 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Who puts the ‘e’ in e-commerce

E-retailing is increasingly complex. Here are the vendors most often used by Internet Retailer Top 500 retailers in 21 categories.

Some very small e-retailers are run by technology wizards who develop and maintain their own software, and some very large web retailers have an army of programmers and technical staff to handle e-commerce operations needs internally. For everyone else, there are hundreds of application and service providers who keep web retailers’ web sites running so consumers can buy whenever they choose to shop.

Retailers listed in the 2009 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide rely on hundreds of providers to ensure shoppers are able to find, compare, order, pay for and, if necessary, return products using technology tools on the retailers’ web sites-all as seamlessly and hassle-free as possible.

The top three providers in each of 21 technology and services categories served anywhere from 17 to 458 of the Top 500 retailers, according to data from the current guide. Internet Retailer added three new categories to the 2009 research: customer reviews and forums, live chat/click-to-call, and personalization.

In the 2009 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, retailers identified whether they develop technology in-house, work with providers, or do both. The following report examines the vendors in each technology category cited most often by Top 500 retailers. The top three vendors in each category were determined by research that has been 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 providers were cited by merchants in the 2009 Top 500 Guide. The following summaries include the top providers in each category, the number of times retailers cited them and three of their leading retailer clients.

Affiliate marketing: Steady ROI

Most retailers focus their online marketing efforts on affiliate marketing, paid search and e-mail marketing. Affiliate marketing maintains its luster because of high return on investment and relatively low cost. The top three providers helped 80%, or 402, of the Top 500 retailers manage their affiliate marketing programs.

1. Commission Junction, a division of ValueClick, 207 Top 500 clients, including:
QVC Inc. (No. 11)
Gap Inc. Direct (No. 25)
Overstock.com Inc. (No. 29)

2. LinkShare Corp., 104 Top 500 clients, including:
Nordstrom Inc. (No. 32)
Shutterfly Inc. (No. 69)
Alibris Inc. (No. 116)

3. Google Affiliate Network, 91 Top 500 clients, including:
Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 7)
Target Corp. (No. 20)
BarnesandNoble.com Inc. (No. 41)

Content delivery network: Carrying the load

Many retailers use a content delivery network to store images and other site content on servers around the world, which helps accelerate delivery of that content to consumers visiting their e-commerce sites. The top three providers delivered content network services to 27%, or 135, of the Top 500 retailers.

1. Akamai Technologies, 104 Top 500 clients, including:
Staples Inc. (No. 2)
Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 7)
Best Buy Co. (No. 10)

2. GSI Commerce Inc., 22 Top 500 clients, including:
Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. (No. 39)
Ralph Lauren Media LLC (No. 88)
National Football League (No. 123)

3. Mirror Image Internet Inc., 9 Top 500 clients, including:
HSN Inc. (No. 26)
LEGO Brand Retail Inc. (No. 141)
Petco Animal Supplies Inc. (No. 186)

Content management: Keeping it together

Content is king, even more so now as retailers zero in on better ways to optimize their web sites on the major search engines. GSI Commerce Inc. is the biggest provider of content management applications to Top 500 retailers, followed by Escalate Retail and ATG. Combined, all three vendors supply content management systems to 38-7.6%-of the Internet Retailer Top 500 e-retailers.

1. GSI Commerce Inc., 19 Top 500 clients, including:
Victoria’s Secret (No. 19)
Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (No. 121)
Zale Corp. (No. 185)

2. Escalate Retail, 11 Top 500 clients, including:
Clients: Saks Direct (No. 45)
Kohl’s Corp. (No. 50)
The Gymboree Corp. (No. 290)

3. ATG, 8 Top 500 clients, including:
Clients: Bluefly Inc. (No. 132)
NBTY Inc. (No. 136)
VitaminShoppe.com (No. 171)

CRM systems: Consumer intelligence

Web retailing is a numbers game and Top 500 retailers rely on their customer information systems to produce the data that helps them figure out what makes shoppers tick. A total of 48 Top 500 retailers, or 9.6%, contract with the biggest suppliers of CRM systems: GSI Commerce Inc., Escalate Retail, NetSuite Inc. and RightNow Technologies Inc.

1. GSI Commerce Inc., 23 Top 500 clients, including:
American Eagle Outfitters Inc. (No. 54)
Aéropostale Inc. (No. 156)
The Sports Authority Inc. (No. 184)

2. Escalate Retail, 13 Top 500 clients, including:
Sephora USA Inc. (No. 112)
Brooks Brothers (No. 165)
Hot Topic Inc. (No. 211)

3. NetSuite Inc., 6 (tie) Top 500 clients, including:
Ira Wood & Sons Inc. (No. 344)
Discount Ramps.com LLC (No. 402)
Your Electronic Warehouse (No. 442)

3. RightNow Technologies Inc., 6 (tie) Top 500 clients, including:
SonyStyle.com (No. 12)
Bass Pro Outdoor Online LLC (No. 81)
Big Fish Games Inc. (No. 147)

Customer reviews and forums: A key resource

Customer reviews and forums are quickly passing from “wish list” to “must have” status among the Top 500. Combined the three largest providers-PowerReviews Inc., Bazaarvoice and BizRate-supply 91 Top 500 retailers with technology that lets a customer speak her mind on products and services.

1. PowerReviews Inc., 48 Top 500 clients, including:
Staples Inc. (No. 2)
Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. (No. 39)
Recreational Equipment Inc. (No. 67)

2. Bazaarvoice, 40 Top 500 clients, including:
Office Depot Inc. (No. 4)
Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 7)
Best Buy Co. (No. 10)

3. BizRate, Scripps Networks Interactive, 3 Top 500 clients, including:
Zazzle.com Inc. (No. 195)
Liz Claiborne Inc. (No. 300)
Carrot Ink LLC (No. 489)

Customer service: Handle with care

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