In this article, we will detail and explore the most important aspects of eCommerce platforms that you should add to your list when evaluating eCommerce platform vendors. These 10 critical features fall under three broad categories that show us how an eCommerce platform leads to increases in revenue and profitability over the long term.
The three areas most crucial to focus on to achieve success are improving the customer experience, putting your marketing & merchandizing team in the driver seat, and finally ensuring platform flexibility and longevity for your IT team. Any company considering a new eCommerce platform should evaluate each of these areas in depth to ensure your end customers, your business team, and your IT team can support the success of the initiative.
Here are my top 10 features and capabilities of eCommerce platforms that companies should add to their Request for Proposals (RFPs):
Improving the customer experience is a top priority for ecommerce initiative. When companies improve customer experience, key site metrics improve including conversion rate, average order value, and time on site. This leads to revenue and profitability growth.
Improving mobile ecommerce experience is still a top priority for retailers, brands, and b2b companies alike. An extremely important feature is the implementation of mobile-specific experiences. B2C and B2B customers are using mobile devices to browse, shop, and manage their relationships with companies. Specific mobile experiences and consistent experiences between desktop, tablet and mobile are equally important. Site visitors are spending 60% of their “digital minutes” on mobile and 80% of consumers are either multi-device (desktop and mobile) or exclusive mobile users (comScore).
All leading eCommerce platforms should provide a responsive design framework so you can manage one code base, one design, and adjust based on the device being used. Taking that one step further, most mature platforms allow you to configure specific views based on the device the visitor is shopping on, showing different navigation and features for mobile vs. desktop. More advanced uses of responsive design hide irrelevant features on mobile and promote other more important capabilities.
AO Johansen prioritizes contact and store information on mobile but emphasizes product categorize and equipment rentals on their desktop view
Episerver’s Digital Experience Cloud platform allows ecommerce teams to deploy responsive design sites including mobile and tablet specific views utilizing .NET MVC architecture. An added capability Episerver provides is the ability for marketers and merchandizers to be able to preview changes to the site based on mobile rendering.
Personalized digital experiences are a basic expectation of eCommerce sites. In fact, 59% of consumers say they want a personalized shopping experience. An eCommerce platform must provide personalization capabilities that can target content, banners, promotions, and products to specific groups or segments. However, only 9% of companies use real-time data captured by their digital platform to personalize the shopping experience.
Examples of personalized experiences include showing local store information based on the location of the user or displaying products from a specific category that a visitor has purchased from recently. Promotional messaging is also content that should be targeted to specific segments of shoppers. When using personalization, promotions can be more generous and used to promote an ‘exclusive offers’ to encourage conversion. eCommerce teams can also use personalization tools to create consistency between digital marketing channels and the ecommerce website. One example is changing the home page banner to match the banner that was sent in email marketing to users. All of these capabilities allow site visitors to move through the experience faster because it is familiar and relevant to them.
Episerver’s Personalization Suite includes experience personalization using Visitor Groups. This capability combines tracking site visitor behavior (pages viewed, referring traffic source, recent orders, items in cart) with known user data from other systems (CRM, Email Marketing, ERP). Marketers and merchandizers can then create rules that define segments that they want to target based on these criteria. This visitor group can then be used to target banners, articles, products, and promotions. This improves the customer experience, increasing session duration which leads to increases in conversion rate.
Personalized product recommendations help the site visitors discover new products and validate they are making the right purchase by seeing what other similar users ultimately purchased.
Product recommendation engines capture all the click activity of all site visitors, orders they’ve placed. These solutions then apply machine-learning algorithms against this data to predict which products people are most likely to buy and, finally, displays these products based on the comparison of crowd data against each individual’s behavior.
This can be displayed across the website including Home Page, Product Display Page, Cart, and even MyAccount.
Tommy Hilfiger uses Episerver Perform to power Product Recommendations
Episerver’s Personalization Suite includes a robust Product Recommendations Engine, Episerver Perform. This solution personalizes product recommendations to improve customer experience by showing site visitors the top selling, most popular, or most relevant products to them based on their browsing experience and history. This service also gives you the ability to tweak the placement of and sorting of specific algorithm strategies including prioritizing products recommended with limited quantity left or on sale.
