Tuning A Web Site For Success

Parts retailer uses e-commerce app for greater scalability and better search functionality.
Maybe it's a sign of a recovering economy and loosened-up IT spending. Or that consumers are increasingly comfortable buying big-ticket items online. Or that growing midsize businesses are committing to the Internet more than ever before. Or maybe Dennis Kirk Inc.'s recent $1 million investment to upgrade its Internet site for easier searching and greater scalability and move its outlet business to the Web is a sign of all three.

Established in 1971, the private retailer of parts and accessories for motorcycles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and personal watercraft stocks more than 100,000 products at its 200,000-square-foot automated distribution center in Rush City, Minn. They range from Harley-Davidson clothing to engines for snowmobiles; most orders can ship the day they're received.

Since it put its products online four years ago, the company has seen an evolution from catalog customers calling in orders to Internet customers buying them over the Web. "It's changing dramatically almost every month," says president and CEO Bob Behan. Dennis Kirk needed to upgrade from an internally developed E-commerce system to a more robust offering. The existing system couldn't handle 2,500 concurrent customers and lacked good search functionality.

It relaunched the site in September, basing the upgrade on Art Technology Group Inc.'s E-commerce apps. In addition to increasing the site's scalability, the technology let Dennis Kirk customize searches so buyers can zero in on appropriate items. "We might have 25,000 different Harley-Davidson parts, of which 20,000 or more might have no relevance" to a buyer who drives a Harley-Davidson Softail, Behan says. Now buyers receive search results only for the parts specific to their machines.

At the same time, the retailer moved from selling returned goods via regional stores to selling them at its outlet site on eBay Inc. Says Behan, "We can now recover more of our cost because we're selling to a gazillion people, and they decide the price."

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