Due to positive reader feedback on Brett's "Word-of-Mouth Wisdom" interview series, I've decided to start a blog interview series that focuses on our partners.  Each month, I will ask a Bazaarvoice partner to share their insights on our industry, social commerce, multi-channel integration, and other to be determined topics with readers of Bazaarblog.  I hope you enjoy this first interview and look forward to many more.   

IBM is one of our valued e-commerce platform partners and Errol Denger, Senior Strategist for IBM WebSphere Commerce, thinks pretty hard and pretty often about where our industry is heading.  To kick off the partner interview series, I thought it would be good to pick Errol's brain on a few topics that our customers frequently ask us for input on.  Enjoy!

1. E-commerce is evolving quickly.  Every year, it seems that our industry is buzzing about a new hot topic.  What do you foresee being the hot topics in e-commerce over the next 2-3 years?

Several key trends are converging to shape e-Commerce’s next few years.  The new buzz will be all about customer-centricity and experiential retailing.  These concepts will be embraced to redefine the brand experience and deliver new value to customers.   As retailers apply these strategies to their e-Commerce sites, you will see a continuing transformation from product and catalog-driven sites to destinations that focus on delivering a rich customer experience.  

As multi channel retailing continues to gain momentum, you will see a lot more buzz around mobile, kiosk, and other touchpoints.  Look at the buzz around the iPhone alone and its ability to deliver a “real” web experience. Other multi channel technologies such as kiosks will be implemented in the store to enhance the purchasing process with richer information such as ratings and reviews.  It will be a huge challenge for retailers to consistently and contextually extend this customer-centric experience across all channels and touchpoints, but successful retailers will capture greater market share and plenty of headlines.     

2. Can you give our readers an example of what you describe above, a retailer or site that is succeeding at evolving from catalog-driven to a true “rich customer experience”?

Well as I pointed out above, e-Commerce sites are no longer flat HTML catalogs but are becoming feature rich destinations that focus on the customer’s needs.  The hottest digital marketing opportunities will be those that extend the online experience.  A great example of this is IKEA’s room planner which enables customers to design 3D kitchens and automatically generates a shopping list.  Other areas that extend the shopping experience will include 3D Internet, social commerce, and rich digital content such as user created movies.

3. There are e-commerce platforms and there are focused solutions (analytics, email marketing, search, reviews, etc.).  What is the role and responsibility of a platform provider in helping customers develop a best-of-breed strategy?

Our goal is to enable online sellers to transform the way they deliver business value by creating a rich brand experience.  Because this differs significantly across industries and segments, we have formed an ISV ecosystem enabling us to deliver end to end solutions.  The goal is to deliver a pre-integrated, proven solution that our customers can trust their e-businesses to.

4. Bazaarvoice is an IBM WebSphere Commerce partner.  How does our solution and expertise complement IBM's e-commerce strategy and vision?

Bazaarvoice complements IBM’s e-Commerce strategy and vision by providing rich social commerce capabilities.  This is a critical in today’s Web 2.0 world since retailers are redefining the way they interact with customers.  They are actively engaging customers and establishing architectures of participation with sites specifically designed for user contributions.   Bazaarvoice helps us meet this requirement and more.  As user interactions continue to evolve, we expect Bazaarvoice to deliver new offerings that further extend the relationships that retailers have with their customers.

5. What mistakes do large multi-channel retailers commonly make when choosing an e-commerce platform and solution partners?

There are a few common mistakes which are mostly caused by improper planning and requirements definition processes.  One of the biggest mistakes occurs when multi-channel retailers do not incorporate the business’s broader strategies and growth initiatives into their purchase decision.  When this happens, the retailer may have a strong e-Commerce site but they will encounter problems when forced to integrate it with the rest of the business or use it as a catalyst to drive growth.  Thus, we recommend that companies evaluate their e-Commerce site in context of their multi-channel retailing strategies and also think about how they plan on growing their business to ensure that their e-Commerce platform can grow with them.  It is also absolutely critical that these decisions are not made in a silo, and they have full organizational support.

6. Many marketers are still struggling to understand Web 2.0, but I'm already hearing talk of "Web 3.0".  What does this mean to you?

Web 3.0 will be about selling to the Digital Generation and the next decade’s consumers. In the next decade, everyone is interconnected, anything goes, everything is available, and nothing is private.  Shoppers will be savvy and skilled placing a high level of importance on individualism, self-fulfillment and personal involvement in the creation process.  Retailers will use Web 3.0 as the vehicle to sell to this generation of shoppers and to support the new lifestyle formats that will dominate retail.  Web 3.0 will encompass a set of concepts and technologies that enable retailers to cater to shoppers that are ubiquitously connected, continuously moving across touchpoints and interaction metaphors (physical, 2D, and 3D), and interacting in new ways through increasingly integrated social networks.


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