Program Promises to Make Fulfillment Affordable for Small Retailers

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CommerceKey.com plans to launch a program for small businesses wary of the expenses involved in setting up a Web site.


The Aisle Z program will let small retailers offer up to 20 of their products at www.aislez.com for an initial fee of $150 and $29 a month thereafter.


Greg Brody, president of corporate development at CommerceKey, said the company is negotiating with several retailers yet had not signed any agreements. He said his firm will run an ad campaign to support the program after the site's official launch.


Once CommerceKey establishes its business clients, consumers will be able to make online purchases from participating local and regional stores through aislez.com. The small retailer will have the option of handling the fulfillment or using CommerceKey's network of warehouses.


Brody expects many affiliates to use their own fulfillment infrastructure initially, but he believes many will let CommerceKey handle fulfillment and other e-commerce services as their Internet businesses grow.


"If a hardware store finds out that people want hammers in the middle of the night, they're probably going to want to store hammers in our warehouses so we can receive the online order and ship it out when they're not open," Brody said. "All a small business needs is a printer, a computer and the Internet, and it can monitor transactions and keep records in the system without making a huge investment."


Brody said many small firms have shied away from e-commerce because it was too expensive or took too long to implement. A market research study in the fourth quarter of 1999 found that emerging e-tailers were facing increasing barriers to launching e-commerce sites. The study, released by market research firm Jupiter Communications, New York, found that 15 percent of e-commerce firms surveyed said it took a year to implement their sites, while 35 percent said it took six months.


Brody said the affiliate program was ideal for small businesses because it was easier and less expensive than designing a retail Web site.


CommerceKey handles fulfillment and other e-business services for more than 60 medium-size clients. Later this year, it plans to roll out a delivery package that uses bicycle and foot messengers and local delivery services to complement its Aisle Z program. Brody said the program would work best for firms that want to keep their online stock in their bricks-and-mortar stores.


Shoppers at aislez.com who activate the "local delivery" button will be required to enter their ZIP codes. Then, the order will be submitted to a local delivery service. Retailers will receive e-mail alerting them of the purchases allowing them to prepare the orders for delivery. The delivery service's cost, which is not included in the Aisle Z program fee, was not disclosed.


Aisle Z will begin in New York and will launch in other major markets before the end of the year. It also plans to launch in London, although it has not set a time frame.


The business model for the program is similar to local entertainment site citysearch.com, which has teamed up with local clubs, theaters and restaurants in major U.S. cities to allow Internet shoppers to buy movie tickets or make dinner reservations, for example.
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