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IBM has unwrapped the newest version of its WebSphere e-commerce software platform, exhibiting a fresh focus on sales and order processing atop handheld devices and an ability to mix user-generated content into retail sites.

WebSphere Commerce is a software framework for web retailers that bundles tools for doing everything from online presentation of products to shopping cart and checkout to the creation of promotions and marketing. Version 7 of IBM's WebSphere Commerce sends the suite in the fashionable Web 2.0-ish direction.

Big Blue's WebSphere Commerce program director, Bill Holtshouser, said the software's new incarnation is its most significant release in the last three years. He claims with retailers facing a crunch in today's (still-lingering) crap economy, catering to new shopping trends is extremely important for businesses.

To that tune, version 7 now supports shopping via the increasingly popular mobile web. WebSphere Commerce includes a mobile store model that's optimized for today's smartphones-du-jour, such as the iPhone and Blackberry. It also includes tools to take advantage of mobile functionality, like GPS store location — and if a business has distributed management behind the scenes, the ability to check inventory from the mobile website.

The second piece of new WebSphere Commerce push is leveraging social networking sites and user-generated content into an e-commerce platform. Holtshouser said version 7 comes with built-in hooks into other services that will provide online retailer extras like user ratings, reviews, forums, and blogs. User-generated tat can be integrated into the design of the website to keep customers on the store page.

Another key feature in version 7 is tighter cross-channel marketing features. IBM says the software can capture customer triggers (such as registering to the site, mobile interaction, or abandoning a shopping cart) and follow up with a specific action.

For example, Holtshouser said a retailer may want to automatically offer discounts or promotions if a customer comes from sponsored link or writes a certain number of user reviews.

He said the feature set has a particular use in allowing custom store models in emerging markets that are reflective of the local needs or requirements in that region.

IBM WebSphere Commerce starts out steep at $30,000 per processor and tops off at $180,000 per for the top of the line edition. ®

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