Enterprise Ecommerce – The BigCommerce Blog https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog Ecommerce Blog delivering news, strategy and success stories to power 2x growth for scaling brands. Tue, 19 Jun 2018 22:21:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/cropped-e8d7fa0a-3b0e-4069-91b1-78460a4d4af1-150x150.png Enterprise Ecommerce – The BigCommerce Blog https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog 32 32 8 Ecommerce ERP Integration Patterns & Data Orchestration Frameworks https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/erp-integrations/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/erp-integrations/#respond Tue, 19 Jun 2018 17:05:15 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=29057 ERPs reduce a business’s risk in uncertain circumstances and are perceived to have a positive impact on organization performance, including…]]>

ERPs reduce a business’s risk in uncertain circumstances and are perceived to have a positive impact on organization performance, including the improvement of productivity and profitability.

ERPs are the lifeblood of large retail operations. There are serious financial and non-financial boosts to a company who can organize itself around an ERP.

Historically, however, in order to properly organize and orchestrate ERP data flow, customer-facing tool options have been limited.

This is because ERPs rely heavily on EDI and APIs to sync with outside systems.

  • EDI is the more traditional approach and still often used in B2B and wholesale channels, and Walmart specifically.
  • APIs are the more modern approach, and used by SaaS services and tools that enable marketing teams to move quickly, while ensuring proper data orchestration is not disrupted.

The API Economy & Innovation as the Crux for Future-Proofing

Cloud and thus SaaS platform APIs vary based on platform. Call limits are important considerations for brands looking to integrate with a SaaS solution.

Nonetheless, nearly all SaaS solutions have APIs, and with the rising tide shift from on-premise and custom built technology to cloud solutions (which decrease tech debt and speed up GTM), the API Economy has taken off.

The benefits of SaaS integration, specifically for the ecommerce channel, are huge.

As Amazon continues to own the commodity market and 55% of U.S. consumer product searches, and micro-brands begin to disrupt their legacy competitors, innovation and speed to market have become table stakes in the retail industry.

Innovation has historically been seen as the final step to realizing ERP benefits – but too few brands have gotten to that step, and fewer still have been able to innovate as effectively as Amazon or the litany of rising micro-brands.

erp integrations innovation

Once scalable and quick innovation GTM can be met for specific channels – in this case ecommerce – even more can be automated and then forecasted for better business decisions and increased time and capital resources.

SaaS solutions like BigCommerce enable innovation on the cloud, while providing unlimited API call volumes syncing data in near real time.

This is the typical BigCommerce framework for retailers with existing ERPs:

Of course, the ecommerce platform is only a cog in the machine of complete data orchestration for retailers.

And, there are a variety of ERP framework theories and options based on a retailer’s needs and priorities.

That’s why BigCommerce partnered up with eBridge Connections, a systems integrator, to depict the most common ecommerce ERP data orchestration frameworks as built out for large retailers using a variety of ERPs, including:

  • IBM AS/400
  • SAGE
  • SAP
  • EPICOR
  • Microsoft Dynamics
  • Netsuite
  • Acumatica
  • Brightpearl
  • info
  • INTACCT
  • SYSPRO
  • Traverse

First, let’s look at the 5 most common ERP integration patterns.

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5 Most Common ERP Integration Patterns

Modern retailers require modern data management and orchestration. For many organizations, an ERP fulfills this need.

ERPs can automate processes, enable planning and forecasting, and ultimately enable innovation by giving teams across an organization the ability to access and leverage the most up-to-date customer, product and accounting information in order to streamline business processes and create the most effective services and solutions.

In order for it to happen, businesses need to develop an ERP integration strategy to make sure it connects with the necessary enterprise systems. In other words, data orchestration is required.

When considering the variety of ERP integration needs, common patterns emerge. Patterns, as denoted below, are the most logical sequence of steps to solve a specific type of ERP problem, and are established from actual use cases.

The most common ERP integration patterns are:

  1. Migration.
  2. Broadcast.
  3. Aggregation.
  4. Bi-directional synchronization.
  5. Correlation.

1. Migration ERP Integration.

erp integrations migration

Data migration ERP integration is moving a specific set of data at a particular point in time from one system to another.

A migration pattern allows developers to build automated migration services that create functionality to be shared across numerous teams in an organization.

Developers can set the configuration parameters to pass into the API calls so that the migration can dynamically migrate scoped ecommerce data in or out of the ecommerce SaaS platform (like BigCommerce) either on command or on an as-needed basis via an API.

2. The Broadcast Pattern.

erp integrations broadcast pattern

The broadcast ERP integration pattern moves data from a single source system to multiple destination systems in an ongoing, near real-time, or real-time basis.

This a one-way synchronization from one to many. Typically “one-way sync” implies a 1:1 relationship; the broadcast pattern creates a 1:many relationships.

Broadcast patterns keep data up-to-date between multiple systems across time and allows for the immediate transfer of data between systems.

For instance, broadcast patterns update inventory levels across omnichannel sales touch points including marketplaces, brick and mortar stores, your branded website and wholesale partners.

3. The Aggregation Pattern.

erp integrations aggregation pattern

The aggregation ERP pattern takes or receives data from multiple systems and copies or moves it into just one system.

Aggregation removes the need to run multiple migrations on a regular basis, removing concerns about data accuracy and synchronization. It is the simplest way to extract and process data from multiple systems into a single application or report.

The aggregation ERP pattern enables the extraction and processing of data from multiple systems and merging them into one application.

This ensures that data:

  • Is always up to date
  • Does not get replicated
  • Can be processed or merged to produce any desired dataset or report.

4. The Bi-Directional Sync Pattern.

erp integrations bi-directional sync pattern

Bi-directional sync ERP integration patterns unite multiple datasets in multiple different systems, causing them to behave as one system while allowing them to recognize the existence of different datasets.

This type of integration comes in handy when different tools or different systems, which are needed for their own specific purposes, must accomplish different functions in the same data set.

Using bi-directional sync enables both systems to be used and maintains a consistent real-time view of the data across systems.

