January 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

BIG decision

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Its former site, launched in 2005, was built on Shopatron technology that facilitated fulfillment of online sales through the physical stores of retailers located near the customer. But as Brooks grew online and began fulfilling its own orders, it needed a platform that could do a better job of promoting the brand with a variety of online content, Han says.

Brooks decided on Demandware because, among other things, it offered a content management system with built-in tools that Brooks’ merchandisers can use to build content with features such as zoom and multiple product images, and videos and social media content about sponsored athletic events, Han says. The built-in tools means no need to call on I.T. to make changes.

Brooks launched its new site in October, using LiveAreaLabs to design the site and Precision Design to build it on the Demandware platform. The trickiest part of the deployment, Han says, was in integrating with inventory, customer service and financial systems—a project Brooks handled in-house. A subscription to run Demandware starts at about $60,000 per year, the vendor says.

Although Han didn’t comment on conversion rates and notes Brooks has only begun to use its new e-commerce platform, she says Brooks is attracting more web shoppers to check out its brand.

Going global

At Tria Beauty, a skin-care products designer and retailer, the move to a new e-commerce platform was driven by its strategy of growing internationally, says Sridhar Nallani, vice president of I.T. With separate e-commerce sites serving the U.S., Canada, Japan, Spain and the U.K., and plans to launch in more markets, Tria needed a platform that would both integrate with its corporate ERP system for managing inventory and financial records, and provide local control to each site’s managers for merchandising and marketing.

Tria was unable to manage its home-grown sites from a central location, and that posed a growing problem as the retailer entered new markets. “It was getting out of hand as we tried to scale,” Nallani says. Tria also wanted its e-commerce site managers in each country to be able to control key parts of site content.

Tria went with Germany-based hybris for the best combination of out-of-the-box e-commerce functionality and integration of multiple sites with a back-end ERP system, Nallani says.

“Out of 60 features from hybris, several are completely open to being controlled by our business folks in different countries—for example, creating new landing pages and quickly changing graphics, and in their local language and currency, but with our common branding image,” he says. “These guys don’t have to depend on corporate I.T. to get things done.”

Managing the e-commerce front end that consumers see and back-end systems that the retailer uses to manage product data and fulfillment was also a particular challenge for PartsforScooters.com. Launched in 2002 on a Yahoo Store platform, the retailer started using the hosted technology platform from NetSuite Inc. in 2003 for its accounting and other back-end operations.

By 2005, however, it realized it could operate most efficiently by using NetSuite for the e-commerce front end as well. “NetSuite has been a huge benefit from the get-go,” says Matt Maney, head of sales and marketing.

The system allows Maney and webmaster Sean Lucas, for example, to remotely access and manage online content and include meta tags that optimize the site for Internet search engines, while also letting general manager Michelle Palmer access from one source all her business applications and financial reports. That also lets Maney see instant reports of what’s selling on the site so he can have a better idea while on buying trips which products or categories to focus on.

The strong integration between the merchandising features of the site and back-end databases also facilitates better site search and navigation, Lucas says. “We can create a search in our database for tires that meet certain criteria, for instance, and then dynamically display them in our web store. So our customers can browse our products more quickly without having to create the search themselves.”

Although the retailer didn’t reveal the cost of its system, NetSuite says its platform can run from $500 to about $2,000 per month, depending on the extent of technology used.

B2B challenge

Smoothing the integration between an e-commerce site and product data can be particularly challenging for business-to-business merchants with extensive product catalogs. Take Akron Hardware, which supplies to licensed resellers some 50,000 SKUs for doors, encompassing three quarters of a million pieces of information on product attributes. A single door lock can include 50 or more distinct parts, says Roy Crute, vice president of sales.

For years, Akron got along on its Infor business management software, which manages all that product data—but only for its traditional sales via telephone, e-mail or fax. With more customers wanting to buy online, Akron looked for an e-commerce platform that would work with the data-heavy Infor software. Among other things, Akron wanted to be able to quickly bundle products into merchandising kits at multiple price points.

Akron chose Insite Software because it appeared best suited to provide a merchandising front end to Akron’s extensive product data, Crute says. “When we mentioned how we needed to integrate with our back-end data, they didn’t flinch,” he says.

Developing the new site to Akron’s specs took about a year from concept to going live, and Akron still had to work extensively with Infor to prepare its data to support Insite’s technology.

But the work paid off, Crute says. Customers can shop online by brand, category or specific SKUs, and Akron can present multiple pricing levels to customers based on their purchasing volume or other contract terms.

The web site has not yet supplanted the phone as Akron’s largest sales channel, but it’s growing the fastest, Crute says.

Made to order

At Bon-Ton, choosing IBM came after a review of several vendors that led Bon-Ton to conclude that WebSphere best met its needs: directly managing online merchandising and marketing campaigns, and quickly modifying those campaigns based on consumer response; and integrating the e-commerce system with Bon-Ton’s in-house order management and HighJump warehouse management systems, enabling the retailer to fulfill orders from any of its three distribution centers, its stores or drop-ship suppliers.

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