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ISO: flexible, shrink-wrap e-commerce solution

Greetings!  I have been asked to advise someone on selecting a solution for an online store for a chain of retail stores that sells basic consumer goods, like watches.  I know a thing or two about e-commerce systems because I work as a developer for my company's in-house system...but I'm not familiar with shrink-wrapped systems.

This retailer wants to be serious enough that a solution like Amazon's zShops or Yahoo! Shopping isn't what they want.  However, they don't need to (or want to) spend a zillion dollars on a completely customized system.  What they need is a simple shrink-wrapped package, that offers enough flexiblity to allow them to customize the UI and add other customizations as needed.

I thought Microsoft would offer the perfect solution for something like this...sorta the "Front Page for E-Commerce", but I was surprised when after surfing around their site this evening I couldn't find anything that seemed so turn-key.  Thought Commerce Server would be the product, but it doesn't really seem to offer the online store aspect in a very robust way...the closest thing I could find is the IBuySpy example on the ASP.NET site.

All that said, here's my question: can anybody recommend such a product?  Preferably something on the Windows platform (because that is what I'm most familiar with), however Linux recommendations are welcome as well.



Thursday, June 10, 2004

What is a zillion dollars? What do they want? The answer to that question alone will cost you US$20K  ... naw ... US$30K or you really don't have the answer. So imagine if we get them to spend US$30K to really identify what it is they want .... then you can talk about if some shrink wrap solution will do that or not. You will find that NO shrink wrap will do that so  you look for that which is closest and which you can customize YOURSELF because if you pay someone else to do it maybe you'll need to spend more than US$30K.  ... I've worked with a LOT of ecommerce (php/perl) ... and I always looked for a base set of core modules to jumpstart the build .... I never created that nor have I found it. I used Xcart recently and I had to get inside their code to make changes.  It wasn't pretty. I guess it could have been worse. It's the best I've seen and they are trying but if you really don't know what your client needs then I don't know how you'll find what you *think you need* ... ouija board anyone.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

>> What is a zillion dollars?
I work for a company that has spent $660 million on a custom e-commerce system.  That's a zillion to me.  To them, I'd guess that $20-30k is well within their price range.  This online store is an extension of their retail locations and they believe they can do $60M in revenue online in 3 years.

>> What do they want?
A simple catalog e-commerce site.  Nothing fancy.  I'm looking for a basic package that includes the site, order processing systems and administration tools built in to support it. 

Personally, I require an object layer behind the UI so that if they want to make customizations (to either the UI or by implementing a business rules layer) it can be done...

...nothing is worse than telling a business person that something can't be done because the technology you advised them to buy can't be extended.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


This may be teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, but try working backwards from the target revenues to determine what the business can afford to spend on the system and compare this to what it can get for that money.

Estimate the gross margin on sales. Take out the cost of sales - stock control / shipping, the site's content maintenance (e.g. of adding/removing line items from the online catalogue, which I suspect will shock you in terms of man-hour costs) and system maintenance (e.g. telecoms, sys admin costs, backups etc. etc. etc.).

Repeat for, say, years 1 to 5. Calculate the present value of the margin after these cost, factoring in the probability of success, both technical (e.g. how likely is it that the system will be operational in year 1) and marketing (i.e. how likely is it that you will achieve $60M revenues in year 3?). Sum to give you the maximum amount you can spend today on building the site whilst still breaking even.

My guess is that this will not be very much!

My suspicion is that you will not find many (if any) prebuilt solutions that work for you. There is a sound reason for this. Most successful e-commerce systems exploit the 'bricks and mortar' of the existing business to some degree, e.g. they use existing shops/ warehouses for dispatch etc. Stock control/ allocation is a bug bear. You need to avoid selling something from a shop that has already been allocated for sale by the e-commerce system, and you need to keep the stock available through the e-commerce system up to date with shop sales so that you don't sell the same thing twice. A critical factor is, therefore, the integration of the e-commerce system into the shop epos backend. Depending upon whose you are using you may strike it lucky, or you may be completely stuffed.

Have fun!

David Roper
Thursday, June 10, 2004

A google search brought up this >>

Looks like thinly-veiled consultingware.  Has anyone used it?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I worked with a package called ShopSite, which is available for either linux or windows (it originated in linux and they port it). It was pretty full-featured, offered quite a bit of customization, and their tech support is VERY responsive. 

I think they even have partners that offer ShopSite hosting...

Caveat - they provide an API for hooking the order process to run your own process, but the one thing they couldn't do that drove me crazy was to stop the order from going through - in other words, when the user clicks "place order", the order data is going into the store no matter what you do (we wanted to do stock checking before actually placing the order; but you can't stop the order if you don't have the stock). They said they were going to fix that, but if it's a rock-solid requirement you might check that out first.


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Look at the BrookLine product. They have a product that is great for people like the retailer you are advising.  Here's the URL to the packages they sell:

I interviewed with them, and I was very impressed by their product.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

"I work for a company that has spent $660 million on a custom e-commerce system..... and they believe they can do $60M in revenue online in 3 years."

Time to do some math:
660 Million / $60 M per 3 years

That's about a 30 year payback period assuming their cost of sales was $0 (i.e., 100% profit margins), which is NEVER the case.

That's INSANE.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, June 10, 2004

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