Bi-directional sync integration enables the systems to perform optimally while maintaining data integrity across both synchronized systems.

5. The Correlation Pattern.

erp integrations correlation pattern

Correlation and bi-directional sync ERP integration patterns are very similar but there is one important difference:

  • The correlation pattern singles out the intersection of two data sets and does a bi-directional synchronization of that scoped dataset, but only if that item occurs in both systems naturally.
  • Bi-directional synchronization will create new records if they are found in one system and not the other.

The correlation pattern will synchronize objects as long as they are found in both systems.

Leading Global Brands are Choosing Open SaaS

Make your retail site more flexible and innovative while also saving time, money, and launching your site faster.

Download this guide to learn how top brands tackle:

  • Direct-to-Consumer & B2C Implementations
  • Headless Commerce (API-First) Initiatives
  • And more.

Download Your Guide

3 Ecommerce ERP Integration Frameworks

Now that you understand ERP integration patterns, let’s look at a variety of ERP integration frameworks to get the full picture.

We’ll begin up close looking at the APIs and webhooks required of a modern SaaS ecommerce platform for ERP integration.

We’ll then back out to get a fuller view as complexity increases.

1. EDI Integration for Omnichannel Warehousing Solution AS400

erp integrations framework

In the ERP integration framework above, a system integrator converts data from APIs and sends them to the ERP through the necessary EDI protocol.

This particular framework showcases a bi-directional ERP integration pattern for 3 information points simultaneously:

  • Order
  • Inventory
  • Shipping

2. Complete Ecommerce ERP Integration Framework Visualization for Simultaneous Data Orchestration

erp integrations framework bird's-eye view

The ERP integration framework above is a zoomed out view of the one prior it. We are still looking primarily at the ERP integration functionality between an ERP and a retailer’s ecommerce channel.

In this view, you can see the role of the system integrator much more clearly as data is passed through via bi-directional and correlation patterns –– or more simply, through a pipeline.

Pro Tip

All 5 of the EDI/API patterns above are forms of a messaging system. ESBs (and webhooks for that matter) are “push” systems, where there’s a conveyor belt of messages that are sent to some destination.

APIs are “pull” systems, where the consumer of the information requests some information, and then there is a response (request/response).

This is still an API to EDI example, but API to API works similarly as information is validated, transferred and converted for automation.

In this model, various information points are being synced, including:

  • Orders
  • Customers
  • Products
  • Inventory
  • Shipping

3. Full ERP Integration Ecosystem Framework

erp integrations omnichannel framework

In the above framework, you can see the full omnichannel ERP integration framework, including integrations with a PIM, CMS and ESP.

This is the full view of a possible ERP integration and data orchestration framework for a large omni-channel, international retailer.

Nearly all of of the ERP integration patterns are used in this scenario, as well as a system integrator.

Executive Summary

For those retailers looking to move to a modern ERP integration framework, you’re in luck.

Modern ERP integration frameworks are one way for businesses to realize innovation speed and profitability among fierce competition from Amazon and micro-brands.

That said, ERPs have some serious weaknesses that APIs and service-oriented architectures were meant to solve.

Many large brands choose a combination of both for quick speed to market along with advanced data orchestration.

After all, legacy retailers wrestling with data orchestration are being squeezed from both the top and the bottom –– while trying to manage existing systems and allow for marketing innovation that solidifies your place in market.

For your ecommerce channel, the best way to do that is utilize a SaaS solution like BigCommerce that allows flexibility at the presentation layer for UX and innovative experiences, as well as extensibility at the API layer including unlimited call volumes.

For those considering a migration, here is a simpler workflow for how BigCommerce plays in to your data orchestration.

erp integrations bigcommerce data orchestration

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The Headless Commerce Showdown: The Unseen Strategy Retailers Use to Win Ecommerce Market Share https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/headless-commerce/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/headless-commerce/#respond Tue, 05 Jun 2018 15:01:46 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=28831 Businesses are living in an era of wealth, liquidity and mobility. Amazon edges near $1 trillion in market value. Netflix…]]>

Businesses are living in an era of wealth, liquidity and mobility.

  • Amazon edges near $1 trillion in market value.
  • Netflix recently surpassed Disney in value.

What do both of these companies have in common?

They save people time effectively adding hours to our days otherwise spent in search of commodities or entertainment.

This ultimately delivers convenience.

Plus, time is money.

This blending of content and commerce to provide for both experience and consumerism is not unique to Amazon or Netflix – though they arguably do it the best.

In fact, traditional and digital-native brands across the globe are working fast to implement similar strategies.

The State of Ecommerce in 2018

To understand the state of retail – especially ecommerce – think of it this way:

1. Amazon is the commodity market.

Meaning if you sell there, you are competing for mindshare and subject to immense pricing pressures within the context of the most respected brands in the world.

But more than 50% of Americans begin their product search on Amazon, so it’s wise to think of Amazon as a sales channel rather than a competitor.

Still, though it produces short-term profit, it eats into long-term return – and that’s not accounting for any future Amazon initiatives that eat into additional markets.

2. Traditional retailers are quickly going direct-to-consumer.

Realizing they have lost community, and thus brand recognition, due to the thousands of digital native brands that have focused solely on establishing a lasting connection with consumers.

But shifting to direct-to-consumer from a b2b wholesale model isn’t easy.

Tech debt from historic open source or custom-built ecommerce technology solutions slow down internal decision making and threaten internal innovation and testing.

3. Digital native brands number in the tens of thousands.

Thanks to SaaS ecommerce technology allowing brands to rapidly build modern ecommerce websites affordably.

Without the size to go after wholesale markets, these nimble brands have built grassroots communities and conquered Facebook advertising.

While digital commerce brands often lack the marketing budgets of the mid-market or enterprise brands they hope to displace, they are highly effective marketing and community building machine.

As such, they are causing much larger competitors to respond either through acquisition or head-to-head competition.

This state of ecommerce affairs has resulted in 3 main ways businesses go after increased online share:

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1. Monolithic.

This is where ecommerce first started, back in the days when hardware and software were inextricably linked.

