Maytag comes clean with resellers

By Eugene Grygo, InfoWorld |  Software

MAYTAG APPLIANCES OFFICIALS said Monday that their agreement with Comergent Technologies will help them mend fences with their channel partners who previously rejected an e-commerce initiative that would have enabled the Newton, Iowa-based home and commercial appliance manufacturer to sidestep its resellers.

Maytag is using Comergent's collaborative e-commerce software to build a bridge between its business-to-consumer and business-to-business e-commerce initiatives. About a year and a half ago, Maytag decided to try a direct b-to-c e-commerce approach, and there was a severe backlash among its partners who perceived the move as disintermediation, said Colin Bain, manager of Internet business development for Maytag.

"It was not well received by anybody ... a couple of major players had a huge aversion to it ... and we abandoned that strategy," Bain said. "We re-evaluated the landscape."

The new approach envisioned by Maytag merges b-to-c and b-to-b processes and puts consumers at the center of the e-commerce effort. Consumers shop the catalog at Maytag's e-commerce site, Maytag.com, make their selections and then find a Maytag reseller -- usually a retailer near them found via a zip code search -- to complete the transaction. This approach, in the planning stages for the past eight months, "was very well-received by channel partners," Bain said. Maytag literally hands off customers to its channel partners and "they simply ring the register on them," he said.

Maytag's customers will be unaware of the happenings under way behind the scenes, facilitated via the Comergent Distributed E-Business System. The software links Maytag's site and those of its channel partners via collaborative tools based on the Extensible Mark-up Language (XML), and the links provide pricing, availability, inventory and other relevant information needed to complete the sale. The links can be to retailers' Web sites or to their back-end ERP platforms, said Comergent and Maytag officials.

Maytag is taking a phased-in approach to this implementation, which will be "dictated by the retailers," Bain said. Retailers must install Comergent software on their sites for this setup to work. Maytag expects to have two partners up and running with it by the end of January, and six nationwide, large chain stores using it by the end of the summer, he said. Brand Source, part of the Long Beach, Calif.-based Associated Volume Buyers group, will be among the first major partners to handle fulfillment for Maytag customers via the new setup.

Once the service is complete, the channel partners will be able to push marketing message banners or advertise special offers for competitive advantage, such as a year of free maintenance, when a potential customer views a retailer's offer via the Maytag site.

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