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Sears, Kmart tap IBM for mobile commerce platform

November 17, 2009

Sears mobile commerce Web site

Sears' mobile commerce Web site

Retail giant Sears Holdings Corp.—which includes Sears and Kmart—is tapping IBM’s software to deliver a personalized and more interactive shopping experience for the exploding population of mobile users worldwide.

The newest version of the software is called IBM WebSphere Commerce 7 and incorporates new social-networking and analytics capabilities that enable retailers to automate and personalize promotions for online shoppers. The adoption of this software—currently powering Sears2Go and Kmart2Go—underscores IBM’s commitment to the mobile space and the continued evolution of the mobile-commerce ecosystem.

“Sears2go sits on our IBMWebSphere Commerce software stack, as do the APIs we use for native apps,” said Imran Jooma, senior vice president of ecommerce at Sears Holdings, Hoffman Estates, IL. “We leverage new technologies to give customers more choices as a part of our Shop Your Way offering.

“These innovative technologies make shopping more convenient for our customers,” he said. “We are continuing to lead in the mobile commerce space, with new applications and mobile sites coming alongside improvements in our current offerings.” 

Sears, officially named Sears, Roebuck and Co., is an American chain of mid-range department stores offering various products such as clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, appliances, housewares, tools and electronics

Sears merged with Kmart in early 2005, creating the Sears Holdings Corp.

Sears understands that its customer base is increasingly mobile and the company is making major strides in mobile commerce with its Sears2Go service (see story).

Sears Holdings is still using the previous version of IBM WebSphere Commerce and has not yet announced when it plans to upgrade to version 7.

International Business Machines Corp., abbreviated IBM, is a multinational computer technology and information-technology consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, Town of North Castle, NY.

IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and offers infrastructure services, hosting services and consulting services in areas ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology.

Automating the mobile buying experience
In June, IBM announced a five-year, $100-million research initiative aimed at improving mobile services and capabilities for businesses and consumers worldwide.

Advancements in mobile devices are reshaping the way customers interact with brands, expanding beyond mere information exchange to true mobile commerce.

According to Forrester Research, the purchase of goods and services from Web sites is projected to reach $211.7 billion by 2012 in the United States alone, up from $125.1 billion in 2007.

To meet this demand, IBM is introducing IBM WebSphere Commerce 7 software that is designed to deliver a new level of intelligence to consumer buying.

The new software aims to enhance the online shopping experience for mobile users by making it easier to both research products and complete transactions.

The new IBM Mobile Starter Store is designed to simplify the shopping experience, enabling customers to browse an online store, conduct side-by-side product comparisons, then view store locations, check inventory availability and complete the purchase.

Shoppers can place orders online and pick up their merchandise at the closest store, which is automatically mapped out for them on their mobile phone.

With the new IBM technology, retailers can also deliver timely, relevant and personalized brand information and promotions based on past purchases to the customer’s mobile device through text messages or email.

Emerging markets
According to IBM’s Institute for Higher Value, the number of mobile users will grow by 191 percent from 2006 to 2011 to reach approximately 1 billion users worldwide.

These numbers are being driven worldwide by people in both industrialized and developing nations. Because broadband access remains difficult in many places, handheld devices are often the only means of access to the Web.

Li-Ning, China’s largest athletics equipment and accessories manufacturer, has experienced steady growth in online sales since launching its ecommerce site in 2008, according to IBM. A growing number of these customers are accessing its site through mobile phones and other handheld devices.

With ecommerce largely untapped in China, Li Ning adopted IBM technology, which helps its customers view top-selling merchandise and detailed product information on a homepage they can customize.

Li-Ning intends to expand beyond these basic functions to take advantage of IBM’s new commerce software, which will allow the company to digitally deliver personalized sales promotions and other information.

Li-Ning also plans to pursue the newest trend in commerce, reaching customers through social networking sites.

Selling through social networking
IBM’s new software lets retailers leverage the growing influence of social networks, bringing brand and product discussions back to the retailer’s site and hopefully converting them into transactions.

For example, a product review or blog post with a link back to the retailers’ sites can automatically be sent with one click to Facebook or another social networking site.

Sellers can augment their brand experience with richer content that includes threaded discussions, along with phone- and video-sharing.

Sam Ash, a retailer of musical instruments and DJ equipment, is using WebSphere Commerce through IBM business partner SysIQ to enhance its online store with product ratings and reviews from customers. It is finding success combining this feature with performance simulations of products they sell.

For example, the company created a “virtual cymbal room” where shoppers can test the actual sound of their cymbals.

