A Web site that didn't function as a business tool

An electronic commerce package for the Web

An inexpensive market-research database, smarter product development, and automated order taking

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Ritchey Design Inc., of Redwood City, Calif., a $15-million designer and manufacturer of mountain-bike components, put up a site on the World Wide Web a year and a half ago ( But like so many companies' Web sites, Ritchey's was more a status symbol than a business tool. Most of the site's visitors came to get the dirt on Team Ritchey, the company's world-class mountain-bike team, or to find out where Ritchey products were sold. But that's where the site's usefulness ended. It didn't give customers all the information they wanted or allow the company to gain insight into those customers.

In fact getting marketing information had become one of the company's biggest problems. Formal market research was frustratingly expensive. But the company needed information that was more complete and reliable than what it was getting from informal conversations with distributors and retailers.

About a year ago Philip Ellinwood, Ritchey's chief operating officer and de facto MIS director, decided to rework the site so that the company could hear from its customers directly. A software retailer told him about a Web electronic commerce package called WebTrader, from SBT Corp., in San Rafael, Calif. (800-944-1000, $1,790 with system manager). The package allows businesses to sell products and services over the Internet and collect information from consumers. Ellinwood struck a deal with SBT: a lower price on the software in exchange for his willingness to test the package and put SBT's logo on Ritchey's Web site. He made the actual purchase from Infogenics Inc., a value-added reseller in Menlo Park, Calif. (415-326-7070), and worked with both SBT and Infogenics to get it up and running.

First, Ellinwood set up customer surveys on the new Web site. Visitors are asked to enter their name and address and then to answer two or three questions about the company's products. WebTrader automatically organizes and saves the answers in a database. Ellinwood can easily change the questions to learn customers' opinions about any of the 15 new products Ritchey develops each year. In the past the company knew little about how consumers might react to a new product until it was in the stores. "The process could save us as much as $100,000 a year on product development," Ellinwood says.

Then, to educate retailers and consumers about the technological advantages of Ritchey's high-end components over competitors' parts, Ellinwood created a virtual store. Visitors can browse through detailed descriptions and graphics of Ritchey products. That gives Ritchey an edge with retailers, who tend to push the products about which they know the most, Ellinwood says. Ordering has become much easier. Retailers are assigned a password, which lets them move into the order-entry area, where they can simply click on what they want, eliminating the tedium of ordering by phone.

In a year Ellinwood turned his one-dimensional, static Web site into an interactive marketing tool. In all, for the consulting fees, the software, and a revamped design of its Web site, Ritchey paid about $7,500. But the site is now much more than a pretty page. And racing fans, have no fear; it still has the latest gossip on Team Ritchey.

-- Sarah Schafer