Small E-Biz Gets Web Boost

Actinic, Mercantec add e-com and marketing apps to Web-building tools

Actinic Software LLC and Mercantec Inc. hope to ride the wave of small businesses evolving from simple Web storefronts and shopping carts to more full-featured e-businesses with new offerings.

Actinic this week will release ActiveLink for QuickBooks, an add-on to its Actinic Store suite of storefront software that links a companys Web storefront to back-office accounting and financial management systems that use Intuit Corp.s QuickBooks small-business software.

Officials at Actinic, in East Brunswick, N.J., said Actinic by the fall will add marketing campaign management, customer service and order tracking, as well as content management for noncommerce sites.

The QuickBooks link is already making business more efficient at one early user of ActiveLink. John Watkins, CEO of Watkins Fitness and Sports Equipment, said the link gives his company the ability to do financial reporting on its Web businesses without having to rekey data.

Watkins said he is looking forward to Actinic adding integrated, online customer service capabilities, and he said he hopes to build a knowledge base to help customers solve issues on their own.

"Customer service is a key area for us," said Watkins, in Salisbury, N.C. "Its exciting for us that Actinic is talking about customer service."

Like Actinic, Mercantec, of Naperville, Ill., is offering a QuickBooks link in its Power Commerce Web storefront suite, which debuted at the Internet World show in Chicago last week. The suite includes applications for site building, catalog management, an e-mail response management tool for customer service, credit card payment services and other applications.

One such application is PowerMarketing, which is designed to help businesses run marketing campaigns for acquiring and retaining customers.

Bishop Lifting Products Inc. will just be getting its feet wet in e-commerce when it puts 2,000 of its 30,000 products online next month at fixed prices using Mercantecs Softcart software. But by early next year, as Bishop Lifting migrates to Mercantecs Power Commerce tool, it plans to offer dynamic pricing models—a mainstay in business-to-business e-commerce—and product customization.

The Houston company will likely explore the marketing capabilities of Power Commerce in the second half of the year, said Tom King, internal technology consultant at Bishop Lifting.

"Were laying the groundwork now," King said. "Then in the first quarter of 2002, well upgrade to Power Commerce once the bugs are fixed, but, more importantly, once the people here understand e-commerce and have grown to embrace it."

But as more complex offerings roll out, there are signs that static, or so-called brochureware, Web sites are all that most small businesses will need. International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass., recently predicted that small-business Web publishing will be a $9 billion market by 2003, but only about one-third of that will be spent on building commerce sites.

While small businesses like to have a Web presence to promote products and drive store traffic, many arent suitable for e-commerce, said Gene Alvarez, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn.