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by Cara Hogan

Be a smooth operator with IBM WebSphere omni-channel commerce

Published March 20, 2013

 
 

It’s a brave new world for commerce. Today’s customer expects to browse for shoes online to compare prices, try a few pairs on in a store, and then purchase with a few taps on a smartphone, to have everything delivered conveniently to their door within a few days. 

This tech-savvy buyer can be a serious challenge to businesses struggling to provide a seamless flow between online stores and in-person shopping. To solve this problem, IBM announced the new IBM Omni-channel commerce, combining the best of IBM WebSphere Commerce, IBM Cognos, social media and mobile integration into one package under the heading of IBM Smarter Commerce.  The new integration of software will help businesses better compete in a rapidly changing marketplace, according to Peter Wharton, IBM Commerce Product Marketing Manager at IBM.

“In the commerce market, we’re experiencing dramatic shifts brought on by what we’re terming the empowered customer,” Wharton says. “This is a customer using mobile, social, and other technologies and it’s really changed who has control. Now it’s the customer that has control rather than the company.”

"Now it’s the customer that has control rather than the company."

Peter Wharton, IBM Commerce Product Marketing Manager at IBM

Statistics back up the trend, with the number of U.S. mobile shoppers projected to hit 111 million by 2015, up from 35.9 million in 2010.  Companies must respond to this power shift by differentiating themselves from the competition. Smarter Commerce can help by offering a consistent shopping experience across different channels and better tracking of the customer experience, Wharton explains.

“IBM has invested in a series of acquisitions to build out their e-commerce portfolio of solutions,” he says. “The strategy for IBM is to take WebSphere Commerce, which was a solution developed from within IBM, and add in the pieces that customers are now looking for in their commerce strategies.”

Acquisitions paired with WebSphere Commerce adds cross-channel inventory visibility
A decade ago, e-commerce was defined by a catalogue and a shopping cart on a website, but Wharton believes it has evolved into something that is integral and customizable for every business.  

“It’s no longer a siloed operation typically being run outside the core business,” he says. “It really is now a critical part of the overall strategy.”

To keep up with the growing needs of businesses, IBM added a number of solutions to their portfolio over recent years and these are now integrated into Smarter Commerce, giving users all of the software in one package. Acquisitions include IBM Sterling Commerce, IBM Coremetrics, IBM Unica, Tealeaf and IBM Worklight—all of which are now integrated to work more seamlessly together to offer better value to customers.

Sterling Order Management is already integrated in WebSphere Commerce, aiding in the management of warehouses, suppliers, and inventory. But the real breakthrough is in the newly-added management of those enterprise services across all channels, according to John Mesberg, Vice President of theB2B and Commerce Groups at IBM.

“There’s no logical reason in the modern world, if you’re going to offer inventory visibility to an e-commerce user using WebSphere Commerce, why it can’t be taken to all the channels,” he explains. “These same capabilities need to be offered as enterprise services across all the B2C OR B2B channels—the e-commerce channel, the call center channel, the physical stores either through mobile devices or through fixed POS devices.”

In a traditional brick-and-mortar retail scenario, a customer comes into a store looking for a specific item and, if they can’t find it on the shelf, they often ask for help. A sales associate then disappears into the back room to find out if the product is in stock, losing contact with the customer. Smarter Commerce’s omni-channel experience would fix this service problem immediately, Wharton explains.

“With Smarter Commerce, [we] engage with the customer directly using a mobile device and actually look up the inventory,” he says. “Do I have that in the store, in a nearby store, in transit, in a warehouse or with a supplier? Start to offer the customer choices—do you want to go to another store where we can reserve it for you or would you like us to ship it from that store to your home address?”

"We feel this is one of the ways we’re helping retailers leverage their brick and mortar stores to compete with the likes of an Amazon."

Peter Wharton, IBM Commerce Product Marketing Manager at IBM

IBM Marketing Center transfers customer data into more sales
There are also new marketing and sales innovations included in Smarter Commerce called the IBM Marketing Center. This is a combination of the Coremetrics web analytics capabilities and the UNICA campaign management, all repackaged as IBM Marketing Center, according to Mesberg.

