For every Internet e-commerce site pilloried as a spectacular flameout, there are perhaps dozens more flying under the radar that attract little attention, fail to close sales with customers who do stumble upon them and quietly fade away.
Thats what happened to the first release of the ClawfootCollection.com site, which online retailer Vintage Tub & Bath spun off from its flagship VintageTubs.com site in late 2003.
An online store selling reproduction antique bath tubs and bathroom fixtures, ClawfootCollection.com “fell flat on its face,” said Vintage Tub General Manager Allan Dick, and closed barely a dozen sales in its first year of operation.
“There were some usability and back-end problems, and our main site kept us so busy we just let it fall by the wayside,” said Dick in Hazleton, Pa.
But rather than scuttle the deadbeat site, Vintage Tub, which sells nearly $10 million worth of reproduction tubs, sinks and bathroom fixtures online every year, turned to a startup, hosted e-commerce software provider Demandware Inc., to breathe new life into ClawfootCollection.com with a site redesign.
Vintage Tub uses another provider, which it declined to disclose for competitive reasons, for its VintageTubs.com site.
But the company didnt want to rely on one provider for all its e-commerce operations, Dick said.
Dick said he was impressed with Demandwares e-commerce pedigree: Demandware CEO Stephan Schambach founded e-commerce pioneer Intershop Communications AG in 1992 and remains an internationally recognized expert in the field.
But more than anything, Dick said he likes what the hosted model offers.
“We dont want to be an IT department; we want to sell tubs. The Demandware solution came along at the right time,” said Dick, who was attracted to the idea of another company taking ownership of the process.
“They said, Well handle the IT; well handle the back-end integration; well make sure the shopping cart works. It really makes sense from the pricing standpoint and from the strategic standpoint.”
It was up to Demandware, of Woburn, Mass., and integration partner PixelMedia Inc., of Portsmouth, N.H., to turn the site around.
Demandware would host the back end of the site, providing transaction management, e-commerce tools, storage, security and failover support, while PixelMedia designed the front end and integrated it into the Demandware platform.
“PixelMedias job was to provide the skin for the site,” said Dick. “We had some very good elements on the site; they just werent working well with each other. So they took the elements we had, added on to them and repositioned them. The usability and architecture we have now are better than what the previous designer did.”
Dick said Vintage Tub provided the “overall ideas” for the site, such as whether to sell products in sets or individually, what products to detail, and what products could be sold together.
PixelMedia and Demandware took it from there, with PixelMedia designing the look of the site and then translating the sites requirements and user interface to the back-end system.
“Demandware has the platform and tool set; were a professional services consultancy,” said Thomas Obrey, chief operating officer and co-founder of PixelMedia.
“We overhauled and re-engineered the site and scoped out what it would take to port the Clawfoot Collection site into the Demandware platform.”
A key improvement that PixelMedia made was developing a new sales configurator tool on the site where customers—mostly homeowners—can assemble their own desired bathtub set, choosing the tub, drain, faucets and shower enclosure, and then find out how much it will cost.
“You can get a package price without muddying your way through on your own,” said Obrey.
PixelMedia provides services beyond front-end design, such as information architecture design, audience analysis, messaging, implementation and back-end integration, Obrey said. “We can handle everything from stem to stern—initial concepts, development, training and supporting the system after go-live,” he said.
PixelMedia works with licensed e-commerce software packages and provides its own hosting, management and maintenance of e-commerce sites for larger companies.
“The on-demand concept is new and unique. But whats beautiful is, as were building the site, its always available to you,” Obrey said. “The other beautiful part is that I, as the vendor or systems integrator, can build my own features and functions very specifically, own those, and deploy them to my clients. Thats not something Ive experienced with packaged solutions.”
Obrey described Demandware as a feature-rich environment that rivals any packaged e-commerce software offering.
Vintage Tubs Dick said hes looking forward to taking advantage of more of those features.
“I get the impression were just using a fraction of Demandwares capabilities,” said Dick. In the future, he said he expects to add auctions, chat rooms and customer forums.
Demandware is using the site as a proof of concept for its hosted service. “Well look at what theyve got and see what works,” Dick said.
Demandware is targeting retail and manufacturing companies with between $2 million and $100 million in online revenues as customers for its service, Schambach said.
He said he learned from his Intershop days the limitations of licensed software for e-commerce.
For most Intershop customers, the software license accounted for 5 percent of deployment costs, and IT infrastructure made up the rest, Schambach said.
Customers were often hesitant to upgrade their software because they couldnt afford the accompanying infrastructure requirements, he said.
“This is definitely the right delivery model for e-commerce,” Schambach said.
“Theres not a single application I know of thats as complex as e-commerce. You need servers; you need redundancy, firewalls, load balances and backup. Within your IT department, you need people who understand databases, security, HTML and other things. Owning and operating your own system can cause great expenses. Ive seen the frustrations.”
Demandware offers a use-based pricing model, where customers pay as they go based on the number of site visitors.
Another advantage cited by Schambach is that Demandware can continually update its service rather than force customers to wait for 18-month release cycles.
Demandware is seeking to build out its partner network as it grows. “Were looking for specialized integrators who understand e-commerce and have Web design, usability and other skills that lend themselves to the e-commerce world,” Schambach said.
The new Clawfoot Collection.com site launched in late January. Dick said he likes what he sees so far.
“Were still kind of in beta with it, but some orders have already started coming through, and weve already achieved the No. 1 position [on Google] for the primary keyword, acrylic clawfoot tub,” said Dick.
“What I can tell you is the initial reports look strong. Were excited about it; its a strong platform. Theres nothing to discourage me. They met all our deadlines, and out of the gate weve had some initial success.”
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