Five Trends to Future-Proof your eCommerce Platform
The way we run eCommerce is changing. The days of enormous, feature-packed, off-the-shelf software platforms deployed on premises or in a private cloud are being left behind, to be replaced by more agile, multi-faceted SaaS solutions.
Whereas once, eCommerce vendors raced to pack as much functionality as possible into a single application, nowadays they focus on lowering TCO, improving speed to market and raising QoS. Rich feature sets still matter, but it is how they are delivered that counts. Flexibility and value are the aim of the game, with a cloud-based architecture that future-proofs your investment by allowing for smooth, scalable, cost-effective systems development over time.
For many businesses, this transformation in eCommerce delivery is far from complete. Migration to the Cloud needs to be guided by a clear, long-term roadmap, not approached in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion. Many retailers are loath to start completely from scratch, ditching high-value legacy platforms they invested heavily in. Modernising systems is often a case of carefully bridging the gap between old capabilities and future need.
At Salmon, we have identified five key trends in the evolution of eCommerce architecture which we believe are essential to providing businesses with the digital platforms they need to meet future demand.
Trend #1: Headless eCommerce
In a bid to make eCommerce platforms more agile, we are seeing vendors adopt a ‘back-to-basics’ approach where they include just a handful of key functions, such as account, shopping cart and checkout, in their core product. All other features - search, inventory, product and content management, wish lists, multiple language / currency, multiple storefronts and so on - are made available as standalone services via plug-in modular apps. This is known as platform decomposition.
One example of this approach is so-called Headless eCommerce, where the customer interface (i.e. the web page or mobile app used to shop) is run as a separate system from the main eCommerce platform. This provides a high level of control over a key component in the digital customer experience. The separate UI can be tested, upgraded, scaled or replaced in isolation from the main platform. You can choose the best UI available to suit your purposes, develop your own or even run multiple digital storefronts from the same platform.
Trend #2: DevOps
DevOps is a software engineering methodology which seeks close alignment between application design and actual use – in other words, developing software to meet a specific operational goal. Automation and continuous monitoring play a key role in the DevOps approach, with the aim of drastically reducing the length of development cycles so more reliable releases can be achieved more often.
More and more hosted eCommerce providers are offering DevOps as a service. The key benefit to end users is that components in an eCommerce system can be customised, upgraded and repurposed, or entirely new features added, rapidly and reliably to meet changing business requirements.
Trend #3: Hosting
Particularly amongst enterprise-level operators, there has been a major shift in eCommerce deployment towards hosted SaaS solutions in the public cloud. There are a number of key benefits over legacy on-premises or private cloud deployment models, including lower infrastructure expenditure, rapid and flexible scalability on demand, and even enhanced security guaranteed by service providers’ QoS.
Hosted eCommerce services are also a natural complement to other trends driving transformation of system architecture. It makes platform decomposition viable because you can plug in as many additional services as you want just by adding them to your subscription - there is no need for any downloading or installing, your provider takes care of the integration. Cloud also supports DevOps because it is easy to replicate environments on demand, creating testing platforms that exactly mirror the real thing.
Trend #4: Microservices
Taken to its logical conclusion, the process of platform decomposition results in running all features and functions in a software programme as separate applications in the Cloud. Known as microservices, this approach offers the advantage of complete customisation - you can design and build customer journeys and experiences entirely from scratch by mapping out how different features and services relate to one another.
The exact opposite of feature-rich but clunky single application eCommerce platforms, a microservices approach offers the ultimate in flexibility and scalability. The challenge is that it requires advanced skill sets to design and build platforms from scratch. But for ultimate control and agility and with the likes of Amazon already demonstrating its capabilities, microservices will appeal to an increasing number of enterprise-level operators going forward.
Trend #5: API First
Application Programme Interfaces, or APIs, govern the way that different software assets interact with one another. In eCommerce architecture design, they are the key to achieving real platform flexibility and play a vital role in development approaches like DevOps, headless commerce and microservices.
Let’s go back to the example of Headless eCommerce. By separating the UI from the platform and placing an API between them, you immediately have the option to connect multiple interfaces to the same back end – other web storefronts, mobile apps, voice commerce interfaces and whatever is developed next.
APIs also allow for a more collaborative, open approach to eCommerce architecture design. They are critical to creating solutions from different components, marrying the best checkout with the best CRM with the best inventory management option and so on, no matter who the vendors are. They also enable direct customisation of proprietary platforms as we move from an age of closed to open software architectures.
Now more than ever, with new channels emerging and technology driving change in customer behaviour and expectations, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to eCommerce architecture. Digital commerce has evolved into a mature, complex market landscape, with different operational requirements governed by variables like size of business, sector/category, target demographic and individual strategic aims.
For eCommerce architects, the only constant is that there is now a demand to meet all of these diverse needs with agile, flexible, adaptable solutions which still deliver high quality performance and rich feature sets.
To find out more about the challenges and opportunities ahead, read the full in-depth article, "eCommerce Platform and Architecture Trends".