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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:

Our system is built on a best of breed approach that requires an integrated architecture. We did this because we believe that are companies that are out there that can provide solutions for specific problems like e-commerce and online shopping better and quicker and ultimately with better innovations and better results than companies that are trying to do it all for themselves."

The company has partnered with some of the biggest vendors in the market, including IBM, which combined FirstSpirt with its own WebSphere product to create a solution for Speedo, an international retailer of swimwear. Jaeger noted:

“They were looking for ways to easily provide content, edit that content and provide an appealing website which wasn’t possible with WebSphere on its own. We outlined a developed a system for them that combines our FirstSpirit CMS along with WebSphere. It didn’t and doesn’t matter to us whether we were or are the leading system or WebSphere is the leading system as long as we can provide the content without having to change the e-commerce website too much."

The result, Jaeger says, is that Speedo built one of the most ambitious e-commerce websites on the market, which successfully optimizes customer communications and provides a consistent and identifiable brand appearance. Speedo can provide real time content updates with a consistent look and feel across all channels for more than 5,000 new products every year.

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Speedo International Home Page 

The e-Spirit website is full of case studies and examples of companies that it has worked with to achieve similar outcomes. However, they all have two things in common, Jaeger said:

Firstly, they all want to increase their sales, but they can only do that if they provide additional value to their public facing websites. Content management systems – in this case FirstSpirit – can provide that value in terms of creating a more attractive website. If you have an intuitive content management system it is easier to provide relevant content. The other thing retailers are looking for is an online store that is really engaging. A key part of this is engaging content and creating content is really expensive. So you also really want to be able to reuse content too. This means integrating other systems like customer relationship management systems or a media asset management systems so you can also provide things like video, pictures, and social media channels and any other content that can drive sales.”

E-Spirit and Demandware

The e-Spirit approach is attracting considerable attention and resulted in FirstSpirt being added to the Demandware Market place in the Fall of last year.

Demandware first introduced its enterprise-class cloud commerce platform in 2004 through which it powers more than 180 retail brands across more than 740 sites around the globe. It provides highly scalable, cloud commerce technology to retailers. Leaving the initial reduced capital outlay aside, cloud applications also enable retailers to respond quickly and with agility to new market opportunities and evolving consumer expectations.e-spriri_ FirstSpirit integrated preview for mobile devices for Demandware.jpg
FirstSpirit integrated preview for mobile devices for Demandware

This puts FirstSpirt into a market place that will make it considerably easier for retailers to merge content market with e-commerce. It is also the only CMS currently listed on the Demandware Marketplace.

The result is an integrated product that offers users the ability to produce and mange content without forcing them to jump from system to system. It does this by providing user-friendly features like media asset management, tools for servicing the website structure and navigation, graphical workflows and live previews of online stores.

It also provides flexibility in the way content is used by enabling it flow into many different formats like HTML, XML and PDF and through as many channels as retailers need, with multilingual support and translation management software.

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FiristSpirit shop integration utilizing the Demandware PIM

In a blog post for the Gilbane conference in November, Bredlau summed up the e-Spirit approach like this:

In the context of this 'global user experience,' selecting the right CMS is critical. A superior customer experience happens when content creators, marketers, and developers can focus on the experience itself, not the mechanics of producing it. You need a mature CMS that provides a balanced set of tools and capabilities for your entire team."

It is unlikely that other CMS vendors working in the e-commerce space would disagree with these sentiments given the important of creating and managing engaging content to optimize customer experiences.

Title image by Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock).