Despite the fact that IDC, as well as other analyst firms, have conducting and published many evaluations on the digital commerce platform market, I still frequently get asked the question “Where do I start?” At IDC, we call vendor evaluations IDC MarketScapes and each one takes at least a couple hundred hours of work when everything is said and done. Beyond MarketScapes I have spent thousands of hours being briefed by vendors, interviewing customers, combing through developer documentation, and defending the results of my evaluations, but still don’t have a simple answer to this question. The reason selecting the right commerce platform is such a challenging endeavor is threefold:
- There are a ton of providers in the market – over 100 – creating a lot of noise.
- It’s an important decision! Given the digital economy we all live in, brands and retailers can’t afford to make the wrong decision.
- Every organization is different and thus the factors important to them in a commerce platform are also different. Where you should start depends on your organization’s unique differentiators and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
For an upcoming webinar with HCL Software on this topic, analysts at IDC tried really hard to put ourselves in the shoes of a merchant making this critical technology evaluation and selection decision. What we came up with is a “MarketScape Lite” of sorts, a buyer’s guide methodology that organizations can use to help them make the right decision for their business more quickly.
What do Merchants Want?
Before diving into the buyer’s guide, let’s try to answer a fundamental question regarding digital commerce platforms: “What do merchants actually want?” While there is a boatload of marketing out there about headless commerce, multi-tenant SaaS, and AI, there are many cases where customers aren’t interested in the hype and would actually prefer other finds of (less flashy) technology.
Below is a snapshot from IDC’s SaaSPath survey, an annual survey we field among technology buyers asking about what they are looking for from cloud technology. This snapshot is specifically from the digital commerce portion of the survey.
Source: IDC 2021 SaaSPath Survey, April 2021; N = 125
When asked about the most important characteristics of a digital commerce platform, respondents highlighted:
- Supporting both B2B and B2C on the same platform
- Being able to build a multi-sided marketplace
- Order management functionality
- Customer experience capabilities
- A strong personalization engine
On the flip side, respondent merchants showed that they are not all that interested in:
- AI capabilities
- A Microservices architecture
- A headless commerce platform
- Seamless upgrades
- International reach (of the vendor)
We could write an entire blog post about these results (but not here). Our quick takeaway is that if you are evaluating digital commerce platforms, you should prioritize most or all of the capabilities from the top list – these criteria are becoming tablestakes. Likewise, the bottom list represents technologies that hold a lot promise but are typically viewed as “nice to haves”. We recommend that you only prioritize a couple of the capabilities on this bottom list – those that are most important for your business.
Digital Commerce Platform Selection Methodology
To cut through the noise in the market, we created where technology buyers can plot digital commerce platforms on a grid and then plot themselves based on what characteristics align most closely to their business. The two axes align with two of the primary factors that differentiate commerce platforms from each other:
- Customizability: Does the commerce platform market itself as an “out of the box” application or one that is highly customizable?
- Is it truly a platform play: Does the commerce platform market itself as a “best of breed” commerce provider, who specializes in a narrow range of capabilities (and partners for everything else) or is it more of a all-in-one comprehensive suite?
The image below shows this grid, which can be used to plot out commerce platforms and your own preferences.
Without naming specific vendors, the left side of the grid aligns most closely to SaaS vendors tailored for SMBs, that can be spun up in a relatively short time. The right side of the grid aligns to platforms that are very flexible, often open source, and can support any customization under the sun. The bottom of the grid aligns with vendors who brand themselves with the “composable” moniker and lean heavily on 3rd parties to offer a complete commerce tech stack. Finally, the top of the grid aligns with platforms that truly offer a “suite” play and require few 3rd party integrations.
To plot yourself, IDC recommends that organizations focus on the following 5 criteria. Depending on your answers to these questions, it becomes easier to know where you stand and which types of commerce platforms you best align to.
– People: How mature is my organization’s tech talent (on hand or hired)?
– Business Process: Will the system support the complexity of my business processes?
– Technology: How many integrations do I need to make with my current tech stack?
– Experience: How important is digital experience differentiation to my brand?
– Portability: How portable do I want my commerce platform to be?
As mentioned above, this blog post is a preview of an upcoming webinar between IDC and HCL on selecting the right digital commerce to unlock growth. On the webinar, we will dive much deeper into how this buyer’s guide works and provide guidance about how to plot yourself on the grid. You can sign up for the webinar, scheduled for February 16th, here.
“This blog post was originally written by Jordan Jewell, former Research Director of Digital Commerce at IDC”.