Borders plans its latest online sales debut

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As their partnership contract winds toward expiration, Borders is preparing to take on Amazon.com at its own game. Borders will be launching its own e-commerce site to sell books, music and movies.

It is expected to go live in the first quarter of 2008; currently, there is a beta version of the site.

In 2001, Borders closed its first online store and named Amazon.com its seller of record to provide inventory, fulfillment of orders, Web site content and customer service. This relationship comes to a close in April 2008.

The new site will maintain more than 2 million SKUs to begin with, and will manage this vast stock with sophisticated recommendation technology. Borders Direct LLC, a subsidiary of Borders Group Inc., has teamed up with software firm ChoiceStream to power its product recommendations to Borders' shoppers, both for the upcoming online store and in-store computer search stations.

"We have a whole strategic plan for our business and cross-channel is a huge step [in moving] towards this," said Kevin Ertell, VP of e-business at Borders Group Inc., Ann Arbor, MI.

"The new Web site is central to this cross-channel effort. The key is to take each of our channels and leverage what is great about them individually," Ertell continued.

ChoiceStream's new RealRelevance Retail Suite debuted at Shop.org's Annual Summit in Las Vegas, and will enable Borders to greet new and returning shoppers with personalized recommendations online, and highlight Borders' "best bet" inventory choices to shoppers as they browse the merchant's catalog.

The RealRelevance platform, which the firm claims will "drive the discovery of new books, music and movies," automatically targets products relevant to consumers based on their interests and behavior, similar to what a shopper on Amazon.com experiences.

With this platform, customers will be able to add items to their shopping carts, confirm orders and personalize each shopping session by building a profile over the span of their purchases across all channels.

This new partnership marks ChoiceStream's move into the retail space.

"The partnership with Borders is a great entry into the retail space for us, because it is a great brand to work with," said Lori Loureiro, senior director of marketing and communications at ChoiceStream, Cambridge, MA.

In addition to the ChoiceStream software, Borders will be working with IBM's Websphere commerce platform, Decca's search and Bazaarvoice's customer reviews platform.

To promote the new site, Borders is tapping its loyalty club members of the Borders Rewards program. The 20 million customers in the database who already receive weekly e-mail updates about Borders will be informed about the new online store.

"The cross-channel customer spends more and shops more often, so it is important to give our customers multiple touch points," Ertell added. "The partnership with ChoiceStream will lend to the discovery aspect, as there is always a lot to discover in the books, music and movies department."

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