Thursday, June 29, 2006

Google Catalogs

Has your company signed up for Google Catalogs? Google Catalogs helps you make a scanned version of your paper catalog accessible to online users by scanning it and hosting it online for free. Google thinks it's "easily browseable and fully searchable, enabling users to quickly find your products."

While the browsing can be a bit difficult -- not every catalog looks good in a scanned version -- the searching is interesting. Using an intelligent search/query box, shoppers can find out which of the scanned catalogs carry the product(s) they are looking for.

You get access by clicking on "more>>" in the links above the Google search box, and selecting "Catalogs" (fourth one down on the left, under "Search"). Catalogs are categorized in the following buckets:
Apparel & Accessories, Computers, Home & Garden, Arts & Crafts, Consumer Electronics, Lifestyle & Gift, Arts & Entertainment, Education, Sports & Outdoors, Automotive, Food & Gourmet, Toys & Hobbies, Books/Music/Film, Health & Personal Care, Business To Business, and Home.

However . . . there is no way to place an order on Google Catalogs. If you find what you want, you can then click on the catalog Web site or call the phone number, both of which are displayed next to the scanned pages.

This would have been considered slick in 1997, but 10 years later, I'm curious to know if it is getting any action. Let me know your experience with Google Catalogs (kept in confidence, if you wish). Thanks.

Update on Junction Solutions

In April Junction Solutions rebranded its offerings as:
JunctionMCR (Multi-ChannelRetail)
JunctionIIS (In-Store Systems)
JunctionRQW (RetailQuadWare Business Intelligence)
Junction F/B (Food & Beverage vertical)

The company has also recently signed Royal Canadian Mint; Folica, a wholesaler and retailer of hair and skin care products; Nautica Mexico (its first international customer); Redcat Motors, provider of off-road vehicles, and Resolution, a major third-party fulfillment center for 50 leading media companies and online retailers such as A&E, CBS, MTV, Food Network, National Geographic and Ben & Jerry’s (which has already gone live).

Pfaltzgraff selected Junction Solutions's Business Intelligence Application, JunctionRQW, to improve understanding of customer behavior and product marketing.

Release 3.3 of Junction MCR includes the following new functionality:
• Database Integration AX/RQW /ISS
• Reporting Portal and Executive Dashboard

Customer Service
• Screen Re-design
• Improved Order Status Flow
• Misc. Credits/Refunds

Warehouse functions
• Expedited "Hot" Order Flags
• Shipping Station Integration
• Additional Pick Wave Options
• Substitute Item Process
• Returns and Exchanges Workbench

Order Management
• Fraud Checking
• Mail Order Batches
• Check Hold Function
• Unauthorized Payment Workbench
• Deferred or Installment Billing
• Credit Card Resubmit Controls
• Priority Backorder
• Coupon Creation and Processing

Promotions Management
• Customer List Creation Tools
• RFM and LTV scoring applications

In December of 2006 Junction plans to release version 4.1, the first release on the Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0 platform (which replaces "Axapta"). The theme for this release is "integration and streamlining processes," with full integration of the data warehouse solution (JunctionRQW) and the POS Solution (JunctionISS) as the major focus of this release.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Update on Ship4U

Gunnar Fredlund of CIO Technologies Inc., reports some updates regarding Ship4u, a hosted order management/fulfillment application:

"...all customers currently are using the ASP version of our software and the same code base. One of the fringe benefits for our customers is that additions made for one customer are made available for the others at no extra charge.

"We have implemented our system at four new warehouses last month so our customer base is growing.

"One major improvement in the system is that we now can set up automatic routing tables to split client orders automatically between East and West coast (a Canada alternative is coming on-line this month). One infomercial client who uses our solution noticed an immediate reduction in call center calls as the products now reach the customers much faster."

Friday, June 16, 2006

More on Sigma

I finally spoke to Kevin Spark at Sigma regarding their technology. They are making good use of “Windows Communication Foundation,” which is now .NET 3.0. They are using a lightweight transaction manager that can cache data locally and be notified when it gets updated on a database. This reduces roundtrips to the database (for things like authenticating username and password that get lots of use with very few data changes).

