November 12, 2009, 12:00 AM

IBM’s WebSphere Commerce 7 supports mobile and social commerce

With the WebSphere Commerce 7 e-commerce platform released yesterday, shoppers can use a synchronized shopping cart across conventional and m-commerce sites.

With the WebSphere Commerce 7 e-commerce platform IBM Corp. released yesterday, shoppers can use a synchronized shopping cart across conventional and mobile commerce sites, says Errol Denger, director of business and product strategy for WebSphere Commerce. Retailers can coordinate marketing across web sites, mobile phones and social networks, he adds.

“We’re enabling large and small retailers to deliver an optimal branding experience, whether it’s on the web or mobile commerce device,” Denger says. “This is being driven by our clients who are saying they don’t want their mobile commerce channel to be separate.”

The overall idea, he says, is to help retailers connect with customers however shoppers want to buy online. Shoppers with a web-enabled mobile phone, for example, will be able to browse an online store built on WebSphere Commerce 7, conduct side-by-side product comparisons that a retailer makes available, and make an instant online purchase. Delivery can be to the shopper’s home or, if the retailer has integrated its store systems into its e-commerce platform, for pickup at a store. Shoppers would also be able to use their mobile phones to check the availability of desired inventory in the retailer’s nearest store and upload directions before opting for in-store pickup.

WebSphere Commerce 7 also supports new levels of personalized marketing, Denger says. For example, retailers will be able to use it to design merchandising and marketing campaigns that make product offers based on such behavior as the average number of product reviews a shopper is known to post each month. Shoppers who are prolific review writers have been known to spend more online than shoppers who don’t write reviews, Denger notes, making them prime candidates for a retailer’s offers.

In another example, he says, an offer could be triggered by the type of social networking site a shopper was on before arriving at a retail site. If a shopper came from a Facebook or Google search page about Harley-Davidson touring-style motorcycles, for instance, a retailer using WebSphere Commerce 7 could present her with a customized landing page based on the particular interests expressed on that Facebook or Google page.

Although other e-commerce technology companies are integrating mobile commerce into their platforms, IBM stands out with a platform that also strongly integrates with store point-of-sale terminals and kiosks, says Nikki Baird, managing partner with research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “When enabling a cross-channel strategy, WebSphere Commerce can now better become a cornerstone in a multi-leg strategy,” she says.

“IBM is making an important investment in extending their commerce platform to enable mobile commerce natively with their product,” says Brian Walker, senior analyst for e-commerce at research and advisory firm Forrester Research Inc. “As consumer use of mobile and smart-phones to research and buy across channels increases rapidly, businesses are responding. By tying the m-commerce solution directly to the commerce engine it will decrease management and marketing expense while opening up cross-channel shopping and research opportunities.”

But the market may also continue show a need for technology companies that specialize in just m-commerce, he adds. “As use of different mobile platforms evolves and smart-phone applications become more effective it may prove challenging for platform providers to support the complexity of developing for Apple’s iPhone/iPod, the Google Android platform, and Research in Motion’s Blackberry-leaving room for specialized firms to also support this emerging channel and integrate with the platform providers.”

IBM is still in the early stage of cross-channel technology development, the company says. In June it announced a five-year, $100 million research initiative to improve mobile commerce services worldwide. “Advancements in mobile devices are reshaping the way customers interact with brands, expanding beyond mere information exchange to true online commerce,” IBM said in announcing WebSphere Commerce 7. “Increasingly, the beneficiaries of this growth are online retailers.”

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