If your team is thinking about or currently evaluating an eCommerce software, you likely have many questions and possibly some concerns about different eCommerce software providers. While more modern technologies, like microservices & headless-based solutions, have become popular, there are still benefits of all-in-one commerce platforms. There are many options to choose from, each with individual benefits and drawbacks. This guide will help you navigate some of the leading eCommerce software solutions available to pick the one that works best for your brand by providing:
- A high-level summary with benefits & drawbacks for the various types of eCommerce Software that are available
- Brief overviews of some of the popular vendors within each category. With tips for which would be the best fit based on your brand’s current & future needs
- A few key tips on how to navigate a progressive re-platforming from your current eCommerce Software
Chapter 1: Getting Started, Evaluation Process & Internal Alignment
The first step in an evaluation process is determining how you will complete the evaluation. We have seen brands take all different types of approaches from evaluation teams to scorecards to the more traditional RFP (Request for Proposal) approach. We find that the most important thing in an evaluation process is internal alignment on your goals, KPIs, and use cases. This step will make sure your team is on the same page and enable you to effectively communicate with vendors.
A Note On Traditional RFPs:
The traditional RFP process includes rigid, lengthy check-lists doesn't precisely fit with the current rapidly changing eCommerce world. A composable 'best-for-me' approach will ensure you make a choice that fits your brand's needs today and, in the future, has become the standard in today's online ecosystem. Check out our post here for a more in-depth view of this 'modern RFP' approach. Often, we will recommend brands do a POC (proof-of-concept) to provide them with hands-on experience in the tool instead of an RFP. This is often an important step of your evaluation which will help you ensure the eCommerce software you are evaluating can meet your needs without any last-minute surprises. Now that you have an idea of how to get started, let's break down the benefits and drawbacks of the options available based on your current goals and what eCommerce software would be the best fit for your brand's needs
Chapter 2: Determining What Type of Vendor is Best for You?
Let's begin with the basics. There are three main types of offerings that each fit well depending on a brand's needs. Each group has multiple popular vendors that could fit your eCommerce needs. Each section below provides a quick run-down of the strengths and weaknesses of vendors and offering types.
Traditional Monoliths: These are the feature-heavy, tightly knit 'all-in-one' offerings that became popular 15 years ago. They allowed companies to stand up an eCommerce presence within a single platform and are brilliant for relatively simple eCommerce needs. However, they usually come with a high cost and have a few drawbacks, especially if the standard out-of-the-box features on the platform don't exactly fit your brand's needs. The table below has the important benefits & drawbacks of using a traditional monolithic eCommerce software.
|All simple eCommerce needs are available with several out-of-the-box features.||Expensive to run, especially if you are paying for features that you don't need or use.|
|No need to manage or buy from separate specialized providers.||Difficult to customize, the unique eCommerce requirements for your brand can be tricky to build into an existing monolith due to their tightly coupled nature|
|Easy to manage a relatively simple catalog with consistent routes to market.||What you have is what you get. There is little room for experimentation between features (swapping search providers, for example). Generally, this also means better solutions are available for a feature from third-party providers that are difficult to impossible to leverage.|
Despite the shared architecture, each vendor has functionally different use cases. To make picking the right eCommerce software more straightforward, we've put together some differentiating benefits of two popular examples of monoliths: SAP Commerce (per Hybris acquisition) and Salesforce Commerce Cloud (per Demandware acquisition). Learn more about each below:
|SAP Commerce (Hybris) Strengths||SAP Commerce (Hybris) Weaknesses||Salesforce Commerce Cloud Strengths||Salesforce Commerce Cloud Weaknesses|
|Support for operating in multiple geographies.||Slow time to launch for customizations to add features not supported by out-of-the-box features.||Out-of-the-box support for B2C brands||Requires multiple instances to support catalogs with different hierarchies.|
|Extensive support for integration partners||High overall TCO, blanket contracts do not allow pay by features.||Offers different solutions for multiple channels (B2C & B2B)||Higher TCO & expensive to customize to fit unique needs due to specialized IT requirements|
|Out-of-the-box support for B2C & B2B brands||Difficult to integrate best-in-class features(search, OMS, CMS, etc.) from third-party vendors||Well suited to support large catalogs that do not need frequent updates.||Unable to support both B2B & B2C within a single platform instance.|
Chapter 3: Headless Microservices
Headless: These solutions provide the core commerce functionality without a front-end (head). They allow you to build a custom front end that establishes your brand's characteristics and gives you more control over your customer experience. Headless solutions can be further split into two.
