eCommerce Platform Buyers Guide:
The 7 Considerations When Choosing the Best eCommerce Platform
The eCommerce platform market is crowded with dozens of vendors all claiming to offer similar capabilities and benefits - so how do you choose which investment is right for your business? There is no “best” solution for every company and every team, and therefore, when choosing an eCommerce solution, you should focus on matching your specific requirements to each vendor’s offering.
Over the last ten years we’ve guided thousands of businesses through the process of how to choose an eCommerce solution for their needs. Elastic Path was a great fit for many of those companies, but we have also advised many businesses towards some of our competitors, because quite frankly, our competitors were a better fit for their business needs.
As a result of all these conversations, we’ve developed a good sense for the key factors that help businesses navigate their commerce solution evaluation and selection process. We’ve broken it down into three core areas for consideration, each with their own categories, to make choosing the best commerce solution for your business a little easier:
The first step in evaluating the best digital commerce solution for your business is identifying your organization’s digital maturity from low to high. This will enable you to select a technology vendor that matches the way your team works.
By digital maturity, we are referring to the technical capabilities of your team, and/or system integrators or an agency you hire, your internal processes, organizational structure, and level of intention to leverage technology to unlock a competitive advantage in the market. With each level of digital maturity, there will be a different group of eCommerce vendors that will be the right fit to help you achieve your business goals.
- Low - You have low digital maturity if you have little-to-no in-house technical expertise and no intention to hire a partner with technical expertise. In addition, your business is likely new to digital commerce and does not yet see it as a fundamental driver of business success. Being low in digital maturity is not a bad thing at all – again, this exercise is about finding the best vendor solutions to match your needs. For low maturity companies, out-of-the-box eCommerce platforms vendors such as Shopify will be the best fit.
- Medium– You have medium digital maturity if you have a dedicated eCommerce team of marketers and merchandizers and a small technical team dedicated to eCommerce (either in-house or through a hired system integrator (SI) or agency). You aspire for an easy way to get up and running with eCommerce today and for seamless adjustments down the road. You understand that modern technology is an important part of your eCommerce business, but you need it to be simple and risk-free. For medium maturity companies, traditional eCommerce platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento, and SAP Hybris or using a Pre-Composed Solution™ from Elastic Path will be the best fit.
- High – You have high digital maturity if you have a dedicated technical team, likely in-house. You have adopted, or aspire to adopt, a DevOps methodology and agile best practices, where you’re able to continuously implement changes to the underlying business logic and front-end experiences of your commerce technology; and launch new commerce-enabled touch points very quickly. You aspire to be a technology innovator and leverage the newest technology to gain a competitive advantage in the market. For high maturity companies, a headless microservices vendor like Elastic Path or commercetools will be the best fit.
The second step in evaluating the best digital commerce solution for your business is assessing your digital revenue strategy to determine if you plan to go-to-market with one business model (B2B or D2C, one geography, a single brand, etc) or an omnichannel strategy with multiple business models across experiences (front ends), brands, geographies, etc. This strategic decision will impact the best commerce solution for your brand.
What You Need to Know
For brands who have a low to medium digital maturity, who are just started their digital journey, or who have a very specific digital strategy, a single business model is likely core to your strategy. For example, you may just be starting out a new D2C business and have decided to focus only on your website as a go-to-market channel.
On the other hand, as consumers become more and more digitally savvy and open to making purchases through digital channels, many brands choose to expand to an omnichannel digital revenue strategy. For example, omnichannel brands are extending their strategy from running one core business model to powering numerous models across B2B, D2C, B2B2C, and beyond. Within these businesses, brands likely are supporting experiences (frontends) across web, app, mobile, in-store, and beyond. Plus, in order to keep up with customer demands we also see brands embracing multi-region and multi-brand strategies where they have unique digital experiences across geographies and brands. And often, brands are doing all of these things at once- taking omnichannel to the next level.
Considerations when you have a single business model digital revenue strategy:
- If you are planning to launch and maintain a single business model and you are a low or medium digital maturity brand, a traditional out-of-the-box platform such as Shopify, Magento, or Salesforce Commerce Cloud will best serve your needs. While these solutions can be used to support an omnichannel strategy, it often involves time-consuming and expensive work-arounds.
- If you have a complex or incredibly unique product, these traditional solutions may not offer the flexibility to customize per your unique requirements without similar work-arounds. If this is your case, you will likely need to consider a solution that provides more control to customize product information and checkout, such as a Elastic Path or commercetools.