They are also using some homegrown tech innovations that I am precluded from talking about, or even describing. Suffice to say that when they are ready to introduce their new browser-based system later this year, it will be well worth waiting to take a good close look at.

Ecometry World Conference

Attended the Ecometry World Conference this week. They put on a good show, as always. My primary interest was in determining how Blue Martini, which the parent company, Golden Gate Capital, acquired last year, fits into the picture as a Java based application that won two "Java Pro Magazine" Reader's Choice Awards for Best Pure Java Packaged Client-Server or Distributed Application and Best Pure Java Packaged Client Application, since Java was not part of Ecometry's technology for its order management and fulfillment application. Most of Blue Martini's legacy users are also much larger than Ecometry's user base.

The answer seems to be "better than expected." Ecometry and Blue Martini will be synchronized on the same version number, 9.0, next year, and it appears that the two organizations are doing a good job at learning from each other. This is one of those times when "synergy" is not just a buzzword. So while the jury is still out, I think there is a good chance that by the end of next year Ecometry will have evolved into a more mature multi-channel solution (they've also got Nextor, a Java-based POS application, which will be synchronized on 9.0 as well). They have their work cut out for them, but the pieces are in place for a big leap forward.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sigma Commerce Suite

As noted in the June eCSForum newsletter, Sigma Micro has acquired the Intellectual Property Rights to the Quark Commerce Suite. I promised more information as soon as it was available.

According to Sigma's President, Joe Swern, the acquisition provides a major boost to a development project that Sigma had begun nine months ago to migrate to a .Net environment. Much of the Quark functionality was consistent with their own development, and the company will undertake a "gap analysis" in the next few months to determine what needs to be added to meet the needs of the current Controller+ installed base. They anticipate that only a few database changes will be required in implementing a true N-Tier application suite.

Sigma will also be converting the .Net 1 platform of the Quark product to .Net 2, which provides improved scalability and performance of applications with improved caching, application deployment and support for a broader array of browsers and devices with ASP.NET 2.0 controls and services.

The new product, expected to be available before the end of the year, will be fully multi-channel, and available in a browser interface on a hosted or a licensed basis. They expect the deal with Quark to be finalized by July 7.

I am still waiting to clarify some technical details with Sigma's technical staff. For the moment, it appears that the Quark system has found a very approprate new home that will redound very well to the benefit of Sigma's user base, and to anyone looking for a broadly functional direct commerce order management system using some of the latest Microsoft tools and technologies.

Common Sense

Based on feedback from software vendors, it seems like a word of caution is in order regarding common sense in dealing with vendor proposals for software applications.

Companies spend countless hours -- and plenty of sweat, a little blood, and sometimes even tears -- in putting together a Request for Proposal that they send to vendors for "good faith" responses. The vendors in turn invest a considerable number of hours in producing their proposal, which often translates into thousands of dollars worth of time. The more conscientious the vendor, the more expensive the investment.

Each vendor realizes that they have only a 1/N chance of being selected by the merchant/prospect, but they are willing to take that chance if they feel they are well qualified compared to the presumptive competition, and if in their judgment it is a truly open competition (and not stacked in favor of a predetermined candidate).

All too often, the next step is a frustrating silence and lack of communication on the part of the merchant prospect. Calls are unreturned, e-mails unanswered. After months of the cold shoulder, the vendor may find out almost as a casual afterthought that they have been eliminated from consideration, without any discussion of their proposal or chance to clarify issues that might have been misunderstood.

You might say, "Well, that's just the way it goes, and it's the cost of doing business." But in my experience the lack of communication is typically the result of inadvertance or a fits-and-starts approach to the evaluation process altogether. It doesn't take a major commitment of time to keep the candidates "in the loop." Just letting them know your timeframe, and changes to it, and the status of the decision-making process, should be enough to establish a welcome civility. And when a decision has been made, every vendor who fails to make the cut deserves to be informed in a timely manner, with or without an explanation.

This field is a very small world, and you never know when what goes around is going to come around (and hit you on the back of the head). A word to the wise....
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