Web Services Delivers Sales

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-09-27

Web Services Delivers Sales

Web services are making new inroads into e-commerce. When mobile electronics and wireless phones retailer Car Toys Inc. sought out an online marketplace retailing solution, it turned to Mercent for a system that enabled it to grow its presence online and minimize IT costs.

Seattle-based Mercent delivered its Web services-based Mercent Commerce System to Car Toys, also based in Seattle, and enabled the retailer to sell its products through Amazon. com and several other marketplaces, including Yahoo Shopping, BizRate.com, PriceGrabber.com, AOL Shopping, NexTag, MSN Shopping, Shopping.com, mySimon and Froogle.

Mercent is a division of Morse Best Inc., which started as a consulting company and now provides commercial software. Eric Best, CEO and founder of both Morse Best Innovation and Mercent, said the company is now seeking funding to spin Mercent out as an independent entity.

The advantage of the Mercent Commerce System is that it allows multichannel retailers to promote and sell products to more than 100 million shoppers across 10 leading online consumer marketplaces through one low-cost point of integration, Best said. In addition, Mercent provides value-added services such as program management, data mapping, software development and integration, storefront design, and optimization of search keywords and product categorization, Best added.

Glen Hamilton, director of e-commerce for Car Toys, said the company started with a homegrown solution in April 2001 to enhance its "bricks and clicks" strategy. However, this solution was inflexible and provided no centralized business-level reporting or control, Hamilton said. Instead, Car Toys sought a single solution to minimize its IT and resource investments while expanding its market reach.

Hamilton said Car Toys quickly realized that using an in-house solution or a hosted solution would also be costly and require additional investment.

"In the second quarter of 2003, we were invited by Amazon to be a featured seller in their mobile electronics area," Hamilton said. Car Toys had initially launched its online presence using a Microsoft Corp. Active Server Pages storefront solution. "We had our developers code into the Amazon system, but in talking to Amazon, they gave us a shortlist of people they recommended to help. Mercent was one of those."

So Car Toys settled on Microsofts platform with SQL Server and Windows 2000 initially and chose Macromedia Inc.s ColdFusion as its scripting language.

In deciding about which system to adopt, "we said, Do we build, buy or integrate an already-established solution?" Hamilton said. "We looked at all three and chose Mercent. Mercent has a lot of ex-Amazon and ex-Microsoft people. So the more we looked at it, it made more sense to go with a team that had done it before. Also, if we were going to invest in a solution for Amazon, we wanted to extend it to other marketplaces. No other solution was extendable out of the box like Mercent."

Prior to picking Mercent, Car Toys was writing its own software to publish its catalog, Hamilton said. "But it took a lot of time to maintain our own scripts and code, and we had no good status reporting. We just didnt have the person power to keep people watching our data feeds," he said.

Next page: The advantages of using an installed-base tool.

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Mercents Best said that by choosing an installed-base tool such as Mercent, customers gain advantages such as connecting through XML Web services, XML file exchange, flat-file document exchange or direct database-to-database connection using ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) or SQL Server database transformation services.

Best, a former Amazon employee himself, said the Mercent Commerce System is a scalable application that facilitates the automated, scheduled exchange of product, order, inventory, fulfillment and settlement data between a merchants data center and consumer marketplaces Web services-based interfaces. The system scales to support more than 1 million orders per day, as well as catalogs with more than 500,000 SKUs, he said.

As a result, "weve seen a dramatic increase in sales since weve been working with their tool," Hamilton said.

Added Best, who said Mercent and its team of former Amazon employees have "deep domain expertise" in Amazon: "Weve made a significant investment in our technology as a service-oriented architecture platform. We provide native Web services interfaces."

Best touted his products integration capabilities and its ability to enable users to support several marketplaces from one solution.

"Mercent manages the business rules for all the data feeds that Car Toys exchanges with all the marketplaces they work with," Best said. "We provide the administration tools and information dashboards a system administrator would want."

In addition, Mercent provides Web services adapters for connections, for XML data validation and for the transformation of XML itself, Best said.

And in cases where there is a large payload, "we provide features like data streaming and data compression," Best said. "We also batch the data, if necessary, to make sure were not exceeding file size."

Car Toys implemented the Mercent solution in its data center in less than 30 days, Car Toys officials said. In addition, Best said Mercent is serious about its commitment to customers. "When you look at the amounts of money changing hands, we take our job of making sure the data gets back to the retailers seriously," he said.

Best called Car Toys an important customer for Mercent because "they are a local partner who worked with us on the development of the latest version of our software."

Mercent is considering adding more merchandising and business intelligence features to its software.

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