- In addition, if you have plans to expand beyond one single digital channel in the next 1-2 years, you should consider a solution that can more adequately support your growth. Read on below to learn more:
Considerations when you have a omnichannel digital revenue strategy:
- If your digital revenue strategy involves multiple digital routes-to-market, as described above, you are going to want a solution that offers the control and agility to quickly spin up and manage multiple-routes to market. A composable, microservices-based architecture like those from commercetools, Big Commerce, or Elastic Path will likely suit your needs best.
- It is important to consider how many routes-to-market you want to support. If you have more than 2-3, each with their own unique catalog and pricing, you are going to need a solution that offers simple and flexible, native catalog and product data management.
- Microservices solutions such as commercetools and Big Commerce claim that you can support multiple catalogs but, the reality is you must build customizations outside of the core solution to support these use cases. These customizations are time-consuming and expensive to build and maintain over time. Plus, all customizations outside of the core solution negatively impact performance and are not covered under SLAs. So, if there is an issue, your commerce vendor will not provide support.
- On the other hand, EP Product Experience Manager (PXM)from Elastic Path was created to support brands who have multiple routes-to-market and therefore need to support endless catalogs. This service is included in Elastic Path Commerce Cloud so no time-consuming external customizations are needed to bring your various customer experiences to life. EP PXM from Elastic Path is the only option for brands who need to easily and quickly launch and optimize unique catalogs for each geography, b2b account, brand, etc.
The third step in evaluating the best digital commerce solution for your business is determining what sort of commerce ecosystem approach will support your unique commerce vision.
What You Need to Know
An All-In-One Platform Ecosystem approach provides you with the standard functionality required to run your commerce business, bundled in an all-in-one, typically monolithic platform architecture, from a single vendor. With this approach, you leverage out-of-the-box functionality and some simple, pre-built integrations to bring your commerce vision to life. Brands who use this approach generally do not integrate a variety of third-party solutions with their commerce technology.
A Composable, Multi-Vendor Ecosystem approach allows you to pick-and-choose the commerce functionality from Elastic Path, plus the “best-of-breed” third party technology partners that meet your specific business requirements and compose them together to deliver the overall commerce experience.
When an All-In-One Platform Ecosystem Approach is the right choice:
- You have a Low digital maturity
- You do not intend to integrate multiple partners to support your vision (search, personalization, etc.)
- You do not want to manage numerous third-party technology partners
- You want a standard store up and running fast
If this sounds like you, we would suggest you explore vendors like Shopify, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento, SAP Hybris, & Oracle Commerce Cloud. That being said, it is important to remember that an all-in-one platform is more rigid by nature which means it will be challenging to add third party partner integrations over time. If you can foresee a day when you may want or need to integrate numerous third-party providers, consider a composable, multi-vendor solution.
When a Composable, Multi-Vendor Ecosystem Approach is the right choice:
- You have a digital maturity of medium or high
- You strive to build a “best-of-breed” solution that leverages numerous third-party technology partners, some of which you may already have relationships with (ex: search, personalization, OMS, ERP, etc)
- You are willing to trade-off out-of-the-box features to compose (and continuously update) the exact experience you want, and do so much faster than an all-in-one platform ecosystem approach would be able to support.
If this sounds more like you, solutions such as BigCommerce, Commercetools, and Elastic Path can provide the composable, multi-vendor ecosystem approach that you need to bring your unique vision to life.
If you ideally want the flexibility and “best-of-breed" nature of a multi-vendor ecosystem approach but composing and managing numerous different partner technologies seems complex, we understand. That is exactly why Elastic Path offers Pre-Composed Solutions™. These business-ready solutions pre-integrate core commerce functionality, third- party integrations, and customizations so that you can rapidly launch without the complexing of custom “composing” from scratch.
A final point to consider is how you will support a multi-vendor approach where you have numerous separate applications working together. Check out our support section below to learn more about your options.
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The fourth step in evaluating a digital commerce solution is determining what type of architecture, headless or not, is best suited for your business.
What you need to know:
A non-headless commerce architecture (i.e. traditional commerce platforms) describes an architecture where the front end and the backend are delivered as a full-stack architecture. Therefore, they are “coupled”. Coupling the development of the front and back end allows you to develop and manage your system in one place.
A Headless Commerce architecture describes the decoupling of the front end of your eCommerce experience (i.e. the user interface that the end-customer interacts with when buying goods/services from your webshop) from the back end (i.e. the rules that manage the business logic that powers your commerce business). Decoupling the development of the front and back end allows you to focus on the customer experience without worrying about the impact on critical backend business logic and systems.
When a Non-Headless architecture is the right choice:
- You have a low or medium digital maturity.