Improving the customer experience is one thing but it won’t last if non-technical marketers and merchandizers can’t control the day-to-day operations of the eCommerce platform. If you need to turn to a developer every time you want to change the site, you’re not going to be as responsive as customers expect. Almost half (49%) of marketers have to contact the IT department every week in order to achieve basic marketing tasks such as changing content on their website.
30% of ecommerce visitors use site search to navigate and find products. eCommerce teams need to be able to quickly diagnose which products are converting for each keyword and which searches have weak results that need improvement. Allowing merchandizers to optimize product search results is a crucial part of improving site experience ongoingly. If you can only improve search results through technical development effort you’ll be waiting a lot of time on minor improvements.
Episerver Find includes autocomplete and dynamic preview of results including products & content
Merchandizers can select “Best Bets” for specific keywords (right image)
Episerver’s native Enterprise Search product, Episerver Find powers site search, navigation, and landing pages. Episerver Find not only has machine learning site search which improves search results based on click-through-rates, but it also includes a set of diagnostic tools for merchandisers to improve search results including boost & bury, synonym management, and redirects. This improves search results without needing to write code. An additional benefit of Episerver Find is the combination of structured content (product data) and unstructured content (articles, blogs, store locations) into a single search experience.
Another aspect of being in the driver’s seat in your eCommerce platform is A/B Testing. A/B Testing allows merchandisers to test two versions of a page against one another including controlling how much traffic will be included in the test, what content will be changed, and what the goal of the test is including purchasing a specific product, filling out a form, or creating an account. Testing your assumptions without having to write code will make you and your team better at optimizing your ecommerce experiences and campaigns. Through this you can gain a crucial understanding of what is and isn’t working.
Episerver’s A/B Testing capabilities are built-in to the platform
Episerver Commerce includes a native A/B Testing toolkit built directly into the experience management interface. This allows marketer’s to quickly test any combination of banners, promotion messages, images, videos, or product assortments including defining the percentage of traffic that will be used in the test and setting the overall objective for the test including add-to-cart rates. The winning tests can then be promoted site wide.
One of the most important aspects of a healthy eCommerce team is collaboration. Ecommerce teams are spread thin across hundreds of tasks in a high paced environment where every second counts. Native collaboration and workflow tools save valuable time and allows teams to focus energy on improving the customer experience instead of working within or outside of a difficult platform.
Episerver’s Digital Experience Cloud platform includes Workflow and Collaboration capabilities. Without workflows, you will constantly be emailing people to ask them to create, review, copy edit, approve and publish outside of your platform. Workflows allow you to set up a process for who needs to be involved in a content launch and brings them into the platform to work on it.
Combining publishing workflows into project-based site updates using Projects in Episerver allows teams to think beyond content silos (e.g. changing individual banners or pages). eCommerce teams are usually working on broader campaigns or initiatives that contain multiple site updates including products, promotions, landing pages, banners, and personalized content. Collaboration tools put managing the ecommerce site in context by allowing team members to group content changes together into Projects such as a product launch or a sessional promotion campaign.
7. Dynamic On-page Editing & Preview
Live site editing and previewing helps you work faster and more confidently, taking away any mystery in the finished experience. By allowing you the capability to edit a page and all the elements on the page as if you were the end site visitor and see changes made in real time. You can drag and drop elements onto the page from the media library including products, content blocks, articles, promotion blocks, and forms. You can, also, preview exactly what visitors are going to see on the website including drilling down by content you’ve created for specific segments, based on device, and language.
Marketers can preview and edit a page within a specific device type and resolution for full control over the experience (left image)
Episerver’s Experience Authoring tools include dynamic, on-page editing of a page (right image)
Episerver’s Experience Authoring tool set includes mobile site editing, previewing, and publishing. Editing blind isn’t useful. If you can’t see the changes you are making you may have to pull back and fix it after it’s too late. For this reason, you want to be able to see your changes evolve over time before hitting the big green publish button.
