If you want a glimpse of the future of e-commerce, look no further than shop.ca.
The largest online retail store in Canada, launched around a month ago, is built around all the hottest technologies, from mobile capabilities to Web analytics to gamification.
Shop.ca isn’t your usual startup; they started big and are growing ever more massive. When his team was planning the site last year, says Gary Black, CTO of shop.ca, they estimated they’d put a million products online. But today, they’re looking at around 15 million. The sheer scale of the business, plus the diversity of devices accessing that would access the site, called for a multifaceted and integrated platform, he says.
The core of the site is IBM WebSphere, a product Black says the company chose because it had “proven scale.” Built into the e-commerce platform is IBM Coremetrics, used for analytics, and a proprietary social loyalty program for shoppers. And all roads lead towards mobile. The site supported smart phones from day one, he says, and the company plans to develop more capabilities for tablets and to release full mobile applications.
In the past, Black says, retailers thought of mobile shopping as separate from ordinary traffic from desktop computers, but Shop.ca began with the goal of making the two virtually interchangeable, with all the same functions, the same access to inventory, and so on.
“That’s sort of going away, that model, and the model moving forward is much more integrated,” he says. IBM Corp.’s focus on mobile technology was another plus in its favour, he adds. “They’ve clearly embraced mobile, so that was a good bootstrap for us.”
Shop.ca’s social rewards program is designed to make the shopping experience more interactive and engaging, says Black. Users can earn virtual dollars for sharing links, or posting product reviews on social media sites. “We encourage our members, our customers, to not just obviously purchase on the site, but engage and hopefully have fun on the site with their friends.”
Meanwhile, all their activity is tracked and analyzed through Coremetrics. He says it will identify the most popular parts of the site, how visits are turning into sales and the depth of user engagement. The team in charge of analytics and optimization are seasoned veterans who have worked for other major e-commerce sites in Canada, he adds.
Coremetrics can also be useful for analyzing the types of traffic coming to the site, says James Fong, product manager for IBM WebSphere at IBM Canada, providing a “cross channel view” of the different devices accessing it.
“It’s key to understand how shoppers want to engage and whether there’s certain types of activities they’re trying to do through, let’s say, the different channels,” he says.
“A smartphone — someone on the go — they may be looking up more of an order status, or they’re doing a quick search. Whereas tablet, if they’re sitting at home on a couch they have more time, they may be doing more browsing, more discovery. Part of that key is understanding how they can optimize for the device the person is using.”
While his company is making extensive use of IBM technology, there’s plenty of in-house development going on as well; for example, Shop.ca designed its own supply chain management system. And they have “tons” of ideas for expanding the site in the future, Black says. Along with adding more products and more categories, the company will invest further into research and development around social shopping.