WebSphere Commerce 7 also has enhancements that IBM claims better address the needs of businesses selling to other businesses online, through a new Web 2.0-based B2B store platform.

This features a product finder, mini-shopping cart, drag-and-drop shopping capability and the ability to manage multiple saved orders.

Traditional B2B sites are cumbersome to use and often require customer service calls to complete sales, according to IBM.

As mobile becomes an increasingly important sales channel for businesses, IBM claims that its B2B store delivers B2C-like features to business customers while supporting contracts, advanced procurement options and a more streamlined checkout process.

WebSphere Commerce comes with the IBM WebSphere Application Server and DB2, with the goal of helping retailers attain high transaction volumes, reliable and highly available operation and integration to back-end systems and applications using SOA interfaces.

WebSphere Commerce 7 includes integrations to IBM Lotus Connections, Bazaarvoice and Pluck SiteLife.

IBM WebSphere Commerce software includes capabilities for marketing, catalog management and merchandising to help companies improve the customer shopping experiences across all sales channels from online and over the phone to mobile and in-store.

IBM WebSphere Commerce 7 is available starting at about $30,000 for 100 Processor Value Units (PVUs).

IBM speaks
Mobile Commerce Daily’s Dan Butcher interviewed Errol Denger, Denver, CO-based strategy program director of WebSphere Commerce at IBM. Here is what he had to say:

What is IBM’s strategy behind the launch of WebSphere Commerce 7?
As today’s savvy customers embrace new touch points and interaction models, the brand experience has become increasingly fragmented.  These empowered customers expect a consistent, contextual and relevant brand experience even as they jump across channels or interaction models, such as social and community.

WebSphere Commerce is designed with this in mind and our strategy is to be the market leading Customer Interaction Platform enabling companies to deliver a consistent, customer-centric experience across multiple channels and touch points.  

To succeed with mobile commerce, companies need to view this channel as an extension of their ecommerce platform. Version 7 provides integrated mobile commerce support so companies can run their mobile site as a seamless extension of the online brand experience.

The foundation of the WebSphere Commerce v7 is a powerful Precision Marketing engine that enables companies to support rich, customer-centric “dialogues” across channels and interaction models, including social commerce and widgets.

Built from the ground up, the Precision Marketing engine orchestrates Web, mobile, cross-channel, third-party applications and services such as ratings, reviews, communities, email and other interactions enabling marketers to centrally control the digital experience both today and into the future.

Thus, mobile is now a true extension of the multi-channel brand experience.

In addition to powerful marketing capabilities, the WebSphere Commerce Mobile Store Solution offers the following capabilities:
• Integrated mobile message support (SMS) for marketing messages, digital coupons and other key messages such as account or order notification status
• Mobile optimized store supporting optimized browsing capabilities, as well as mobile marketing and promotions, product information and availability, store  and stock locator, mobile shopping list (Wishlist), mobile cart, buy on mobile and pickup, order status and tracking
• Integrated into cross-channel precision marketing with support for mobile triggers and events as outlined above

With which handsets is it compatible?
This is designed to support mobile phones with 240*320 or higher resolution, including RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, Nokia, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Google’s Android.

How is IBM getting the word out about this software (i.e. marketing tactics)?
We are using our standard awareness mechanisms including press, analysts, Webinars and briefings, demos, tradeshow presentations, etcetera.

What is the current state of mobile commerce, and what is its potential?
Mobile devices have become “Lifestyle Infrastructure Tools.” There is more technology in your mobile phone today than there was in the first ship launched to the moon, and 3.8 billion people worldwide have a mobile device in 2008. Mobile services are expected to grow 6.5 percent for 2009.

More importantly, mobile Internet penetration is reaching a critical mass, with over 22 percent (eMarketer) of the U.S. population and 17 percent (Forrester) of Western Europeans accessing the Internet on their mobile devices. This is the same penetration as the percentage of the  population that had Internet access in 1999.

This indicates that we have clearly crossed the adoption chasm and are entering early mainstream—and more importantly, critical mass. 

The implication is that customers now expect to effectively and contextually interact with brands on their mobile devices. Innovative retailers will capitalize on this to not only enhance the overall brand experience, but will also use this as an opportunity to increase cross-channel stickiness.

An IBM Institute for Business Value study indicates that almost 50 percent of shoppers switch retailers when they switch channel—by effectively using mobile to complete transactions or drive shoppers directly to stores, retailers will help address this defection.

Mobile will continue to evolve as both a stand-alone shopping channel and over the next 18 months will play a significant role in enhancing the in-store experience. Given this vision, IBM will continue to invest in mobile and innovate this channel to enhance the overall brand experience.

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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