Telecom reinvents B2C e-commerce

'Project Sparky' to get Telecom into online retailing

Telecom is re-imagining the e-commerce revolution as it was originally intended with Project Sparky, its super-secret online retail mall.

Ralph Brayham, general manager of the project, says the new service will be like “a shopping mall where we bring together a number of retailers and allow the customer to access them all in one place at one time”. What it won’t be, says Brayham, is competition to Trade Me, the country’s leading online auction website.

“Let me be the first to say I have tremendous respect for [Trade Me founder] Sam Morgan and I’m an avid user of Trade Me. That’s not what we’re doing at all.”

Instead of targeting online auctions, second hand goods and the like, Project Sparky is aimed at existing high street retailers who don’t have a decent online presence and who want to sell goods any time of the day or night, Brayham says.

“We want to take the experience of going to the mall or to Queen Street and browsing through the shops and put that in an online environment so you can get the same experience at 2 o’clock in the morning from the comfort and safety of your own home.”

He says the initial phase of the project will be to bring together as many retailers as want to take part — with as many inventory items as they want — and build a search engine capable of connecting customer with the right retailer.

“We set out with the expectation that if we managed to get 50 retailers with 250,000 items, we’d be happy. Instead we’ve got 80 retailers and over 2 million products and we haven’t even launched yet.”

Brayham says the products database will be fully searchable regardless of whatever back-end systems the retailers have in place.

“If they’ve got a fully XML-compliant retailing system, that’s fine. If they want to email through their items manually, then we can do that as well.”

Customers will be able to compare products across a range as well as look for the best price, he says.

“If you want to buy an MP3 player, for example, you’ll be able to call up all the different MP3 players and compare features and so on.” Brayham says customers will also be able to call up one product and look at the various prices across all the retailers.

Phase one of the project, which has yet to be given its final official name, will go live “when it’s good and ready and not before” says Brayham, but he is expecting to see that day well in time for the Christmas shopping period.

Phase two is due by the middle of 2006 and takes the shopping experience to a new level, he says.

“With phase two we’ll build a single shopping cart model so customers can buy items from any number of retailers and pay for them all in one transaction.”

Brayham likens it to moving the cash registers in a shopping mall out of the shops and putting them at the entrance.

“Then if you want to buy a pair of socks, an MP3 player and a Porsche, you can do it all in one go.”

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