Top 4 characteristics to look for in an ecommerce platform

“Quality is not what happens when what you do matches your intentions. It is what happens when what you do matches your customers’ expectations.”  – Guaspari

When selecting an ecommerce platform, it’s important to select a platform that will allow you to meet your customer’s digital expectations today, as well as be flexible enough to grow with their evolving needs. The customer expectation bar is climbing rapidly and selecting an ecommerce platform, which can grow with you is critical.

While there is a wealth of information available about the features of ecommerce platforms, it is not often clear how the specific features and functions translate into finding the right ecommerce platform for your situation. This guide focuses on how to evaluate an ecommerce package on the merits of its architecture and flexibility.  This document was created based on countless conversations with customer and product focus groups, industry analysts and our own research, which tries to look at the high level.

Skava Commerce platform

The Skava Commerce platform is built using modular microservices architecture. Its microservices allow you to ideate and release updates quickly, iterating on new features over the course of days instead of months.

1. Unmatched ability to innovate

An innovative platform is one that embraces change.

Having an A/B testing capability built into the platform can be implemented more quickly with a microservices architecture. A microservices architecture allows for more experimentation and exploration because you can pick components apart, modify them in a testing environment and easily reinsert the microservice back into the platform without risking performance issues due to a recent change made.

Skava’s VP of Innovation, Dave Barrowman explains, “Innovation accelerates when you can combine and extend things you already have without having to rebuild. With a microservices architecture, it allows the team to create prototypes and test concepts quickly.”

Barrowman worked in the retail sector, where they were limited to experiment because it could cost a million dollars or more to perform some changes.

“We weren’t always well positioned to jump on new and interesting opportunities. If you look back at the history of digital commerce, it’s been constant evolution,” Barrowman said. “Mobile came out of nowhere, and now we’re seeing more devices being able to transact, whether it’s Amazon Dash buttons, voice assistants, or even coffee makers replenishing themselves. Innovation is about constant renewal.”

Increasing platform management costs make it difficult for any company to continuously innovate over time. A microservices architecture helps organizations to free up their time by spending less on platform management and maintenance and more time focusing on innovation.

2. Hyperflexibility

Meeting tight deadlines with limited resources is a constant struggle for ecommerce departments. Having a hyper-flexible platform is key since it allows for easy modifications.

Skava’s platform architect, David Levine explains that “an ecommerce platform that lets you incrementally pick up new pieces instead of doing them all at once is the future of commerce.”

“We could not move fast enough” or “we were limited with what we could do with our ecommerce platform.” Unequivocally, the number one concern we hear from our customers is that the transition from ideation to creating meaningful, engaging experiences was too slow and limited. Delivering the right experiences to the right customer at the right time, no matter where he or she may be is at the heart of every business model. The challenge lies in the very DNA of today’s ecommerce platforms.

Most legacy ecommerce platforms are tightly coupled monoliths, an architecture which dates back to their creation in the late 1990s. The platform is one cohesive unit in which the various components and capabilities share all memory and database resources with each other. While it was a great choice two decades ago, they have failed to keep pace with the rapidly evolving needs of the business. Simple modifications can require complex code changes and massive regression testing, and since everything resides in the same application, changes generally require a restart of the system to be deployed.

Monolithic and microservice ecommerce platform architecture

The need to design a nimble and “future-ready” architecture led companies such as Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, eBay, and others to rethink this monolithic paradigm. They came up with a radically different solution that was based on microservices.

Microservice is a software architecture approach that decouples each business capability into independently deployable and scalable units, each communicating with the other via well defined APIs. To customize this type of system, teams need to focus on individual microservices and employ the changes with minimal regression testing.

Furthermore, as new technologies become available, microservices can be added, customized or replaced entirely by design. Such flexibility allows for more than mere “headless commerce” where you can choose to power a front-end of your choosing with back-end capabilities. It allows you to pick and choose individual microservices per your specific needs, rather than deploying the entire back-end. This can save resources, money and time.