- You are comfortable with the “out of the box” UI templates that come with a traditional commerce platform
- You want to enable website experiences only (i.e. not looking to deliver multi-touchpoint experiences)
- You don’t mind having to pause your websites to make changes with developer in the backend code
Examples of vendors that enable this architecture include: Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento, and SAP Hybris. This option makes it very simple to get your store up and running. But, in order for system to run well, it needs to be setup in a specific order, and it can get costly and slow if you need to customize.
When a Headless architecture is the right choice:
- You have a medium to high digital maturity.
- You want to bring your brand vision to life by making rapid design iterations as creative is updated.
- You need to deliver a seamless and consistent experience across multiple experiences such as web, in-store, mobile, IoT, voice, etc
- You want the flexibility to use a variety of languages and frameworks to develop various experiences.
Examples of vendors that enable a Headless Commerce architecture include Elastic Path and Commercetools. Headless Commerce solutions provide more flexibility, but the major drawback is that you will need to build front-end experiences yourself versus using out-of-the-box UI templates.
Pro tip: if you decide to go headless, in order to avoid unnecessary complexity that mitigates the benefits of a headless approach, make sure your vendor is natively headless versus using a traditional eCommerce platform architecture that has been retrofitted to support headless. Learn more about this is our Guide to Getting Started With Headless Commerce.
Once you determine if a headless or not headless architecture is best for you, the fifth step you’ll have to complete is choosing the architecture underneath – standard, out-of-the-box or modular, customizable microservices.
What you need to know:
An out-of-the-box architecture includes standard features that come with most traditional eCommerce solutions to get your store up and running. This includes features such as tax calculation, search, personalization, catalogue functionality, etc. In an out-of-the-box architecture these standard features are inter-connected and fairly rigid, making it time consuming and cumbersome to update one piece without disrupting the complete application.
Modular, customizable microservices architecture refers to an architecture where each individual functionality set (cart, catalog, orders, etc.) is its own service and not tightly coupled with other functionality. Generally, microservices provide the control to more easily customize the features and functionality that are needed to fit your specific business requirements. This isn’t about the features themselves, per se, but rather the ability of your eCommerce software to support the customization of them, the level of effort to do so, and the time it will take.
When out-of-the-box functionality is the right choice:
- You have low digital maturity and are not planning to use a partner to help design and launch your commerce vision.
- You need a fairly straight-forward store for selling standard goods or services (e.g. t-shirts via website only)
- You are comfortable that the “out of the box” themes and templates sufficiently meet your requirements
- You need only simple configurations and settings such as SKU variation, multi-currency, multi-language, and tax variations by state, etc.
Examples of eCommerce software vendors that focus primarily on providing out-of-the-box architecture include: Shopify, Magento, and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Please keep in mind, you can configure out-of-the-box functionality to achieve more advanced capabilities, but it requires a lot of time and adds additional complexity into the system, which creates complexity when making changes in the future.
When modular, customizable microservices architecture is the right choice:
- You are a medium or high digital maturity business.
- You rely on your brand to differentiate you in market and you want to ensure that differentiation is reflected in your digital commerce
- You have an eCommerce strategy that includes multiple business models (e.g. B2B, B2C, and/or B2B2C), use cases, experiences, etc.
- You want to customize your commerce experience to meet your business needs, such as implementing price negotiations, limits on product reservations, and order blockages due to delinquencies on invoices.
Examples of vendors that support a modular, customizable microservices architecture include Elastic Path, Big Commerce, Commercetools, and open source solutions such as Saleor and Reaction. But, not all of these solutions are created equal. While microservices provide the flexibility to design and deploy per your unique requirements, you’ll want to be mindful of investing in a solution that is too granular.
These types of solutions require your team to work with 100s of API endpoints which can be extremely time consuming to navigate and quickly work with. While commercetools follows this granular approach, Elastic Path leverages Packaged Business Capabilities to make it easier to design and launch with a modular, microservices architecture.
With a modular, customizable microservices architecture you will need to design and implement various functionality according to your business requirements yourself, or via a partner. For some, specifically low maturity businesses, this will require too much work and the out-of-the-box features in a traditional eCommerce platform work exactly may be an easier approach.
The sixth step in evaluating the best digital commerce solution for your business is determining how much time and effort you want to spend building and adapting (as needed) your solution prior to launch.
What You Need to Know
The “Build It” approach to launch and ongoing optimization refers to teams who want to custom build their solution from the ground up. Some solutions on the market pride themselves on giving brands the complete control to custom build their solution from microservices.
