EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2809 - May 22, 2012     3 of 3

Monsoon Commerce CEO Brian Elliott on Selling in the Future

By Julia Wilkinson

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Monsoon Commerce is one of the major online seller tool services out there, but not everyone knows that much about what the company's vision is for the coming year or the change it's gone through since 2011. EcommerceBytes sat down with Monsoon CEO Brian Elliott during the company's MonCon conference in Philadelphia this weekend to get to know more about what the company is all about, what it can do for online sellers, and what changes are in store for the future.

What would you tell the online seller who is a potential customer about how Monsoon can help them?

Brian Elliott: We're an ecommerce merchant solutions provider. So we provide software solutions that help merchants grow sales online, providing tools that integrate across multiple channels, so marketplaces, web stores, payment gateways, handling inventory management, order life-cycle management, and a lot of sort of back-end ERP implementation. We help sellers connect with over two dozen web stores, as well as sell on leading marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Buy.com. And at the end of the day our goal is to provide tools that automate that process but also provide the sort of business intelligence and insight so merchants can grow their business efficiently and effectively."

Why did you buy StoneEdge? Were you looking for a complementary product?

Brian Elliott: The company bought StoneEdge about a year ago: So one of the ways to think about this is what Stone Edge is really good at is order life cycle management. Stone Edge is the part of our product suite that does integrate with over two dozen shopping carts, ecommerce platforms like Magento, Yahoo, Miva, Yahoo, Volusion,...and others; as well as payment gateways and a lot of really good rich functionality on order management.

It includes the basics of customer relationship management but also a lot of functionality integrating with your warehouse,...drop shippers, 3PMs and others like that. The Monsoon Classic, Pro and Edge product really is aimed on helping you sell more efficiently and effectively on marketplaces like eBay, Amazon.com, Buy.com and other places. What we've done is integrate those two products so you can install and run them side by side,...and accomplish all of that.

So we bought Stone Edge because we had customers increasingly, on the marketplace side, asking me for order management functionality, asking for integration with shopping carts. We got to know Barney Stone; Barney is a great guy who built a really good business and was looking to retire. So it was a great way to bring the two together.

Who are your customers? Large, mid-sized, or small retailers and online sellers?

Brian Elliott: Mid-sized merchants are really our target market; we do really well with people who are anywhere from $250,000 a year through $50 million. Our target market and our sweet spot are people who do $50 million a year in how they get started with this. Typically it's merchants that have hit some sort of growing pain,...they're looking to expand into other channels online...they're looking to improve processes on the back-end that today they're doing manually, one at a time. As you hit certain volumetrics, you really need to find ways to automate.

How do people find out about your product? Is it word of mouth, do you advertise, or both?

Brian Elliott: We've done a couple things this year..some pretty sizeable investments on the client services side but also starting to market ourselves,...Monsoon Commerce is the company that's the result of putting together Monsoon the classic software business with Stone Edge. And what we're trying to do is raise awareness of our company and profile. We've got over 20,000 merchants that use our solutions. So if somebody's got 20,000 (customers), it's kind of shocking that we've got as low a profile as we do. But we do it through word of mouth; we do it through trade shows, we do it through advertising on Ecommercebytes.com.

We survey our customers on an annual basis,...what we love is 90% of our customers come back and say they're growing their business,...year on year, but 88% actually come back and say they're growing their profits, year on year. A lot of this at the end of the day is you're going to be effective if you're not only selling product but you're helping build your bottom line.

How much does it cost to use your products?

Brian Elliott: Costs to use the software vary. It depends on really what you're trying to use. We have a lot of different pieces of functionality that people can license and use, some of which is a pure sort of license and maintenance model, some of which is a revenue share, depending on the volume and scale of business that you do.

Part of it is those models really work to help align interests; we really are dependent on the success of our customers; if they grow, we do better.

What changes are coming to Stone Edge and Monsoon?

Brian Elliott: It's really a both/and - we're both investing in the current suite of products and building a new solution on top of that. So Monsoon's Stone Edge and Monsoon Pro are both installed software packages today. We continue to invest the same or more in product development and support resources in those products as we have historically.

We're also putting about $4 million this year alone into new product development on a web-based suit of services. Some of those services will actually be modules or individual components that will actually be used by our installed software programs, but we're also going to a new web user interface and wrapper on top of that set of those modules, so people can choose if they want to go to the installed software path, or of they want to go to the web-based based solution.

