If you know anyone in the e-commerce industry, they probably look worried. What used to be a “can’t miss” growth industry is under tremendous competitive pressure from Amazon. When an estimated 78% of the entire industry’s growth in 2017 was captured by the giant in Seattle, everyone else needs to look at each aspect of marketing and operations to find growth opportunity and competitive advantage.
Looking farther out, it doesn’t get any easier. Practical application of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are already here and will continue to improve. And few competitors have ML teams remotely competitive with Amazon’s. (Could you build Alexa? They did.)
Couple these challenges with the end of the beginning of e-commerce. Technologies are mature enough now that even your local store has an e-commerce experience on par with Amazon from just a few years ago. Search, pricing, photography, shipping, order management, tax calculation, payment processing, related items, and cart management are all mature, solved problems.
So how do you compete? Three (at least) schools of thought have emerged.
The first focuses on going very narrow and very deep. Think of a site that sells only thousands of different light bulbs or shoes (Zappos is, of course, now owned by Amazon). The second focuses on developing a unique brand and drawing customers for the brand itself. Think Uniqlo or Topshop. The third emphasizes the complete experience, anticipating customers’ needs at every touchpoint, and improving relevance as more insight on a customer’s wants and needs are discovered.
If you agree with the above and use the third approach to compete with Amazon, the rest of this is for you.
Sitecore Commerce blends the best elements of classic e-commerce with the dynamism of a top-notch CMS. That is, commerce components are developed and managed alongside content components. A merchandiser can incorporate content into category, product, collection, or lookbook pages seamlessly, and use the personalization engine Sitecore is famous for.
By leveraging all of Sitecore’s systems (see my earlier post on the basics of Sitecore personalization) marketers and merchandisers can work together using personas and the rules engine to craft an experience that quickly zeros in on the type of shopper or visitor you are, emphasizing relevant content in the initial experience and everywhere thereafter.
The Experience Database (xDB), opens up a level of speed and flexibility that were previously inaccessible to all but the biggest spenders. Real-time data collection and usability in the customer experience mean that email follow-ups can include anything based on visits (not just content from abandoned cart items) such as search terms, search results, pages visited, and personas matched. Most companies will find the power of content plus commerce hard to beat, and inclusion of CRM data through more thorough integration offered by xConnect or other external data through the Federated Experience Manager (FXM) will greatly increase insights for segmentation.
Looking not too far down the road, Sitecore Cortex (announced at Sitecore Symposium 2017) brings native machine learning to the combined content and commerce solution. With the single database and interaction environment, ML has more data to work with and increases the likelihood of your team finding substantial improvements in conversion and customer loyalty.
Let’s take a simple example to illustrate the possibilities. If you sell tents, you can have many different audiences that look very similar on paper but are very different in their needs. Family campers seek comfort and ease of use and are different than backpackers, who want little bulk and weight, who in turn are different than hunters and fishermen, who could be anywhere on a spectrum of needs but will respond to very different text and graphical content. Just one or two clicks will begin to tell you what kind of camping your visitor envisions. One or two products viewed will help zero in on a persona, and some dynamic content options for deeper guidance (think a packing guide vs. a special feature comparison) will nail it.
Sitecore Commerce give merchants a much wider range of options to drive conversion and a foundation for post-visit engagement. In a world where everyone has the same one competitor, Commerce helps level the playing field.