The art of selecting the right ecommerce solution
Subject of thought by Jennifer Zimnowski
Last week, my colleagues and I were having a discussion about the evolution of technology platforms - ecommerce platforms specifically. Quite a few of our clients are looking for technology recommendations as they are either considering re-platforming or they are entering the ecomm business for the first time: B2B orgs that are dipping their toe to understand the value of ecommerce. And WOW! What an interesting time! I dare say the ecommerce technology market is in a renaissance.
Since the introduction of ecommerce, we’ve seen homegrown systems evolve into ‘roll-up’ products that offer all of the features that you need on one platform and evolve again only to break the functionality apart and into composable pieces that can be plugged in or out depending on your choice of features. With all of these options still available to organizations, you can imagine how tricky it is for businesses to decide what solution best meets their needs.
As consultants, it’s our job to remain objective and listen to the needs, requirements, constraints, etc of our clients in order to recommend the right technology solution. This is where the energized discussion begins…
Within our leadership team, I’m the least technical. While I’ve worked in software for my entire career, I’ve never developed code. My role has mostly fallen in between business and technology. I’m the champion for enabling a branded experience, I want personalization, ease of administration and content management and time to market. I also tend towards precedence and products that are proven. My priority is on selling the thing vs. the thing that sells the thing. The other members of our leadership team - significantly more technical than me - argue for scalability, best in breed features, customization and control of the experience, licensing flexibility, and long-term cost efficiencies. They also favor modernism for technology and tactics for assembling the solution. They seem to focus on the thing that sells the things vs. selling the thing.
Is there a right and wrong here? Do our respective priorities align with a particular ecommerce product or solution? In reality, we care about the same things - maybe just in a different order - but that’s why selecting technology is difficult for businesses. We all want low cost, quick implementation timelines, the best features and the ability to scale. And there’s probably a path, for each solution, to meet these needs. The art comes down to determining what is MOST important for your business at the current moment and with your current team. What’s right for the business, right now.
I don’t mean to imply you shouldn’t think about the future. In fact, future fitting is necessary for all businesses and in order to prepare for the future, you need to set your foundation by understanding where you are right now.
Let me give you a few, real life examples of what I mean:
One of our global B2B clients had an established, homegrown ecommerce business, but was looking for a centralized system that would be easier to manage and more scalable to fit and grow several global markets. The system needed to integrate with many other backend pieces that supported the experience. This client really wanted to use modern technologies and approaches, but had very little staff (and no plans to hire) to support the solution ongoing. The decision for a (monolith) platform really came down to the maturity of the client’s IT organization and the ability to hire and manage the right talent to support the solution.
Another of our B2C clients - with an established retail business, but no ecommerce - needed to stand up an application in months (3 actually). This client has legacy pricing and item systems that were too monumental to change and certainly wouldn’t be possible to transition away from in 3 months. The decision for this client came down to time and integration dependencies to drive the selection of a React frontend, a modern ecomm platform to support the transactional capabilities and microservices to integrate to the legacy backends.
Finally, another of our B2B clients, a manufacturer that previously sold through online channels, was interested in a Direct to Consumer application. This client was tentative about the opportunity to sell Direct to Consumer and nervous about the investment to try something new and unproven. There was real conflict in the decision because the client wanted to get something up and prove it out quickly, but also wanted best of breed features and the ability to scale. ‘What if D2C is widely successful and I have to go back to my leadership team and ask for more money and time for a more scalable solution?’ was one of the biggest concerns for this client. I don’t have a big reveal for this one yet. The client is still deciding, but as I mentioned there’s a path for each solution to meet the needs of the business.
Marketing technology decisions can be expensive and organizations want to get it right. In order to feel confident about making the right technology decision, companies need to be realistic about where they are right now with a sense of where they want to be in the future. This is not an easy decision because there are a lot of factors to consider: cost, time, integrations, team maturity, practice maturity, features and functionality, scalability, age (or outdatedness) of technology/architecture, administration/maintenance ease, other technology in place. It’s also not a black and white decision. Just because an organization is just starting out and testing the waters with ecommerce doesn’t mean they should go with the least expensive option to test.
One thing is for sure, ecommerce isn’t going away and is increasingly becoming the expectation for both B2C and B2B customers. The art of selecting the right solution for your organization is about evaluating all factors in the present to set the right foundation for the future.