NetSuite’s Bronto Buy Signals Coming Changes to Online Commerce

Bronto Software’s bread-and-butter business is helping companies understand what their customers browse and buy online—information that can then be used to nudge consumers to buy even more.

This type of “marketing automation”—the ability to analyze consumer behavior in order to form targeted and personalized e-mail messages—primarily serves retailers. But the Durham, NC-based company has its sights set on a broader range of transactions, such as ticket sales, subscriptions, and even travel. Joe Colopy, Bronto’s CEO, sees the future of online buying as a series of seamless, automated transactions that involve few salespeople.

“We have a vision to change the way people do commerce,” he says.

Bronto will be better positioned to pursue a wider scope of applications as part of NetSuite (NYSE: N). The San Mateo, CA-based enterprise software vendor announced in late April an agreement to acquire Bronto for $200 million in cash and stock. But the ambitions of Bronto and NetSuite are shared by a number of companies jostling for advantage in online commerce. Whether consumers realize it or not, every time they shop online, retailers are trying to engage them in an ongoing dialogue where each click, view, and order becomes a touch point in the conversation. NetSuite’s deal for Bronto, as well as a wave of acquisitions sweeping the sector, suggests that software companies want a bigger hand in those conversations.

NetSuite’s SuiteCommerce software handles what happens after a customer places an order—processing payment, sorting inventory, tracking shipments. But NetSuite hasn’t had a good view of what customers are shopping for before they actually place the order, says Christine Dover, research director at analysis firm IDC, who focuses on enterprise applications and digital commerce. Bronto brings to NetSuite the capability to track and measure what customers are doing. “It’s not really about the e-mail marketing, it’s about the behaviors,” she says.

From a customer’s perspective, the contact from a retailer is a simple e-mail message. But there is nothing simple about the e-mail. If a customer abandons a product page, say, or leaves something in the online shopping cart without completing an order, marketing automation software can crunch that information, along with other shopping metrics, to compose and send a targeted e-mail reminder, Dover explains.

The message may be automated, but each message is tailored to its recipient. Personalization software has been available since the late 1990s, but the growing sophistication of software to analyze data has vastly improved the technology’s personalization capabilities, according to research firm Gartner. As a result, business interest in personalization has taken off in recent years.

In a Gartner survey of software vendors, 64 percent responded that they implemented their personalization offering in 2012 or later; 27 percent of responding companies implemented personalization in 2014. Gartner says the spike in personalization is driven in part by … Next Page »

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Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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