While taking on a completely new, full-fledged ecommerce platform is a major project in itself, a microservices architecture allows for CICD (Continuous Innovation and Continuous Delivery). A microservices architecture provides the ability to plug in various microservice applications into a monolithic platform to be run at the same time. This is an excellent way for organizations to get a feel for different microservice applications before committing to a complete platform revamp. Updating a platform incrementally with microservices applications offer infinite possibilities to enhance an ecommerce platform over time.

With these in place, you can test new ideas and bring them to market more easily and quickly, continuously refining your customer experiences and keep a lockstep with whatever the future throws at you.

3. Scalability

It’s imperative to find an ecommerce platform that can both grow upwards and keep pace with increasing demand. A highly scalable platform allows for easy management and upgrades to solve large-scale business problems.

Demand Balancing: The ability to scale the capacity of specific microservices, rather than the entire platform at once allows you to focus hardware optimization on hard-hit slow running areas of the application, rather than attempting to scale the entire application. A microservices architecture compartmentalizes the memory and CPU need of each service, for example, Inventory or Cart or PIM –  and allows you to scale up and down individually, instead of sacrificing the memory or caching of adjacent applications in a monolithic platform. The handling of traffic is done just as well for two hundred or 10 million concurrent requests. Demand balancing helps accelerate continuous development without sacrificing reliability or data integrity.

Scalable cost-reduction: A scalable ecommerce platform is one that is designed to scale both up and down, in a way that reduces costs, increases efficiency and optimizes overall platform usage.

Extensible: A platform is extensible and provides multiple avenues for enabling extensions of other services. Adding onto the platform increases functionality and allows for continuous platform enhancement and development. It is important to consider the integration paradigm and its compatibility with your existing commerce systems.

Built-in architecture: Third-party applications can add immense value to a platform, especially when they assist a built-to-scale approach.

4. Customer experience exploration

An ecommerce platform that learns and adapts to various shopping behaviors is the modern-day approach to garnering interest and captivating the attention of online shoppers. If you examine Amazon’s home page, it’s a unique homepage that is based on the individual’s shopping history and activities. Amazon is widely known for  providing customers a with a deeply personalized user experience. A user interface designed to adapt to customer intent can serve up uniquely personal visual experiences . By understanding different categories of intent, the user-interface can provide a more interactive experience that’s catered to specific audiences:

top things to look for in an ecommerce platform

Goal-driven: Shoppers who already know what they’re looking for. These kinds of shoppers have a clear idea of what they want, and typically type their products of interest in the search bar. Goal-driven shoppers will want easier and better access to the search bar on every channel.

Window shoppers: Shoppers who take particular interest in product discovery and have no serious intention to buy yet fall into this category. This kind of customer intent usually involves utilizing a variety of sorting options such as filtering the products displayed on the product list page.

Guide-based shoppers: These are people who are open to suggestions and don’t exactly know what they’re looking for. Shoppers who fall into this category tend to use more filtering options to sort by product features and functionalities. They are also looking for style guides which include a collection of products paired together.

The key takeaway from this is that changes can be made to the UI without restarting the entire application. This capability provides enormous flexibility when it comes to making continuous modifications. An online store wouldn’t want to risk dealing with performance issues due to a monolithic application restart. When restarting a monolithic application during peak times, it can occasionally take too long to reload since all the cache requests need to be loaded individually.

A seamless shopping experience is one that reduces friction, making it easier for shoppers to find what they’re looking for. As a visitor navigates through the digital experience, the user interface from within the ecommerce platform dynamically serves up personalized content and products. This approach is designed to increase customer engagement and sales through visually appealing product-finding functionalities.

Selecting the right ecommerce platform is a nontrivial matter. It requires a tremendous amount of research, team discussions, and resource planning.  The selection process is a complex undertaking that affects more than one department. In closing, the key is to find an ecommerce platform that’s customizable for your business needs.

That said, selecting is only the half of it. A successful store requires alignment with marketing, product management, and IT teams. A customizable ecommerce platform will make continuous modifications easier for several departments involved. Examine the platform’s level of customizability and determine how it fits specific business needs. 

To learn how microservices can help your brand evolve and innovate, click here to request a demo.