- Microservices-based headless solutions are made up of individual services that are "loosely coupled.", where each service operates without any reliance on a separate connected service. Therefore, have the option to choose which services or features you need for your brand and can easily swap them out if need be. This also extends to a lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) as you pay only for the services you use. To learn more about the TCO impact, check out our guide here.
- A 'retrofitted' headless offering has the architecture of a tightly coupled monolith, with the head (front-end) detached. While these enable different front-end experiences for customers, they do suffer from some of the same time and cost issue of a monolithic eCommerce software in terms of swapping, adding, and testing new features.
Learn more about the different types of headless eCommerce software:
In your research so far, you may have come across the term 'MACH' as a defining factor between one solution and another. It stands for Microservices, APIs, Cloud-native, Headless. Think of it as a collection of technologies or principles that allow interoperability across multiple vendors of more modern services due to shared architectures. Learn more about a MACH approach here.
|Flexibility: you can choose only the services that fit your brand's goals. Enables you to build a 'best-for-me' solution for your brand.||A multi-tenant solution can have risks since you have individual contracts with each solution provider. A typical case can be one for a DXP (Digital Experience Platform; a front-end), one for 3-rd party search, one for OMS (order management system), the list can go on. The perceived risk of a multi-tenanted solution can be solved by Composable Commerce XA™, our assurance offering.|
|Scalability: Cloud-native offers unparalleled scalability since on-premise servers don't constrain it.||Initial costs are higher when building a solution from scratch, especially if no pre-built reference solutions can be tweaked.|
|Speed: the ability to add a service once your platform is up and running is lightyears ahead of the clunky customizations required for tightly coupled monolithic back-ends.|
|Low TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) in the long run.|
|Commercetools Strengths||Commercetools Weaknesses||Elastic Path Strengths||Elastic Path Weaknesses|
|Microservices-based integrations with third-party partners allow customization based on your brand's needs.||It does not allow for multiple catalog hierarchies to cater to the unique needs of your customers.||Pre-Composed Solutions™ allows you to implement or tweak pre-built solutions to fit your brand's unique requirements. Reduces time to launch to weeks, not months.||Low digital maturity brands will need third-party support to integrate a solution.|
|Easy to use for high technical maturity brands with in-house development teams.||Complex integrations can be expensive for in-house development resources or leveraging an SI.||Catalog Composer allows unlimited catalogs with separate hierarchies to create custom catalogs for individual customers' needs.||Monolithic solutions, like Shopify, could better serve smaller brands with more straightforward eCommerce needs.|
|Support for multiple touchpoints & geographies from a single catalog.||Each project needs to be set up from scratch, leading to a month's long time-to-launch.||Flexibility to add customer touchpoints, geographies, and channels (B2B2C, B2B, B2C in one instance) allows your brand to innovate at lightning speed and deliver unparalleled customer experiences.|
Chapter 4: Retrofitted Headless
|Allows you the freedom to choose a 'head,' i.e., more control over your customer experiences.||Difficult to add features (ex: mobile self-checkout) on the fly. These will be costly customizations that are significantly slower to launch than a microservices-based headless solution.|
|Well suited to a singular channel business model with relatively simple needs. (B2C only or B2B only)||Usually need separate instances or 'products' to run concurrent channels. Managing both a B2B & B2C presence will often mean double the time managing and double the costs since you are paying for different products.|
Retrofitted Headless Comparisons: Shopify
|Shopify Strengths||Shopify Weaknesses|
|Proven track record, especially for B2C-only brands.||Struggles to support brands that sell across multiple channels, or need extensive B2B capabilities.|
|A vast network of supported apps for additional features.||Difficult & expensive to customize to fit your unique needs.|