If your eCommerce platform can deliver the exact customer experience your visitors need and is feature rich for your business users, it will mean nothing if your eCommerce platform is ridged and poorly built. We are, after all, dealing with software with an eCommerce platform. Here are my top 3 most important criteria to ensure your platform can go the distance as your business grows and evolves.
One capability to ensure platform flexibility is API management. Without strong APIs, it will be more expensive to adopt new technologies that could improve the customer experience or put marketers and merchandizers in the driver seat. Flexible Application Program Interfaces (APIs) allow developers to pull data in from other systems to run the ecommerce site including passing customer data, order data, product information, inventory records, pricing, and payments to other systems. With open APIs, developers can also request data from your ecommerce platform into other systems like mobile apps, in-store kiosks or back office systems like CRM or ERP. Also, leading platforms allow Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices to connect to the ecommerce platform including placing subscription renewal orders directly into the system. With thousands of independent and discrete technologies out there to help ecommerce teams succeed from social aggregation platforms and analytics to tax calculation and payments, a strong, robust and open API layer is crucial.
Episerver’s Service API is a set of REST-ful API’s to interact with all data entities including Orders, Product Catalog, Inventory, Pricing, Customers, Content, Pages, Blocks, Media, and Forms.
9. Modern, Modular Architecture
Another critical aspect of an eCommerce platform is the technical architecture of the eCommerce Platform. This modular architecture enables technology teams that support eCommerce solutions to adapt and change over time to new, unforeseen needs. This allows the platform to be more easily changed in more drastic ways over time without significant re-coding of the whole platform. Allowing the platform to be more easily tested to isolate performance issues based on incremental changes. A modular architecture enables flexibility, extendibility, and testability of the ecommerce platform. These changes being made separately from your core code, which allows for easier upgrade path, which saves time and money.
Sample Modular Architecture of Episerver Commerce
Within this modern modular architecture, the aspects of the Episerver platform can be separated. A modular architecture allows for Separation of Concerns, which separates certain parts of the application from one another. Specifically, the ability to abstract core code from your specific implementation and the ability to create layers within the application to separate the function of each part of the application.
The most effective way to ensure platform longevity is to take advantage of cloud eCommerce platforms. The term “cloud” is general and often vague when used by ecommerce platform vendors. What it means for platform flexibility and longevity has a lot to do with which cloud model you choose.
The most common cloud models from eCommerce platforms are:
• Subscription multi-tenant Software-as-a-Service
• Subscription single-tenant Platform-as-a-Service
• Licensed software deployed to a cloud environment
The broad benefits of these models are that you are freeing up internal IT and development resources to focus their efforts on improving customer experience, putting business users in the driver’s seat, or other business critical technology initiatives. This translates to hiring web developers who can focus on partnering with your eCommerce and marketing teams instead of systems administrators spending their time and energy maintaining servers and databases. It’s important to remember when choosing a cloud model with an ecommerce platform it can affect how you procure the software from either licensed or subscription. It may also affect who will maintain the infrastructure and host the eCommerce site (you, your implementation partner, or the software vendor), and in what manner the platform is architected and deployed (e.g. single-tenant vs. multi-tenant). Each one of these factors can positively or negatively affect the longevity of your ecommerce platform depending on your unique needs.
Episerver’s Digital Experience Cloud (DXC) is a Platform-as-a-Service model which delivers the promise of cloud with the control of traditional on-premise solutions. The Episerver Digital Experience Cloud is a single-tenant application and cloud service that includes the Episerver Commerce software, site hosting, 24/7 monitoring & maintenance, rights to upgrades and new features, native auto-scaling, content delivery network (CDN) services, and hundreds of other features required to operate a large scale eCommerce platform in the cloud. The Episerver DXC platform is run on the industry leading Microsoft Azure cloud, providing deeper levels of security and flexibility with the eCommerce platform infrastructure.
These are just a few important tools and capabilities you should add to your RFP checklist. And while improving the customer experience is a top priority for eCommerce teams it should not undervalue the importance of enabling your business users on a stable technology platform.
Ready to get your eCommerce RFP out? Get in touch with us - the only commerce experience platform powered by our industry-leading CMS to help companies combine content marketing and digital commerce experience.