IBM Channel Partners Enlist Social Commerce to Build Retail Solutions

Innovative IT software vendors are building web-based applications for retail customers that integrate social networking as a tool to expand sales.

August 26, 2009

D.H. Kass

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A growing number of IBM Corp. Business Partners are enlisting social commerce—in which customers take an active role in product marketing and sales through online communities, weblogs and user reviews—as integral components of solutions constructed to help retailers boost revenue.

As merchants scuffle with listless back-to-school sales and search for ways to soothe apprehensive customers, some innovative IT solution providers are responding by building web-based solutions for retail customers that integrate social commerce and social networking as a foundation strategy to expand sales.

By tapping into explosive growth markets such as online clothing sales—a segment that last year posted revenue of some $23 billion—solution providers such as My Virtual Model (MVM), a Montreal, Canada-based developer, CrossView Inc., a Goldens Bridge, N.Y.-based specialist for companies selling across multiple avenues and Pluck, an Austin, Texas-based expert in driving traffic to clients' websites using social media—are redefining sales strategies and marketing models for channel partners.

IBM is showcasing channel partners such as these that adapt their thinking to weave social media into solutions, reasoning that the ability of buyers to share information with one another—before, during and after the sales process—has a substantive effect on marketing, brand awareness and customer advocacy.

“Going forward, ‘let the buyer beware’ may no longer be the watchword of commerce,” said Sandy Carter, vice president, IBM software group channels. “In a smarter retail system, it is the seller who must be—and can be—vastly more attentive and responsive.”

Evidence of the new model is emerging with increasing regularity.

For example, MVM recently landed a deal with ABCfamily.com, a multi-platform, interactive entertainment site, to offer users a virtual dressing room to try on and buy clothing from retail giant JCPenny. The effort is targeted at the millennial demographic—15- to 35-year-olds—and aimed at expanding the online shopping experience to enable customers to try on and buy clothing while interacting with ABCfamily.com media.

Community, conversation, collaboration

The solution not only allows users to share information across virtual communities at the MVM site—in which customers can convey their fashion preferences and looks—but also ties in social networking outlets such as Facebook and MySpace, said Louise Guay, MVM founder and president.

“It’s exciting to see in the marketplace that there’s an opportunity for this type of community,” said Guay. “We hope to go further with JCPenny beyond a back-to-school program.”

The JCPenny deal follows an agreement MVM struck last year with Sears that enabled consumers to create a virtual interactive model of themselves and try on clothing items by clicking on images.

Other channel partners are constructing retail solutions that integrate social commerce across multiple sales channels, such as the Web, a call center, a mobile phone or point-of-sale.

For example, CrossView recently built a retail solution for Moosejaw Mountaineering—a Madison Heights, Mich. outdoor adventure retailer with seven stores and an online site—that included embedded community features for communication and collaboration among consumers.

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TAGS: Facebook,search,IBM,social networking,marketing

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