E-commerce systems update

Jul 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

When it comes to managing e-commerce, multichannel merchants have a wide variety of solutions to choose from. Options range from stand-alone e-commerce applications to fully integrated order management and fulfillment systems designed to handle customers and orders seamlessly regardless of order channel.

As with any major technology investment, the process of selecting a system can be daunting, requiring a thorough review of each solution’s bells and whistles. Let’s take a look at some of the systems available on the Web front.

Blue Martini

San Mateo, CA-based Blue Martini was acquired last year by Golden Gate Capital and is now part of Delray Beach, FL-based Ecometry Corp.’s suite of applications. Blue Martini is best known for its e-commerce functionality, including catalog and product management, time-sensitive pricing, and promotion management. Personalized offers and content based on sales analysis can help increase both order size and conversion rate. The application can also be localized in many languages, with support for multiple currencies.

At the heart of the solution is Blue Martini’s customer engine that assembles data from designated channels into a data warehouse, segments customers, profiles these segments, and generates strategies for how their value can be increased. The system’s analytics and segmentation capability is used for scoring, which can be based on customer preferences, previous customer behavior, and third-party information such as demographic information. Segmenting and clustering algorithms are available to score customers by recency/frequency/monetary value (RFM) and profitability.

Relationship marketing handles matching of customers to content, delivering multistep, event-driven, cross-channel marketing campaigns to targeted audiences.

Content management is the third component of the engine, offering customer-specific internationalized content in rich media formats on a device-aware basis.

Additional modules in Blue Martini include

campaign management — a workflow-based application for delivering relevant campaigns to targeted segments (with list deduplication and suppression and automatic filtering for opt-outs).

loyalty programs — allows member registration and customer self-service at any channel to manage customer retention programs, with program management, redemption, and analysis functionality.

market research — with detailed results tracking by group or individual.

“clienteling” — to automatically manage larger numbers of high-value in-store customers in a personalized manner, activity planning, and event reminders.

customer service — a real-time application for use in contact centers, providing up-to-date access to customer records, as well as a self-service Web portal with live chat and cobrowsing functionality.

gift registry — for access online or in store, with support for handheld scanners to add items. Order processing is available in store, online, and via contact centers, and can trigger follow-up if the list is fully purchased before the event to enable more merchandise to be added.

inventory locator — provides access to inventory information through either an in-store or a Web-based system. This can be integrated to a wide variety of inventory systems and includes rules to determine the probability of an item being in stock.

Blue Martini also provides metrics with all modules for analysis of the campaign effectiveness and profitability. The company’s worldwide customer base includes Kohl’s, Sprint, Iomega, Debenhams, Royal Doulton, Saks Fifth Avenue, Wilson Sporting Goods, and Gymboree.

Very large enterprises may also be interested in ATG or Microsoft Site Server to manage their e-commerce functionality.

FRY

Another option for handling e-commerce is to use a highly customized application such as the Fry open commerce platform, featuring personalization tools in an experience management module. Ann Arbor, MI-based Fry also offers search engine optimization (SEO) to promote higher relevancy rankings with search engines and drive more customers to your site in partnership with ChannelAdvisor, a Morrisville, NC-based auction and marketplace management software and services provider, to maintain optimal organic and paid search effectiveness.

With Fry’s customized approach, each Website is custom-designed. All Fry sites support multitier product catalogs with multiple product categories and attributes, product kitting, multiple product images, e-mail-to-a-friend, add-to-wish-list, advanced site search (“Did you mean?”), flexible index management, robust merchandising, cross-sell and upsell, promotion management (percent off, dollars off, buy-one-get-one, free-with-purchase, shipping discounts), multiple ship-to addresses, electronic gift certificate purchase and redemption, gift wrapping and gift messages, tax and shipping calculations, credit-card validation, order confirmation e-mails, plus A/B testing, user segmentation, random content delivery, customer profile management, customer wish list, e-mail preferences, secure credit-card storage, and content targeting.

