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eTail West Highlights the Conflicted World of Commerce

I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss, and so when Eric Feinberg of Foresee referred to potential customer segments as Thing 1 and Thing 2 at the recent eTail conference, I had to smile. As I thought more about the current state of commerce, though, I decided that a Dr. Dolittle shout-out to Pushmi-Pullyu is more apt.Pushmi-pullyu

Commerce teams today are clearly being pulled in two very different directions. On the one hand, the push by Amazon/Google/eBay for same day delivery – and soon I believe, same hour delivery – is forcing retailers to fanatically optimize back-end logistics and operations. On the other hand, while shoppers’ expectations are increasing, their loyalty is ever waning. Therefore, retailers are, at the same time, fanatically focusing on the front-end shopping experience.

The commerce tech teams and commerce platform vendors are stuck squarely in the middle trying to support both sides – and often trying to do so with a single system. While I agree that both areas need focus, I don’t believe that a single solution, approach or vendor offers the ideal solution for both. Optimizing logistics and operations requires highly structured content and integrations across inventory, transactions and orders; while optimizing the customer experience requires diverse content generated by diverse sources across marketing, editorial teams and consumers.

Further, the content that changes and needs constant updates varies dramatically across back-end and front-end operations. To optimize order processing, you need real-time inventory and pricing across warehouses, vendors – and, increasingly, stores. To optimize the consumer research and selection process, you need the latest content from marketing and merchandising -- and increasingly from external social, review and editorial sites.

Fully optimizing both ends of the business likely requires extensions to core commerce platforms on both ends: order management, delivery scheduling and store operations updates for same day delivery, and content management, social integrations and experience management features for the shopping experience. Trying to do this with a single platform more often than not leads to a less-than-optimal customer experience. The structure needed for the back-end logistics often constrains the shopping experience presented to consumers.

While this scenario isn’t ideal, many commerce teams have invested too much time and money implementing and integrating legacy commerce platforms to consider a full-scale replacement. And many of these systems are strong solutions for part of the problem but just not all.

So how can you adapt to this Pushmi-Pullyu world? One option is to take a best-of-breed approach and free the shopping experience from the structure of your operation. This approach requires a flexible platform that separates content creation from content presentation, that integrates both structured and un-structured content and that enables you to manage experiences across channels and devices. It also requires a platform that will integrate easily with your legacy commerce platform and enable you to continually evolve the shopping experience as the next new social craze hits the market. I think I may know where you can find that platform – and no, it’s not in the pages of a children’s book!

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