We talk a lot about customer experience, usability and conversion optimization here on Get Elastic. Certainly as the Web evolves, more consumers come online and get familiar with innovations and improvements of the leading-edge e-tailers.
Customers seek out and prefer sites with ratings and reviews. They want to advanced search capabilities and product features. They want to ship to store, check in-store availability, choose from multiple payment options, and even browse your site and purchase from a mobile phone.
At the same time, growing retailers launch new storefronts for international customers or to serve new market segments. Or, multi-store retailers like the Gap experiment with merging sister brands into one checkout.
But for many retailers, it’s not that easy to evolve as fast as they’d like…
Roadblocks to “Next Generation Ecommerce” – Legacy Architecture
Legacy architecture can prevent online retailers from implementing the cutting edge usability, customer service and functionality of the online shopping experience that customers are quickly coming to expect.
For example, an online retailer who began 10 years ago with a home-grown ecommerce platform has updated its systems several times over the last decade – each time patching new functionality on top of what’s already built. Retailers end up “stuck” with hacked integrations and patch-overs on systems that are difficult to replace or even extend. Order management, the storefront(s), content management system, call center etc. rely on the legacy systems, the data warehouse, financial system, inventory and warehouse management, payment verification systems and so on. Everything is so tightly coupled that it’s near impossible to switch one system out for another without affecting other systems.
Other problems include duplicated data (no consistency or master point of data) and cross-organization chimneys (e.g. the brick and mortar store runs different systems than the online store).
Sometimes cross system replacement and re-architecture is simply too expensive for a retailer, there are limited operational resources or business critical legacy processes are too difficult to replicate or replace.
Even if resources exist, the time to market for the new solution could take years, while competitors forge ahead.
But there is a better way…SOA – Service Oriented Architecture.
What is Service Oriented Architecture?
SOA or Service Oriented Architecture takes various areas (like your content, catalog and checkout services), opens them up and exposes them so they can be consumed by delivery channels that need to use them (like storefronts, email software and the call center). It also provides a consistent set of tools to channel management – store administration, promotions and content management.
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SOA Reference Architecture
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Benefits of SOA
- SOA provides the foundation to get back end systems working together. Components can be easily swapped in and swapped out without impacting operational integrity, one at a time if necessary.
- Eases migration to a new ecommerce platform.
- Brand defining or business specific services can be developed in house (you can innovate!).
- Commoditized services (e.g. payment processing, customer reviews) can be outsourced.
- Reduces time to market for new ecommerce functionality. The business and marketing department may demand certain functionality be implemented by IT, but IT does not have to deliver anything, the services already exist. It’s just a matter of consuming and using them. For example, a mobile storefront can re-use the systems the online storefront relies on.
An example of how SOA can drastically reduce time to market comes from an Elastic Path customer, Aeroplan, the frequent flier rewards program for Air Canada. Aeroplan has a number of partnerships from hotels to credit card companies, and requires a complex infrastructure that enables loyalty program members to redeem points for goods and services across partners. You can read the technical details in this Baseline Magazine article.
More recently, Aeroplan launched an new e-store where plan members can earn rewards points on products from retailers like ToysRUs, the Apple Store and Overstock — not just flights. Thanks to its existing SOA (single sign on, fulfillment, reporting etc), the new store went live in 8 weeks.
How to Get Started With Service Oriented Architecture?
- Review your existing ecommerce infrastructure. Know your architectural constraints and scalability requirements.
- Identify business objectives for next generation stores – what features and functionality do you need to deliver best-practice user experience and customer service?
- Align IT strategy with business objectives – understand your SOA vision.
- Introduce new services in a phased approach. Don’t do everything at once (replace CRM and ERP systems in one project, for example). When you piece-meal projects, they have quicker time to market and higher success rate.
- Leverage existing legacy components where possible
For more information, please check out the on-demand version of our recent webinar with Oracle: Delivering an Integrated Ecommerce Experience for Empowered Customers.