Ecommerce platforms have seen a significant uptick in activity in recent months, even as non-essential retailers start to once again open their doors. Gartner found online sales for apparel, beauty products and department stores increased by nearly 10% while online grocery sales, previously accounting for 2% to 3% of sales, rose to 8% to 10% in April.
"With the new demands of today’s consumers comes significant pressure on digital platforms to deliver on those expectations," said Brian Wolfe, vice president of commerce, digital customer experience at Capgemini.
Wolfe identified a few "must-haves" to look for in an ecommerce platform: the ability to deliver an end-to-end experience across marketing, sales, service and commerce; pre-integrated payment capabilities that support a variety of payment providers; integration with online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay; social media channel selling capabilities; easy integrations with customer data platforms to provide a centralized customer profile. Finally, Wolfe stressed that ecommerce platforms need access to a broad partner ecosystem for third-party services via pre-built and pre-tested integrations to reduce the time and effort required to access these services such as payment, tax, fraud, address verification and shipping.
"More businesses are moving toward microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native technologies," said Emily Pfeiffer, senior analyst for Forrester. "Modern architecture adds complexity and initially, only the most digitally mature organizations could take advantage of this decoupled tech. But vendors and service providers are now helping their customers bridge the gap by simplifying integration, implementation and administration of various functions provided by a larger number of different providers."
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"Businesses today are looking for user-friendly ecommerce platforms," said Damon Inlow, co-founder of Vaporizers.ca, a Canadian ecommerce retailer with over a decade of online experience. "No customer wants to browse a website that is difficult to navigate or takes forever to load a new page. Today, an ecommerce platform needs to display all categories of products, accompanied by a detailed product description."
Companies want to capture the beauty of their products, making it essential to add aesthetically pleasing photos or video product highlights, Inlow continued. Incorporating accessible, and useful information and assets of products is also vital, as it will keep customers engaged and allow them to find the products they're searching for.
"Companies need to look for ecommerce platforms that offer versatility and flexibility when it comes to the navigation system display of their products," said Inlow. Companies with large selections need to take particular care with navigation, he continued, emphasizing the importance of a strong taxonomy on the back end.
Companies today are looking for a modern ecommerce platform that can provide customers with a more immersive experience, said Sheryl Kingstone, head of customer experience and commerce and voice of connected user landscape for 451 Research. Platforms offering new ways for customers to engage with the company, including mobile touchpoints, social media, connected devices and display are also in demand, she added.
The ecommerce platform provides customers with an important first touchpoint with a business, and allows a company to provide personalized views for some of its available content, as well as enabling companies to work in a more agile way, according to Kingstone.
She said companies are following one of two trends with their ecommerce platforms: Selecting all-in-one options, with ecommerce leading other parts of the business, or a “headless” commerce scenario — more of an architectural strategy, driven from IT, which makes it possible for different channels to control different experiences.
Other important elements for today’s ecommerce platforms include embedded payment options and fraud protections, Kingstone said. "Companies want to embrace different types of payments — Paypal, Applepay and the new digital wallets."
In addition to protection against payment fraud, companies want ecommerce platforms that include data protection, including encryption, and data analysis, Kingstone said. "When we look at digitally-driven organizations, they are looking at the web experiences first, then payment processing; after that comes fraud protection."
Kingstone expects to see more devotion to analytics through ecommerce platforms, because such information is essential in improving the customer experience. However, she cautioned that many firms aren’t emphasizing this enough. Though it is important to the CMO and others in the marketing department, the commerce transaction department don’t always see the value of personalization.
Organizations will follow one of two paths in selecting ecommerce platforms in the future according to Kingstone: choosing solutions with little complexity, including simple drag-and-drop menus for the non-technologists, or solutions that offer more in-depth tools for custom development.