The “Tweak It” approach to launch and ongoing optimization refers to teams who only plan to make small changes to the standard commerce experiences that their commerce solution powers.
It is important to note that the type of architecture you select (all-in-one versus composable microservices) will directly impact how quickly and easily you can tweak your commerce solution. As described in a previous section of this guide, all-in-one platforms tend to be more rigid which makes changes expensive and time consuming whereas modular, composable microservices are more flexible and support rapid and constant changes. Therefore, your ability to “build it” or “tweak it” is directly related to your commerce architecture.
When a “build it” approach is the right choice:
- You are a high digital maturity business with a skilled internal dev team. Or, you are a medium digital maturity business who plans to use a partner for all implementation work.
- You have a more relaxed timeline and can spend more time building.
- You have unique requirements, such as a custom checkout for regulated goods or a product configurator, that are specific to your business.
Companies with high digital maturity may find a “build it” approach appealing because they can custom create a solution that meets their unique and specific needs. If this sounds like you, eCommerce software vendors such as commercetools, Big Commerce, and Elastic Path are likely a fit. But, keep in mind, that Elastic Path also offers Pre-Composed Solutions™ that enable brands to “tweak it” while also leveraging a composable, microservices architecture if that suits their needs better. Read more below.
When a “tweak it” is the right choice:
- You are a medium or low digital maturity business who does not have a robust team to build something from scratch.
- You have tight timelines to launch and drive revenue through your digital experiences.
- The concept of stitching together different microservices feels complex and risky.
If this sounds like your business, you do not want to build your commerce solution from scratch. Instead, you want to tweak a solution and launch quickly. Examples of vendors that support a “tweak it” approach are two-fold. First, you have traditional, all-in-one platforms, like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento, and Shopify, where functionality is pre-integrated. These solutions allow for small tweaks within their standard functionality set.
An alternative “tweak it” approach is powered by Pre-Composed Solutions™ from Elastic Path. Pre-Composed Solutions™ pre-integrate core Elastic Path commerce functionality, third party integrations, and customizations so that brands can rapidly launch a complete commerce experience without the complexity of “building it” from scratch. Pre-Composed Solutions™ are powered by a modular, composable microservices architecture so that small tweaks and large changes can be easily made as customer needs and businesses change.
The seventh step in evaluating the best digital commerce solution for your business is considering what approach to support will work best for you and your team.
What You Need to Know
If you’ve chosen a traditional, all-in-one platform ecosystem approach your support will be centralized and provided by your platform. On the other hand, if you’ve chosen a multi-vendor “best of breed” ecosystem approach, your support can either be centralized or across multiple vendors.
Centralized support means you have one single partner to contact when something goes wrong with your commerce solution. That partner is responsible for pin-pointing the issue and working through the resolution process with you.
Multi-Vendor support means you have individual relationships with each of your vendors (CMS, search, personalization, ERP, etc.). So, when an issue arises, you will need to pinpoint the source of the issue and then reach out to that specific vendor to work towards resolution.
When centralized support is the right choice:
- You have numerous third-party partners integrated with your core commerce solution that make up your multi-vendor solution.
- You do not have an easy way to identify the source of an issue if it arises across one or several vendors.
- You want one single partner to call when an issue arises.
If this sounds like your business and you are specifically looking at composable, microservices solutions, Elastic Path is going to be the best fit. Composable Commerce XA™ is an experience assurance offering that centrally monitors integrations and holistically manages issue resolution. This means that when a customer has an issue across their multi-vendor solution they can simply call Elastic Path to help with issue identification, triage, and resolution.
When support across vendors is the right choice:
- You only plan to integrate one or two third party solutions with your core commerce solution.
- You have built or plan to build and manage (or have a partner build and manage) robust monitoring that will allow you to identify the source of issues.
- You have the time and resources to reach out to multiple different vendors for support when you do not know what solution is causing the issue and how to resolve it
If this sounds like your business, and you are specifically looking at composable, microservices solutions, commercetools and Big Commerce are going to be good fits. These solutions are built for brands to integrate third party technology and launch “best-of-breed” experiences but, they do not include centralized support. Instead, customers initiate and manage the support process across their ecosystem partners.
We hope you found this Buyers’ Guide helpful. Now that you’re equipped with the top considerations for evaluating the various eCommerce software vendors in the market, we want to make sure you have all the information you need to understand if Elastic Path is the right eCommerce solution for your business.
Please feel free to book a meeting with one of our experts if you’re interested in learning more about:
- Our pricing options
- Specific details on how we compare against other vendors you may be evaluating, such as Commercetools or BigCommerce
- How to start a trial or POC