There is a fundamental change going on in e-commerce -- and we’re seeing it happen right before our eyes.

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Did you hear? We’re going to have a new King here in The Netherlands. Queen Beatrix has abdicated her throne. This leaves her eldest son, Prince Willem-Alexander, as the successor and our new king. One of the things that struck me is that, unlike say the Pope, this change is not necessarily a rare occurrence in our country. While Queen Beatrix was the country’s oldest monarch, both her mother, Queen Julianna and her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina also abdicated.

See, the Dutch don’t see job of King or Queen as one that is lifelong. They understand that things change -- and to meet the challenges of the future -- things must change.

All this struck me as familiar as I look at what’s happening right now in e-commerce. 

e-Commerce Experiences Are Changing

As traditional brick and mortar retailers make the transformation to digital stores, and pure-play e-commerce businesses try to figure out how to differentiate themselves against traditional retailers, sustained growth remains challenging, yet investment in differentiating technology remains high.

As Forrester Research Reported in their third quarter 2012 Forrester Wave Report for B2C Commerce Suites, almost 20 percent of companies will increase spending by at least 20 percent.

And this investment is justified. The market is growing fast. Sometime in 2013 global B2C e-commerce will surpass the 1 trillion euro mark (US$ 1.3+ trillion). And while the US remains the world’s largest e-commerce market, the rest of the world is catching up quickly with even faster growth rates than those in the states.

Of course these trends coincide with the growth of customer engagement more broadly. Every business these days is faced with the challenge of multi-channel engagement. Whether it’s a Website, mobile smartphone, tablet, social or even kiosk interfaces -- today every business is in the digital content business.

Content and, more importantly, how e-commerce businesses are managing it, is a critical component in creating impactful customer experiences.

e-Commerce software solutions, historically, support the consumer’s transaction. They facilitate the mechanics of the buying experience. They handle catalog display, logistics, discounts, shipping, pricing management, payment, taxes, etc.

Conversely, the Web content management solutions have evolved into creating and facilitating the customer’s buying journey to get them to that transaction. The Web CMS facilitates SEO, improvements in content targeting, multi-lingual capabilities, multi-channel content optimization (mobile, social, etc.) and the personalization for delivery of relevant experiences.

We've seen extraordinary growth in the marriage of e-commerce and Web Content Management. One of the primary challenges of today’s e-commerce sites are that many are treated as a collection of store “pages” rather than as a collection of potential buying journeys. Many e-commerce sites are just static catalogs or e-brochures not “shopping assistants.”

The true differentiation for tomorrow’s e-commerce is when you marry the best of both of these worlds.

The Bottom Line: The Need for CXM In e-Commerce

Even as consumers who were once cautious about purchasing something online start to increase their spending -- the competition for that buyer’s attention is rising just as quickly. Whether it’s competition across mobile, social or even traditional Websites, today’s e-commerce provider must be faster, more flexible and more relevant than ever before.

Put simply -- creating a multi-channel and relevant e-commerce strategy is now truly about creating a multi-channel and relevant content and marketing strategy. It’s simple -- in today’s world e-commerce merchants can’t afford to ignore the customer experience trend.

Savvy e-commerce vendors are deploying smart commerce solutions like Magento, KonaKart, IBM e-commerce, Intershop and Hybris to manage the transactions. But, they are also deploying WCMS systems that can manage the consumer experience across all of the multiple customer’s touchpoints. It’s truly a marriage that empowers the e-commerce platform to create experiences rather than simple transactions.

e-Commerce providers are getting smarter and smarter, and so the competition is getting harder and harder. Once dependent on just simple Web analytics and trial and error, today’s holistic content and e-commerce solutions now provide marketers with real-time and sometimes predictive analytics about shopper behavior. This gives the savvy e-commerce provider the ability to optimize content and ultimately optimize sales.

As such, online merchants need to be much more nimble and agile with content. The choice of a tool to engage your customers and help them to select products is a hugely important part of becoming a trusted provider for them and ultimately in the merchant’s ability to remain successful.

Done correctly, selecting a good Web CMS for e-commerce is a balanced approach between marketing, technology (IT), the executive team, content creators and yes, even content consumers. Whether your business goals are to create more revenue, more efficient shopping cart behavior, lower customer service costs -- or just create a more fluid method of managing content -- understanding your process first and then selecting the tool that will help you facilitate it is what’s important.

Image courtesy of Ivan Ponomarev (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Tjeerd's thoughts on the changing world of CXM, check out Ignoring the X in CXM is Ignoring the Future