This year, along with a few of my colleagues, I was fortunate enough to attend the National Retail Foundation’s Big Show in New York. One of the revelations from day 1 of the exhibit was that a significant chunk of vendors are beginning to claim they have online commerce capabilities. In fact, 104 out of 461 technology exhibitors tagged themselves with an “ecommerce” label in their exhibit profile.
I noted seeing several of the big players that have been around for a long while, like Demandware, Hybris, Oracle, and Magento, but also a slew of younger companies seeking to enter the space. With a constant churning of Commerce platforms entering the marketplace, and some gaining large success (for example, Broadleaf Commerce’s ability to capture clients such a Google, The Container Store, Pep Boys, Vology), I begin to wonder if perhaps in the view of many retailers, the ecommerce realm must still be plagued with large problems despite the many number of players.
While feature depth may very, most commerce platforms offer a similar set of core concepts from promotion capabilities to content management and product merchandising all of them, at the end of the day, allow for online consumer purchasing with some level of administrative control. So, given that there is an expectation level of features before calling something eCommerce, how are these competitors distinguishing themselves externally and in the eyes of retailers?
Scalability & Maintainability
A fair number of vendors had the word “cloud” somewhere near their description of the ecommerce offering. As buzzwords often do, this can mean a variety of things. Since most technology solutions can be adapted and deployed to the cloud with minimal changes, I’ll stick to describing those vendors who infer their cloud presence by describing their offering as a SaaS solution or a set of cloud based API’s built to run your commerce. While these API’s offer a contract of calls that can be made by developers to produce an eCommerce site, they still require front end maintenance for client interaction with the API’s. Additionally, the scalability of utilizing them is restricted to the weakest link in your web site (meaning API services may work, but your network bandwidth or client hosting could be a limiting factor). Another maintainability concern can often be the maintainability of data. These providers often house data behind the scenes or in less accessible ways which can affect your ability to scale business analytics and grow your online presence.
Tied in closely with “cloud” you will also hear the chime of “cost”. While many have the perception that moving to the cloud may reduce costs, this may or may not be the case and would need to be evaluated on a vendor basis. However, when it comes to licensing there are a broad variety of vendor structures from per core or per instance licensing to a commision-based approach. Depending on your needs, budget, and seasonal demand this could be a very important deciding factor in the vendor selection. Having been in the eCommerce world for some time, it was interesting to see that the more expensive licensed platforms had the nicest booths and the best give-aways for expo visitors. I wonder how much of that license fee goes into their elaborate marketing.
Ahh, the experience. Some of the more interesting commerce platforms seem to differentiate themselves by applying to the true marketer within us, seeking to deliver an experience that is far above and beyond the competition. As one put it, they are not so much about selling merchandise as they are about creating a multidimensional and impassioned world for shoppers. To a technologist, this type of description might lend itself more to the land of purple unicorns, but it is important to note that the online experience is a factor to conversion on any site. Having been involved in many ecommerce implementations, I would note that both great and poor experiences can be developed on the same platform. There is typically a layer of separation on the frontend and backend that allows you to expend additional creative time in building the right experience for your consumers. Any selection that would lock you into a single view would be an important evaluation metric.
The eCommerce Add-on
A final distinguishing category of vendors are those who really started off as another product and later added eCommerce functionality as an afterthought or additional revenue source. Not to say that great things don’t grow here, (hey, Listerine was at one point a treatment for sweaty feet), but the road can often be difficult given ecommerce is not the primary function and design of the system. At a retail conference, the most common example of this type of vendor is the point of sale solution that has ex-post-facto tacked on an ecommerce module. While the POS experience would need significant overhaul to meet the needs of today’s consumers, there are significant benefits to having retail store and online data synchronized and accessible. These are trade-offs that need to be evaluated.
Given the factors mentioned above, you would assume this part of the article now says which ones are the best. Unfortunately, as can often be the case, the answer is “it depends”. I have seen many performers in this category, and Credera has implemented a variety of solutions from Oracle Commerce (ATG) to Broadleaf Commerce and more. The reality is that each business is unique. Depending on your organization’s budget, IT Support Structure, growth strategy and many other factors, the answer might be different.
One of Credera’s key capabilities is ecommerce assessment. We can work with you to evaluate these parameters to help you arrive at the right solution. There may be some truth to the notion that “the ecommerce realm is plagued with problems,” but perhaps also, the retail / online commerce space is plagued with unique needs.