For instance, if you buy IBM hardware you must then, therefore, use IBM software. The industry has largely since evolved from this model.

2. Commerce-led.

This strategy uses a commerce platform front-end for UX and checkout, but APIs for data orchestration across a more robust infrastructure.

Businesses using this model often implement a PIM, ERP and OMS for product information management, accounting and customer integration and inventory management across channels.

Businesses using this model are typically using SaaS or open source technologies.

3. Experience-led.

This strategy decouples the presentation layer from the ecommerce platform using popular CMS solutions like WordPress for unparalleled content experiences that increase brand value perception and drive to checkout.

In this model, the ecommerce platform provides PCI compliance and inventory management – though, can be connected to additional systems like ERPs, PIMs, or OMS tools via APIs.

headless commerce WordPress

What is Headless Commerce?

This experience-led model is known more commonly in the retail industry as headless commerce.

Headless commerce is the decoupling of the presentation layer from the ecommerce platform, typically for more flexibility in content management and delivery, UX and even SEO.

Ecommerce platforms in this model serve up PCI compliance, security, fraud management and inventory management that can also connect to larger, key infrastructure points such as ERPs, PIMs, OMS and POS.

Headless Commerce vs. Traditional Ecommerce

What is the impetus behind a move to new ecommerce models?

Amazon.

With 55% of product searches happening on Amazon, brands cannot afford to not be there. But Amazon is a commodity market.

Therefore, brands are looking for ways to turn their sites into value destinations driven by community, content and brand experiences.

The Traditional Ecommerce Model

The most traditional ecommerce model is the monolithic model. Many brands still use a monolithic strategy.

The downsides to a monolithic strategy are slow go-to-market timelines and high development costs.

This delays innovation.

Upsides to a monolithic model are full platform control for the IT department.

Open SaaS Ecommerce Model

Commerce-led or commerce-first models use APIs for data orchestration and give relative control to IT teams for infrastructure connectivity.

On a SaaS platform, the number of API calls available is important to making sure this functions properly.

Open SaaS is a SaaS platform architecture choice. It includes the following:

  • High or unlimited API call volumes.
  • Multiple endpoints.
  • Well-documented developer documents.
  • A heavy focus on API development in product roadmap make.

This is what an open SaaS architecture looks like.

headless commerce saas model

Headless Commerce Model

Headless commerce takes open SaaS one step further, completely decoupling the presentation layer of the ecommerce platform.

API connectivity and robustness is important in ensuring data orchestration across the decoupled systems.

This is what the Headless commerce model looks like.

headless commerce model

Leading Global Brands are Choosing Open SaaS

Make your retail site more flexible and innovative while also saving time, money, and launching your site faster.

Download this guide to learn how top brands tackle:

  • Direct-to-Consumer & B2C Implementations
  • Headless Commerce (API-First) Initiatives
  • And more.

Download Your Guide

Benefits of Using Headless Ecommerce Solutions

There are multiple benefits to using both commerce-led or a content-led ecommerce strategy.

Content-led strategies using headless commerce as a commerce solution can provide brands increased:

  1. Site customization and personalization options.
  2. Flexibility, familiarity and fund-savings for developers.
  3. Marketing effectiveness for innovation without hurting backend processes.
  4. Speed to market for international and omnichannel GTMs.

1. More customization and personalization.

Brands looking to custom the user experience and drive increased engagement on their sites through content experiences are often best serviced by a headless commerce approach.

This gives you the flexibility of a CMS like WordPress with the security of an ecommerce platform like BigCommerce, which manages PCI compliance and checkout uptime, among other aspects.

2.Increased flexibility, familiarity and fund-savings for developers.

Facebook.com and WordPress sites attract roughly the same number of monthly unique visitors, but Facebook does it with 25X the employee count.

WordPress employs less than 400 people.

All the rest of the work being done for sites using WordPress is accomplished via agency or freelance developers and designers.

And with nearly 30% of the modern web using WordPress, some studies suggest that upward of 25% of freelance developers make their entire salary off of WordPress development.

Indeed, you can throw a stone in any direction in most cities in the U.S. and have it land within a few feet of a WordPress developer.

That is how ubiquitous WordPress development is.

To save time in finding a developer and on costs is having a developer work in a system in which they aren’t familiar (some ecommerce platforms use proprietary coding language, for instance), going the headless route can lower the total cost of entrance or launch.

3. Marketing effectiveness for innovation

The keys to growing ecommerce revenue MoM is innovation at speed and at cost.

Ecommerce marketing teams need to be able to get programs and campaigns up quickly, A/B test them and then double down on what is working and get rid of what isn’t.

A headless commerce approach can make this easy for marketers and merchandisers.

Working within a familiar CMS like WordPress speeds up their productivity, while maintaining the security, inventory syncing and data orchestration needed for the larger organization.

4. Speed to market in new geographies or channels

Combine all of the advantages above and now apply them to the process of launching in new geographies or launching micro-brands.

Once you have the system setup, the headless commerce route is easily replicable across the board, optimized for international SEO and connected to the overall data orchestration infrastructure.

Headless Commerce Examples

First of all, it’s often very difficult to tell if a brand is using headless commerce as a strategy.

This will only become more true as headless commerce becomes more mainstream and loses its URL redirect to a checkout page.

For the time being, let’s look at one headless commerce example – Kodak.

Kodak uses WordPress on the front-end to host their products, blog content and merchandising.

headless commerce kodak front-end development

For checkout, they outsource PCI compliance, checkout uptime and security to BigCommerce.

headless commerce kodak back-end bigcommerce development

This also allows them to use integrated payment options like Amazon Pay, PayPal One Touch, Apple Pay and more without having to do the interaction work themselves.

This saves time, saves money, increases security and allows for fast innovation and campaign launch to remain competitive in the industry.

Executive Summary: Shifting to Commerce-as-a-Service

Some businesses, led by modern, microservices-first technological thinking via their technical teams, don’t actually want an all-in-one platform.

Instead, these brands want to pull together several API-first products to roll into their own ecommerce strategy and infrastructure.

