ECommerce Content and Closing the Gaps A Look at Sitecore

Over the past two days, we have looked at different approaches to bridging the gap between content management and e-commerce. In the first part, we saw that e-Spirit has adopted a best-of-breed approach. Yesterday we saw how Elastic Path is using e-commerce APIs to integrate content.

In the final piece today, we look at Sitecore, which has put customers at the heart of the retail process by providing personalized content and user experiences.

Content Management E-Commerce

There are problems with this approach, as there are with each of the others. Managing content to provide a positive customer experience and managing an e-commerce site whose primary focus is on retail creates all kinds of challenges.

However, customer experience depends on providing engaging content just as much as it does an efficient retail experience. For Forrester, it all 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.

Sitecore and Customer Experience

Sitecore tries to overcome this providing personalized information to customers. It is designed to not only keep them on the retailer's site, but also to engage them by providing content that they are interested in reading.

Sitecore e-commerce  hub.jpg

Nate Barad, is Sitecore’s director of product strategy, told CMSWire many e-commerce applications have been built around products rather than the customer and the customer experience. The most successful strategy, he said,  is to put the customer at the heart and connect content and e-commerce with each customer to manage the experience.

The SKU (Stock-Keeping Unit) and associated commercial attributes, such as inventory, packing dimensions and of course pricing, promotion and discount rules are associated because they are needed to process transactions. However, this is why shoppers are left with receipts and order numbers instead of experiences that compel them to share their experience or become repeat customers."

Sitecore’s platform analyzes and provides context on how customers behave and incorporates that in the interaction with the retail site, the company claims. Sitecore retains the experience and applies it the next time a customer lands on the site to provide a relevant experience.

Single Platform Approach

According to Sitecore, it has overcome the content and e-commerce divide by building it all from a single platform:

Therefore, the intel gained with each email, social, mobile and web interaction with customers feeds into one platform. This delivers two very important benefits: 1) you can efficiently orchestrate your teams to create and manage interactions and 2) immediately apply that customer behavior for more relevant and personalized experiences."

Barad said this makes it easier to focus on an entire e-commerce strategy rather than having to spend time figuring out how to pull the different pieces together and bridge the content — e-commerce divide.

When merchandisers and marketers focus on one complete view of a customer with no blind spots, they are focusing on engaging customers more than just importing and exporting lists and IDs from one system to another.

Sitecore CMS-Content Editor Personalization.jpg

Sitecore CMS-Content Editor Personalization

E-Commerce and CXM Platforms

The acquisition of in November is typical of the kind of technology that Sitecore has focused on buying. At the time of the deal, Sitecore reported that it would be working on the integration of this technology as rapidly as possible. Once completed, it says it will be able to offer an entire customer experience management platform along with integrated e-commerce capabilities.

Darren Guarnaccia, executive vice president of corporate development at Sitecore, pointed out in a blog post relating to the deal that there is growing awareness that e-commerce should and needs to be an integral part of CXM. But he said no one has managed to do so yet.

The disconnect is typically repeated across the disjointed set of marketing experiences that initially draw a customer into a shop, whether it’s online or in the real world. Not enough e-commerce experiences take a holistic view of the customer journey."

While Sitecore claims it is the only enterprise-grade .NET platform that offers this kind of experience, there are others. EPiServer was acquired by MediaChase nearly two years ago, but had been integrating with it for a while before that. And Bridgeline has had an e-commerce module natively built into their platform for even longer.

Kentico E-commerce Solution, for its part, enables customers to use its online marketing features, including personalization, A/B and MVT Testing, contact management, email marketing, marketing automation and social media integration in its online store — all of that out-of-the-box.

Sitecore E-Commerce

Whatever about the inevitable debate around the relative strengths of all the different platforms that are out there, the result of all its development and acquisition activity over the years is a platform that enables retailers to manage their online product offerings and use faceted search to locate and update specific product details, or groups of products.

Sitecore personalized retail experience.jpg

Sitecore personalized retail experience

The Sitecore E-Commerce framework and open API fits in with existing enterprises applications and processes, all of which can be accessed through the Sitecore back office interface. Sitecore is also continuing the drive to extend the reach of its platform and only this month announced that it will be integrating with Microsoft Dynamics for Retail.

With the Sitecore / Dynamics integration, Microsoft asserts, enterprises will be able to build connected online experiences optimized for the behaviors, devices and preferences of visitors with complete, real-time, omnichannel order management.

Rogues Gallery

If better content on retail sites is improving customer engagement and ultimately growing revenue, there are some signs that retailers are taking customer experience management more seriously.

According to a survey from the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), there have been some notable design improvements in e-commerce sites over the past year.  Amy Schade in a recent update to NNG’s E-Commerce User Experience report  said those improvements have been offset by the persistence of old problems. Schade noted:

In comparison to the findings from our previous research into e-commerce, we were happy to see larger product images that help answer users’ questions, robust reviews that provide context around feedback, and easier application of discount and coupon codes, helping bargain hunters complete purchases.”

Better content and better customer engagement potential.

However, there are three practices in the development and placement of content that highlight the need for a joined up content management -- e-commerce strategy.

As an example, she noted that product descriptions seem to be disappearing on many e-commerce sites. They're located in the far reaches of web pages, away from product images, entirely hidden behind links and shoved into small boxes. This may be the result of retailers trying to develop mobile strategies and moving or resizing images to fit, but it won’t impress seasoned online shoppers.

She also sites poorly developed customer service areas of retail sites, which refers back to what we have seen over the past three days where retailers fail to develop the content and design of the “buying” end of their online presence to focus on the e-commerce elements. The rest of the list makes up a veritable rogues gallery of bad design and content practices.

If this is the end of this mini-series giving an overview of the problems related to content management and e-commerce, it is not the end of the debate around it. 

Forrester says that online shoppers will spend in the region of $248.7 billion online this year in a market that is growing at 7 percent year-over-year, representing 8 percent of all the retail in the US.

To cut yourself off from this as a result of poor customer experience management, or a lack of customer engagement, is commercial suicide.

How content management and e-commerce merge over the coming months and  years remains to be seen, particularly in light of the growing importance of customer experience management.

One thing is sure, though, retailers that don’t develop their content management capabilities at the same time as their e-commerce presence will go the way of the dinosaurs as smaller, content-savvy, agile retailers elbow in and take their share of the growing online market.

Title image by LDprod (Shutterstock).