December 29, 2010, 5:14 PM

iPads and open markets for everyone!

2011 will advance the Internet promise another big step in-store and online.

There may be plenty of gee-whiz e-commerce applications to hit the retailing scene next year, but what may have the biggest impact on how consumers and retailers interact is how Internet-enabled systems will put more smiles on shoppers and merchants alike—both online and offline.

Here’s my top three areas for producing those smiles next year:

The store: If the iPad has created a whirlwind of excitement among consumers who find it just the right size for browsing and shopping on the Internet, it will undoubtedly also lead to marked changes inside of stores—for merchants as well as shoppers. Instead of expanding or deploying new fixed point-of-sale infrastructure, more retailers will deploy legions of iPads on which mobile store clerks will access a networked POS system. Shoppers will get faster and more personalized service, merchants a more flexible and useful staff and POS system.

The order and fulfillment system: With growing support from e-commerce technology vendors, more retailers will take advantage of “order anywhere/fulfill from anywhere” systems that let shoppers places orders via the web, a mobile site or app, a social networking site, a call center or a physical store, and let the merchant fulfill the order from the most appropriate source—such as a warehouse or store closest to the customer, or a drop shipper. The shoppers gets the desired product faster; the merchant moves the right inventory at the least cost.

E-marketplaces: E-commerce sites that can offer access to a broad range of products and services—including products and services from third parties, including other retailers, consumer brand manufacturers and even independent consumers—is no longer just a game for Amazon.com and handful of others. With operations like GSI Commerce Inc.’s ShopRunner offering shipping deals as well as a forthcoming e-marketplace for many retailers; Buy.com building out its e-marketplace with new parent Rakuten; Market America combining its personalized shopping experience with Shop.com’s comparison shopping model; and with services like TheFind offering a new level of multichannel comparison shopping, a very different shopping experience is emerging from these marketplaces. Shoppers get unbounded exposure to products and services, and more retailers than ever can get in the game.

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