ECommerce Content and Closing the Gaps A Look at Elastic Path

Yesterday we saw how e-Spirit has developed a best-of-breed approach to bridge the gap between content management and e-commerce.  But there are other approaches to this problem. Today we'll look at how Elastic Path tackles the problem with  API-centric commerce. This gives enterprises a single, unified customer experience no matter what device is being used to access the site.

Siloed Content

The Elastic Path approach aims to break down content silos across the entire platform so all applications can access all the information, no matter where the content resides. It corresponds with a growing trend across the enterprises to invest in e-commerce platforms, and Web Content Management (Web CMS) systems that provide end users with the ultimate digital experience.

The content management systems (CMS) many organizations use are too siloed from the e-commerce platform "with no way for the two to meet." David Chui,  e-commerce industry strategist at Elastic Path, explained:

For the online customer who is using the internet as their principle way of shopping this does not cut the ice. Consumers expect the same experience in-store, in-app and on the web. As you begin gathering requirements for your Digital Experience Platform, it is important to understand the increasing importance of interconnecting your back-end systems and making data digestible for your front end systems.”

Evolving CMS, E-Commerce

But how did this problem arise and how do you fix it? A recent white paper from Elastic Path entitled Three Pillars of Digital Experience describes the problem as the result of the fragmented development of enterprise web experience. Content management systems and e-commerce systems generally evolved as separate but complementary sets of software for two different jobs.

Elast Path Commerce Engine.jpg

The CMS stored and managed the content assets of enterprises including copy, visual assets and video assets and had a heavy reliance on editorial interfaces that could be applied to many different scenarios. E-commerce applications focused exclusively on retail and came with a number of commerce-related systems like profile information, tax related capabilities, pricing and anything else that could help sales online.

But both systems have been evolving, the white paper explains. CMS is increasingly web facing, and morphing into customer experience management (CXM), customer relationship management (CRM) and many other public facing experience management systems. E-commerce has grown to support multichannel commerce, with less focus on web experience.

But because online shoppers have become more discerning, e-commerce, and Web CMS applications have been forced to come together.

Integration Problems

In the current online world, this also means using different kinds of applications from analytics to social platforms and recommendation engines. The problem is more than just integration, Chiu said.

One of the things that we are seeing with early adopters is an approach developed from an IT perspective, where we replicate e-commerce functionality or integrate that functionality into the CMS and try to monetize it."

This results in a strategy that pulls bits of the e-commerce site into CMS-driven content sites. There is also the possibility, he said, of writing integration scripts to pull content out of the content repository and feed it into the e-commerce site. Neither offers a satisfactory customer experience, he argued.

The Elastic Path strategy focuses on the development of APIs that can "pull down the walls of content silos," making content accessible to all applications involved in developing and improving customer experience.

Our idea was to take a look at what kind of technologies you really needed to drive a unified experience rather than just cobble them together and try and copying content from one site back to another. So, for example, if a price need to be changed, it only had to be done once, and it would appear everywhere on the site as the new price, rather than having to update it in both the CMS and e-commerce site."

Elastic Path’s Commerce Engine, Cortex

Elastic Path has developed a unified API strategy in its Commerce Engine and Cortex products. In a statement issued at the time of the release v6.7 Commerce Engine and its v1.7 Cortex last year Harry Chemko, CEO of Elastic Path, explained the combined interaction of the two achieves.

Commerce Engine is a platform for managing products, bundles, pricing, promotions, personalization, and subscription purchasing. Elastic Path describes it a commerce platform designed for online, mobile, wearable technology and API-driven commerce.

Elastic Path Cortex.jpg

For its part, Cortex is an e-commerce API that enables users embed commerce into new touchpoints, whether creating a loyalty program, or monetizing content with entitlements. It is open and extensible, and allows enterprises to maximize opportunities for growth through collaborations, partnerships and acquisitions, Chiu said.

Web CMS vs. E-Commerce

Coming from this integrated approach, then, should enterprises be looking at developing their e-commerce abilities or their CMS functionality? Where is the advantage in either? In a webinar last year, Forrester analyst Peter Sheldon noted that both:

  • Drive revenues directly through checkout
  • Offer retailers much wider possibilities at checkout
  • Allow for more complex and, therefore, more accurate taxonomies
  • Offer filters and search categories that strip product searches down to a single or small set, of products.

The CMS strengths can be summarized as follows:

  • Enables industry-specific purchase flows
  • Supports content driven product descriptions through many different types of media.
  • Supports development of frequent marketing campaigns
  • Enables use of all kinds of rich content and assets

Sheldon also took a comparative look at what developing and deploying these systems could do for an enterprise. As he sees it, there are three options.

1. Side-by-side

This is the easiest and quickest approach that uses both the CMS and e-commerce platforms side by side. The CMS typically manages product discovery and site exploration/navigation, while the e-commerce element manages checkout. The typical approach to this is to create templates that make integration of both platforms look seamless creating what appears to be a unified customer experience.

2. E-commerce dominance

In this approach, the CMS does not actually bring pages to the site, but provides a content repository to store rich media and assets. The problem here is that CMS is expensive and can be complex to integrate. Selecting it, therefore, simply as a content repository is wasteful and approaches that is in decline.

3. WCM takes the lead

This is where Web CMS leads the partnership, enabling marketers and merchandiser have control over the experience and make changes in a dynamic way without needing the help of IT.

This approach uses the e-commerce platform as a system of record for promotions, catalog, payments, inventory and other commercial aspects of the site, exposing these services through APIs. The WCM platform can also apply its own recommendation rules and drive a consistent experience.

Whatever approach you take the emphasis here is on the two parts of the equation working together to provide and integrated, seamless e-commerce experience. Tomorrow, in the final part of the series, we will look at how Sitecore approaches the same problem and have a look at what is generally considered good and bad practices.

Title image by nakorn (Shutterstock).

Elastic Path Shopping APIs.jpg