An adaptable architecture lets you take an evolutionary path to e-commerce instead of a ‘big bang’ approach.

E-commerce Insights blog

Welcome to the fifth post of our “E-Commerce Insights” blog series. In today’s post, Jon Panella of SapientRazorfish, a Sitecore Solution Partner, discusses how to ensure your e-commerce architecture delivers high-quality customer experiences.

By Jon Panella, Commerce and Retail Technology Lead, SapientRazorfish

Today’s retailers need to be more adaptable than ever, especially as customers embrace more channels and devices. But too often, retailers are constrained by expensive technology that is disruptive to update. Accommodating the emergence of shopping platforms and functions such as buy buttons on Pinterest can be a struggle.

To keep pace with change, retailers need what we call an adaptable e-commerce architecture to deliver more relevant and consistent, high-quality customer experiences regardless of emerging new platforms and channels. Thanks to maturing e-commerce technologies, embracing an adaptable e-commerce architecture need not entail a “big bang” approach, but can be an evolutionary process.

Your journey depends on the type of retailer you are. For example, if you are a commodity retailer relying on a packaged solution, then your journey to adaptability might amount to working with your software vendor to decouple a few essential functions and make your business more agile. By contrast, retailers that constantly introduce new experiences and content might need to progress from e-commerce systems that permit just one or two experiences to those that accommodate tens of unique experiences, platforms, and devices.

Where to begin?

First, identify where you want to differentiate your business over the next few years and assess how well your current e-commerce architecture supports those areas. Will you differentiate around price? Product catalog? Fulfillment? The customer experience? What e-commerce infrastructure changes are required to support those areas of differentiation?

Next, examine your customer's journey—not just how it looks today, but where it is headed. What touchpoints do your customers embrace as they conduct business with you? Where are the gaps in your ability to be where your customers are? How well does your e-commerce infrastructure support your ability to address those gaps? If your customers use third-party marketplaces, how readily can you integrate them with your e-commerce infrastructure?

Then create a product road map that identifies how to make your e-commerce architecture more adaptable through the stages of maturity. The road map should identify, among other things, the expected cost of transitioning to an adaptable e-commerce architecture as well as the cost of not doing so.

Make sure you identify a cross-functional team that spans marketing, in-venue, and information technology to manage the journey. Embracing an adaptable e-commerce architecture will require even more collaboration between marketing and IT than exists today. Both sides know things the other does not.

Manage change

Embracing an adaptable e-commerce architecture also requires identifying roadblocks to change and ways to overcome them. For instance, retailers with heavy investment in existing architectures may be tempted to stick with these architectures to remain on the upgrade path. Addressing this resistance to change may require identifying the cost of not becoming adaptable against the cost of modifying the existing infrastructure.

Moreover, retailers need not toss out their third-party platforms. They can un-platform components without creating disruption. Incremental change ensures that you support new features and architectural refactoring at the same time.

Finally, involve your customers in the journey. Test changes in the user experience to ensure that your adaptable architecture delivers what you want it to deliver.

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

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Jon Panella leads SapientRazorfish’s strategy team for Commerce and Retail Technology and has led strategy and implementation engagements for Target, Sprint, JCPenney, and many other retailers.  Contact him at