And one of the things that's interesting is we've got a base of installed software users who love the software; we've got a base of installed software users who don't love the fact that they have to do maintenance and upgrades, and host a server and all the rest of those; and we need to serve the needs of both of those users. At the end of the day our target is helping mid-sized merchants succeed. Not just, "I want this flavor or that flavor of product."

How did the Monsoon company start?

Brian Elliott: It's actually three companies that we've brought together, all of whom were aimed at kind of mid-sized merchants helping themselves. One of them was Alibris, which is a marketplace that we own and operate. Alibris.com is a marketplace for books, music and movies. Monsoon is an installed software solution that started in 2004, and we brought Monsoon and Alibris together in 2010.

The idea there was at the end of the day, Alibris serves the needs of merchants. It does well if merchants do well and sell well. It had already built up a set of capabilities to do white-label marketplaces for other retailers, so extending those sellers' reach out to Borders, Books-a-Million, Indigo, Waterstone's in the UK; a lot of classic, traditional retailers.

What Monsoon has done really well was build solutions for selling on Amazon, eBay, and Buy.com, and so there's sort of a natural progression for both companies to put those solutions together. And then a year later, we turned around and bought Stone Edge for the reasons I talked about earlier.

But basically because, as we're helping increasing numbers of merchants sell on marketplaces, what we kept getting asked for was helping people find solutions for integrating into their own standalone web store, and to provide better order management solutions. So really, Monsoon Commerce is the result of putting together three companies.

What percentage of your customer base sells on the different marketplaces?

Brian Elliott: We did a study with multi-channel merchants, 60% said they sell today or plan on selling on marketplaces; Amazon and eBay being the vast highest percentage. Of those, Buy.com, you know, coming up rapidly. There are an increasing number of people on Sears, a few people on Newegg.

What you're seeing is in part,...most people know Amazon and eBay,...most people don't know Rakuten, which is Buy.com's parent company. But (with Rakuten), you've got Buy.com; Play.com in the UK; Priceminister; not to mention the fact that they're the leading marketplace in Japan. You've got other players like Alibaba and Taobao coming out of China, and what's really interesting is to watch an increasing number of sort of more traditional retailers like Sears, like Newegg, provide marketplace functionality to bring more selection to their customer base, keeping their customers loyal, and bringing more merchants into all of those marketplaces.

Speaking of old sellers, some of the former eBay Titanium sellers flamed out for one reason or another (see this recent AuctionBytes Blog post); some just started getting a lot of negative feedbacks.

Brian Elliott: That's one of the reasons people use our solution. There's a lot that we put into multi-channel integration. There are a lot of specific capabilities we've got around pricing. So we have a patented pricing engine that does merchandising strategies combined with competitive intelligence across different marketplaces to figure out what you want to see, where to sell it, how to sell it, what price points. The other part is because it's very focused on automation, there's a lot that goes into it; it results in higher fill rates, faster shipping times, and therefore higher customer satisfaction.

We work with our sellers to monitor their feedback ratings, we work with them and monitor how well they're performing, make sure their DSRs are picking up, making sure their feedbacks are in the high 90s.

Are you customers all selling new stuff or is there used stuff too?

Brian Elliott: We have a lot of people who do used. Doing new, used and refurbished books, music, movies, video games on the media side, but basically in any consumer goods category.

Do you know what percent of your users use Monsoon vs. Stone Edge? Or do you not think of it that way?

Brian Elliott: We don't really think of it that way. Increasingly, we have a number of people who use both products, and the people in classic came in it from one direction or another. But that's one of the reasons we do this show. For example, roughly speaking, half the attendees only use Monsoon/Stone Edge, about 30% use Monsoon Pro Marketplace Solutions; there's a good sized chunk of people that are using both these days, given the fact that we only acquired the company a year ago; that's pretty good. And then partners and platform providers and other people that are sort of in the ecosystem that are helping out.

Where should people go to find out more about Monsoon?

Brian Elliott: Come to our web site, MonsoonCommerce.com and click on the "contact us" link. We're glad to have people reach out (so we can) tell them more about ourselves.

About the Author
Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.


About the author:

Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.


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