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E-commerce: managing complexity

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Within two years, 50 percent of e-commerce sites will integrate technology from 15 or more vendors to deliver a customer experience, according to Gartner. That projection is one indicator of how complex e-commerce sites can be. Spending on e-commerce platforms alone was estimated at $4.7 billion in 2015 and projected to grow just over 15 percent per year through 2019. However, unless the e-commerce site is quite small, other components will be required.

In addition to the core platform, e-commerce relies on many enabling technologies, including order management, web content management (WCM) and social media. “We cover 25 sub-segments that support digital commerce and these sub-segments include about 250 vendors, but there are many more,” says Chris Fletcher, research director at Gartner. “The takeaway is that this is a very complex environment.”

For online sellers with a limited product line, the task is simpler. “If a company just wants a storefront, there are products that offer a complete solution,” Fletcher continues, “but it is rare to find one vendor that can provide everything needed for full e-commerce capability at the enterprise level.”

As is the case with nearly every software solution, e-commerce is moving to the cloud. “This crossover is happening on a large scale and relatively quickly,” Fletcher says. “In addition, the e-commerce market is evolving and getting more competitive, and vendors are struggling to keep pace with user demands.”

Adding to the complexity of the technology is a confusing array of licensing models. “These are all over the map,” Fletcher notes. “Instead of one-time fees for a license as was the case in the past, there may be a revenue sharing model with a fee of 1 to 5 percent. Or the vendor may have a subscription model with a quarterly or annual fee.” When the multiple enabling technologies are taken into account, it is clear that management of the licenses is a formidable job.

Building an engaging customer experience

Lumens sells high-end modern lighting, fans, furniture and other home decorating products that have original and interesting designs. Its primary markets are consumers and trade professionals such as interior designers and contractors. “We were using an e-commerce platform that was a ‘one size fits all’ product, and we wanted to be able to offer an experience that was more tailored,” says Rich Tawney, VP of marketing and site experience at Lumens. He was tasked with the challenge of selecting a platform and guiding the development of a new e-commerce site.

A cloud model fit the company’s requirements best because it would not place a large burden on the IT staff. “In addition to wanting a cloud solution, we also wanted the flexibility to customize the user experience,” Tawney explains. Lumens met with about a half-dozen vendors and zeroed in on Demandware as the best match for its requirements.

Development of the new site was not a simple process, but it was done in stages and went smoothly. Assisted by an integration partner, Lumens used its existing product information management (PIM) system to migrate information into Demandware. At a later point, the company built its own PIM system. “We wanted to streamline the process of getting accurate data into Demandware,” Tawney says. “Quality data is essential to a well-functioning e-commerce site.”

One major advantage of Demandware was that it would allow the same e-commerce site to be tailored to either residential consumers or trade professionals. “Different capabilities and information are appropriate for the two groups, but we did not want to maintain two sites,” Tawney says. “Demandware let us modify the content depending on the profiles of users when they signed in.”

Lumens adapted functionality that is built into Demandware to add several new features. One was the ability for shoppers to identify “favorites,” which Tawney describes as “a wish list on steroids.” In addition, a project management tool was built on top of Demandware that allows products to be organized by location and room during a home improvement or commercial project. A digital asset management (DAM) system is used to provide product images for the site, and promotional images such as banners are stored in Demandware.

As part of their branding initiatives, companies often attempt to match the “look and feel” of their websites with the products they sell. That goal is especially important to achieve in the case of high-end products. “People appreciate the ability to express their personal vision in unique ways where they live and work,” Tawney explains. “We wanted our customers’ online shopping experience to reflect the same sophistication as our products.” Given the dynamic growth of Lumens since the development of its new e-commerce site, the strategy seems to have been successful.

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