Based on IBM’s WebSphere Commerce software platform, IBM B2B Commerce is designed with consumer-like shopping features along with specific elements for processing business orders, IBM says.

The company that supplies e-commerce software to such major retailers as Staples Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. is unveiling this week a new version of that technology for companies selling to businesses via the web.

IBM Corp. will launch on Wednesday IBM B2B Commerce, an e-commerce software platform designed to offer both ease of online shopping and features like personalized web pages with products priced according to a customer’s contract terms, IBM said today.

The new B2B e-commerce software, which operates on the same technology that runs IBM’s widely used WebSphere Commerce e-commerce software, is part of IBM’s broader suite of software that also covers supply chain management, web analytics, marketing, mobile commerce and connections with social media. With connections to IBM’s Sterling Order Management, for example, companies can use IBM B2B Commerce to manage and fulfill orders across multiple selling channels, including physical locations as well as e-commerce sites and mobile apps operated by manufacturers, distributors and resellers.

IBM provides the e-commerce software for 44 of the retailers ranked in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, which ranks North American merchants by their online sales.

IBM is marketing B2B Commerce through its Smarter Commerce ExperienceOne initiatives, through which it packages e-commerce, marketing, customer relationship management, supply chain and other software applications. The new B2B software includes “drag-and-drop” features that let B2B sellers customize web pages according to how they want to present content to buyers and interact with them, IBM says. “IBM B2B Commerce allows companies to more easily execute even the most complex B2B transactions—from purchasing simple replacement parts to entire systems,” IBM says.

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Office Brands, an office products dealer in Australia that sells online to businesses, is an early user of IBM B2B Commerce. Ritesh Patel, chief information officer at Office Brands, says the new software is enabling his company to provide business customers with an easier way to find and purchase products online—even as Office Brands has been expanding its product lines. “With so many office supply vendors to choose from, it is critical for us to make it as easy as possible for our customers to order the products they need for their business across our expanding portfolio of offerings,” Patel says. “The new IBM capabilities empower us to dramatically simplify the B2B buying process with familiar B2C-like functionality to create a differentiated experience tailored to each of our customer’s specific business needs, roles and entitlements.”

Gene Alvarez, a vice president and e-commerce technology analyst at research and advisory firm Gartner Inc., describes IBM’s B2B Commerce product as a repackaging of e-commerce technology that IBM already offers—but in a way that will make it easier and faster for companies to choose IBM’s technology when deciding how to develop an online presence.  “This is a repackaging of IBM solutions with a focus on the B2B e-commerce technology buyer,” he says. “It will help customers ensure they get what they need from IBM for a B2B e-commerce site.”

But though B2B Commerce doesn’t represent a completely new product, IBM still considers it newly configured software designed to provide for more effective interactions between buyers and sellers, says Pete Wharton, IBM’s product marketing global leader for commerce solutions. For example, he says, B2B Commerce was designed to make it easier for buyers on an IBM client’s e-commerce site to route pending purchases for approvals by authorized personnel within the buyer’s company.

Wharton adds that IBM will introduce additional features in B2B Commerce in the first quarter of next year, including the ability of buyers to configure products and get immedatie pricing for their customized product based on their contract terms.

Wharton declined to provide pricing for B2B Commerce, but noted that it’s intended for companies doing $25 million or more a year in online sales. It’s available as either licensed on-premise software or in a software-as-service model, or SaaS, which lets clients access B2B Commerce through a web browser without deploying it on their own servers.

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IBM’s new approach to selling B2B e-commerce software should help it win more customers, Alvarez says. He notes that many companies in the market for B2B e-commerce technology often face an initial hurdle of figuring exactly what technology is available from vendors for B2B sites—as opposed to more general e-commerce technology that many vendors provide for retail sites—as they plan their site’s design and functionality. By packaging its software in B2B Commerce, IBM will do at least two things, Alvarez says: It will help companies that already use IBM technology for things like order fulfillment and digital marketing more quickly deploy a B2B e-commerce site, and it will give IBM more clout in the growing market for B2B e-commerce technology. “I believe this will help IBM better compete with other vendors for B2B e-commerce technology sales,” he says.

Andy Hoar, an analyst at research and advisory firm Forrester Research Inc. specializing in B2B e-commerce, adds IBM is making a timely release of B2B Commerce to suit increasing demand for B2B e-commerce technology systems. “This release is an ongoing step in the right direction toward a more integrated and consolidated IBM offering aimed at addressing growing demand from B2B businesses for e-commerce platforms that offer greater time-to-value and increased ease-of-use,” he says.

A recent survey by Forrester Research and Internet Retailer found that e-commerce technology and web content management tools led the preferred investment choices of B2B professionals.

Among the technology features provided in B2B Commerce, IBM says, are:

The IBM Commerce Compose tool, which includes more than 80 widgets and software applications from IBM and other technology companies in such areas as online procurement, product pricing optimization, online product configuration, mobile commerce and in-store systems;
Buyer profile templates for building web pages with content based on customers’ pricing agreements and purchase approval processes;
Site search tailored to the products and pricing arranged for specific customers;
Online marketing tools that let companies launch marketing campaigns based on customer activity on the B2B Commerce platform;
Web site analytics that can identify where customers may be having difficulty finding products and completing an online purchase.

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