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eCommerce Platforms: What’s Next & How to Choose the Right Platform for your Business

David Beale

Director, Technology Solutions, EPAM UK
Blog
  • Retail & Distribution

For many large organizations currently using enterprise eCommerce platforms, it’s decision time; upgrade, re-platform or choose ‘something else’. For long-term users of these platforms, this conundrum is nothing new – the delivery of new functionality and ‘end-of-life’ fears make this a regular occurrence for users. In 2018, though, things are a little different:

  • The existing major platform vendors are in the process of ‘re-inventing’ their solutions from monolithic, on-premise applications to differing levels of flexible cloud solutions
  • New eCommerce platforms have been introduced, which offer alternative approaches
  • The major cloud providers have invested heavily and created an extensive suite of functionality and tools
  • The open source world has matured and now provides a complete set of proven frameworks for building scalable, feature-rich solutions
  • There are now thousands of niche solutions making up the eCommerce ecosystem that are often provided by nimble start-ups

So, what’s the right decision for your business? As always, it depends.

THE NEW eCOMMERCE PLATFORM IMPERATIVES

Today, most eCommerce functionality can be considered commoditized; cart, checkout, faceted search, product details and promotions are the ‘table stakes’ for any eCommerce project. To stand out in the crowd, your site needs to differentiate itself, providing compelling reasons why customers should interact, purchase and continue doing business with your company.

Fast innovation is key to this – you need to experiment with new ideas, such as new payment methods, loyalty ideas, multi-channel touchpoints, in-store integration and creative delivery options.  Some ideas will work and some won’t, but it’s crucial that you’re not standing still.

To support this mindset, four fundamentals need to be in place:

  • An eCommerce platform that is agile and flexible in response to change and innovation
  • A continuous delivery approach delivering small changes frequently (central to this is automation)
  • Agile processes to collaboratively deliver the desired competitive advantage
  • A scalable and elastic hosting platform, preferably in the public cloud
PLATFORM CHOICE

The choice of commercial eCommerce platforms for enterprises can be divided into four categories:

SaaS, All-Inclusive, Modular and Bespoke.  The offerings within each category vary in technological approach and all have differing levels of meeting the agility requirement.

SaaS - Software as a Service (SaaS) eCommerce platforms provide all the functionality needed to run an eCommerce operation. These platforms are multi-tenant, provide rich functionality and relatively quick on-boarding, and are not hosted in the public cloud but in the vendors’ own environment. Traditional complaints against these solutions are the limited customization and integration opportunities, but this is an area that is being improved upon. Example solutions in this space are Salesforce Commerce Cloud (previously Demandware) and Oracle Commerce Cloud.

All-Inclusive – These are the traditional on-premise eCommerce platforms. While still monolithic in design and deployment, these platforms offer very flexible options for customizing and integrating into the enterprise. They have been classified as all-inclusive, as they provide all of the necessary functionality to operate eCommerce within an enterprise – content management, order management, marketing etc. While more modular approaches, such as headless, are supported, these are recent modifications to the architecture. The major solutions here are SAP Customer Experience (previously Hybris), Oracle Commerce (previously ATG), IBM Commerce and Sitecore Experience Commerce. The roadmaps for all of these solutions indicate that migration to more flexible, cloud architectures are either planned or currently active with differing levels of progress.

Modular – The third platform category are solutions that are not intended to be the only part of the solution, but provide core commerce functionality behind an API layer, often hosted within the public cloud. These will need to be used in conjunction with other independent components, such as CMS, PIM, OMS, search engines and personalization engines. Customizing these platforms is supported with techniques, such as API extension hooks or custom micro-service development. This type of solution combines the advantages of the two previous categories, in effect ‘the best of both worlds’. Examples of modular eCommerce platforms are Commercetools and Elastic Path.

Bespoke - There is an alternative approach, which is a completely bespoke eCommerce platform. This is how the eCommerce giants run their business and this solution is now feasible for other organizations. This approach requires a mature IT organization with a proven pedigree in modern development practices. The result could be a solution that is a 100% match for your own specific functionality, deployment and scaling requirements. Technological themes, such as Cloud Native, Micro-Services, FaaS, Event Driven, Domain Driven Design, Headless together with Open Source frameworks, mean that bespoke eCommerce is worthy of consideration for some organizations.

Below I have compared these four approaches against what our team considers to be some of the most important eCommerce platform criteria.

(One dot indicates that the platform performs poorly against this criteria and four dots indicate that the platform performs well)

HOW TO CHOOSE

Using the criteria above, you can see that a trade-off will need to be made. A solution with feature-rich functionality isn’t necessarily the most flexible for future requirements. On the other hand, if creating a solution that supports rapid innovation is the most important criteria for your business, then the initial implementation timeline will be longer.

An obvious important consideration in deciding your next step is the status of your current solution. If you have invested heavily with your current platform, and it is stable and performing well, then the cost of migration to an alternative may be hard to justify.  A staggered migration may be worth considering – using a ‘strangulation’ pattern, you can replace the platform on a component-by-component basis. While reaching a conclusion is often quite difficult, we hope this criteria helps you consider some important options throughout your decision-making process.

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