Miva Merchant President Explains New Upgrades, Future of Hosting Business

Rick Wilson is the president of Miva Merchant, the pioneering ecommerce platform. Like many ecommerce companies, Miva Merchant is evolving. It now offers its own hosted shopping cart, and Wilson joined us to discuss recent upgrades to that cart, along with cloud computing and the future of third party hosting companies.

Practical eCommerce: How are things going since the new ownership group got Miva Merchant two-and-a-half decades back?

Rick Wilson:“It’s going very well. We had an interesting combination of things when we bought the company. We had a exceptional community. We could generate a exceptional product which needed some tender loving care to really start unlocking its promise and its value, and we feel that we have achieved that. We have done a terrific job at bringing the thing to another level. It’s highly stable. We are ready to flow out upgrades without causing problems. We’ve got a substantial upgrade coming and we have made the modifications necessary to have a thriving, growing business.

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“Miva Merchant 5.5 is the latest iteration of our product and it is available through external web hosts in addition to through us. We supply a software-as-a-service [SaaS] version of it that is identical to the one that you can get from a hosting firm.”

PeC: How many of your customers use your SaaS version?

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Wilson:“I don’t know whether I’m comfortable giving out accurate numbers about that. It’s just in hundreds currently. It isn’t yet to the thousands or tens of thousands. We have just been offering it because mid-November, I think November 11 was the date we started offering it.

“If you look at it from how we do compared to other hosts that are outside, we are now the second largest Miva Merchant host, so to speak, as far as new registration goes, and I hope that this month or next month we’ll actually overtake from a new client acquisition perspective; we shall become the largest new customer acquirer for Miva Merchant hosting. I feel it will take a couple of years considering the entrenched position of the larger hosts. It will take a couple of years for us to become the largest complete host.”

PeC: If I am a hosting company employee listening to this and I rely on the capability to provide Miva Merchant to my customers, should I feel threatened by everything you just said?

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Wilson:“Whether they should or should not, I am certain that they do, and that is a dialogue that comes up here a fair volume. It’s absolutely not something that we set out to do. We didn’t set out to threaten anybody. We’re not attacking their businesses.

“However, the market has changed and when a market changes that could be hard for people whose business model is set through an old perspective. Thus, we still have a dispersed solution [where hosting companies can provide Miva Merchant to its clients ]. Practical eCommerce talked about that a year ago, when we switched towards a distributed SaaS model. That’s not going anywhere. That has been hugely successful for us and it has really breathed new life into our capability to continue. We feel that among those persuasive elements of our merchandise is the capacity to host it anywhere.

“The web hosts will feel a little threatened. But at the end of the day after we look at their ability to market new licenses, we believe we could start providing the support direct with a minimal slight impact on their ability to market ”

PeC: You’re the president of Miva Merchant, and you’re also an observer of the online scene and the ecommerce landscape generally. In light of the growth of cloud solutions, such as salesforce, NetSuite and others, is there a future for third party hosts?

Wilson:“You know, I think that question is a complex question to answer and I feel that part of that depends upon your definition of future and what they think their function. When we got to the hosting area back in 1997 and were an up-and-coming shopping cart, there was no such thing as SaaS. Back then it was called ASPs, or Application providers. We were an early enabler of this, but the version back then was that you would sell your application in massive packages to internet hosts and they would essentially become what today we would consider as SaaS provider. But, they didn’t have the inherent application, which variant worked for a while and it evolved into the salesforce.com, and lots of others. That was really the beginning of the SaaS revolution.

“Thus, for a large scale datacenter like a Rackspace, absolutely. Those guys are in the hosting firm offering economically information real estate, and their business isn’t about the software which has been conducted on their platform. Their company is all about the data connectivity in a secure way.”

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PeC: Do you still sell licenses to third party hosts?

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Wilson:“Yes, we do and we do not have any intention of the changing. We have three versions efficiently. We have our current hosting variant, which is what we’re best known for. We have got our new SaaS model, which you and I am just talking. And then we have got a version that’s a retail version if you will, and we don’t sell a fantastic deal of licenses such as this but it is meant for special cases where it’s needed. If it’s a public company, let’s say, and it needs a copy of our license on its own datacenter for security reasons, they can buy a license on this and we don’t see it changing.”

PeC: Can you run your own servers there for your SaaS product?

Wilson:“We formed a separate company for the SaaS product that we’re the massive majority owners of. We’ve partnered with an existing, very powerful Miva Merchant host. Its runs the servers for us. But we’ve got the servers, we’ve got the system, and it is its own hosting company that exists as a standalone item.”

PeC: Let’s move now to your SaaS version of 5.5. You’ve got some upgrades which you’ve recently announced. Can you describe those to us?

Wilson: “Absolutely. The first and foremost upgrade is it’s PA-DSS compliant. We are expecting right now our final report on compliance with our QSA (Qualified Security Assessor).

“Second, we have assembled from the ground up a new default look and feel. This will not impact current clients. So in the event that you’ve got an existing Miva Merchant store and you are upgrading, this won’t affect you in the slightest. However, for new people going forward, installing a new store, we have got a CSS-based HTML 5.0 doc type, which is 100 percent W3C compliant. For all the internet developers out there, that gives them a much improved base to build a brand new looking shop on and supplies most web developers the ability to create 90 percent of the changes they would want to make to look and feel using only CSS and images.

“The third thing we’ve added is a completely new order processing system. Historically our product has had things like order status and order history, but they were all aftermarket add-ons. We decided to take a look at that and place them in the way in which the aftermarket did. When we do something that has been served together with the aftermarket, we’re inclined to want to appear at it with a more foundational level. We like to come up with a solution that essentially enables us to expand our APIs and enlarge our methodology in a way that’s only possible by us so it isn’t really a bolt-on, but actually an extension of the platform and provides new opportunities for Miva developers to expand and do new and creative things. Therefore, it’s an order processing, order history, orders status system that takes Miva Merchant from just being a cash register to a store management platform.

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“The fourth and final new feature is a significant addition to our inventory management system. We had a very robust inventory system built in the program for quite a long time with one huge feature deficiency. What I mean by that was if you provided a T-shirt and you have got colors and sizes, we had no way off the shelf to track the inventory [of every size and colour ]. We started looking at how our competition was handling it. It’s a really intricate situation to happen. Take, by way of example, one shop that we’ve had in beta. It’s a 138 different pieces of jewelry, but if you combine the fact that they can be found in a variety of sizes and different materials, it actually has only under 4,000 unique products. So as soon as you start getting to the handling of something which resembles 100 products, let’s say, and it’s actually 4,000 products, the database issues can grow quickly. We looked at how accounting systems track stock books, parts, kit parts, inventory with attributes like clothing and we said,’Well, you know, having an island is not what we desire.’ We specifically built it from a database place that would allow us to easily integrate with any ERP accounting system based on the way they did it so that’s a significant update”

PeC: Anything else on your mind for our readers today?

Wilson:“The 1 thing I would really like to say and impart with everyone is that oftentimes people don’t realize that we’re here and we are in San Diego. We answer our phones and are simple to speak to. I have had people who are longstanding, enthusiastic customers of ours that are still reluctant to call us because people are badly trained with support experiences everywhere else in the company. In case you ever need anything with Miva Merchant, the best first alternative would be to pick up the phone and call us. It’s toll-free and we’re really, really wonderful.”

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