March 17th, 2015 | 5 MIN READ

Why You Don't Need Another Ecommerce Solution

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

In our Adobe Summit session Reinventing customer engagement with Experience-driven Commerce: How McGraw-Hill Education Took on Digital Learning and Won last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, we teamed up with Adobe and McGraw-Hill Education to share how this iconic publisher transformed from a textbook company to a ‘learning sciences company,’ reinventing its digital business in only 123 days.

The end of sustainable competitive advantage

The session opened with Errol Denger from Adobe highlighting why, for all businesses across all industries, it’s harder and harder to hold a competitive advantage through innovation:

1. Creative destruction is eroding competitive advantage more rapidly than ever before
2. Fast followers with streamlined cost structures have taken reverse engineering to a new level resulting in faster, and even better, copycats
3. Barriers to entry are diminishing, providing lean startups with unprecedented access to disruptively innovate markets
4. The world is flat, and continued deregulation coupled with increasingly free trade has virtually eliminated the forces that historically sheltered markets

In The End of Competitive Advantage, author Rita McGrath notes that 98% of the value of innovation goes to imitators – fast followers with leaner business models that are specifically designed to copy, or competitors looking to take away your competitive advantage. The advantage of innovation is merely a transient advantage that begins to erode in months. And what you need in today’s business climate is a fundamentally different approach of “short-cycle innovation.” The methodology that accompanies this shift can be read in more detail in Denger’s post Reinventing Customer Engagement with Experience Driven Commerce.

In summary, this shift requires a change in organizational mindset, leaner processes and a new platform that’s flexible enough to empower businesses to test and iterate on multiple innovative initiatives simultaneously. If any of these are missing, you can’t be the leader in your industry.

It’s not always possible to anticipate the trends, but responding to them with the ability to test small hypotheses that can be realistically executed is key. Think broad and narrow it down, prototype everything and fail fast. If it doesn’t work, what can you take away from it? That’s the iterative optimization approach. When you’re rolling out multiple innovations at once, continually, the transient advantage becomes a competitive advantage.

How McGraw-Hill Education Reinvented Customer Engagement With Experience Driven Commerce

MHE’s 106 year legacy as a traditional publisher and strong brand recognition is not enough to carry it forward for the next hundred years. Not only is the product going increasingly digital, but so is the customer. MHE seized the opportunity to reinvent itself as a ‘learning sciences company’ with a digital experience centered around the customer.

When looking at reinventing their ecommerce experience, McGraw-Hill Education first laid the vision to be “A world class, singular ecommerce and digital publishing destination for finding and accessing learning solutions that delivers a personalized customer experience.”

To get there, the company set 5 high-level objectives:

1. Single unified brand that is consistent across the globe

The first challenge was organizational - to get everyone across the globe to buy into the vision of “One MHE.” McGraw-Hill Education has 5 main business units that had all worked in siloes, and globally 450 separate microsites, each with its own look and feel, content, customer data and underlying technologies. Both people and technology need to come together to unify such a diversified company.

2. Provide a personalized ecommerce experience

To deliver a more personalized ecommerce experience, the team developed a set of personas, from the K-12 administrator in the research phase to the involved parent who wants to give her child access to more materials and supplemental learning. Not all content is tailored to all customers, and the new experience reflects that. Further, MHE is now using analytics to understand the customer across properties and tie together the experience.

3. Provide the right blend of content and commerce functionality so products are both easy to find and purchase

MHE has a lot of content assets beyond just the product page description that are useful in the purchase journey, and many products have suffered from “duplicate results” based on the various formats they are available in. It has been difficult for site users to hone in on exactly what they’re looking for. Reinventing search, navigation and product pages to make the experience as natural and enjoyable as Amazon was a high priority.

4. Single customer account to manage the customer relationship with MHE

To truly deliver a personalized experience across the customer’s lifecycle (which can easily transition through different business units such as K-12 to post-secondary) requires consolidation of customer records. It was important to keep customer data during the transition from multiple records to a single account.

5. Migrate to a set of flexible technology platforms

McGraw-Hill Education chose Adobe Marketing Cloud and Elastic Path for Adobe Marketing Cloud as the solution partners for its new platform, with Adobe products driving content management, analytics, personalization, account management, etc and Elastic Path supplying the commerce piece seamlessly.

With these pillars in place, MHE now has the flexible platform and infrastructure to deliver new features rapidly and iterate on them regularly, delivering new releases every month.

You don’t need a new ecommerce solution

Recasting your business and the value you provide as a company, moving towards a process of innovation requires an incredible amount of vision, and the technology to back it up.

MHE challenged the existing idea of simply merging all its online stores onto a single commerce platform. To put the user at the center of the experience, making the content searchable, contextualized, personalized and omni-touchpoint required a different, integrated approach.

Your organization doesn’t need another ecommerce solution. Whether you’re in retail, digital, publishing, telco, media -- you need a platform for commerce innovation that can allow you to weave commerce into whatever you’re building.

Stand-alone ecommerce systems that power a storefront are yesterday’s technology, another example that will fall by the wayside.

Commerce shouldn’t drive the experience, but it should be there at the fingertips of merchandisers and marketers that are looking to put the perfect product in front of the right customer at the right time. This is the platform for sustainable digital innovation that MHE now has in place.

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