Web Services Delivers Sales

Mercent Commerce System helps retailer Car Toys grow online presence and cut costs.

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.