This allows them to pick and choose between solutions they like with less risk and effort than a completely custom-built platform.

There’s a strong emphasis on being able to rip and replace any particular component as business requirements change or something better comes along.

Headless commerce’s decoupling of the performance layer allows for this, and is a good first step for retail businesses.

But Commerce-as-a-Service (CaaS), under which the headless commerce model falls, is much more than the decoupling of the performance layer. Over the next few years, expect a rise in CaaS platforms and microservice architecture as brands choose best-of-breed solution to plug and play toward increase ecommerce innovation and revenue.

headless commerce flow

Remember: ecommerce currently makes up only 13% of total global sales. As that number increases, brands will look to new, quick to test and implement, strategies that enable growth long-term.

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The Role of Mindset, Language, and P&L Commitments in Digital Transformation https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/monique-elliott-cmo/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/monique-elliott-cmo/#respond Thu, 31 May 2018 12:49:09 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=28769 When you’re a B2B company in a traditional industry and you don’t sell the world’s most intriguing products, the very…]]>

When you’re a B2B company in a traditional industry and you don’t sell the world’s most intriguing products, the very idea of selling online is often met with resistance.

In many cases, internal stakeholders don’t believe customers even want to buy from them online, so the time, expense, and complexity of launching an ecommerce site can seem both daunting and a waste of resources.

But none of that is true.

B2B buyers want to make work purchases in much the same way they’ve become accustomed to making purchases in their personal life.

They want a B2C-like online shopping experience, and B2B businesses who ignore this fact are going to get left behind.

And the time? The cost? The resources to get it done?

All will be well spent when the orders start flowing in and revenue increases.

But before that can happen, you must get buy-in from internal stakeholders in your company, and in this blog post, I’m going to show you how to do it.

As the chief marketing officer for GE Industrial Solutions, I’m going to share my experience launching the company’s ecommerce site and discuss two approaches you can use to help reduce the friction around selling online and create fusion when it comes to innovating within a traditional industry.

Let’s dive in.

Innovation Leads to Growth

Language plays an important role in this process, and one of the words I’d like you to keep in mind is “innovation.”

GE’s electrification business is 130 years old, and you don’t get to be 130 if you don’t innovate in some way, shape, or form along the way.

I’d like to think that GE’s story—from both a product and ecommerce perspective—can be summed up by an unrelenting focus on innovation.

Our business’ ecommerce journey began about 18 years ago.

There was a recognition that the way people bought B2B products was changing.

We had the traditional brick-and-mortar distributors that our salespeople visited to sell our products, but we also created a closed, authenticated ecommerce platform that distributors could use to buy products.

It was very innovative at the time, and we started flowing thousands of orders through the site. It was very successful.

But we got complacent.

Over the course of the next 15 years, we didn’t put a lot of investment into the platform.

Meanwhile, our competitors got up to speed with B2B online selling and started building their own ecommerce sites.

We weren’t innovating from a functionality perspective, and our competition was outpacing us with new features that distributors were using to buy from them.

We knew we needed to update the platform if we were going to compete.

We may have had the name recognition, but others were providing similar products to distributors using the online tools they were looking for—and that’s all that matters.

We knew our new platform needed to be upgraded, responsive, and it had to have a B2C user experience.

Ultimately, we knew we needed to take an omnichannel approach.

After presenting our plan, we got initial buy-in from the leadership team and the investment we needed to upgrade the site, but we still encountered challenges from many areas of the organization.

We had a lot of work to do to convince people across many different departments that rebuilding our ecommerce site was a business imperative.

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Approach 1: Reduce Friction by Changing the Mindset

As we started our ecommerce initiative, we kept getting questions from people across the organization.

Questions like:

“When are you going to be done with that ecommerce project?” or “When are you going to be done with that marketing project?”

We realized we had a language problem on our hands.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with projects—indeed, as marketers, we typically think in terms of projects—that word is loaded with connotations.

By their very nature, projects have a start date and an end date. They have a set budget and a project manager. They also typically have shifting resources, so someone may work on a project in addition to their day job.

With projects, the desired outcome is that you deliver them on time and under budget and within the scope.

And this is where words matter, where vocabulary becomes important.

We realized that calling what we were doing a project was really limiting our abilities.

To ease friction and get buy-in, we needed to reframe our marketing initiative.

So, we took a page from IT’s playbook.

IT talks about things in the context of products, not projects, which really changes the way everyone views them.

We reframed our ecommerce initiative as a product, and changing that one word made a huge difference.

We gave it a lifecycle, ongoing investment, and a dedicated team.

We started thinking in terms of continuous delivery. There would be no set end date—we would just keep improving the product to deliver the best possible online shopping experience for our customers.

While we didn’t actually change the way we were working, reframing it as a product really got people to rally around what we were doing.

We reset the mindset.

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Approach 2: Create Fusion with an Ecommerce P&L

Next, we created a business around our ecommerce product, which was a little more controversial than our first approach.

Knowing we had a clear revenue goal, I decided I was going to own that number.

I would be measured based on whether I hit it—no different than a salesperson or a business leader needing to hit their financial targets.

We set quarterly operating plans for our ecommerce order growth and created a dedicated, cross-functional ecommerce team.

We operationalized our strategy and I ran the organization much like you would run a P&L, which established credibility with all of the other business leaders and teams.

It was exactly what we needed to get buy-in from key stakeholders in the company.

It Takes Trash Can Moments to Get to the Big Light Bulb

Over the ensuing months we successfully rebuilt our ecommerce platform as a product with a P&L.

We delivered a great tool and hit our growth targets, of which I was very proud.

But I was even more proud that we had been willing to experiment and that we had innovated to grow the business.

The fact that we were willing to take some risks was the greatest achievement.

We tried tactics that were fun along the way but wound up as failures, too.

One of them was running Friday flash sales, which seemed like a good idea—especially since they were working so well for retailers we were consulting.

We ran five or six of them and learned that our customers weren’t waiting around on a Friday afternoon to buy a circuit breaker at a reduced price. It’s not like selling shoes online.

