Closely tied to ecommerce is the underlying platform and technology that makes it all possible. The ecommerce platform is the core technology engine that allows products/services to be shown and sold – including product information (size, color, description, specifications, etc), search experience, catalog management, promotions, starter stores, product images, pricing, availability, payment options, up-sell/cross-sell capabilities and much more.
Some platforms offer a lot of out of the box functionality allowing the vast majority of ecommerce businesses to run their online store with just a handful of complementary technologies. Other platforms support only the basic ecommerce functionalities and rely on a best of breed approach facilitating easy integration through advanced APIs (application programming interfaces) with multiple technology providers. A third category provides an API-first technology approach to support quick integrations and deep customization 3rd party vendors, while also providing rich out of the box capabilities.
What role does an ecommerce platform play in the digital customer experience?
The role of an ecommerce solution has come under debate in recent years. As technology, specifically APIs, has enabled multiple disparate solutions to be tied together, the siloing of a commerce site from a marketing site is growing increasingly rare. But as the marketing and commerce experiences are consolidated, which technology owns the customer experience? In short, there is no right answer, just your preference.
- Commerce led experiences de-emphasize the rich content capabilities that are part of a web content management platform and focus more on offering a deep catalog, strong sales and promotions capabilities, and extensive search functionality for a transactional experience that is easy and fast to create and manage for merchandisers and other line of business people. The CMS/WCM tools is relegated to a content depository, facilitating the centralized storage and availability of content assets via APIs or other custom-built integrations.
- Content led focuses more on delivering engaging experiences with the commerce platform acting as a transaction engine and product information repository. A content first approach tries to incorporate buyable aspects into the rich content and customer experience that are geared towards keeping people on a brand or retailers site for longer, eventually leading to a purchase.
What are some different approaches to delivering an ecommerce customer experience?
- Headless or API-only – this approach relies completely on a comprehensive set of advanced APIs to enable a completely custom built storefront as API only vendors don’t typically provide a storefront or if they do it is a very barebones storefront. Most B2B and B2C organizations don’t invest in an API only platform looking for a pre-built storefront. This approach allows for extensive customization (and really requires it) but it also requires significant investment – time, money, hiring expert developers, etc. This is a developer heavy approach.
- Templatized commerce – this refers to platform providers that are frequently cloud-based and provide many pre-built storefronts making it very easy for business users (merchandisers, marketers and the like) to quickly make changes to the look and feel of a website. This does not require much support from in-house developers as most of the functions and maintenance are maintained and updated by the vendor. The downside therefore is that there isn’t much freedom to customize – most vendors provide minimal, if any, API support.
- API-first – this refers to platforms that have built out extensive, advanced APIs to enable B2B and B2C organizations to completely customize should they choose. But, being API-first (not API only) they also provide a pre-built storefront with deep capabilities and functionality. This approach does require some development skills (more than a templatized approach but less than API-only) and provides a flexible, balanced approach to building customer experiences, enabling the time-intensive custom built experiences with the fast to spin up and easy to manage business-user friendly storefront.