Sporting and adventure goods company REI has decided to standardize its Web-based store channels — including its kiosks — on IBM’s WebSphere application server, a move that will make it far easier to expand its e-commerce operations.
“We have been running on IBM e-commerce’s platform for quite a few years,” Joan Broughton, REI vice president for direct sales, told CRM Buyer Magazine. She said REI first went online in 1996, when there were few out-of-the-box choices for retailers. “We developed a lot of proprietary functionality that was difficult to maintain and expand upon. So we thought it wise to make the investment and move to a Java-powered Web site now.”
Adopting a standard architecture has made it much faster and easier for REI to add new applications, Broughton said. This will be an advantage when the company implements extensive new customer features, such as the personalized services it plans to introduce in 2003.
Bart Lautenbach, director of WebSphere Commerce, told CRM Buyer that REI’s investment represents what he calls “a fundamental shift” in e-commerce architecture.
“In the past, there was a lot of discussion around disintermediating the e-commerce channel from the in-store experience, the kiosk experience and the rest of the store’s operations,” he explained. “Multichannel operations have become much more important to retailers, as has a deep level of integration with the rest of the enterprise.”
Lautenbach cited REI’s in-store kiosks, which are still rare enough to be a competitive differentiator among other retailers, as an example.
“If a customer wants something that is not in stock in that particular store, they can look the item up on the kiosk and immediately expand their search to the 78,000 products that REI has in its inventory systems,” he said. “What [REI has] found is that as their needs have grown, they need an application infrastructure that doesn’t just focus on online purchases but expands into order-management systems and inventory-management systems.”
Online Store Rack
WebSphere’s latest rollout of applications and hardware has focused on this inventory-integration link, according to Lautenbach. WebSphere Commerce 5.4, for example, allows shoppers to see online merchandise availability as they would on a store rack.
Advanced order-management features automate the order process, allowing customers to track expected ship dates. Finally, it provides new links to retailers’ back-end systems and related databases and legacy systems.