For all of the similarities to B2C, B2B definitely is unique in many ways.

Generally speaking, B2B buyers expect a B2C experience, but you have to test certain tactics to discover what attracts and converts your customers.

I like to think of failures as trash can moments. You test a lot of things and the ones that fail wind up in the trash bin.

But you just keep trying and experimenting until you hit on your big light bulb moment—when you uncover the secret to your success.

Innovate and Lead the Way Forward

I’ll be the first to admit that it can be challenging to generate enthusiasm for products like circuit breakers, transformers, and switchgear.

They’re not the first products that come to mind when people think about buying online.

But with a little innovation and internal buy-in, you can create an ecommerce buying experience that appeals to your B2B customers, grows your business, and transforms your company into an industry leader.

Just remember two things:

  • Language matters. It’s not a project; it’s a product.
  • Create an actual business around your ecommerce strategy with P&L.

And reset your mindset.

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Top 18 Ecommerce Fashion Websites to Watch in 2018 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/fashion-apparel-ecommerce-design/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/fashion-apparel-ecommerce-design/#respond Tue, 29 May 2018 14:00:49 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=21544 U.S. retail ecommerce sales of apparel and accessories is expected to surpass $103 billion in 2018. That comprises nearly 20%…]]>

U.S. retail ecommerce sales of apparel and accessories is expected to surpass $103 billion in 2018.

That comprises nearly 20% of total retail ecommerce sales this year and makes apparel and accessories the largest single product category in the ecommerce industry.

The next few years look even better for apparel and accessories ecommerce retailers, as sales are projected to top $170 billion by 2022.

ecommerce fashion apparel accessories sales trends

If you want your share of the massive profits in this category, your ecommerce site is going to have to be best-in-class because the competition is fierce.

The following fashion brands have built exceptional ecommerce sites around giving customers the best shopping experience possible.

Follow their lead and you’ll be well on your way to ecommerce success.

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Best Fashion Ecommerce Sites

Fashion brands face stiff competition online.

From large, established brands like Louis Vuitton to smaller brands like Verge Girl, fashion ecommerce sites are all vying for shoppers’ attention.

Regardless of their size or niche, the best fashion brands have a few things in common.

They:

  • Are good at visually communicating with their customers
  • Use product descriptions to give character to their products
  • Tell an appealing story with their About page
  • Avoid selling on their homepage
  • Regularly introduce new products
  • Sell a specific look
  • Make it easy for shoppers to buy the right size and fitting
  • Invite customers to be part of their community
  • Leverage user-generated content (customer reviews) to help sell their products

We’ve selected the following 18 brands to show how some of the best fashion ecommerce sites use these tactics to engage their customers:

  1. Tabitha Simmons.
  2. Verge Girl.
  3. Réalisation Par.
  4. Tucker Blair.
  5. Rollie Nation.
  6. Natori.
  7. TYLER’S.
  8. Olive Clothing.
  9. Bohemian Traders.
  10. Revelry.
  11. Yala Designs.
  12. Cutter & Buck.
  13. The Mountain.
  14. TRUE Linkswear.
  15. Fortress of Inca.
  16. The Pink Lily Boutique.
  17. Stormy Kromer.
  18. Seriously Silly Socks.

Let’s take a closer look at these fashion ecommerce sites to see exactly how they do it.

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1. Tabitha Simmons.

Tabitha Simmons

Tabitha Simmons sells fashionable women’s footwear made from the finest materials.

Its homepage stands out for its big, beautiful banners featuring premium photography. Product pages display high-quality images of Tabitha Simmons’ elegant shoes.

Shoppers can view size and fit information for each shoe, as well as use the site’s visualization tools to view shoes in different colors.

2. Verge Girl.

verge girl

Verge Girl is an online women’s fashion store with a sassy and irreverent style and attitude. The ecommerce site sells dresses, jeans, jackets, and accessories from Australian and international designers.

Each product page displays:

  1. Multiple high-quality images featuring a model wearing the product in various poses
  2. A product description
  3. Size guide
  4. An Afterpay option that allows you to pay for your purchase in several installments.

Shoppers can also read articles on the ecommerce site’s fashion blog.

3. Réalisation Par.

Realisation Par

Réalisation Par is a clothing label founded by Alexandra Spencer & Teale Talbot.

The ecommerce site specializes in dresses, skirts, and tops and features multiple views of each product, “the story” of each piece of clothing, and a sizing chart.

The site is also geared towards Instagram, with “dream girl” customers showing off their purchases in photos posted on the site.

4. Tucker Blair.

tucker blair

Tucker Blair is an online retailer of handmade needlepoint accessories featuring classic American styles.

From belts and sunglass straps to beach totes and hats, shoppers can zoom in on the intricacies of the products’ needlepoint work, read customer reviews, and view related products.

“Our site allows us to be everywhere for a lot of people,” said Matthew Tara, CEO of Tucker Blair.

“The biggest challenge of being a really good online brand is to have continuity and make your site feel like it’s not just a transaction — that there’s an experience.”

Tucker Blair improved online conversions by 75%.

Learn how they grew sales while also saving time on BigCommerce Enterprise.

5. Rollie Nation.

Rollie Nation

Rollie Nation designs and sells shoes online.

The company’s homepage includes images of unusual and compelling dioramas like the one above that feature Rollie Nation’s shoes.

Product pages feature multiple high-quality images of each shoe as well as a short video with a model walking in them.

Shoppers can also view details about each shoe, read customer reviews, and see related products.

“I chose BigCommerce because I felt the platform offered the best combination of ease-of-use and flexibility,” said Vince Lebon, founder of Rollie Nation.

“BigCommerce is a serious platform for online stores. The extensive built-in features, coupled with great complementary integrations and apps, is an excellent fit for fast-growth businesses like ours.”

Rollie Nation grows revenue 200% year-over-year.

Discover how Rollie Nation used enterprise-grade prouct filtering and search to drive sales growth.

6. Natori.

natori

Natori’s ecommerce site is as elegant and beautiful as the fashionable apparel it sells.

