June 9, 2010, 4:15 PM

Internet, meet the Splinternet

Expansion of devices and platforms will challenge retailers to keep up with consumers.

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With the rapid growth of customer touch-points and shopping channels that are expanding the store/catalog/online model, Brian Walker, an analyst for Forrester Research Inc., would prefer to drop the "e" from e-commerce and just start thinking about commerce, he told attendees today at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

Walker, who spoke at a session titled "What top execs need to know about the future of e-commerce platforms," said that 51% of all retail sales will be purchased or researched online by 2013, according to Forrester projections. But e-commerce sites won't be driving all that traffic or those sales, and will instead share that role with a growing variety of devices and platforms.

"In the future, it will not be an Internet. It'll be a Splinternet," he said.

For example, he cited a large online retailer whose name wasn't disclosed, but which already receives 4% of its online traffic through mobile browsers. And one in four members of Generation Y, a term generally used to describe consumers under the age of 35, own a web-enabled Smartphone, he said.

Smartphones, iPads and similar devices being used by consumers will require retailers to take different steps to optimize their web experience, he noted. In the past, e-commerce focused on the e-commerce site and different browsers. Now, the investment and effort has to be spread across multiple platforms, he said. "This increases the complexity of serving customers."

Adding to that complexity is the need to target consumers not just by channel but by context, taking into account their location, their social network, their browsing behavior and more, Walker added. "This complexity is driving a lot of the replatforming that is happening at large, multichannel retailers," he said.

Walker added that for retail, the future is not about multichannel but about all channels, he said. And dropping the "e" from "e-commerce" will create organizational as well as technology and customer experience issues for retailers, he acknowledged. "It means organizations must start to break down silos that stop us from serving customers overall."

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