Roots launches site with help from IBM

Analysts have been saying it for some time now: the Canadian e-commerce market needs a boost.

So, in time for Canadian holiday shoppers, Roots Canada launched its on-line store across the country, where visitors can not only shop, but even enjoy an animated soap opera.

There was a small rush on making the site available to Canadians in time for the holidays, according to Jane Smythe, principal consultant for e-Business Services, IBM Global Services. Global Services is hosting the site for Roots, and was there from the beginning to help with the design and set-up of the site.

“It’s what we call a fast-start approach to a fairly large project,” she explained. IBM assembled a team from across the company, “and we looked at the big vision for where they(Roots) wanted to be in the year 2000, and mapped out sort of a road map for them — how to get there in stages.”

IBM is offering what it calls an “end-to-end” solution for the retailer, by providing several services including: application development, which involved the planning and design of the site; content hosting at an IBM Universal Server Farm where the site is being run on IBM RS/6000 servers with security monitoring; IBM’s global merchant capability, which enables to sell its merchandise around the world; and application management outsourcing, which involves any changes or support required for the site.

IBM’s global merchant system will process the orders but order fulfilment and call centre support for is being provided by PFSweb, which will pick the orders, and pack and ship them.

Roots supplies IBM with any changes it wants made to the site, according to Darlene Goren, vice president of corporate operations and e-business at Roots. And while IBM is responsible for a lot of the creative work on the site, Roots will be getting more involved.

“I work with different teams at IBM,” Goren said. “The maintenance team that I deal with pretty much just posts what I give them. They do some creative, but not a lot — I’m bringing more of the creative back in-house to Roots.”

The idea for the soap opera came through a joint effort from both companies, IBM’s Smythe said, after looking at the retailer’s target market.

“They wanted to have something on the site to appeal to the younger generation, and that’s what we came up with,” Smythe explained.

If they see an item they want to buy while watching the soap opera, either in the background or on one of the characters, all shoppers have to do is click on it and the product information will appear.

The idea was also chosen as it has the possibility of bringing customers back, as it can be run as a serial and also involves the celebrities that Roots uses in its ad campaigns, Smythe said.

Cameos from Roots spokespeople, such as Canadian musical performer Deborah Cox, are made on the site and in the animation.

Most of the site’s design, said Roots’ Goren, was a combination of Roots internal ideas and IBM’s creative department.

“Post cards is something, for example, that we do in our stores,” Goren explained. “We’d already done them in our stores, so we wanted to do them on-line. We were trying to do a lot of the marketing things we do in our stores, and we wanted to tie in as much as possible on-line”

According to Smythe, two sites were constructed for Roots so that it had the ability to go to the U.S. at any time. While the Canadian site launched in November, the retailer waited until mid-December to launch in the United States.

By being only in Canada first, Roots was provided with the opportunity to get a glimpse at what kind of traffic it would be dealing with, so “they can handle the volume, so it’s not just in terms of their own internal operations for managing the business it’s also in terms of all the back-end capability that IBM’s providing for them,” Smythe said.

Other countries will soon be able to shop on-line at, although the company is in the process of deciding which countries those will be.

“What we’re doing is we’re timing for the Olympics which will be next September,” Goren said. “We’re tying that in with being able to ship to other countries around the world.”

The Olympics will also mean changes for the site, as well as seasonal changes that are being planned.

The challenge for Roots will be to promote itself in countries other than Canada where the name is very familiar, Goren explained.

But she said the road ahead won’t be that difficult, as Roots has chosen its path carefully.

“We really didn’t want to have to start from scratch and have to learn and re-do mistakes that everyone else has already done,” Goren said. “So we wanted to learn from other people’s mistakes and not create them ourselves and be that step ahead.”

You can find Roots at, and IBM at