The site gives customers an excellent shopping experience by providing:

  1. Faceted search to quickly sort products
  2. Multiple product views with the ability to zoom
  3. Detailed product descriptions with customer reviews
  4. Recommended product accessories
  5. A size guide
  6. Live chat for quick and easy support.

“Our old platform was just too limiting,” said Heidi Maughan, Director of Ecommerce at Natori.

“We’re set up for success now that we’ve moved over to BigCommerce.”

Natori spends more on AI to increase sports bra sales.

Learn how Natori saw a 500% ROAS using an AI media buying platform.

7. TYLER’S.

tylers

TYLER’S sells a wide selection of athletic and lifestyle apparel, footwear, and accessories from nine retail locations in Texas.

The company’s extensive but easy-to-navigate ecommerce site provides:

  1. Advanced search capabilities
  2. Detailed product descriptions with multiple images
  3. Customer reviews to boost shopper confidence.

“BigCommerce has made it a lot more efficient for us to update product information, images, add and remove items on the website, and adjust items for sale prices,” said Ken Ward, Director of Ecommerce at TYLER’S.

“BigCommerce has helped our small team to get a lot more work done in the most efficient way.”

 

8. Olive Clothing.

olive clothing

Olive Clothing is a British contemporary clothing brand. The company’s ecommerce site offers many different styles that “combine heritage with modernity, simplicity with playfulness, and street style with understated elegance.”

The site’s homepage draws a visitor in with a full screen photograph, and the site features faceted search to more easily navigate the company’s extensive catalog.

Product pages display multiple product images, product descriptions, clothing size and care information, information about delivery and returns, and related products.

“BigCommerce’s API has enabled us to build the kind of integrations necessary to create end-to-end operational workflows that might not otherwise have been possible,” said Rohan Moore, Managing Director at Olive Clothing.

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9. Bohemian Traders.

Bohemian Traders

Bohemian Traders is one of Australia’s most beloved online fashion and apparel brands featuring classic styles for the modern bohemian.

Shoppers can see multiple views of each product, rate products, read reviews, and get styling recommendations.

One of the most unique features of the site is that models appear in different outfits with a product to show shoppers different ways it can be worn.

“With BigCommerce, everything is just very easy to use. It’s intuitive and it’s scalable,” said David Berlach, CEO of Bohemian Traders.

“Since our first year of operation, we have grown 166% YoY and undoubtedly part of that growth can be attributed to the switch to BigCommerce.”

Bohemian Traders drives 309% customer growth.

Bohemian Traders knew BigCommerce’s ability to scale with their brand was beneficial and led to a 166% YoY growth.

10. Revelry.

revelry

Revelry produces custom, affordable, trendy, designer-quality bridesmaid dresses while offering an unparalleled online shopping experience.

The company’s ecommerce site offers customers a sample box program that allows them to try on multiple dresses in the comfort of their homes.

When customers decide on a dress, each Revelry garment is made-to-order.

“BigCommerce offers so many integrations that really help us run a smooth operation,” said Michelle DeLoach, owner and founder of Revelry.

“BigCommerce is always adding features and staying on the cutting-edge of ecommerce.”

 

11. Yala Designs.

Yala Designs

Yala Designs incorporates its love of travel into all of its bamboo, organic, and fair trade clothing.

In addition to the company’s focus on sustainability and responsibility, its ecommerce site stands out for its “feel good” photography.

Shoppers can use the site’s visualization tools to zoom in on clothing products and view them in different colors.

The site also offers product recommendations “to complete the look” and provides a Fabric & Care Guide.

12. Cutter & Buck.

Cutter and Buck

From business attire to casual clothing to sportswear, Cutter & Buck sells high-quality apparel for men and women.

Shoppers can easily browse this well-designed ecommerce site using faceted search, narrowing down their search by type of clothing, size, price, and color.

Once they arrive on a product page, shoppers can read and write reviews, view related products, and use the site’s visualization tools to view products in different colors.

13. The Mountain.

the mountain

The Mountain sells art apparel from 30 retail locations and is well-known for its popular line of “Big Face” t-shirts.

Although the company has a large product catalog, faceted search makes navigating the site a breeze.

The Mountain’s site boasts high-quality images of its artwear, lets customers zoom in on products, and uses dynamic pricing to automatically update a product’s price when a shopper chooses a different apparel size.

“We chose BigCommerce because we needed a platform that had the capability to grow with us,” said Lindsey Reis, Marketing Manager at The Mountain.

“In just 30 days after launching our redesigned site on BigCommerce, we experienced a 33% MoM increase in conversion rate.”

The Mountain increases month-over-month conversion rate by 33%.

In 30 days after launch on BigCommerce, The Mountain saw a jump in conversions! Read more about their story.

14. TRUE Linkswear.

true linkswear

TRUE Linkswear is a truly unique online golf shoe and accessories seller with style and attitude.

The company notes that they want their shoes to be your favorite shoes, not just your favorite golf shoes.

A shopper can quickly jump to the exact product they want using faceted search, see each shoe from multiple angles, use visualization tools to see shoes in different colors, read and write reviews, and view shoe care and sizing guides.

“In a 24-hour period, we created a basic BigCommerce theme and got our most important inventory plugins working,” said Jason Moore, VP of Product Development at TRUE Linkswear.

“It was so easy to integrate our logistics solutions and operations into the BigCommerce platform – from inventory management tools to shipping integrations to account solutions, as well as the plug-and-play abilities with all of the third-party apps that we use.”

15. Fortress of Inca.

Fortress of Inca

Fortress of Inca is a Peruvian shoe manufacturer that is focused on fair labor practices and pricing, premium natural materials, and sustainability.

The company’s ecommerce site shows shoppers multiple product images with the ability to zoom, related products, sizing charts, and even a blog to aid their shopping journey.

“Our sales and traffic increased 20% when we moved to BigCommerce,” said Evan Streusand, founder of Fortress of Inca.

“Integrating with other platforms and ecommerce apps is also a huge help. Apps like Stitch Labs and ShipStation, which we use to run our business, all work seamlessly with BigCommerce to help our processes run smoothly.”

