Open Market buy expands lineup

E-commerce software maker Open Market acquires ICentral, which markets Web storefront tools for small and midsized firms.

E-commerce software maker Open Market has acquired ICentral, which markets ShopSite software for building online stores.

Open Market acquired ICentral for approximately $10 million in Open Market common stock and $1 million in cash. The stock market greeted the news with a yawn, opening today with shares up 1/2 to 19-3/8.

The acquisition could affect iCat and Intershop, which, like ICentral, market tools for small and midsized companies to create Web storefronts.

Both have been partners with Open Market, particularly in situations where Open Market sells its Transact e-commerce software to Web malls and ISPs moving into the commerce hosting business. Several customers have offered iCat or Intershop tools to merchants while running their back-end on Open Market software.

Intershop downplayed the impact of ICentral's acquisition. "Intershop's focus is on the ISP, multihosting e-commerce market. ICentral's solution is aimed at smaller merchants. So ICentral's new relationship with Open Market does not conflict with our [Open Market] partnership," Intershop vice president of marketing Jeff Watts said in a statement.

Open Market positioned the acquisition as filling out its offerings for smaller companies without overlap between the two firms' customers or distribution channels.

"The two technologies are very well suited for integration with very little overlap and a very natural migration path for merchants," said Gail Goodman, Open Market's vice president of commerce products. "There is a very natural flow of customers from entry level stores to sophisticated. We will do the integration starting immediately and expect to deliver before the end of the year."

Open Market will continue to sell ShopSite's browser-based tools, a basic version for $495 and a professional edition for $1,295, through ShopSite channels of ISPs and Web developers.

ICentral, based in Provo, Utah, will move its staff of 20 into offices of another Open Market acquisition, Folio. ICentral will be integrated into Open Market's commerce products group.

ICentral's ShopSite software, available since 1995, is now in its third release and is designed to get merchants up and running on the Net quickly. ICentral has distributed its software through 20-plus ISPs and Web developers, an increasingly important channel for reaching smaller merchants.

The acquisition is Open Market's first since February 1997, when it bought Folio for its publishing software and Waypoint, which created tools for business-to-business catalogs that Open Market now sells as LiveCommerce.

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