eCommerce: The Final Frontier for Content Management

During the “Dot Com Boom,” eCommerce was all the rage. Every brand was scrambling to build an eCommerce site, with some outrageously expensive vendors chomping at the bit to help them out. Major players – such as ATG, IBM, Microsoft and BEA – offered varying flavors of eCommerce solutions. For example, ATG’s strong personalization and targeting capabilities were pitted against IBM’s infrastructure play. At the same time, Web Content Management vendors – such as Interwoven, BroadVision, Vignette and others – found traction in key markets. Vignette focused heavily in publishing, while Interwoven leveraged their decoupled architecture to integrate with the big eCommerce vendors. Services firms had soaring digital practices, with eCommerce dominating the landscape. I was personally involved with implementations for brands ranging from Walgreens to American Airlines to AT&T Broadband and many others.

Then, the bubble burst…

Beyond the Shopping Cart
For eCommerce vendors, the evolution beyond shopping carts and streamlined checkouts initiated a dramatic shift for their business. While still a critical area for traditional e-tailers, most companies had already implemented an eCommerce solution and weren’t willing to invest heavily to switch vendors just to add new capabilities. As such, open source solutions began to gain traction, and hosted eCommerce vendors – such as GSI and Fry – made big inroads by providing an option where retailers no longer needed to manage their own infrastructure.

Then, a few interesting things emerged. The traditional eCommerce vendors appeared to be losing their way. ATG witnessed their stock drop to virtually nothing when big brands – including General Motors and Louis Vuitton – flew the coop. IBM and BEA diverted their attention away from their eCommerce and personalization platforms in order to focus more heavily on portal solutions and extending their infrastructure reach. All the while, the retailers and other large web players found themselves focused on a bigger issue – the proliferation of content.

The Rise of CMS
During this same time when other segments began to lag behind, the Web Content Management space began to boom and make significant strides in the marketplace. CMS vendors, who historically focused heavily on content and templating, began to expand their capabilities and integrate key features customers have been demanding, such as social media and analytics. The newest solutions offer advanced personalization, targeting and rich AJAX-based interfaces for better usability, as showcased by the following vendors:

  • Interwoven refocused their solution around LiveSite
  • FatWire made big strides with their UI and integrated asset-level analytics and targeting
  • Day Software created advanced targeting and personalization on top of a JSR 170 compliant content repository
  • SDL Tridion implemented their SmartTarget, further distancing themselves from their traditional decoupled architecture

eCommerce and CMS, Together?
It is evident that enterprises have a pressing need to unify the management of content – corporate marketing, product information and user-generated content – along with analytics and personalization without the cost and complex integration of multiple vendor packages. So, why has it taken so long for eCommerce to merge with CMS?

eCommerce vendors have traditionally done a horrible job of enabling content management for anything outside of a product catalog (and sometimes even within it). In addition, the complex architectural challenges of making CMS platforms work with eCommerce products resulted in some costly implementations that are difficult to maintain. This problem still persists today, but finally the landscape is changing, with the CMS vendors having the major advantage in the space. Now, as opposed to working with eCommerce partners, the CMS vendors have begun to directly integrate eCommerce capabilities directly into their existing platforms – FatWire already includes such capabilities and SiteCore just recently announced their eCommerce package.

I believe that we will see continued expansion of the CMS vendors’ purview into eCommerce and eventually into the CRM, mobile web and mobile app spaces over the next couple of years. My biggest hope is the CMS vendors maintain focus on their core and not stray too far away from what they excel at while expanding. For example, inventory management, call center capabilities and other areas are well served by other solutions, so CMS vendors should work to make those integrations as seamless as possible.

The vendors that maintain focus and deliver on combined content management and eCommerce capabilities will lead a new category – Customer Experience Hub – that enable businesses to consolidate content in a unified manner and then leverage and monetize it across channels. If they cannot maintain focus, these CMS vendors risk seeing the same fate as the eCommerce vendors of the last decade. And other solution vendors are most certainly waiting in the wings to rise to prominence in their stead.

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