Fry’s site management includes full catalog, category, and product management, comprehensive content administration, WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) text editor, content scheduling, previewing and approval workflow, dynamic content formatting, campaign and promotions management, account management tools, and roles-based security.

Fry also offers optional features for gift registries, on-site search solutions, product visualization, and kiosks.

Fry clients include Whirlpool, The Home Depot, Ann Taylor, and Lillian Vernon Corp.

JAGGED PEAK

Global companies seeking to manage multiple Websites within a complex enterprise may find that e-commerce solutions or even order management and fulfillment applications just aren’t adequate to orchestrate and manage a massive set of business rules for handling customers, orders, and merchandise. Such companies may instead need to rely on a solution such as Edge from Clearwater FL-based Jagged Peak Technologies.

Edge functions as the enterprise “control room” that seamlessly integrates with enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), information management, warehouse management, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems while aggregating orders from all channels using libraries of business rules and user profiles to manage customized, personalized Web portals.

For example, external order capture portals can serve as branded customer or contact center interfaces where catalogs can be viewed and orders placed, driven by an internal Edge portal where authorized users can view data and activity and conduct administration and management activities.

Once demand rules and user variables are defined, you can publish as many Web portals as you need to support multiple customer and/or user communities. These dynamic, open- or secured-access portals can be linked to one or more real-time inventory directories to feed online catalogs displaying customized pricing and other content tailored to the needs of multiple audiences. You can manage these catalogs in real time, adding, viewing, editing, or deleting item details, including category and subcategory assignments, graphic file attachments, long and short narrative descriptions, internal reference notes, and other user-defined fields.

Edge modules include

order capture — supporting single orders, distribution orders (multiple recipient), and recurring orders placed through external Web portals or directly into the system. All tasks normally associated with initiating a order, including accessing customer information from a database, placing items in a shopping cart, checking out, and placing an order on hold, are completed in this module.

order management — provides a real-time snapshot of all order activity for backorder management and exceptions and for changing or editing order details. Orders can also be sorted and indexed by any number of attributes, including customer, date range, source, priority, and status, and if necessary, the results can be downloaded to a spreadsheet or a plain text file.

inventory management — a direct link to warehouse systems, giving you access to real-time inventory levels and usage details to add or delete items, create categories, build kits or assemblies, and assign new SKUs as needed. You can also issue warehouse work orders and advanced shipping notifications (ASNs).

catalog management — dynamically builds custom catalogs for multiple constituencies. You can create new attributes; assign selling rules; assign items to multiple categories and subcategories; post descriptions and attach digital assets with PDF, PPT, and other document formats, plus audio, video, and spreadsheet files.

demand rules — stimulate and control demand for catalog items. You establish the parameters for each SKU including user accessibility by member or group, determine quantities that can be ordered, set prices, apply discounts, and run promotions. Affiliate features allow you to support commissions and credit sales to appropriate sources (such as associated Websites, contact centers, or specific campaigns).

logistics management — where you create and administer customer shipping rules and the logic for routing orders to providers and/or warehouses anywhere in the world, enabling you to optimize inventory, manage shipping costs, and improve delivery performance.

warehouse shipping and receiving — interacts directly with your vendors’ warehouse management and transportation systems or allows you to complete this aspect of the order process on your own.

content management — lets you dynamically create, edit, and publish Web pages and content on your portals. Templates support new blocks of text and graphics in a number of layouts, which can then be reviewed before final posting on live sites.

member relationship management — to house customer and/or membership databases. Customers can be added, profiles created, and group assignments made. Customer details such as budget/spending limitations, group affiliations, and passwords are managed here.

communications/event management — an automatic messaging center that supports customer and user e-mail and event messaging based on user-definable triggers. You identify the recipients (a customer, the warehouse) and the message (notification of order receipt, notification of order shipment).

marketing execution — allows users to track, analyze, and report on order activities by specific marketing campaign, market segment, market source, and promotional offers.

e-mail broadcasting — enables users to create and execute targeted e-mail communications to both Edge-based member groups and to external e-mail lists.

purchase order management — an enterprise repository to view and monitor purchase order transactions among your supply chain business partners.

application reports — consolidates all information related to orders, catalogs, inventory, and member activities in one place so that you can view, download, and analyze near-real-time data and then make tactical decisions and modify execution plans on the fly.

system administration — supports configuration of order capture portals and projects and is where you create users and manage access rights and privileges, granting or restricting access to modules and/or functions within modules as necessary.

