Why Retailers Need Adaptable Ecommerce Architectures

A Four-Phased Approach to More Relevant Customer Experiences
Data & Artificial Intelligence

Putting customers at the center of your business means being responsive to their ever-changing needs and expectations. But extensive (and expensive) platform projects are often at odds with the need for agility. How do retail businesses accommodate the emergence of new shopping preferences, platforms, and functions — such as buy buttons on Pinterest — in order to deliver consistent high-quality customer experiences?

The good news is that, thanks to maturing ecommerce technologies, retailers have the means to become more adaptable. A modular ecommerce architecture empowers them to modify customer experiences to keep pace with change. More good news: embracing an adaptable ecommerce architecture need not entail a big-bang approach. In fact, we recommend that retailers apply a phased methodology that spans four levels of maturity. We refer to this as the Ecommerce Adaptability Curve:

 


 

Step One: Control

A Robust Services Layer

Having a single, monolithic ecommerce application slows the pace of its evolution. The foundation of an adaptable ecommerce architecture is a robust services layer, or application programming interface (API), that makes it possible for retailers to create compelling experiences across a number of different form factors while sharing the same core set of functional capabilities. Incorporating APIs into the ecommerce architecture is crucial because they make it possible to build software components that then allow you to update a platform without gut-wrenching change.

Step Two: Agility

A Headless Architecture

Retailers are beginning to use their API layer to "decouple" the front-end user interface of the ecommerce storefront from the core commerce functionality. This approach makes it faster and easier to design experiences that support different platforms and devices and add new seasonal products to an ecommerce site. It also gives customers a smoother navigation experience. By using the API layer to drive their ecommerce storefront, retailers can also add new channels and touchpoints as they emerge. For example, with a good API layer in place, it becomes much easier to add shoppable social widgets or to build voice interfaces.

Step Three: Empowerment

Integrated Commerce and Content Platforms

Historically, commerce and content platforms have been fairly isolated. While the content management capabilities that are built into commerce platforms have been steadily increasing in functionality and usability, they still lack the capabilities offered by best-in-class content platforms. Large retailers trying to create rich consumer experiences can easily outgrow these capabilities and find them an impediment to their business goals. Those impediments include:

  • Lack of in-context editing
  • Lack of workflow
  • Limited ability to manage content

But with a strong API layer and reliable integration patterns, retailers can leverage the unique strengths of both best-in-class commerce and content solutions.

 

Combining content and commerce platforms provides remarkable flexibility for retailers with large and complex content needs.

Step Four: Scalability

Microservices

Retailers are increasingly interested in functional "vertical" boundaries within the core commerce functionality itself (i.e., microservices). Microservices are an evolution of the service-oriented architecture pattern. The goal is to break a single complicated application into smaller pieces that are easier to develop and test against. Each microservice has a smaller, self-contained set of functional responsibilities and is easier to maintain. Consequently, retailers have more flexibility over operations and deployments.

SapientRazorfish Experience

Marks & Spencer Case Study

SapientRazorfish migrated Marks & Spencer to a commercial, off-the-shelf commerce software. To make the software more adaptable, the team created a headless architecture that frees up the retailer to update its presentation layer with new features and content. For instance, to capitalize on the importance of content marketing, Marks & Spencer can add a blogging feature more quickly and smoothly. Marks & Spencer is now also more responsive to change and can release exponentially more digital updates with their new architecture. As is the case with many luxury retailers, their customers now enjoy a faster navigation experience, thanks to a presentation layer that no longer needs to create complex data refreshes like traditional ecommerce platforms do.

What Retailers Need to Do Next

Embracing an adaptable ecommerce architecture is an evolutionary process and your journey will differ depending on the type of retailer you are. So where to begin? Here are some important preliminary activities:

  • Identify where you want to differentiate your business over the next few years and assess how well your current ecommerce architecture supports those areas of differentiation.

  • Examine your customer's journey — not just how it looks today but where it is headed.

  • Create a product road map that identifies how to make your ecommerce architecture more adaptable through the stages of maturity.

  • Identify a cross-functional team that spans marketing, in-venue and information technology to manage the journey.  

If you are willing to adopt a new mindset of collaboration, flexibility and iteration, then an adaptable ecommerce architecture will deliver many rewards. Your own people will be empowered to adapt faster and more effectively. Most important, you will adapt along with — and even ahead of — your customers.

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