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5 reasons CMOs should care about their commerce architecture

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5 minute read

Previously published on LinkedIn

Delivering a compelling experience online is an exercise in story telling, messaging, branding and creative design, things that marketers have been doing well for a long time. Delivering a compelling experience online, securely, quickly and at scale, all while being able to experiment and react to new customer insights? Now, this is a whole new challenge. And, frankly marketers haven’t been doing this very long, and currently aren’t doing it very well. It is a whole new area of expertise that has very little to do with marketing, except for that fact that getting it right is fundamental to being able to share the message and the experience with customers.

Five years ago, maybe even two years ago, selecting a platform to build out your online presence was all about the features. Personalization, product management, integration capability, content management, etc were differentiating functions of the top platforms. Today, as those top platforms converge towards an RFP optimized set of commodity tools it may seem that they are all pretty much equal. In so much as they all offer the same backend tools with a different color scheme, and a sleek, responsive frontend, they are all the same. But this isn’t 2012, and with 32% year-over-year growth in ecommerce and an expected 10% of global sales to be online by 2020, the experiment we’ve been running online is transforming from being a small part of the business run by the marketing team, to the central lynchpin in an increasingly connected relationship with the business and the customer. In a world where the CMO is regularly tapped as the “Chief Decision-Maker” when it comes to the ecommerce strategy, it is important to understand that a “get it wrong” moment isn’t a failure for marketing, it is a failure for the entire organization.

2019 has brought about the realization that the most important feature in an ecommerce platform is the architecture. Without evaluating a given business, it is hard to say which architecture makes the most sense for it. Here are the five reasons why architecture should matter to the forward-thinking CMO. 

1. Scalable architecture means uptime during peak traffic

This is by far the most important reason why architecture matters. If businesses are doing their job correctly, the day is going to come when their message resonates with their customers, and they come flocking to the business for the experience they can’t live without. When they do, it is going to mean additional load on the business’ commerce site. Whether that’s increased pageviews, additional line items during a BOGO sale or additional people asking Alexa for products after that winning Super Bowl ad, organizations need a site that can meet the demand. If the platform they’re running on can’t scale to meet these unexpected demands, businesses may lose customers before they’ve ever had the chance to really acquire them.

2. Up-to-date inventory data means increased customer trust for BOPIS and online fulfillment 

In a store, on a shelf, inventory is easy. The customer walks into the store, they find the shelf where something belongs, if it is there they buy it, if it is gone, they find a store associate who looks to see if it is in the back, and the associate either hands it to the customer, or adds it to the next order and asks the customer to come back in a week to pick it up. Online, inventory is incredibly hard. Is it available, if it is backordered, how soon will the customers have it, can it be shipped to store, can the store fulfill in-house? And if businesses don’t know the answer to these questions their customers go to a competitor who does. And that happens in the flash of a few seconds. Inaccurate inventory can mean lost sales, increased RMA costs and frustrated customers left holding empty shopping bags they thought held the item they wanted. Worse, portraying accurate inventory has its own set of customer frustrations. Slow site load times and perceived lack of selection can send potential sales to competitors who appear to have a better customer experience. Finally, accurate promises for fulfillment have shown to be one of the best ways to acquire and retain customers. Amazon is proof positive that a terrible website experience doesn’t deter customers willing to wade through the chaff in order to get their Instant Pots and essential oils just a little bit faster. Being able to deliver these functions, in a balanced combination that works for the customer, and being able to experiment with which ones work for the organization is key to success on the fulfillment front.

3. Properly executed APIs allow true omnichannel engagement

The practice of commerce is a thousands of years old, with activity dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. Digital commerce in its current incarnation is a few years younger than the world wide web, which was born in 1991. Less than 30 years ago

Investment in a commerce platform is a decision an organization will live with for the next decade, maybe more. Between 1891 and 1930 humans evolved from the first automobile to normalized commercial air travel. Imagine what digital commerce will look like 10 years from now? Probably looks more like an airplane than the first automobile. APIs will be the key to future-proofing an online strategy. Choosing APIs that allow flexibility of execution is paramount.

4. Well designed application cache means less money spent on CPU cycles and more for customer engagement

Investment without return is a sure fire way to get kicked to the curb at the next quarterly board meeting. Budgets aren’t limitless, and as long as the ecommerce budget comes out of a CMO’s pocket, finding a way to reduce it is a priority. It’s not a stretch to say that the days of an on-premise commerce platform are over. The notion is antiquated, and the top reason why is that SaaS and hosted platforms have a lower overall TCO. However, even under the covers, especially if businesses are paying a PVU style license, efficiency has a direct impact on the cost of the platform. Not only the platform’s cost to operate at peak, but it’s ability to shrink and right size itself when traffic wanes. Even if an organization is paying rev share, or licensing on a per month basis, they’re still getting those hosting costs passed on to them in the form of a markup to “retail” from the platform vendor, so choosing a vendor who cares about efficient ops is in their long-term best interest.

5. Properly separated application design means easier upgrades and faster access to new features 

Experience commerce, headless commerce, API commerce… same thing, different name. They all center around separating the backend from the frontend in order to take advantage of best of breed experience platforms. At their core though, they offer some surprising benefits around TCO and agility. In the past, platform upgrades have been monumental undertakings, six months to a year of high touch work that stopped new feature delivery and focused a team on getting to the next version. Separating these tiers, and pushing feature development to a CMS that “widgetizes” the frontend means that upgrading the backend tools doesn’t interrupt the frontend experience. It also means that non-core tools can be added into the mix to offer surround capabilities for personalization, fulfillment, and other short term business initiatives. These things aren’t possible without a purpose build architecture to support modularity.

Looking back at that list it should be crystal clear that before any consideration on how many promotion types a platform supports, and which devices the homepage displays correctly on, businesses should be thinking about how the architecture enables future business success. Architecture matters, now more than ever, and the winners in the online battle are going to be the ones who have a platform that scales to meet demand, costs less to operate, and is flexible and adaptable to the future.

Michael Rasmussen
Michael Rasmussenhttp://www.zilker.com
Michael is a Senior Commerce Architect at Zilker Technology LLC. He has over a decade of experience designing and implementing ecommerce systems with deep experience in IBM and Elastic Path Commerce platforms.
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