When it comes to evaluating e-commerce technologies there is never a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The job of the CTO and the Program Manager becomes increasingly difficult to map the business requirements and expectations. The team needs to set-up meetings across the board with different cross-departments. Having outlined the requirements, you come across the critical phase of technology evaluation, where every parameter from development flexibility to total cost of ownership is considered. But as e-commerce websites mature along with the raising expectations of online customers, the question is what should every CTO analyse in their evaluation? Based on my experience of developing e-commerce platforms here is my 6 important picks crucial in every technology evaluation.
For your ecommerce store nothing can be more devastating than an unresponsive customer interface that drives the end user away. A response delay of a second can cost revenue loss which in-turn may benefit your competitor. So you need to ask questions like average number of visitors in peak hours, maximum orders per day, average page visits, how bulky can the product catalogue get, and what is the infrastructure, software and hardware support you would need etc. While developing e-commerce sites you have to consider a contingency plan that would reflect for a long term. It is often prudent to develop a scalability plan for 2 years that can save cost and effort in the future.
Security is one of the common reasons that have inhibited the growth of e-commerce industry and in good measure. You need to evaluate the robustness of the platform in terms of authentication (LDAP, active directory etc.), file permissions, and authorization – protecting customer data which is often done through third party applications like authorize.net or CyberSource.There needs to be an action based security (including SSL certificate installation which is a must for e-commerce sites) during implementation though that is a different chapter altogether.
An e-commerce site is among the most dynamic sites on the internet. If you are a site administrator you would never have a moment to breathe among frequent product updates, changes in catalogues, discounted price, quick publishing of landing pages, and seasonal campaigns.
The technology needs to provide the flexibility to your e-commerce team make these changes in short turnaround time without much configuration or writing new modules. The solution should have the scope for inclusion of unanticipated customizations for time bound campaigns.
Most of the modern platforms are developed are modular, inheriting the Agile development model often weaved into a single stack to decrease complexity thereby offering tremendous flexibility for the user. We have complete control over the site’s look and feel, potential integrations, that lead to quick rollout of information.
During the dot-com era, most of the e-commerce sites theoretically had a front end interface integrated to the shopping cart facility. But modern enterprise level e-commerce integrations go beyond to ensure compatibility with various applications within the enterprise. The integration of e-commerce platform can happen using the REST API to plug applications to improve consolidation of data and collaboration between departments. So you may have the e-commerce platform working together with the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) or Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platform when content and metadata for product catalogue, pricing rules etc. can be stored.
Another important aspect of Integration case you need to consider is the inclusion of conventional e-commerce modules like payment gateways and the shopping carts. While most of modern e-commerce platforms do provide out of the box integration for both phases, it is advisable that they are properly verified so that no stones are unturned.
Mobile devices have penetrated to consumer purchase patterns across all sections and in retail websites the influence is increasingly more. The ideal strategy is to evaluate the analytics of people visiting your e-commerce site through mobile, tablets to base the decision on mobile strategy.
As for the interplay of e-commerce platforms with mobility is concerned, there are essentially two basic methods how you can deliver mobile experience.
1.Responsive Design: Creating all modules of your e-commerce site, including user interface, shopping cart integration, product layout, templates etc. responsive. A way to achieve is using rich internet application platforms or more recently HTML5 components that can readily load on mobile browsers.
2.Dedicated Mobile Site: While responsive design is cost efficient and consumes less effort, having a dedicated mobile site developed that incorporates all your features in e-commerce platform can deliver tremendous flexibility in a long run. The evaluation needs to consider if the platform offers a native SDK and what form of flexibility it offers.
Either the choice is between responsive or mobile site, the important fact is in September 2013, e-commerce transactions (or popularly called as m-commerce) valued to $4.7 billion from tablets and mobiles . The figure itself implies the necessity of having a mobile strategy for a CTO.
Reporting and Analytics delivers you key insights that act as a catalyst in your routine decision making. Popular e-commerce platforms like Magento, Hybris etc. provide out-of-the-box integrations with Google Analytics (GA). GA e-commerce tracking itself is a powerful tracking engine for e-commerce sites delivering information from transactions, time to purchase, typical sales cycle etc.
We can also integrate more sophisticated analytics applications like Omniture, Webtrends etc. that can provide information in depth to your site. Today with the advent of Big Data, information management has become more effective. If the volume of data you manage, and the velocity of transactions you handle on your website is huge, it is often advisable to consider solutions like MongoDB or Hadoop can deliver to the mix. You can leverage these solutions on a use case basis may it be to manage the data and metadata of your immense product catalogs or to run sentiment analysis of your comments or social media campaigns to identify receptivity for products. Having said, you must consider that integrating Big Data or analytics platform is an altogether separate but closely related project and is ideal to be considered in the Integration story that I discussed before.
Repeating what I mentioned in the beginning, what you need to ensure in your reporting & analytics section is a solution that offers real time information of site activity that helps you in your day to day tactical decision making
Social Media on its own have become a powerful channel for retailers to promote their products without much investment. Social Media plan if properly crafted and implemented can deliver decisive results to the customer. Hence, you should plan social equity within your e-commerce deployment. This not only includes addition of widgets to share products, but also allowing commenting and rating features through social channels that would improve personalization within the portal.
Another avenue is identifying social influencers who can deliver mileage to promotional campaigns and increase the success rate.
As internet shopping is increasingly becoming the way of life, it is necessary that we find the balance between offering customers a simple, efficient and intuitive platform that offers them a seamless experience, while providing a robust, flexible and scalable solution to administer to the team at the other end. The technology identified should be able to bridge between the two ends. Probably when I find more time in future, I would like to discuss more intricacies of technology evaluation in greater depth. Do keep watching this space.
 comScore Announces Availability of U.S. Mobile Commerce Sales Estimates by Product Category and Leading Individual Retailer – https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press_Releases/2013/8/comScore_Announces_Availability_of_US_Mobile_Commerce_Sales_Estimates