Anyone who has ever tried to cancel an online order knows all about the disconnect between the information at the Web site and at the customer-service call center. To breach the gap, CommercialWare Inc. debuts Collaborate.dot.commerce, software that lets merchants, call centers, and suppliers share information about customer orders, cancellations, and deliveries, so everyone knows what customers expect--and where their goods are--all the time.
"Today, if an order is already packed in the warehouse, and an online customer calls to cancel, it's virtually impossible to stop the delivery," acknowledges Paige Laflamme, MIS director at CommercialWare customer Garnet Hill Inc., a Franconia, N.H., natural-products catalog company selling sheets, clothing, and furniture. Just four months after launching Garnethill.com, it has seen 12% of its 500,000 annual orders migrate to the Web--and it's looking at Collaborate.dot.commerce, and the supplier Web model it proposes, to keep on top of the growth.
CommercialWare sees the software's best use as not just for tracking goods internally, but for sharing information with suppliers who ship goods for you direct from their warehouses. "We think the future distribution model will be a hybrid in which retailers stock 80% of the goods they sell, and deliver the rest directly through suppliers," says Rohit Agarwal, VP of the 2-year-old company, which already supplies online order-management software for big-name retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Starbucks, and the Olympic Games. "We're providing an infrastructure for fulfillment networks, where retailers rely on partners to deliver their goods and never lose sight of customer satisfaction."
Collaborate.dot.commerce links online merchants and suppliers in a browser-based, Java application based on an IBM WebSphere infrastructure. One "household name" with mouse ears already has signed up to beta test the software, which will make its public debut in November, Agarwal says. Pricing will start at about $100,000.
In an online world where "customers don't have to buy things from the brand anymore, but can find your products anywhere on the Internet, staying alive means being a company they want to deal with by providing the service levels they expect," Laflamme says. And for the business itself, using the kind of supplier web CommercialWare advocates "would mean we don't have to carry all the products--and warehouse all the furniture--ourselves. And the customer still would see only one transaction, and not all the things that are happening in the background."
But analysts point out that CommercialWare's software faces a lot of competition. "The market is incipient, and selling to CommercialWare's installed base of clients will be straightforward-but getting into new accounts won't be a cakewalk," says Jupiter Research director David Schatsky. The crowded field includes "a lot of players with a headstart and more mature technology," including Yatra, Optum, and Sameday.com.