The idea of the Ferrit site
So while there was a space, the proposed way to address that space was flawed. The problem was that the proffered solution didn’t offer anything of value to anybody. The medium to large companies that Telecom identified had not moved their commerce online were not looking for a giant website to aggregate demand. They needed to open their own ecommerce websites backed up by their own fulfilment processes.
The problem was that for an aggregator site like Ferrit to work properly the retailers had to get their own websites in order, and once they had them in order there was no need for Ferrit.
To provide a feed of products they needed to be able to pass on SKU’s, details, photos and prices, along (importantly) inventory numbers through to Ferrit. They also needed some way to accept the sale online and fulfil the order. Once companies had all of this on place then building their own site was a formality. They could even use one of the many off the shelf and open source (read free) eCommerce website solutions out there. Wellington’s Silverstripe offers a complete website CMS including ecommerce, while OSCommerce is a dedicated open source solution. Both are free.
The business model was fundamentally flawed. It relied on taking a commission from retailers for directing traffic to their sites. A large commission. The flaw was that the retailers can simply set up their own sites and buyers can easily find them using Google. (Indeed Ferrit’s usability issues made it harder rather than easier to buy things from particular stores.)
Finally there was the Telecom question. Why would any supplier want Telecom to be their ecommerce route to the internet? What compounds that question is the presence of Gen-i within Telecom’s ranks, so a company already doing this sort of work for clients was ignored within Telecom.
The Weaknesses of the implemented Ferrit site
The weaknesses were manifold, and summarised threefold: Poor technology, poor usability, poor business model. Overall it was a model of what not to do.
The technology was apparently based on an off the shelf product that was substantially changed by the outsourced programming team. The impact of this is threefold: It’s expensive to purchase a system in this way, the changes to the system probably mean that upgrading is difficult to impossible and the time and costs taken to make changes are prohibitive. The slow and expensive development of the site are external evidence of this occurring.
Sadly there were and are plenty of alternative ways to develop a site like Ferrit, ranging from open source solutions to simply starting from scratch using modern building blocks and tools.
The poor usability of Ferrit was legendary in the New Zealand web industry. It was so bad that it turned visitors away, and though it slowly improved over time the end result was still basically unusable. To dissect just how poor the usability was is an exercise best left to the individual, and I would rather point to Trade Me, Google and Apple sites to see just what a great website can be.
Meanwhile the execution was so poor that the information provided by Ferrit (price, availability) was often incorrect, leading to a collapse of any consumer trust in the site.