Fortress of Inca increased monthly transactions by 43%.

Fortress of Inca utilized the backend functionality and features of BigCommerce to drive 20% more traffic and sales when they switched.

16. The Pink Lily Boutique.

The Pink Lily Boutique

The Pink Lily Boutique is one of the fastest growing online fashion boutiques in the country.

High-quality photography separates this ecommerce site from its competitors, as does its fashion-forward design.

To help navigate a large product catalog, shoppers can use faceted search to sort products by size, price, rating, color, style, material, and more.

Product pages feature multiple product views, detailed product descriptions, related products, and customer reviews.

“All of our business metrics have increased significantly since we switched to BigCommerce,” said Chris Gerbig, cofounder of The Pink Lily Boutique.

“BigCommerce’s integrations with ShipStation and InStockNotify have made it possible for our team to perform functions that would have previously taken days or even weeks in a matter of minutes.”

Pink Lily Boutique achieves 600+ orders per day.

Switching to BigCommerce helped Pink Lily Boutique reach $1 Million in monthly sales, read their full story here.

17. Stormy Kromer.

Stormy Kromer

Stormy Kromer has been selling its iconic winter railroad cap since 1903, and also sells clothing, bags, and accessories from its ecommerce site.

The beautifully designed site features excellent photography and gives visitors an optimal online shopping experience.

Product pages are loaded with features and information, enabling shoppers to view products in different colors, see images of people wearing the product in the “real world,” watch a video to help them determine their cap size, read customer reviews, and jump to related products.

18. Seriously Silly Socks.

Seriously Silly Socks

Seriously Silly Socks is an online retailer that sells a wide variety of, you guessed it, socks.

The user-friendly site provides shoppers with a broad range of features, such as:

  1. Faceted search so they can quickly sort through the company’s large catalog
  2. Multiple product views, the ability to compare products side by side
  3. A size guide
  4. Customer reviews
  5. The company’s Twitter feed.

“I’ve been with BigCommerce for five years now,” said Andrew Gill, owner of Seriously Silly Socks.

“I’ve looked into Magento and Shopify. When I compare BigCommerce versus either of them, I’m happy with the choice I made and would make the same decision again.”

Seriously Silly Socks reaches a 5.3% conversion rate.

Using BigCommerce and Yotpoo, Serioulsy Silly Socks was able to add the social proof needed to drive more sales.

Executive Summary

The apparel and accessories category is expected to reach $170.52 billion in sales by 2022 after topping $103 billion this year.

To capture their share of sales, leading fashion brands are building ecommerce sites that delight shoppers and turn them into loyal customers.

The 18 ecommerce brands above are dazzling the fashion sector by using some tried and true tactics on their sites:

  • Displaying images of products at various angles
  • Using professional photography
  • Enabling visualization tools so shoppers can zoom in on products and see them in different colors
  • Providing faceted search
  • Highlighting customer reviews

Competition in this ecommerce category is fierce, so you have to dress your site for success.

Follow the lead of these fashion brands using ecommerce best practices to provide exceptional online shopping experiences for your customers.

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You Can’t Afford to Ignore The Benefits of SaaS: It’s Brand Bankruptcy or Digital Transformation https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/saas-benefits/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/saas-benefits/#respond Tue, 15 May 2018 15:15:56 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=28583 It’s decision time for traditional retailers. For you, Amazon’s commodity market is profitable but earns little brand equity. And micro-brands…]]>

It’s decision time for traditional retailers.

Time to decide whether you’re going to use an old self-hosted platform and business model that holds you back, or make a game-changing decision to use cloud and SaaS to take your business into the future.

For you, Amazon’s commodity market is profitable but earns little brand equity.

And micro-brands numbering in the thousands are chipping away at your brand recognition and loyalty – with much smaller teams and much smaller budgets.

You’re getting squeezed in the middle – and there’s only one way to stop it: innovate at speed and cost.

If you don’t, your company won’t be around in five years.

You simply won’t be able to compete.

I know that because I’ve seen a lot of changes to the world of ecommerce since I started working in the industry over 15 years ago.

Back then, nearly all of the ecommerce sites I built were bespoke, self-hosted solutions.

I worked for a Magento Gold Partner agency for almost 5 years, and during that time I saw the many limitations and challenges of self-hosted ecommerce platforms.

Although they were designed with flexibility in mind, many necessary functions like integrating other systems or securing development talent at any kind of reasonable cost were massive money and time debt centers.

The plain truth of it was that self-hosted platforms like Magento were very complex to work with and took a long time to go to market.

But, they were the only options available. That’s no longer the case.

Why SaaS: Making the Move

When I worked agency side, we started building ecommerce sites on SaaS platforms like BigCommerce.

I already knew the benefits of SaaS across other pieces of the commerce platform stack, including:

  • Omnichannel commerce technologies.
  • OMS Systems.
  • WM Systems.
  • ERPs like NetSuite.

I quickly saw that working on SaaS ecommerce platforms was so much easier than working with self-hosted platforms, especially at the enterprise level with integrated systems.

The SaaS benefits are easy to see

  • It is much less expensive.
  • Doesn’t require an army of specialized developers.
  • Companies can go to market much faster.

This is how those micro-brands outcompete you with less resources and capital. And you can fight back.

Traditional retailers are starting to realize the benefits software as a service, and of making the move to SaaS.

I saw the writing on the wall.

In fact, I witnessed a large migration to SaaS across the entire commerce and business technology stack, not just the ecommerce platform itself.

However, large organizations don’t always move as quickly as they should — even when it’s in their best interests.

Fear and technology investment debt are holding traditional retailers back, allowing Amazon (and other marketplaces) to strike from the top and micro-brands to attack in the thousands from below.

Death by a thousand cuts if you will.

The black swan for your business isn’t a disrupting startup. It’s a line item on your P&L.

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The Fear of the Unknown

I started recommending SaaS ecommerce platforms to my customers, but many initially pushed back and were hesitant to make the move.

