Customer Experience, Bringing Content and Commerce Together
Brands have traditionally built separate brand experiences and e-Commerce shops, hidden behind the familiar “shop” link. But this divide makes customers choose between content and commerce and creates one more hurdle to jump through. How many get lost on the way?

These scenarios reduce e-Commerce experiences to a minimal feature set: browsing the catalog, checking out and customer self-service, such as checking an order status. The fundamental issue with this approach is that it does not span the entire customer journey, which includes awareness, engagement, browsing to purchase, service and subsequent loyalty.

Added to this, too often the underlying technologies are poorly integrated, leaving consumers with inconsistent experiences across the buying journey. This is further aggravated by customer expectations of a cohesive experience across mobile, Web and other channels.

Brands now know that building rich content worlds works to engage customers and capture their attention. By fostering a dialog around the content and products, brands can build communities, encourage dialog and promote commenting regarding the topics which results in users spending more time on the brand experience. Separating this from the e-Commerce experience moves e-Commerce one step further away from the consumers’ attention.

Here are some best practices that avoid this divide, that build engaging experiences which bring rich content into the e-Commerce world, and vice versa.

Integrating e-Commerce and Content

Bringing together the content and e-Commerce worlds has traditionally been a challenge, from a business as well as a technology perspective. e-Commerce systems have traditionally focused on managing product content, however editorial content management functionality is not comparable to an enterprise web content management (WCM) system. At the same time, many of today’s WCMs focus on building content-based experiences, but lack the rich integration into the e-Commerce systems.

Traditionally, WCM and e-Commerce systems have been separate technologies. Both want to be the technology that owns the direct interaction with the consumer. To bring the content and commerce worlds together, these technologies need to also come together. Three major integration approaches include putting commerce first, putting content first and a hybrid integration.

Commerce First

Here, the e-Commerce system fronts the experience, setting the focus on e-Commerce. A WCM system delivers single page fragments to the e-Commerce system, which in return delivers the assembled page to the consumer. This has been the traditional way to integrate these systems, as it requires the least effort to accomplish. While it provides an easy way to infuse some content islands into the shopping experience, this approach also has some significant challenges:

  • The WCM system is not fully integrated and the content editor is forced to jump back and forth between two administrative tools
  • Personalization needs be work across both systems, with e-Commerce sharing the user context with the WCM
  • Content shared with the e-Commerce system often needs to include product information and real-time pricing and inventory data
  • Re-using content to provide different layouts across web, tablet, and mobile -- whether through responsive design or separate experiences -- is a major challenge in this approach.

Content First 

In this approach, the WCM system fronts the experience, integrating the e-Commerce system via a technology such as Web services. From a customer experience perspective, this is the perfect scenario. The advantage of this solution is that the experience can be created in a sophisticated WCM solution, and that marketers and merchants can work in their respective back-end tools with little or no jumping between both tools.

This scenario also poses some challenges. Many WCM systems in the market lack a deep integration with e-Commerce utilities and hence many of the vital features of an e-Commerce solution are lost:

  • e-Commerce systems feature in-depth marketing and personalization tools, which allow targeting a consumer based on their shopping history, behavior and general profile data. The WCM personalization needs to be driven through e-Commerce personalization
  • Product information needs to be featured on the site in real-time. Pricing depends on personalization, entered coupons, geography and many more factors. Inventory levels, determined in real-time, have a significant impact on the experience -- depending on business rules, products may or may not be features if they are out of stock and the site experience needs to adapt
  • Search needs to effectively work across both the content and product worlds, honoring personalization and “searchandizing” rules set up in the e-Commerce tooling
  • The WCM system should scale with large amounts of product content and product variants. The traditional approach of copying the product catalog into the CMS just doesn’t scale; the integration needs to be real-time.

Another important aspect of this integration is the fact that the WCM system is now in charge of handling financial payment data, such as credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII).

Hybrid Integration

The hybrid approach attempts to bring the best of the content first and commerce first approaches together. The WCM system owns the experience up to the checkout process, at which point the e-Commerce system takes over. This pragmatic approach delegates the handling of financial payment information to the e-Commerce system while allowing the engaging experience to be managed by the WCM system.

One challenge lies in making the WCM and e-Commerce systems appear as one cohesive experience to the consumer. To facilitate a seamless hand-off between the browsing experience and the checkout, the user’s session needs to be shared between the two systems  -- losing your shopping basket and login information at the time of handover is simply not an option.

The second challenge, which is also a challenge in all three scenarios, is the synchronization of the publication of assets. Content publishing processes in good WCM systems have been tuned to publish content by the second. Product catalog information tends to be staged nightly. Yet as content and commerce get more interwoven, content will depend on product data and vice versa. As such, the dependencies between the systems need to be tracked and honored by the publication processes.

All three outlines scenarios play an important role in bringing together content and e-Commerce, and in many more sophisticated setups, more than one integration scenario will come to play at once.

The content first and hybrid scenarios achieve a seamless integration across content, commerce and delivery channels -- be it mobile Web, app, tablet, Web or a kiosk application. Choose a content management system that can address all the common pitfalls and brings the WCM and e-Commerce systems together to create one seamless experience for the consumers, as well as the merchants and content marketers behind the scenes.

Title image courtesy of AdStock RF (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For another take on bridging the customer experience in e-Commerce sites, read 5 Ways to Make Your e-Commerce Site Customer Experience Focused