“We offer integration directly from our new multi-channel offerings to the marketing center, fully a cloud offering,” he says. “Today we already integrate Coremetrics into WebSphere Commerce. The next step is integrating IBM Marketing Center, which will add in UNICA features like email marketing.”

Mesberg explains that Coremetrics is a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering that creates automatic analytics reports from IBM WebSphere Commerce showing what customers are buying and when.

“Any client can drive those analytics directly into what’s called the Coremetrics Intelligent Offer into WebSphere Commerce to deliver the recommendations for groups of products based on personalization, based on buying patterns, etcetera,” he explains.

The new IBM Marketing Center uses a customer’s buying history to market to them more successfully in the future, Wharton notes. The analysis is integrated with Tealeaf, software which tracks why customers abandon an online shopping cart without purchasing anything. All this information can be used by salespeople in the store.

Tealeaf and Worklight team up to boost the ROI on e-commerce>>

 

Two of IBM’s recent acquisitions—Tealeaf and Worklight—are working together to improve sales conversion rates and reduce shopping cart abandonment, in the hopes of higher profits from e-commerce.  

“Tealeaf brings this ability to track the customer experience, to actually understand perhaps why we’re losing customers as they go through the buying process,” Wharton says. “Is there a breakdown in the process—the way they’re going through the online site—that is causing them to abandon the cart?”

This information is important for the upper level business to know, in order to improve sales at a macro level. But this information can also be incredibly valuable at the store’s checkout counter.

“[A customer] may have started online building a shopping cart,  but then at the last minute decide to check it out in the store before purchase,” Wharton explains. “In the store at the point of sale, you can look at the open carts the customer has and their past buying history. Now you start to really have a true omni-channel experience and a synchronized experience. What you start in one channel you can complete in another channel.”

The key to these analytics being available at to all levels of a company, down to sales associates, is the integration with Worklight. This software allows the store to roll out e-commerce apps to all different mobile platforms, including internal apps for employees.

“Worklight is all about how do I extend that experience out to mobile devices, whether a smartphone or tablet or other devices that use those mobile technologies,” Wharton clarifies. “There’s such a proliferation of new devices in the market. Worklight allows us to build stores that take advantage of the abilities on the mobile devices and roll them out very quickly to all the different platforms.”

With the combination of these two new software solutions from IBM, Big Blue hopes to create a new way of doing business both online and in stores, he says.

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“If two weeks ago, I bought a new TV and I’m going into the story to pick up additional cables I needed, the store associate can pull up my buying history and start to make recommendations,” he explains. “Do I want any additional implementation services, like Geek Squad? Ultimately, [the salesperson] can start to push additional promotions out based on that buying history, to increase that average buying or provide a better experience to the customer.”

Smarter selling means better sales
Wharton said before these new integrated offerings were created, all of these software pieces were available separately to IBM customers, but customers faced challenges if they wanted to use both UNICA and Tealeaf at the same time.

“Some of the pieces they could use with fairly lengthy integration, but now this is pre-integrated and available,” he explains.

The integration makes the transition to omni-channel commerce easy for any business, which is key as serving customers both online and in-store has become a necessity. More and more shoppers are changing the way they look at buying and expecting the omni-channel experience from all businesses, he says.

“Customers are using more channels in the buying decision process,” Wharton explains. “A survey we did from Black Friday in 2012 found that a lot of consumers were completing their purchase transaction quicker this year than they’ve ever done before online. That implies they’ve already done a lot of research beforehand and they’re just closing out the transaction.”

IBM’s new Smarter Commerce Omni-channel experience takes advantage of these new shopping practices and will give a retail company a leg up on their competition, he notes.

“Being consistent between the store, mobile and online interfaces—we feel is a first in the market,” Wharton says. “We feel this is one of the ways we’re helping retailers leverage their brick and mortar stores to compete with the likes of an Amazon; to provide services that an online virtual retailer like that can provide and give them the edge in the market.”

For more information on IBM’s omni-channel commerce announcement, see the IBM press release.

 
 

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