Most people expect blog posts and articles about selecting an ecommerce tech stack to provide answers, yet this one will ask far more questions than it will provide answers.
I say this because every business is different, and not just in terms of products or services sold. An organization’s level of maturity, its availability of time and resources to dedicate to an implementation, and its existing systems have a tremendous impact on how to approach the project. If any vendor or agency tells you they have a foolproof template for building a tech stack for businesses just like yours, run for the hills. If you engage with a company that makes such claims you will inevitably waste a lot of time and money on a project with a high chance of failure.
There’s no getting around the fact that launching or upgrading your ecommerce tech stack requires you ask many questions both of yourself, and of the tech vendors, consultancies and agencies you’ll tap for help.
Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is an ecommerce tech stack? Obviously the entire world defines it as the collection of products and services that make up your commerce activities, but I no longer believe that to be accurate. A company can have a fantastic collection and still have a tech stack that’s an utter failure. It behooves us all if we redefine it as the partners that power your commerce system.
Select Your Tools
There’s a huge array of tools available to support your ecommerce platform, and another avalanche of them coming to market in the next 12 months. Here are your options, overwhelming right?
So how do you decide which ones are first necessary, and second, a good fit for your business? Here’s where all that questioning comes in.
Know Your Level of Commerce Maturity and Pick Partners that Match It
What do I mean by commerce mature? It’s the complexity level of business solutions that your business should be employing
Before you even begin to select partners and technology, you’ll need to assess the level of complexity you’ll need to deploy. How much time do have have available to dedicate to this project? How much talent do you have within your organization? How much time does your internal talent have to dedicate? What other projects are they working on? How much budget do you have? What other technologies already exist? Which ones will you need to integrate with your new ecommerce tech stack? Do you have the resources to do that integration
If you don’t know the answers to these questions you’re far from alone; most companies don’t. A good start is to take an inventory of all the solutions that already exist within your walls. If you don’t have a PMI system, then you probably are at a low level of maturity. That’s not an insult or a bad thing; it’s a guidepost to help you choose wisely. You don’t want an overly complex ecommerce stack if you don’t have the resources and skillset in house to manage.
Know your customers’ expectations
You can’t really assess your maturity level unless you have a good handle on your customers’ expectations. Of course they all expect you to be able to take and fulfill an order, but do they expect you to have live inventory on your site? Do they want a branded shipping experience? Do they want personalized recommendations from you? Do you have the right set of tools to aid in shopping? Do your customers need visual search tools, for instance?
Answering these questions may require a variety of efforts, from market research and competitive analysis to compiling data from your customer service teams. And you should probably plan to spend some time talking with your customers.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of these customers, keep in mind that most companies find it difficult to objectively assess how mature they are. You may want to appoint someone in your organization to ask those difficult questions, and if no one is available, find an agency or consultant to help you.
Pick the Right Agencies and Consultants
Chances are high that you’ll hire an agency or consultant to help you make sense of your needs and help you design your tech stack. It’s an important hire, one that can have long lasting consequences. The number one question you should ask yourself: do you trust this agency or consultancy?
Once you decide that you do trust them, other questions you must ask include: How mature are the other merchants in their portfolio? Are they thought leaders, putting out content that advances the industry? Given that just about every agency has a set of companies they recommend, ask yourself: How mature are the software companies they recommend? Obviously, if they’re not as mature as your company, you won’t get a lot of strategic benefit from them. Conversely, if they’re way more mature, you can find yourself buying a lot of expensive software from partners who are just out of your reach.
Let’s assume you decide that an agency or a consultant is the right fit, you need to ask: Do they have an offering or a way to partner that’s going to help you get to the next level of maturity?
Select the Partners not Vendors
First and foremost, don’t just buy products or services, select partners, which is to say, companies that are committed to your success, and will work to ensure it. There is a huge difference between buying software from a vendor and partnering with a provider for a solution on which your entire business depends.
So how do you distinguish a vendor from a partner? Partners should be eager to educate you, and willing to explain their technology in ways that are meaningful to you. And they should pick up the phone if you have an issue. Of course, many of the tools can be managed with self service, but a lot can’t, and if a you experience an issue with a mission critical component of your tech stack, you want a partner who understands the urgency of the situation.
And they should be able to help you make rational choices. For instance, can they clearly and accurately tell you the resource allocation required to properly leverage their product? Do they have an assessment of their solution’s total cost of ownership? And of course, what level of customer service do they provide? Those are 3 key things that will help you understand whether or not you should engage with them.
Leverage your Partner’s Pre-existing Relationships
Finally, if you decide to use an agency to help, consider leveraging their pre-existing stacks and relationships to the fullest extent possible rather than adopt net-new products. In technology, familiarity = efficiency.
In other words, if using an agency to assist with your ecommerce using the stuff they’re already good at is going to be good for you. You’ll also will get better support, possibly discounts, as well as access to additional resources if your agency has a good relationship with those companies.
I told you this post would ask more questions than it answered, and I kept my promise. But within these questions there is methodology that will help you make smart decisions about your ecommerce tech stack, and set your company up for continued success.
Written by: Brian Lange, Director – Business Development