The most complete guide to fashion ecommerce platforms. So if you want to:

What is an e-commerce platform?

An e-commerce platform is a generally considered as web application that is able to manage an online catalog and process ecommerce orders. However an ecommerce architecture is more articulate than that. The needs of fashion brands extends beyond the capabilities of the majority of e-commerce platforms available on the market. As a consequence it’s not sufficient for fashion brands to set-up an e-commerce platform but it will be necessary to add third party components to implement all the digital features that a fashion brand requires.

How to choose the ecommerce platform

Choosing the e-commerce solution goes beyond the e-commerce platform itself, it entail and entire range of software products that you may need to integrate with the ecommerce platform, however in the initial stages of the Maturity Model, an e-commerce platform should be able to meet the essential needs.

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Ecommerce is essentially a technology-driven business. Many key success factors like site speed, site capacity, search performance, search engine optimization, depend on the technology chosen and how it has been implemented.

However the e-commerce platform is only one of the several components of an e-commerce ecosystem. The ecommerce e-cosystem can comprehend several different systems that play a specif role in the e-commerce business:Product Information Management system (PIM), Order Management System, Content Distribution Network (CDN) and many others.

As a consequence the success of the ecommerce is also determined by the availability of technological skills in e-commerce team and in the company.

Based on the list of functionalities and processes that your company needs to manage by mean of the e-commerce platform you’ll match those needs with the capabilities of the various e-commerce platforms available on the market an make a decision. Let’s for example take this fictitious company that needs an e-commerce platform:

ProcessSolution
Catalog managementE-commerce platform
Check outE-commerce platform
PaymentsPayment Service Provider
Stock managementEnterprise Resource Planner (ERP)
Order ManagementEnterprise Resource Planner (ERP)
Outbound logistics Pick, Pack andWarehouse Management System (WMS)
Customer serviceThird party CRM
Full Text Site Search Ecommerce platform
Experience personalisationThird party application
Table 1 – Ecommerce Processes and Platforms mapping. (c) Digital Fashion Academy 2020

As we can see in the table 1, this hypothetical company needs to manage some e-commerce processes via the e-commerce platform but not all of them. In particular we notice that the e-commerce products stock and e-commerce orders will be managed via the company’s ERP.

When choosing the e-commerce platform from the ones available on the market you will need to match these processes to the capabilities of the e-commerce platform.

You will also need to make sure that, if such capabilities are available in the e-commerce platform, they are also suitable for your specific requirements and processes or they can be customised to meet your requirements.

The requirements can also be determined by fiscal and legal requirements of the country where you operate the ecommerce business from. Therefore this step is particularly important.

Finally you will need to check the cost of the platform in relation to the e-commerce business you need to manage.

Key Success Factors of Ecommerce Platforms

  • Performance and scalability
  • Capabilities and features available and to be developed
  • Interoperability: possibility to integrate with third party solutions, e.g. API
  • Easy of customisation and use

There are several solutions available on the market to set up an ecommerce website, you can choose one of the many content management systems (CMS) and ecommerce platforms. Some of them are easy to use and can be set up in a short time while other ecommerce solutions require more work and customization, and may require the help of a system integrator to help set it up and integrate it with your company information systems. 


Why an e-commerce platform is not enough for fashion e-commerce?

E-commerce solutions available on the market, for example Magento Cloud, Shopify or Salesforce Commerce Cloud, they all provide great solutions for selling products, but they may not be able to address other needs of fashion companies like managing product information, omnichannel integration, managing digital marketing activities from social network integration to customer relationship management.

In order to meet their needs Fashion companies need to buy a number of third party solutions that need to be integrated with the ecommerce platform, for example a Product Information Management solution to manage product data, Digital Asset Management solution for managing images, a web analytics platform to track performance and statistics and potentially many others depending on the maturity of the ecommerce business. The more mature is the ecommerce of a fashion company the larger is the number of third party solutions needed.

An e-commerce platform is a part of an e-commerce IT architecture that entails:
– Product & Content Management
– Connectivity and Content Distribution;
– Stock & Orders Management;
– Check out & Payments;
– User data management;
– Web and Mobile apps;
– Web analytics

An e-commerce platform can be customised or configured to match the look and feel of the fashion brand that uses it.

An e-commerce platform can be sold together with the server processing power and the connectivity necessary to serve the volume of traffic and transactions of a specific brand. For the purpose of this post let’s

What does a fashion brand need from an e-commerce platform?

The essential function of an e-commerce platform is to manage an online transaction, in other words to the acceptance of payment for a product that is in stock and will be delivered to the customer.

In order to do that the ecommerce platform needs to manage some data flow:

  1. Product information
  2. Product price
  3. Products stock availability
  4. Check out process
  5. Order and return status
  6. Invoice and credit notes
  7. Payment & Refunds

These are the essential data flow to be managed via an e-commerce platform, however we will see later that these data flows can be managed by third party applications that are outside the e-commerce platform. For example the product information can be managed by means of a Product Information Management (PIM) system or a Content Management System.

