Digital commerce is changing fast, and not only because of the pandemic. As new technologies come into the market and customer expectations evolve, businesses are being forced to rethink their approach to all aspects of online shopping.

As businesses have started looking for new e-commerce platforms in an effort to adapt, many of them have run into an all-too-common hurdle: selecting the right platform is hardly a clear-cut choice.

That’s because businesses need a platform (or platforms) that aligns with both internal business structures and current customer expectations. To complicate matters even further, you also need to future-proof your digital commerce architecture.

In a recent report, Gartner® has detailed three approaches to digital commerce platform architecture. Here, we'll explore those approaches and suggest ways you can select the right approach to help your business adapt to changing digital commerce expectations."

Three common approaches

Whether to build or buy software is a decision that has long driven debate but, according to Gartner, "Most businesses choose a middle path — buying where they can, building where they must, and often using a partner to aid in delivery."

From our perspective, the reasoning for this middle path is fairly straightforward and pragmatic: businesses aren't homogenous, and each will have its own structure, goals, and pressures to address. As such, procuring off-the-shelf technology can be a faster, less costly way to tackle more common, horizontal requirements, while building tailored bespoke tools can be reserved for more specialized needs.

With that in mind, the most common approaches to digital commerce platform architecture identified by Gartner include: 

Commerce-Led

In this architecture model, a single, holistic, and feature-rich commerce platform is adopted, usually purchased from a single vendor.

This platform might be hosted on the cloud, or as a service, although it has been traditionally hosted on-premises.

This “single source solution” does, of course, simplify the digital commerce architecture. It will also likely cut down on implementation and IT development time. Such a solution will already have a wide variety of tools and features built in, accounting for multiple channels.

However, this approach can limit businesses. Adapting to change can be slowed by technology debt, and while the platform's sophistication can help customer experience efforts, there are situations where it can hinder them. 

Experience-Led

This approach involves a primary user interface platform (like a digital experience platform or a dedicated storefront tool) that integrates a dedicated commerce platform and other capabilities via API mediation. The DXP might have a decoupled front-end to allow for headless management of the user experience.

Utilizing a DXP within e-commerce allows businesses to better orchestrate the customer journey, tying in customer experience more deeply with the mechanics of ordering and fulfilment. 

This approach allows for greater flexibility across channels. For organizations that run multiple digital commerce brands, each with their own storefronts, this is probably the way to go.

While this approach does allow for finer control and easier, continuous improvement (new tools can be integrated easily, for example), it can put a lot of pressure on IT teams when changes are needed. This can get expensive, quickly.

API-First

Based on our understanding of the report, Gartner suggests a truly API-first approach could provide a much more flexible and future-proof digital commerce architecture.

In this approach, digital commerce tools and technology are deployed in a composable manner, decreasing the interdependency of component parts during deployment. This would allow for faster changes and greater overall agility.

However, it must be noted that this approach requires investment in technology and significant digital maturity.

How to choose the right approach

While there are various factors to determining the right architectural approach, we believe that the central question to any platform choice should be “how well can I serve my customers using this platform?” Answering this question will ultimately lead you to the right architecture for your business.

Your first and most critical step will be assessing your current digital commerce business model. You need to be clear on your place in the market, as well as who your customers are and what they expect from interacting with your business (at any touchpoint, not just the storefront).

Other crucial factors to consider include business model requirements. Consider, for example, the needs of a small online retailer versus a larger global service provider delivering to customers via a subscription model. The requirements of each business vary wildly and will, of course, hugely influence the choice of architecture.

From this point, it should become clearer how you could best serve customers, and what digital commerce architecture will allow you to achieve this desired state.

One of the other major reasons why digital commerce implementations are delayed is the issue of integration with existing back-office applications. Whether it means embracing an API-led architecture or not, prioritize a solution that seamlessly integrates with existing enterprise apps and your overall ecosystem.

In general, it’ll be your customers and your existing technology that will most influence future change.

Bridging the gap with Sitecore

Sitecore’s comprehensive commerce solutions could be the answer for businesses large and small. From running a storefront to managing orders and the customer experience, the range of Sitecore's solutions, from composable to all-in-one, extendable platforms, 
 could be key to an easier transformation.

Sitecore Commerce bridges the gap between a commerce-led solution and an API-first one, leading to incredible flexibility and agility. Businesses can choose to implement the technologies that they want at the point that suits them – their tech stack could be as slim or as robust as needed. Its flexibility also means that it’s perfect for businesses with unique processes and needs, whether they operate in the B2B, B2C, or B2X spaces.

Of course, choosing a future course for your commerce architecture is no easy process. There’s a lot to consider, not the least of which are your customers’ expectations.

A platform that allows for multiple configurations and integrations would be a strong foundation for future growth.

For more on commerce architecture, be sure to read Gartner’s full report.

Sung Cho is Product Marketing Director, Commerce at Sitecore. Connect with her on Linkedin here.

Source: Gartner, "Choose the Right Digital Commerce Platform Architecture”; Aditya Vasudevan and Mike Lowndes; 29 April 2021

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