Understanding digital commerce platform capabilities | Acro Media
Mike Hubbard


Mike Hubbard

, Front End Lead, Developer

Understanding digital commerce platform capabilities

5 recommendations from Gartner

One of the difficulties surrounding digital commerce platform selection is simply understanding what you get directly out of the box. While it’s easy to find a digital commerce platform (there are so many available today!), it's much more challenging to understand if that platform is the ideal fit for your unique business. Further, organizations that have already settled on a platform still need to maximize its functionality to suit their business requirements.

Gartner recently released an interesting research report on this topic titled "Harness the Core Capabilities of a Digital Commerce Platform". Their analysts look at today's core commerce platform design trends in the report. The report's goal is to provide readers with a starting point for defining their own organization's approach to digital commerce now and in the future.

5 Recommendations from Gartner

Within the report, Gartner helps readers understand the scope of their commerce experiences by building out a series of digital commerce capability models for platform evaluation and selection. They recommend that leaders within an organization who are responsible for their digital commerce technology use this research to:

  1. Define the digital commerce platform in the context of a broader commerce strategy.
  2. Use a business capability model to understand the scope of digital commerce platforms.
  3. Use a platform capability model to select the required components to meet their business goals.
  4. Use a functional model to help customize the platform to their needs and understand the scope of its capability.
  5. Use the logical model as a baseline for scaling to a digital business technology platform.1

Define the digital commerce platform in the context of a broader commerce strategy

From the report:

“Defining the components of a commerce architecture is a critical part of defining a digital commerce strategy. In order to understand what functional capabilities are required, the business must first be mapped.”

So, what does that mean? Gartner aims to get organizations to undertake a business mapping exercise that defines what they want a digital commerce platform to do for them. Completing this exercise will allow businesses to narrow their choices during the platform selection process based on features and functionality and how those attributes will contribute to the company’s objectives for the platform.

Use a business capability model to understand the scope of digital commerce platforms

“Determine the scope of your digital commerce platform to reflect the business actions desired. Figure 2 describes the actions that mainstream B2C organizations require from a digital commerce process. For B2B organizations, we provide an additional list of capabilities at the functional level. The core commerce journey is shown in green, in the context of the touchpoints and wider business actions required at each stage of that journey.”

Digital Commerce business capabilities - Gartner

According to Gartner, there are five layers of capability for digital commerce operations. 

Digital touchpoints (channels)

Due to rapid changes in behaviour by both B2C and B2B buyers over the last few years, organizations should be looking at digital commerce platforms capable of using as many digital channels as possible. In figure 2 (above), Gartner outlines those touchpoints as desktop, mobile, store (POS connectivity), sales teams, social, internet of things (IoT, aka connected devices), chatbots, visual (kiosk and other digital display), and lastly, connect to your service agents.

Digital experience

The digital experience layer outlines the capabilities that Gartner believes all digital commerce platforms should have to provide the optimal experience for online users. 

Personalization and responsiveness based on the user’s device should be standard features in most commerce platforms. 

Curated content for the user comes from a solid content management system (CMS) that attaches to the commerce platform as part of an experience-led ecommerce architecture.

Single sign-on and intelligent interactions are next-level technology using integrated apps and APIs. These are generally available as extensions or modules that a business can add to the core commerce platform.

Commerce journey

This capability layer is crucial to the user journey and is frequently where businesses do not spend enough time vetting platforms.

Businesses looking at a digital commerce platform should always consider customizing the user experience. Be mindful of the commerce’s basic search functionality and product configuration ability. From there, the ability to apply promo codes, customer discounts, volume pricing and cart checkout functions are all variables that need consideration in the overall user experience of the commerce journey.

Supply chain actions

Gartner outlines the functions for managing inventory and orders, fulfillment, shipping and demand and replenishment management, part of an extensive commerce architecture strategy. Most platforms build some of these functions into the commerce core for these features, but integration ability with existing systems is where a powerful digital commerce platform shines.

Systems of record and master data

The last layer that Gartner advises companies to consider is the one that connects with your critical data. Payment gateways, customer account information, product data and financial records should all be connected to the overall digital commerce architecture to improve data flow and ensure that all the correct information reaches the people it will best serve. Making business decisions becomes much easier when connected data backs them.

Use a platform capability model to select the required components to meet their business goals

Digital commerce platform abilities - Gartner

Once the business’s digital commerce needs are clear, the next step is to consider the platform's functionality.

Digital experience

Areas of consideration:

  • Personalized customer experience
  • Presentation orchestration
  • Search and content management

Many digital commerce platforms include the ‘head,’ or digital experience management. Some are ‘headless’ — and only provide APIs. The vendors of these platforms also offer client-side
‘reference applications’ to help customers deliver the storefront experience.

Core commerce

Areas covered:

  • Catalogue and product
  • Shopping cart and promotions
  • Check-out and payment integration
  • Customer account management

These areas are core components of a commerce platform. Many parts use third-party tools in an alternate commerce architecture, such as DXP, search engine, personalization engine, DOM, etc. However, a single-vendor core solution for the above capabilities can be best.