Edge is usually implemented as a “hosted” application managed by Jagged Peak, although it can be run on a licensed basis in either a J2EE or .Net environment.

Edge users include Leapfrog, Tag Heuer, Swatch, Davidoff, and LVMH.

Because Edge is a sophisticated control and management environment, it can be used with any of the other systems to streamline complex marketing, campaign, sales, and operational activities.

MARKETLIVE

Petaluma, CA-based MarketLive offers a Java-based, componentized, n-tier system that offers a robust and configurable foundation for building sophisticated e-commerce structures with a site management component to manage product, content, and merchandising data with control over all product displays, product descriptions, product categories, inventory settings, cross-sells, upsells, images, and related editorial content.

MarketLive system features include

a merchandising component — dynamically personalizes product assortments and displays according to user-defined business rules

a campaign component — for designing, implementing, managing, and analyzing promotional campaigns and event-driven marketing efforts

a customer loyalty module — includes personal accounts, favorites lists, gift registries, product selection wizards, and a variety of proactive marketing tools, all of which work together to deliver a personalized user experience

an order processing module — manages the shopping cart and check-out experience, with support for multiple ship-tos, configurable tax and shipping rules, fraud prevention, out-of-stock/backorder options, automatic reorders, order tracking, and order history.

MarketLive also offers a contact center support module and a fulfillment module for handling pick/pack/ship functionality, with queues for pending orders, held orders, and orders in picking. Also, an analytics component generates an array of reports on merchandising, sales, site administration, campaigns, tool use, and traffic.

MarketLive users include The Swiss Colony, Highlights, and Norm Thompson.

VENDA

Unlike many other e-commerce applications, the solution from New York-based Venda does a reasonable job in managing inventory in the warehouse.

Venda boasts a number of features on the merchandising and marketing fronts, including self-service e-merchandising, e-marketing, and selling; merchant content management; product and catalog management; profiles, groups, and customer segmentation; self-service promotions; e-mail marketing campaigns; affiliate management; gift certificates, vouchers, and gift registry; natural language, probabilistic search engine, dynamic navigation (aka guided search/navigation); personalization engine; and Venda Imageware zooming, rotating, and product catalog.

The system’s numerous features pertaining to the back-end include

  • order management and fulfillment tools
  • order, returns, and exchanges management
  • global payment gateways
  • U.S., U.K., and EU tax calculation
  • shipping calculation and handling
  • warehouse and inventory
  • fulfillment pick-and-ship management
  • multichannel integration and Web-enabled stores
  • online/offline retail integration
  • cross-channel integration
  • Web-enabled stores
  • handheld barcoding systems
  • catalog and DRTV integration
  • international double-byte multilingual and multicurrency capabilities
  • customer service and contact center tools
  • CRM
  • contact center operator and management.

On the analysis end, the solution includes

  • business reporting and site metrics
  • standardized business reports
  • site metrics and analysis
  • customized reports
  • merchant control tools
  • business user and IT control panel
  • content, product, and catalog editing
  • promotional planning and management
  • fraud screening and security.

This is a hosted application, supported worldwise, with Venda offering site design services, customized features, and user training.

Venda’s largest clients are in the U.K., including Tommy Hilfiger, Virgin Megastores, Mothercare, Austin Reed, BBC Shop, and Granada Learning.

London-based apparel merchant Ted Baker handles its own site design to emphasize the brand’s edgy style. Although Venda could have done the graphics, Ted Baker decided to take design inhouse, keeping control of visuals and branding by deploying its own HTML pages onto the Venda platform. Outsourcing the rest to Venda and using the merchant control tools, Baker keeps hands-on control of its business while Venda manages the technology.


Ernie Schell is director of Ventnor, NJ-based consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis.