The tools are designed to reduce the time merchants must spend managing their product catalogs. IBM estimates that 75 percent of the time spent managing Internet stores is devoted to keeping catalogs up to date.
Personalizing catalogs with special pricing or targeted offerings, for example, requires managing in-depth customer profiles--so much that some companies have shied away from using personalization because of the work involved, IBM said.
"For personalization to be effective, companies have to understand who their customers are but also to have a granular understanding of products and attributes," said Dave Liederbach, director of e-commerce marketing, IBM Software Solutions.
Catalog Architect allows Web storefronts to create an object-oriented product database. That allows a merchant selling shirts in different sizes and colors to enter the data once, not for every catalog item, when the fabric is changed.
IBM will make the new tool compliant with forms of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) but it declined to say which versions. IBM is active in the XML standards arena, Liederbach said.
The catalog tool works only with IBM's Net.Commerce online merchant software now, but Big Blue may adapt it so it can be used for print catalogs too. Priced at $3,000, Catalog Architect also will be bundled with IBM's Net.Commerce Pro software for large Web sites, which sells for about $20,000. It works with IBM's DB2 database software and runs on AIX, Windows NT, and Solaris.
That compares with $45,000 for rival Open Market's high-end catalog tools for complex Web sites.