Ecommerce platform in SAAS

In order to solve the problems related to managing the server and connectivity, scalability and capacity issues, the majority of the ecommerce platforms available on the market like Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Adobe Magento Cloud can be used by fashion companies directly from the cloud. In this case the ecommerce platform is available to the brand as an online service, hence the definition of Software As A Service or Platform As A Service.

This seems to be the direction where the fashion ecommerce market is going and the preferred solution of fashion companies.

Other ecommerce platforms in Cloud are Shopify Plus, Commerce Tools, Commerce Layer.

Fashion ecommerce platform architecture and integrations

E-commerce architecture including e-commerce platform

Fashion Marketplaces

Fashion Marketplaces like Zalando and many others, allow fashion brands to sell their products on their platform, gaining visibility from the high volume of visitors these platforms have and allow fashion brands to have more control on price and image. In order to be successful on these platforms fashion brands need to meet some requirements:

  • Brand awareness: the brand has to be notorious or it will require several advertising investment to get visibility on the marketplace
  • Effective logistics: market places require the brands’ logistics to meet their standards in product delivery
  • Platform integration: you need your ecommerce platform and or other systems like a Product Information Management system (PIM) to be able to export data feed towards the marketplace

Other examples of marketplaces are Farfetch which became famous for aggregating the offer of the best fashion boutiques in the world. However nowadays most department stores offer their suppliers (the brands) the possibility to work with them as a marketplace. Of course these department stores have implemented an ecommerce platform that allows them to integrate with their suppliers.

Where is the ecommerce platforms market going?

Let’s consider for a minute the below scenario. In 9 years the number of solutions available on the market for ecommerce and digital marketing has rown from 150 to 8.000. In this scenario it is clear that the interoperability, by which we mean the possibility to use these platforms combined with each others, it is key for the success of the brand’s ecommerce business and the success of the solution itself. So how do we integrate these solutions?

Marketing technology landscape from www.chiefmartech.com

There are three main approaches to integrate solutions:

  • API Based, which means that the software is open to requests in input and output from other applications. Ecommerce platforms that are API based are CommerceTools and CommerceLayer
  • Plug-ins, the 3rd party develop plug-in for each specific platform: Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Magento support this approach, but they also have some APIs that can be used for integration.
  • Code injection, a piece of code from the 3rd party is injected into the ecommerce website to integrate the 3rd party function into the destination website

E-commerce platforms simply explained, an analogy

An e-commerce platform is like a car.

You can choose the best car available on the market, park it on the side of the street and leave it. You can be sure that in time you will have achieved to get one or more fines, some scratches and you’ll have gotten no value whatsoever out of it.

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On the other end you can buy a car use it every day to go to work, put petrol in, maybe spend more that using the public transport, but you will enjoy driving it, listing to music or the radio while you drive and get to work on time most of the days.

Before you buy a car you need to choose the model that is suitable for your needs and the configuration, which means selecting the optionals that are necessary for the use you need to make of it. Every time I look at cars’ website I’m put off from buying by the fact that, in order to get the configuration I want, the price is usually the double of the advertised price. How is that?

Ecommerce platforms like cars come without many features that are very useful and they are not included in the package, for example they may not have an omnichannel order management system, they may not have Product Information Management system, the integration with Google Analytics or the possibility to export feeds of products and orders towards third party applications like Google Shopping.

Once you have chosen all the optionals that you think you will need, you place the order for the car that will take from 6 months to a year to be delivered. Here the difference between buying a car and setting up an ecommerce platform is that, while the car will be delivered as expected in the majority of cases by the seller, in the case of the ecommerce platform you will have to coordinate the configuration and integration work.

The last two points of the analogy are “driving the car” and “Maintenance”.

Steering the wheel of the e-commerce platform

I have never driven a formula 1 car, but everyone says that is not that easy. I believe it.

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What happens when you put on the engine of your new car and press the accelerator? Do ecommerce platform have accelerators? The answer is yes. Like the cars use petrol or gasoline to run for miles and miles, e-commerce platforms can burn marketing money to acquire traffic that will convert into leads and then into sales. The further you want to go the higher is the marketing spend necessary to achieve the goals.

What happens if you take the wrong road? If you are in a car, two things can happen, you may need to refill the tank and you will get to your destination later than planned. Translated into e-commerce management terms, this means that you may have spent your marketing budget on the wrong channel or advertising campaign and you didn’t get the results expected. For this reason you may have to allocate more money to achieve the results expected and achieving them later than expected. For more insights on managing an ecommerce check out the ecommerce team organisation resources.

The last point of the analogy regards the maintenance, this is straightforward, but if it happened to you in the past to have missed the annual check of the car you know that the consequences can be hefty. At some point during the business as usual some things may start to break. At the beginning you might noticed just a slow down in the performance without a complete halt of the operations. In time the performance may deteriorate further and eventually something essential will break and you will have to stop for repair. The ecommerce machine works in the same way, you need assign skilled resources to check the health of the platform periodically and allocate budget to perform the maintenance of the platform.

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