As 2020 approaches and customers increase their expectations of B2B digital commerce, online sellers need to find the right mix of agile technology and personnel skillsets that helps them connect with buyers, Forrester Research says in a new report.

As companies head into 2020, businesses should take a careful look at how they can address rising customer expectations with today’s range of digital commerce technology offerings. “Picking the wrong solution can plunge your organization into chaos and gridlock,” Forrester Research says in a report it released last week.

JoeCicman_ForresterResearch

Joe Cicman, senior analyst, Forrester Research

But for many companies, staying on a legacy commerce technology platform isn’t much of an option, either, because it’s hard to predict how well that old technology will help a business stay competitive. “Remaining on your legacy platform with promises of continued support only provides a false sense of security,” Forrester says in the report, “The Top Strategies for Replatforming Your Commerce Solution,” by Forrester senior e-business analyst Joe Cicman, along with other Forrester analysts.

There are no quick and easy answers. And to provide a more attractive and helpful digital commerce experience that engages customers without making it difficult for them to learn a new digital interface, companies need to choose the available technology that suits their own capabilities to a digital commerce system that matches their customers’ needs. Plus, they need to conduct tests to see what works in driving up customer satisfaction.

A constant state of experimenting

“This is what life will be like as a digitally mature organization: You will be in a constant state of experimenting and testing,” the report says. It adds, “To minimize disruption to your customers, you need to carefully navigate your way through delivering new commerce-enabled digital experiences. You need to select agile, iterative approaches based on your ability to execute them.”

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The report notes the three broad technology categories available for deploying digital commerce technology:

  • Commerce platforms, which typically provide the central ecommerce transaction engine pre-integrated with a customer-facing web shopping interface;
  • Commerce software suites, which comprise an “ecosystem” of such software applications as customer relationship management and product information management for managing customer activity and product data across marketing and sales channels;
  • Commerce components, which use a “headless” technology architecture that relies on extensive use of application programming interfaces, or APIs, to develop highly customized systems of commerce applications, or microservices, integrated with a commerce transaction engine.

Forrester cautions that each business needs to match its own technical maturity and resources with a technology category. “Certain approaches like headless tools require a steep learning curve, but if your competency is branding instead of [technology] development, then the right choice for you is a SaaS platform with practitioner-friendly tooling you can use without writing code.” SaaS, or software-as-a-service, is a business model that lets users subscribe to a technology provider’s internet-hosted software and access it via a web browser.

See what matters to business

In some cases, companies explore and test the best mix of technology deployment options. The report notes that Grid Dynamics, an agile software development service, works with companies to develop and test the value of bolt-on applications before spending money to build them or rent through SaaS. “If I can isolate a capability as a microservice, then I can define an experiment and run A/B tests,” says Max Martynov, chief technology officer of Grid Dynamics, in the report. “That way I can focus on capabilities that matter to my business.”

The report also notes that Guest Supply, a unit of food products distributor Sysco Corp. that caters to the hotel industry, took a hard look at its legacy home-grown ecommerce platform before deciding to replace it.

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“Guest Supply had been running its homegrown ecommerce platform for 20 years, capturing 80% of its enterprise revenue through the platform,” Forrester says, adding: “The CEO brought in an experienced director of ecommerce and partnered with her to get educated on the state of the market. Armed with a new understanding of his options, the CEO was able to compare modern solutions against his IT team’s estimate of ‘two to three years’ to update the homegrown solution. His conclusion: ‘It was a no-brainer to do a six-month implementation using a modern platform.’”

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