One of the fundamental choices that an e-commerce retailer must make is the platform they use to sell their goods and services.
With so many choices of platforms now available, it’s important that they make this choice carefully, with an understanding that a platform is a space not just for selling, but for building a brand.
The E-Commerce Times spoke with several e-commerce experts to get their take on how retailers can choose — and customize — platforms to get just the right fit between product, culture, and customer.
“A decade ago, an e-commerce platform was often little more than a product catalog and a checkout,” Brennan Hyde, vice president of product at Miva, told the E-Commerce Times. “Modern e-commerce platforms act as the central hub of an online business, providing a content management experience and acting as marketing engines.
“E-commerce platforms are becoming more powerful and complex, incorporating features from CRMs, content management systems, and business automation solutions to become the core platform running the entirety of an online business.”
A platform, in other words, is not just a store — it’s a place for an e-commerce retailer to connect with customers and create a sense of the brand.
“While there will always be a need for standalone, ‘best-of-breed’, CRMs and similar solutions — as e-commerce evolves we’re seeing these incorporated into the e-commerce platform and becoming one single, powerful application that manages the whole of an online store,” explained Hyde.
“E-commerce platforms are increasingly empowering marketing teams with tools and avenues for them to excel, exercise greater creativity, and execute promotions quickly,” he added.
Finding the right fit between a brand and a platform is key to success in the e-commerce world.
“As the world increasingly moves online, having a strong online presence is mandatory, meaning retailers must adapt,” said Hyde. “Online sellers should be wary of focusing too much on short-term metrics and making the wrong decision when selecting an e-commerce platform.
“An ill-fitting e-commerce platform — one that cannot grow alongside your business, handle your complex needs, and integrate with your back-end systems — will ultimately cost your business.”
Ideally, a platform is not an unchanging, fixed space, but one that is adaptable to both the business and the consumers who frequent it.
“The right e-commerce platform will help sellers keep up with their consumers’ changing needs, preferences, and shopping behavior,” Hyde noted.
“Retailers invest time, care, and design into creating unique in-store experiences, why wouldn’t they do the same for their online customers? Choosing an e-commerce platform that will grow alongside a business sets that business up for online growth with minimal effort,” he reasoned.
Customizing the Space
Once a platform’s been chosen, it’s vital that it be customized, taking into account the business’s particular needs, goals, and clientele. One way a platform can be customized is by building promotions into the design and flow of the site itself.
“It all comes down to creating a holistic image of your customers; creating digital journeys for them that will keep them engaged and returning to your site,” Chemi Katz, CEO and co-founder of Namogoo, told the E-Commerce Times.
“No two shoppers are alike, and no two online shopping sessions are alike either, so creating an experience that autonomously tailors the experience for each and every site visit to meet the expectations of the shopper should be the number one priority for every e-commerce brand.
“There are plenty of other brands out there offering goods that shoppers may find comparable, so brands need to ensure that the journey they provide customers wins every single time,” Katz advised.
E-tailers can also add special features to a site — such as appointment scheduling — to personalize their customers’ experience and provide a link between the online and in-store realms.
“The trend right now is to find the right balance between online and in-store personalized experiences, and to provide high touch experiences with less in-person contact,” Nancy Liberman, vice president of marketing for JNRI, explained to the E-Commerce Times.
JNRI is an experiential relationship management platform provider for scheduling and managing personalized experiences.
“Consumers are now in control, selecting the channel, time of day, and type of experience they want, and appointments have increased in prominence as a direct response,” she observed.
Customizing a platform to allow for appointment setting not only gives consumers a way to interact with the brand, but also gives the brand an opportunity to gather data and information about the customers.
“Appointments provide retailers the ability to collect specific and detailed pieces of data, and to combine it with historic data, and, most importantly, deliver the best experience to each shopper,” said Liberman.
“This personalized, one-on-one experience is a differentiator for retailers when it comes to building brand loyalty online, because it creates relationships that consumers don’t forget easily, and make them more likely to return to your brand.
“Giving shoppers this experience and doing it in a way that also allows them to select how they want to interact — in person or virtually, at the time they want, for the type of appointment they’d like, and with the ability to do it all as a touchless interaction — is what is going to help retailers rise above the competition and keep customers coming back for more,” she suggested.
In addition to choosing a back-end platform for selling, brands must choose — and customize — front end channels, as well.
“Every channel has different standards for the level of customization they allow on a listing detail page,” Lesley Hensell, co-founder of Riverbend Consulting, explained to the E-Commerce Times.
“My recommendation is to develop a broad set of assets for your brand, and then use as many of these as possible in each channel. At the most basic, create boilerplate text describing your brand’s values and benefits. This can be slipped into the product description, even on channels that only allow a bare minimum of branding,” she counseled.
Paying attention to the specific information, details, and design of a brand’s space on a particular channel can help the customer feel like that space is designed especially for that brand.
“In addition to your hero image, provide several secondary images,” said Hensell. “These should include close-up photos of product packaging that captures your logo and look-and-feel. Lifestyle images can give people the ‘feeling’ of your brand as well.
“This way, if you cannot add a logo to the detail page or a storefront, your logo still shows up in the images. Finally, product videos and extended content are proven to increase conversion rates. Invest in developing these assets. As time passes, every platform will allow these features.”
As e-commerce businesses evolve, so must the platforms on which they sell.
“There are two main things an e-commerce platform should accomplish,” Sean Turner, CTO of Swiftly, told the E-Commerce Times.
“First, it should build loyalty and follow the entire customer journey from in-app to in-store. While e-commerce is growing, 90 percent of transactions still happen in-store. The platform needs to stay connected with customers at all times, to own the login, connect to the retailer’s loyalty program, and connect to in-store pricing.
“Second,” he continued, “the platform must have the ability to generate digital advertising dollars with a retail media network. This will generate new revenue for the retailers, ultimately improving operating margins.”
Ultimately, customers aren’t thinking about the platform on which they’re interacting with a business, but rather their relationship with the business itself. Businesses must therefore look for platforms that provide a seamless journey for customers, as well as a robust and branded shopping experience.
“It’s important for retailers to know their consumers and keep their needs and wants in mind when selecting a platform,” explained Miva’s Hyde. “Online sellers should prioritize selecting a platform that offers accessible and expert support that can quickly help address and resolve issues.
“A ‘cookie-cutter’ e-commerce approach will only create problems for technical teams as their businesses grow, causing a messy patchwork of plugins that slow down operations and negatively impact the business’s bottom line.”