As we carry on with our lives—and head into the holidays–in the middle of a pandemic, it is becoming increasingly evident that consumer expectations, preferences and behaviors have been permanently altered. We, as consumers have been demanding higher convenience, user experience, personalization, click and collect for quite some time, however COVID-19 has accelerated the need for brands to embrace digital commerce with a very different urgency.

US ecommerce sales jumped 18% this year an are expected to clock ~ $709 billion, representing 14.5% of total US retail sales. This trend is going to continue through the holiday season, when more than 60% of consumers plan to shop online. This is a huge upswing, as e-commerce accounted for only 20% of holiday sales in 2019, according to NRF.

It is obvious that consumers have made a significant pivot to digital over physical channels, and brands are doubling down on their digital investments to retain market share. That said, commerce platforms are becoming increasingly complex based on the level of consumer expectations and functionality, as well as integrations with different third-party systems.

To address the fast-evolving needs of commerce platforms, these are the three key standards to evaluate while building, re-platforming or re-engineering commerce platforms:

1 – Can your architecture adapt rapidly to consumer expectations?

The reality of today’s environment is that businesses are always changing gears based on new insights from customer behavior. More often than not, commerce platforms are unable to adapt as quickly due to legacy or monolithic design. To address that challenge, platforms need to be built differently.

  • Design a loosely coupled API and micro-services-based architecture.

This allows capabilities to be added and deployed quickly but also independently, while minimizing risk of disruption

  • Separate the experience (front-end) platform from the systems of engagement (back-end) platforms.

New experiences can be deployed easily by way of headless architecture. Sending core content or data directly through the APIs made available by back-end commerce platform, allows for use on any number of engagement devices.

  • Leverage an eco-system approach to the commerce platform.

The guiding principle should be the synergy of capabilities, ease of integration and ability to stitch components together with minimum disruption.

2 – Does your infrastructure support elastic scaling?

The days of building platforms and arranging hardware based on yearly traffic projections or specified sale events are over. As the load on the commerce platforms increases, businesses have to be prepared for more than just scaling quickly with high performing sites and apps. The infrastructure also needs to be elastic—adjusting allocation intelligently to accommodate varying degrees of load on different layers of the solution.

  • Choose a SaaS based commerce solution.

A SaaS provider is responsible for the capacity, performance, reliability, and elasticity of the platform on your behalf.

  • Deploy applications in a cloud and containerized infrastructure.

Cloud-based environments allows system resources to be easily and automatically allocated based on demand.

  • Use AI for IT operations.

Automation alone isn’t enough. AIOps predictively scales, manages and resolves infrastructure issues even before they happen.

3 – Can you serve personalized experiences based on real time insights, at scale?

Competing on basis of price and promotions is passe now. Experience and personalization are the new battlegrounds where customer loyalty and attention are being won. As consumers continue to pivot to digital channels, hyper-personalization in near-real-time based on data and insights will become a key differentiator.

  •  Use customer data platforms to ingest customer and insights data from multiple sources to create a 360 view of the customer.

Maintaining real-time customer segments with platforms like Salesforce will provide information you can use to drive marketing and personalized experiences across all customer touchpoints.

  •  Select modern experience platforms for the most engaging experiences.

Best in breed platforms like Adobe allow marketers, experience designers, front-end developers and business teams to consistently deliver rich and highly-personal experiences.

  •   Ensure AI is embedded in every solution.

Making sure AI is embedded within the platforms guarantees your ability to provide more personalized content and data.

Finding your way along the commerce transformation journey

The approach and roadmap to transform a commerce platform to address the above standards requires deeply understanding various dimensions. Specific business context, state of current IT ecosystem, pain points, short-term and long-term goals, business strategy, budgets, the list goes on. Having a partner who strategically and technically goes deep is essential. Once you do, there are several ways to jump start this process together, but here are the most effective and critical first steps:

  •  Experience assessment: Baseline what you have and how you compare. Identify experience friction points and conversion blockers across entire path to purchase.
  •  Technology assessment: Analyze impediments such as inflexible platforms, IT debt and applications running on old tech. Assess current state shortcomings and gaps, perform tools evaluations, design target state architecture, make recommendations and build a roadmap to implement the target state.
  •  Platforms implementation: Speed is the name of the game. Implementation of new platforms cannot be multi-year programs anymore. Evaluate the market leading commerce platforms such as SAP Commerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Adobe Commerce, or commercetools. Once selected, adopt headless commerce frameworks, design systems, and accelerators to help implement an API- and microservice-based commerce solution for efficiency, speed and performance.

These standards apply across all industries and business models. While there are often additional considerations based on industry, it is important to remember that a consumer carries their best and worst experiences with them, setting expectations high even in less digitally mature industries. So as consumers bargain-hunt and seek retail therapy at higher rates than ever this holiday season, make sure your business is there for them, and your commerce platform is up to the task.

Learn more about IBM iX commerce and platform services

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