Empowering the CIO with an ecommerce evaluation
An ecommerce solution, for a B2B enterprise, shouldn’t be treated as light-heartedly as choosing the mainstream radio station – a CIO actively forges an organisation’s path. Implementing an ecommerce solution comes with a hefty budget. The budget would likely be better spent on targeted projects, implementations, and pieces of functionality that resolve a business logic rather than a solution filled with functionality that your organisation will only use a fraction.
An ecommerce solution must correspond to the needs of your business and fulfill some of the basic requirements so that you get the best out of it, such as:
Customer-facing applications should never be sluggish or unresponsive. Otherwise you’ll only irritate and confuse your customers, consequently killing your business and your reputation. It’s important for your ecommerce solution to scale along with your business. This aspect should be addressed right from the beginning. That’s not something you can easily add later on.
How easy is it for your customers to navigate your webshop and find your products? A simple, structured product navigation with attribute filtering and search can go a long way in simplifying your customers journey through your webshop. Additionally, a product catalog that reflects your business is essential to simplify your organisations management of it. Refraining from duplicate content, misplaced products in incorrect categories, wrong product codes, and random irrelevant information are just some of the things that you can avoid to improve your webshops value to your customers. Check that your ecommerce shop has the capacity to service your unexpected needs in the future, especially with product maintenance.
Business user control
Confirm whether your ecommerce solution is capable supporting category/product managers, data quality teams, merchandising and marketing departments, and other business owners. Additionally, it’s important that your ecommerce solution is ready to serve internal merchandisers with product discounts, order management, and fulfillment. Check whether business users can maintain content in the webshop, as needed, constantly, without deployments. Make sure that there is sufficient confidence in business users (e.g. publication workflows) that they don’t believe that they’ll break the webshop with their edits and work.
First of all your ecommerce solution must be ready to fulfill a customer’s search needs. But can you in addition learn from the customer’s search behavior? Is your internal search engine servicing product attributes filter functionality? Can your search engine handle typos and spelling mistakes, does it deliver relevant results nonetheless? What search are you using to integrate with your webshop, is it catalog-aware as well?
A webshop that can fulfill your organisations agility and your needs is important in the long-run. If your webshop takes forever to fulfill your customer requirements, the potential revenue loss would be unimaginable. Your development initiatives should align with customer demand in such a way that you can deliver requirements to them and consequently outcompete your rivals. Examples that help your webshop achieve agility are: continuous deployment, continuous delivery, continuous integration and automation that are necessary in automating your webshop to deliver quality to your customers.
Reporting & analytics
Business intelligence and reporting, are integral aspects to building a solid customer-focused strategy. A reporting dashboard can offer business users the ability to determine next steps and see what value they acquire from customer behaviors. Data gathered by your ecommerce solution should be ready to be displayed and managed within itself or with an application that allows business users to investigate. Understanding purchase behavior and their drivers are an important aspect of business intelligence, and an ecommerce solution capable of delivering ad hoc reports will allow users to find answers quickly if needed.
Standards & technology
It often happens that unique and effective applications in your business, were coded by software developers to fit a specific purpose, while this is great, it’s unfortunate when those applications rely on outdated frameworks, less-known languages or are unusable by your current development staff. In addition, forcing your developers to learn the outdated technology stack will reduce their experiences with state-of-the-art approaches to software development and architecture. For your business to achieve resilience, it must adapt to your evolving ecosystem (e.g. customer needs, practises to streamline deployments, and methodologies to simplify workflows).
To us, technology plays an important role: legacy systems in the past were often built using huge monolithic solutions and static pieces of functionality that become later unmaintainable and inflexible. As your business changes take precautions that your solution also adapts, otherwise you will invariably encounter major technical debts in overcoming these unnecessary challenges. Therefore, you will be forced to replace the whole software every few years.
As part of our ecommerce evaluation we reviewed solutions which were written in any of the following languages / frameworks:
- Spring Framework
- Spring Integration
- Spring Security
- Spring MVC
Ecommerce applications aren’t standalone units, just like your business, it needs the potential to integrate across various streams in order to fulfil a number of your business requirements. A highly integratable ecommerce solution (and we don’t mean installing plugins) is one that can service business needs without a limitation. As your ecommerce solution grows, integrations help to delineate pieces of functionality through conduits where information is sent, retrieved and displayed.
In fact, your ecommerce solution can easily be an arrangement of integrations that produce expected functionality, without a standalone silo unit limiting your every innovation. In our evaluation, we looked for modularity in applications, specifically how and where customer data is stored, master data management of the product catalog, whether there is modularity in pricing, cart and checkout process, as well as whether or not fraud detection exists. In addition, we evaluated how easy it would be to fully-integrate new applications and workflows such as analytics or marketing tools.
We investigated specifically whether or not ecommerce solutions have an integration for/with:
- Social Media
We acknowledge the prevalence of service-oriented architecture (SOA), the Big Five operate in this way. It’s not enough that communication within applications happens in a modular way, applications must as well expose useful interfaces to integrate with applications outside of the initially defined enterprise architecture of an ecommerce solution. Not only should the basic modular functionalities of a B2C and B2B be considered, but also its ability to “converse” and transfer data back-and-forth between different applications that are operating with the data, and need it to fulfill other requirements in your business.
We reviewed whether the ecommerce solution is B2C and/or B2B oriented, who have processes specifically catering to B2B solutions. While there are countless B2C solutions out there, the limited capability of a B2C implementation will not survive a week in a B2B world. In addition, it was important for us to know how well interactions take place in the user’s account and the customer’s self service. Additionally, customer self-service is mission-critical and should be supported by your ecommerce application.
The following are aspects we considered in our evaluation:
- Organisation Management
- Spending Control
- Account Management
- Account Summary
- Quote Negotiation
- Special pricing
- Direct order/BOM Upload
- Order replenishment
- Order approval
- Order management
- eProcurement Payment
- Inventory Management
- Product Management
- Product Details
- Store Locator
- Fraud Engine
- Google shopping
- Device Detection
We considered pricing as an element to ecommerce solutions. CIOs must invariably make decisions according to their budget allocated to them by senior management. Solutions that are not open-source and therefore lock you in, as well as pricing models that endlessly benefit the solution provider (license fees, user account fees, consulting fees, expert services fees, setup fees, third party fees, recurring fees, and one-time fees) are quite common these days. We reviewed ecommerce solutions to uncover the pricing outline and the full pricing-structure as far as possible.
With all this in mind, the CIO needs to consider which future ecommerce trends will shape the organisations commitments in feature deployment and design a corresponding roadmap. The most recent trends we see in ecommerce can be grouped in the topics:
- Localization, Personalization & CX
- Community Building, Customer Engagement & CRM
- Mobile Optimization
- CRO & Data-Driven Optimizations
- Email Marketing, Automation & AOV
- Omni-Channel Management
- Payment Solutions
- Customer Lifetime Value & Referral Programs
- Catalog Extension
- Shipping + Fulfillment Optimization
- Sales Tax Liability
- Pricing scales
Therefore, your ecommerce solution should consider not only how well it fulfills the basic functionalities we’ve illustrated above, but the cost of developing future implementations and the organisation’s future respectively.