Commerce operations

Composed of:

  • Analytics and Insight (actionable analytics and reporting)
  • Integration framework (Ex: price, inventory, and engagement: including chatbots, etc.)
  • Staging and preview
  • Notification and alerting

Alongside the customer-facing capabilities are the core configuration and operational capabilities enabling platform management by business users and integration with ecosystem components. 
Some vendors provide an app marketplace, putting the power of integration into 
business users' hands; however, these integrations are usually developer-led.1

Supply chain integration

  • Pricing (pricing feeds or pricing engine integration), dynamic pricing engines
  • Inventory management
  • Order management/Distributed order management
  • Fulfillment and logistics integrations

Inventory may be managed via an ERP or specific services and require real-time integration
into multiple stores or warehouse inventory. Some digital commerce platforms contain
everything necessary for managing inventory, order management and fulfillment, either natively or as an add-on module. Larger or more sophisticated organizations usually have complex requirements in this space and require integration with a separate OMS. The Distributed Order Management Systems (DOMS) market has its landscape of vendors, and fulfillment and logistics often require integrating with 3PL providers.1

Systems of record/ERP/MDM

Composed of (but not limited to):

  • Finance reconciliation and reporting
  • Customer Relationship Management systems, master data management for customers (CRM)
  • Customer Communications: Email/SMS/IM gateways. 
  • Master Data Management including product information (MDM Product/PIM)
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM)

These integrations can be the most technically challenging and complex of an implementation. It is important to understand these interfaces and any complexities to be dealt with.

Customize the platform to the business needs and understand the scope of platform capability

In Gartner’s report, this section takes up twelve pages entirely and is quite comprehensive. We aren’t going include all of that information here, but we do offer the following suggestions around customizations and integrations.

Step 1 — Assign priorities

Tackling all of your customizations and integrations at once makes the work unwieldy and open to more risk. Instead, mitigate that risk by prioritizing the integrations you need the most first and working through the rest using a continuous delivery methodology.

How to group your integrations based on urgency.

  • Critical — This is a core infrastructure component, such as your CRM or ERP.
  • High — Not critical, but still an invaluable part of your day-to-day operations, such as your email marketing system.
  • Low — These are nice to have yet not wholly required for your platform to go live.

Getting stakeholder input and prioritizing integrations early in the project’s process leads to better planning and reveals the entire scope of what exactly needs to happen before launch.

Step 2 — Plan how each custom integration connects to your platform

Much like how two platforms won’t handle data the same way, not all systems will connect to an integration the same way. Some connections will require more work than others. In this part of the exercise, map out each connection in your ecosystem. This detailed map can also help bring priorities to light that you may have missed in step one.

Questions to ask: 

  • Is the integration connected, or is it a connector? 
  • Is the integration heavily customized, or is it out-of-the-box?

With those two questions answered, determining where the integration lives in your priority list will help define the workload for the development team. 

PRO TIP: Get the most complex and most risky work out of the way by tackling the most specialized and customized pieces first.

Step 3 — Start phased set up and test implementation results

Once you have set up your integrations and customizations, you need to test and validate them. Implement a single integration as a test, gauge its success and use that standard as a benchmark for all your other integrations.

Example of an integration testing phase with an ERP and an ecommerce platform: 

  • Create a test plan and mark your success rate. 
    For example, anything above 85% is good to move forward. While it is nice to strive for 100% accuracy, chasing absolute perfection can mean preventing an on-time launch and additional costs.
  • Run through tests of both the customer side and connector side. If your ERP has a separate staging area available, use it to run your tests. 
  • Test functionality by creating an order and a customer. Make sure all of the connections flow both through your ERP and back through your ecommerce platform. 
  • If you fail at achieving your desired success rate, move into a rollback strategy and retest. 
  • Conduct pass/fail tests 24 — 48 hours before the designated go-live date. 
  • Have a risk mitigation strategy in place for both before and after launch.

Use the logical model as a baseline for scaling to a digital business technology platform

In the report, Gartner has broken out three models for commerce architecture: Monolithic (commerce-led), DXP (experience-led) and API oriented (API-led). 

The following are excerpts from our ebook Understanding the Three Approaches to Digital Commerce Architecture.

The commerce architecture spectrum represents the three approaches to digital commerce architecture.

The commerce architecture spectrum

Commerce-led architecture

Commerce-led architecture example

A solely turnkey ecommerce solution relying on core competencies and a predetermined partner ecosystem for enhanced functionality. 

Suitable for companies:

  • With minimal products and product variations
  • With lower transaction and revenue numbers
  • With limited or no IT/Development support
  • With easy order management processes
  • Who need quick market access and easy implementation

Experience-led architecture

Experience-led architecture example

A seamless integration of a content management system, commerce platform, and 3rd party software(s). This architecture focuses on your customers, their experience with you and their
buying journey through your commerce site.

Suitable for companies:

  • Who want to differentiate their brand through personalized shopping experiences
  • Who want to showcase products outside of a standard product page
  • Who want the power to develop a content rich experience AND have an industry standard checkout process
  • Who want to sell across multiple channels and third party marketplaces
  • Who need to develop and execute cohesive and synchronized marketing campaigns across multiple channels

API-led architecture

API-led architecture example

The ability to build your own front-end, integrate into saas, legacy, and homebrew platforms, and deconstruct commerce components for deeper development and innovation for specific features.

Suitable for companies:

  • Who need to have complete control of their data and how it is aggregated and disseminated
  • With multiple business models (D2C, Broker/Wholesale, B2B) that all require unique digital commerce capabilities
  • Who have a complex web of internal and external workflows that require a number of third party integrations
  • Who want the ability to add/remove/modify the platforms they integrate with easily and without major disruption to the business

If you are unsure which commerce architecture will work best for your organization, try our ideal architecture assessment.

Click to discover your ideal architecture with our analysis.

Additional resources

1 - Source: Gartner, "Harness the Core Capabilities of a Digital Commerce Platform,” 4 September 2019, Mike Lowndes, Christina Klock.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner's research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 10, 2019. It originally linked to a Gartner report that is no longer available to share, but we have included commentary and synopsis on points raised in that report to bring this article up-to-date and provide better value to our readers.