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IBM Personalizes Shopping With Commerce 7

IBM on Wednesday debuted WebSphere Commerce 7, a new version of its e-commerce software platform which incorporates mobile and social commerce features that let retailers provide a convenient and communal shopping experience for their customers.

IBM WebSphere Commerce 7 is a fully integrated, single-platform application suite designed to bring the best elements of social networks—particularly reviews, pricing comparisons, etc.—to the mobile devices and smartphones that have essentially become an indispensable appendage for online shoppers.

The goal—beyond selling more software—is to provide customers with a new level of shopping intelligence just in time for the holiday shopping season and to build brand loyalty for retailers willing to pony up for the applications.

Typically, customers hop around from site to site and blog to blog to do research, review and compare products, making life difficult for retailers looking to track buying trends. More often than not, researchers say, customers will research products online before visiting a store and then eventually end up purchasing the product from a catalog or through a retailer's call center.

Commerce 7 is the first fruit borne from Big Blue's five-year, $100 million investment announced in June to develop new services for mobile phones.

IBM, along with a slew of venture capitalists and competing software developers, have come to realize that the mobile phone—not the PC—is the device of choice for customers whether they're buying products online or at brick-and-mortar store locations.

"Mobile devices are gradually becoming ubiquitous and helping us transcend many boundaries—geographical, economic, and social, among others," Guruduth Banavar, global leader of the mobile communications focus for IBM Research and director of IBM Research India said in a statement at the time announcing $100 million investment pool.

One component of Commerce 7, the IBM Mobile Store Model, lets customers use their mobile phones to browse the online store, conduct side-by-side comparisons, receive marketing messages, check store locations and inventories and buy the products in one location.

For retailers, the application suite lets companies establish an ongoing dialogue with existing and prospective customers through microblogs, online reviews and ratings delivered directly to their mobile devices.

IBM officials said the software lets retailers drill down to an individual's shopping behavior, preferences and purchase history to help facilitate one-to-one "precision marketing" marketing campaigns. This feature means a retailer can send a coupon offer through e-mail or SMS text messaging for the specific item the customer was viewing as an incentive to complete the purchase.

Those companies that primarily or exclusively sell to other businesses can opt for the Web 2.0 Starter Store that includes a fast product finders, drag and drop shopping and the ability to manage multiple purchasing windows in an out-of-the-box package.

According to Forrester Research, 77 percent of online shoppers use ratings and reviews before making any purchases, and more than 5.8 billion people will use mobile phones as their device of choice for communications, navigation and information services by 2013.

At this time last year, an IBM survey of 600 desktop PC users in the U.S., China and the UK found that more than half would trade in their computer for a smartphone.

This affinity—or perhaps necessity—for mobile devices is particularly pronounced in Asia. IBM said about 25 percent of China's 123 million Internet users are regularly engaging in online shopping with their mobile devices—up 50 percent from last year.

According to IBM researchers, 45.1 percent of customers in Shanghai and 38.9 percent in Beijing make all their online purchases with a mobile phone.