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iCat to offer sub-$1,000 storefronts

New merchant software being demonstrated at fall Internet World '97 is designed to allow businesses to open Net storefronts for less than $1,000 per year.

New merchant software being demonstrated at fall Internet World '97 this week is designed to allow businesses with little knowledge of computers to open Internet storefronts for less than $1,000 per year.

iCat's software, due for release by March and dubbed "Lemonade Stand," will be marketed to ISPs that would host Web storefronts built by merchants using only a Web browser, with iCat's software running on the ISP's servers.

"iCat is the first we're aware of that wants to hook to ISPs and partner," said Geri Spieler, a Gartner Group analyst. "They're going after smaller and mid-size businesses."

Lemonade Stand will compete with a similar offering from Viaweb, which handles the hosting on its ViaMall for merchants that use its Viaweb Store software. Inex, I-Central, and Mercantec also offer entry-level software for Web storefronts.

But Aberdeen Group analyst Chris Stevens thinks iCat's approach, which also creates an opportunity for Web site developers to cultivate future clients, shows promise because it links merchants, hosting, and services.

"You need all the pieces--you can't have just some of them. The software has to be easy for merchants to use, but also has to be a highly scalable and reliable architecture for ISPs," Stevens said. "And it has to be consistent with the requirement of Web design and development companies."

"We believe hundreds of thousands of merchants need an easier starting place," iCat chief executive Craig Danuloff said. Merchants who start with Lemonade Stand, which uses an online "wizard" to simplify creating a storefront, can upgrade to more advanced versions of iCat software for more complex Web storefronts.

iCat's Electronic Commerce Suite includes both a standard and professional version of its cataloging software, with the professional version targeted at the e-commerce Web site developers who account for about 80 percent of iCat's sales.

iCat isn't releasing details on how it will charge for the software until the product is released in early 1998, though Danuloff said the company would not seek a percentage of sales. Initially it will run on Windows NT, with Unix support for Sun Solaris and HP-UX planned.

To date iCat has announced six U.S. ISPs as partners--Epoch Internet, Internet Direct, Creative Data Concepts, The Catalog Site, WOWFactor, and DeltaCom--plus Canada's Ngage Electronic Commerce division of MTS Advanced. It also announced relationships with hardware vendors Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, as well as UPS.