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Shopping Online? Here Are Four Ways To Tell If Retailers Rock Your World -- Or Not

01/17/2012 09:45 am ET | Updated Mar 18, 2012

How times have changed.

With almost every Facebook update or YouTube upload, we know what's really going on: We, the consumer, have won control. Whether it's comparing deals on a retail site, writing online reviews of the latest best seller or tweeting about lousy service, the consumer can now demonstrate how we run the show.

What might not be clear, though, is how what we're doing is fundamentally changing how business gets done. Just exchanging TV ads for Facebook pages isn't enough. Companies are being forced to reconsider their business models on how they reach us, the smarter consumer.

This shift to meeting our needs is called Smarter Commerce and IBM has been talking about it at the National Retail Federation this week in New York.

Take the recent holiday season. On Christmas Day alone, IBM saw that 14.4 percent of all online sales were done via mobile devices, such as iPads, iPhones and Android devices, up from 5.3 percent a year earlier.

In the past, companies used focus groups and design gurus to develop products in secret and then launch them with a massive TV blitz. Going forward, successful companies will need to put us, the people that consume their products and services, at the center of decisions.

There's four ways to judge if a company is adapting:

--Do they serve you on your terms? Companies may reach out to you using iPhone apps, but will they be able to flexibly adjust their supply networks so they can respond quickly?

We really don't care if a retailer is connecting to its suppliers or tracking inventory in real time. But we do become aware of an out-of-touch retailer when we try to buy a popular item and it's out of stock, while a competitor, just a click away, with a better-run network has it for sale and can guarantee delivery.

--How do companies connect to you? We know that companies can analyze our digital profiles. If they do it in the right way and conform to our privacy preferences, it would help save us time and money. Shoe retailers may have information on what we've bought in the past and what device we used. That's called insight. It's better for both the retailer and us if they make the most of that insight and offer us advice about designers, early access to things we like and, of course, tell us about discounts and promotions.

--How easy is it to do business with them? We've been quick to adopt new tools and ways to interact with brands. This past holiday season, the most successful retailers let us check product availability online or via a mobile device, order a product to be shipped or picked up in a brick-and-mortar store or hear how other customers felt about their shopping experience.

--Do the companies provide the services we need? Now we buy "experiences." Companies need to provide customer service that reinforces why we chose to buy one item versus another. We want this "experience" in every transaction we make. If it is an airline, we not only want to know when a flight is delayed, but we also expect the airline to suggest alternative flights and provide easy re-booking options.

As consumers, the good news is that we're actually in the driver's seat -- in more ways than we know. Those businesses best prepared to operate on this new playing field will be the ones we choose to do business with as we "vote" with every purchase, every interaction, and every positive review we provide. These will be the businesses that we continue to reward with our business and positive word-of-mouth comments.

To learn more on how Smarter Commerce can help you stay ahead, click here.

To join the conversation, follow #smartercommerce, #ibmretail and #ibmbenchmark on Twitter.