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With more and more people shopping online, e-commerce vendors are constantly searching for new ways to find, engage and keep customers. One of the best strategies is the use of engaging content. Even so, many online stores struggle to provide optimal retail experiences.

A number of vendors are responding with solutions, including Elastic Path, e-Spirit and Sitecore. We'll take a look at what they are offering in a three-part mini-series starting today.

E-Commerce vs. Content Management

However, before looking at how these vendors approach the issue, it is important to identify the problem. The old idea that “if we build it they will come” might have worked in the days when online retail choices were limited. Now, though, with just about everyone elbowing for room online, retailers that don’t provide engaging experiences will lose the customers as quickly as they can click to another site.

But this is jumping the gun. The problem arises from the fact that more and more people are comfortable shopping online. According to Forrester’s 5-year U.S. Online Retail Market Forecast late last year, the adoption curve is moving up sharply and not likely to change course. The report boasts some impressive figures for 2014:

  • US online retail sales are expected to reach $248.7 billion
  • The market is expected to grow more than 7 percent year-over-year
  • E-commerce sales could represent 8 percent of all US retail sales 

Keep in mind that many people go to online retailers that are not located in their own geography, and you get some idea of what the global value of this actually is.

Last October Jochen Toppe, president of product management at CoreMedia, suggested the divide between managing content to provide a positive customer experience and managing an e-commerce site is forcing users to decide between content and commerce.

Rather than deal with a company that offers one or the other, customers are taking virtual lifeboats to e-tailers that can offer them both for a superior customer experience.

Forrester qualified this in a report last year entitled Climbing The Digital Experience Maturity Ladder. The problem, the report noted, comes down to a battle of IT-centric tools versus marketing-centric mountains of poorly managed data and content. This is exacerbated by siloed rather than integrated technology.

E-Spirit and Content Marketing

This means that the days sticking a retail cart onto a marketing site just doesn’t work. Minimal feature sets that pull together catalog browsing, check-out and customer self-service don't cut it anymore.

For retailers, though, there are a number of vendors that have made resolving the content management/ e-commerce divide part of their development and business strategy.

Such is the case for Oliver Jaeger, e-Spirit’s vice president for global marketing and communications, and Robert Bredlau, e-Spirit’s Chief Operating Officer. Without effective content management, retailers can forget about effective customer engagement, Bredlau said:

Increasingly brands are adopting content marketing programs as a way to create an emotional, lasting connection with their customers. With so much competition for customer attention, timely and relevant content is critical to increasing sales online. FirstSpirit greatly expands the content development and publishing capabilities within Demandware so that companies using this popular e-commerce platform can now quickly and easily implement sophisticated content marketing programs.”

However, for most companies pulling out their entire IT infrastructure to bridge this gap by introduced tools designed for multichannel marketing is not realistic.

A far better way, according to Forrester, is to bring in a best of breed Web Content Management System (Web CMS) that integrates with existing systems at the back end and also enables online retailers the ability to push content out through multiple channels.

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FirstSpirit CMS content navigation

E-Spirit's FirstSpirit CMS

This is what e-Spirit has been doing with its web CMS, FirstSpirit, Jaeger said: