November 4, 2013, 2:31 PM

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SAP also offers retailers a consulting service called MaxAttention that handles all integrations—including for software from other providers—during its own upgrades, Jonathon Becher, chief marketing officer at SAP says. Approximately 460 SAP customers around the world use MaxAttention and more than 95% of the company's customer base pays for some kind of additional support.

Oracle customer uses almost all of the vendor's commerce technologies, including its commerce service center, order management system, site search and merchandising tools, says Joel Katz, the high-end watch e-retailer's chief operating officer. It also uses more than a dozen tools from other vendors for functions including enterprise resource planning, accounting, fulfillment, warehouse management, inventory control and purchasing.

That may change, Katz says. Most of the non-Oracle pieces in Ashford's puzzle are relics of earlier company decisions, he says. "We're actually looking to integrate more and more with Oracle, because we like Oracle's road map and feel they're putting a huge effort into integration and supporting and understanding their customers."

Katz cites several recent moves by the vendor that have solidified his confidence. The biggest one, he says, is the integration of ATG Web Commerce, Oracle's e-commerce platform, with Endeca Commerce, Oracle's site search and navigation software for providing personalized content to shoppers. Oracle acquired ATG in 2010 and Endeca in 2011.

ATG's previous back-end merchandizing tool was not easy to use and lacked certain merchandising capabilities, Katz says, while Endeca lacked the ability to personalize and run promotions through the entire web site. By last year, however, Oracle had combined the two tools so that retailers can go into one dashboard and change the product assortments and pricing on each page, then set rules for which products appear to which customers throughout the site, he says.

Not only would buying piecemeal each of the technologies Ashford requires take far more information technology work, but it would require the retailer to devote time and money to constantly stay abreast of each vendor's updates and new releases, he says. Moreover, once a retailer has established a successful business, the only way to grow is to scale up—which requires tightly integrated technologies, he says. For example, a growing retailer that needs to ramp up its shipping capability quickly would find that difficult without already integrated order management, inventory management and customer service, he says.

Outdoor gear and apparel seller Moosejaw Mountaineering uses IBM Smarter Commerce software for mobile POS and social media marketing. The mobile POS tool, which vendor Crossview designed to work with IBM, allows associates to search web inventory and place orders for customers who can't find what they're looking for in the store, shipping items directly to their homes. The integration has proved so advantageous that Moosejaw has opened new stores with primarily mobile POS checkout rather than traditional cash registers, and 70% of all transactions at those locations are now mobile, says Moosejaw Mountaineering CEO Eoin Comerford.

In 2011, IBM launched its Smarter Commerce suite with the goal of meeting all the technology needs for businesses trying to adapt quickly to new trends like social and mobile. IBM built the suite on its WebSphere Commerce platform through acquisitions, including of Coremetrics, Unica and Xtify Inc. "Having an approach that is integrated with capabilities from the supply chain to order management is critical to success," says Alisa Maclin, vice president, industry solutions marketing, for IBM.

IBM has also made strides this year to build out its "cloud" capabilities, that is, making its software available over the Internet rather than as an on-premise-only solution. The company has positioned itself to compete with cloud-based e-commerce technology providers, including Demandware, that cater to midsize retailers and divisions of large retailers, says Gene Alvarez, vice president and information technology analyst at Gartner Inc. Moreover, by adding cloud services, IBM can offer more ways for large companies to use its products, he says. "Cloud providers have captured a portion of the market that larger vendors have missed," he says. "But larger vendors are realizing they should be spreading out" with the technology options they offer.

In some cases, Alvarez adds, a retailer may use licensed e-commerce software as its main e-commerce technology platform, while using cloud-based technology for sister sites or specific applications. For example, a U.S.-based retailer might want to expand to Portugal, but find the cost of running all its existing technologies in that country would be much higher than it is domestically, Alvarez says. In this case it might make sense for the retailer to launch in Portugal on a cloud-hosted platform, he says—and if the retailer is an IBM client, it could simply purchase the hosted version of the licensed technology it already uses at home.

Like IBM, SAP and Oracle offer cloud-hosted versions of their commerce software, too. All three of those technology providers historically offered licensed software for a retailer to install and run on its own machines—a complicated, expensive proposition. Indeed, larger online businesses are turning to cloud-based technology for its speed and capabilities, especially as its security and stability continue to improve. For example, Dutch web-only retailer Wehkamp, which booked 600 million euros ($792 million) in 2012 web sales, in June began using one of IBM's cloud-based tools to optimize its markdown pricing. And the American Red Cross, which posted 2012 revenue of $3.17 billion, migrated all of its several hundred web sites for local chapters to a single, cloud-hosted Oracle ATG Web Commerce platform.

Meanwhile, some smaller vendors that offer only hosted technologies are making headway in the high-end arena against SAP, Oracle and IBM. Demandware is one of them. Demandware offers an entirely cloud-hosted e-commerce platform that client retailers connect to via the web.

The vendor's strengths lie in its ability to launch and manage multiple global sites from one platform and its built-in merchandising capabilities, according to a 2012 Forrester report. However, the vendor's order management technology remains appropriate only for smaller, less complex retailers, the report says; IBM leads the pack for high-end order management capabilities through its Sterling Commerce unit.

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