Sun in Deal to Tie Stores to Web Sites

FRAMINGHAM (01/28/2000) - Sun Microsystems Inc. and start-up Inc. joined forces last week in a deal they said would make it easier to integrate Web storefronts with their existing brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Sun and will help brick-and-mortar companies add functionality to their existing Web sites that will let customers search for products at a physical retail store in a specific geography, verify real-time availability of the product and purchase it online at the store level.

For instance, a consumer looking to purchase a pair of jeans from a brand-name retailer will be able to go to the retailer's Web site, drill down to see what inventory is available at a local store and purchase the product. Options will be available that let the consumer pick up the item at a convenient time or have it shipped home.

The option adds flexibility to the online purchase and return processes and gives traditional brick-and-mortar stores a way to participate in Web-based sales, said Richard F. Lawson, president and CEO of

"The idea is to provide an integrated experience for the consumer so that whether they buy via brick-and-mortar stores, mail order, telephone sales or the Internet, the company has a common customer database," said Scott Latham, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston.

This kind of integration is "something that companies are realizing they are going to have to do" as online purchasing becomes more popular, Latham said.

Providing the core functionality for the joint offering is's Vertically Segmented Search Technology, which the company describes as blending Internet search technology and middleware, pulls inventory and pricing data from a store's point of sale system and feeds it to a central database. Users can access the database via the Internet.

The technology will be jointly marketed by the two companies and deployed on Sun servers. The deal also calls for to buy $20 million worth of Sun hardware, software, storage and middleware. All brick-and-mortar retailers and manufacturers that want to implement the technology will need to install Sun's Netra Unix servers at each physical store location.

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