Configurator planned for small Web merchants

Solutionbuilder will let small Web merchants provide product configuration services previously only seen on sites of car companies and PC manufacturers, say its makers

A small UK start-up plans next month to launch an online configurator aimed at small Web merchants, giving them access to the same sort of features that are enjoyed by car makers and other large companies that provide online configuration of their products and services.

Solutionbuilder is now in beta and is due for launch in August, according to the company behind it -- Selling Solutions Software. Director James Rowlands said Solutionbuilder will build on a recently launched product called Solutionfinder, which guides users to a product or service by asking a series of questions.

Solutionfinder was created to bring the sort of decision tree often found on Web sites of multinationals to smaller players. "This is nothing new to the market, but it is new for the low end of the market," said Rowlands, was keen to stress that large companies, including Rolls Royce, are evaluating it too.

Rowlands uses the example of buying a hi-fi to explain how Solutionbuilder will work with Solutionfinder. "You would use Solutionfinder to find the right amplifier to fit your budget, your listening room and so on. Then Solutionbuilder will help you build a system around that with compatible products -- speakers, music sources and so on. It tells you what works with what." Logic can be built into Solutionbuilder so that if for instance a prospective customer wants to add a set of speakers that do not match the amplifier, then the system will suggest a different, suitable amp.

A reporting tool will also be built in to feed back to the site administrator (or marketing manager) those solutions that users have been trying to put together but which are not on offer. "You don't need to be told when you are getting it right -- you can see from the sales figures," said Rowland. "You need to be told when people are not finding what they want, and you need to be told what they do want."

Solutionfinder -- which will be included in Solutionbuilder when that product launches, comes with a PC tool for building and testing the logic behind the questions, and a set of Web page templates written in PHP.

Both Solutionfinder and Solutionbuilder work with a number of databases, including Oracle, SQL Server and MySQL.

Solutionfinder costs £800, and Web developers can apply for a 40 percent discount, bringing the price to £500. Optional support and maintenance after the initial year costs £160 a year. Alternatively, software plus support and maintenance can be purchased for £400 per annum. Pricing for solutionbuilder has not yet been announced.

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