|Extensive out-of-the-box features for a simple webstore||Pricing tiers benefit small-medium size brands. As brands grow, they must shift to a more expensive premium tier.|
Retrofitted Headless Comparisons: Adobe Commerce Cloud (Magento)
|Magento Strengths||Magento Weaknesses|
|Adept at managing large catalogs that do not need frequent updates||Tightly-connected back-end components make adding capabilities a long and expensive process.|
|Brand requirements are standard eCommerce needs.||It is challenging to accommodate unique brand requirements due to the rigid structure within features.|
|Localization support and some support for multiple touchpoints.||Slower page load times for customers could lead to lost revenue.|
Retrofitted Headless Comparisons: BigCommerce
|BigCommerce Strengths||BigCommerce Weaknesses|
|A vast network of third-party partners to add to basic features out-of-the-box.||High TCO to run multiple catalogs. It cannot support numerous catalogs within one instance and will need to set up & pay for separate instances.|
|Has a dedicated B2B offering through a 3rd-party.||Unable to support both B2B & B2C catalogs concurrently. You will have to run the 'B2B edition' along with the standard BigCommerce platform.|
|Availability of integrations for more modern features (chat-bots, mobile self-checkout, etc.) compared to other monoliths.||There are no pre-built solutions to 'tweak'; therefore, you will need to start each project from scratch, which will delay time-to-launch.|
These are the high-level takeaways to give you a foundational understanding of the groups of options available. For a more detailed look at how to match your needs with the available options, check out our guide here:
Chapter 5: Re-Platforming
Re-platforming to New eCommerce Software
Your brand might already have an existing eCommerce software that you have deemed does not meet your needs, and thus, are going through the evaluation process for a new eCommcer software. If this is true for you, you’ll have to consider the re-platforming process. For a deep dive on re-platforming, check out our guide here. But, at a high level, it’s important to consider how different types of eCommerce software can support or complicate your progressive re-platform.
Re-platforming to Monolithic or Retrofitted Headless Solutions
If your brand considers moving to a retrofitted headless eCommerce software, re-platforming can have significant consequences. Due to the tightly coupled nature of the back-ends software, a re-platform would entail a whole rip and replacement of your current solution. The process can take upwards of a year, depending on the complexity of your system. The pressure to ensure you get it right the first time is significant. Additionally, it fails to address the possibility of realizing you are now dealing with a whole new set of issues with a retrofitted platform entails after the arduous implementation.
Progressive Re-platforming to Microservices-based Headless Solutions
On the other hand, with a microservices-based headless solution, instead of a long, complex re-platform, you can complete an progressive re-platforming project. A progressive re-platforming project allows you the time and freedom to test components as they are implemented. This approach can be helpful when composing a solution that needs longer-term testing of a component-say your search capability- to ensure it delivers based on your needs. This allows you to test and optimize your existing experience while removing the risk of having all your eggs in one basket for a traditional re-platforming project.
We see many customers come in looking for a specific capability (Catalog Management only, for example) they are looking to add to their existing solution. With incremental implementation, the process is quicker and lower risk, allowing you to achieve a 'best-for-me' composable solution. This approach also allows for quicker innovation down the line if you plan on adding new touchpoints, channels, or brands to your eCommerce software solution.
To help decide if a microservices-based headless solution is best for you, it’s worth considering the following as a starting step:
- Do you plan to expand into more than two or three geographies?
- Do you plan on adding new touchpoints to provide better customer experiences?
- Are you willing to absorb the risk of managing a multi-tenanted composable solution?
Check out our post here for a more comprehensive list of questions to ask vendors during your evaluation process.