Although they wouldn’t say it directly, I think the fear of the unknown kept them from making the logical move to SaaS.

Let me explain.

When you have a legacy with any self-hosted technology, you loathe to throw out those investments.

You’ve made massive investments in people, processes, and technology to get up to speed on your self-hosted platform.

You feel like all of that will have been a waste if you go to SaaS.

When you’ve invested heavily in people with back-end development skills, you’re worried about what all those developers are going to work on if you move to a SaaS platform.

And believe me, I get it:

Making the decision to move away from traditional on-premise software that is in its little silo of ownership and management within the business can be extremely difficult.

It threatens your position of knowledge, of authority, of power, of control. It may even threaten your livelihood and potentially your career if you get it wrong.

In short, it all comes down to the fear factor.

It’s change, and many people perceive change to:

  • Be too difficult.
  • Be too expensive.
  • Take too much time and planning.

But in my experience, when it comes to business, what change really takes is leadership and vision more than anything else.

Stop over-building. Open SaaS is here.

Adapt your business to changing ecommerce trends and an ever-more competitive industry.

Open SaaS gets you the flexibility to you need to stand out, the data orchestration you need for operational efficiency and the low total cost of ownership that lets’ you reallocate dollars to marketing spend, not technology debt.

The first step to a platform migration is an RFP. Our free template includes more than 100 questions to send to all platforms you are considering, including:

  • Hosting & Security
  • Design & Development
  • Marketing and Expanding to Omnichannel

Get the template. Save yourself time. And begin future-proofing your technology stack. 

Get your free RFP template now.

The Digital Influence

Digital is driving your businesses to change whether you like it or not.

It behooves you to work with vendors, partners, and consultants who have a track record of success.

Partnering with the right people that can give you the confidence you need to move forward is critical for making the move to SaaS.

The need for speed-to-market in terms of the initial build, integrations, and deployment of the stack is important for this switch, but it’s also the need for speed in the evolution of the user experience for your customer.

On self-hosted platforms, change is more painful. The simple truth is that self-hosted technologies are not designed for the pace of change of business today.

With self-hosted technology, you can literally spend months configuring, testing, and load-testing the infrastructure behind the technology as opposed to actually being in market making money.

Again, the SaaS benefits here at clear. You can:

  • Be in market within weeks
  • Avoid all of the development hassles
  • Dramatically lower your costs
  • Not have to worry about security since SaaS ecommerce companies handle PCI compliance.

Disruptors, led by APIs, Are Forcing Change

Three of the most disruptive factors that I’ve seen in my 15 years in digital are mobile, SaaS, and APIs.

These three disruptors are closely related in many respects, but API-led connectivity, an API-led technology, an API-led organization, an API-led economy is the future.

This is yet another benefit of the SaaS model: the API-led approach sets them up perfectly for the future of commerce where best-of-breed technologies can be easily added as custom integrations.

Self-hosted platforms are going to be left behind.

Emerging Ecommerce Trends

Many trends are taking shape in ecommerce, but maybe none more prevalent than voice commerce.

It’s already more disruptive than most businesses can appreciate.

In fact, voice is changing online shopping as we know it.

While the vast majority of ecommerce businesses still rely on organic, paid, and email channels to drive traffic, we’re moving to a voice-driven world where this model becomes totally challenging — especially if you aren’t an omnichannel business.

If you don’t believe that voice is on the verge of changing ecommerce as we know it, consider this: Google says it has sold a Google Home device every second since October 19, 2017.

Voice commerce is going to be the biggest game changer we’ve seen in commerce in probably a decade.

Google recently implemented Shopping Actions, which effectively turns them into an Amazon-like marketplace except that they’re not selling against their merchants.

And the transaction is going to be taking place directly within Google.

Merchant partners of Google that are already selling via Google Shopping, which redirects back to the merchant, is going to be a thing of the past.

Google wants to be able to clip the ticket across every stage of the transaction — from the marketing to the payment to the fulfillment.

This is Google’s answer to a voice world and it’s going to integrate tightly with Google Home and Google Assistant. It’s probably the biggest change to Google’s fundamental architecture that we’ve seen since there was a Google.

Leading SaaS ecommerce platforms are developing AI integrations to be on the vanguard of voice search technology and to give you the features you need to satisfy customers.

The Future Is Here

As we continue to move into a relationship marketing model that’s informed by content, blended with commerce, and based on experience, you have to be extremely agile and highly adaptable to thrive in our ever-changing marketplace.

After all, the only constant is change, and you’re going to have to get really comfortable with it because it’s coming whether you like it or not.

SaaS ecommerce solutions are, by far, the best platforms for enabling you to quickly adapt to change while achieving a lower total cost of ownership, a faster time to market, greater security, and everything you need to deliver a world-class online shopping experience.

Fear isn’t an option.

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  • Direct-to-Consumer & B2C Implementations
  • Bring B2B Complexity Online
  • Operating Divisions Across Umbrella Brands
  • And much more.

Join the Legends

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Why Retail is Dying: The Self-Inflicted Wounds Theory (and What’s Next) https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/retail-is-dying/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/retail-is-dying/#comments Wed, 09 May 2018 12:20:39 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=28467 The commonly accepted view of why the traditional brick and mortar retail business is imploding is that Amazon is out-executing…]]>

The commonly accepted view of why the traditional brick and mortar retail business is imploding is that Amazon is out-executing and simply eating everyone’s lunch.

While it is true that Amazon has built an incredible business around a number of significant competitive advantages and the consumer product discovery process has profoundly changed due to consumers’ adoption of mobile and social media — that doesn’t tell us the entire story.

My view is retailers are suffering most from self-inflicted wounds in response to changes in market equilibrium between retailer, consumer and brand.

Catching a Falling Knife

Retailers overbuilt. Period.

They didn’t overbuild because they were stupid and felt like wasting money.

They overbuilt because they missed early signs of rapid ecommerce adoption and the impact that mobile devices would have on steepening that adoption curve.

That fundamental miscalculation combined with industry standard long-term leases for big box retailers, then further exacerbated with public earnings expectations driving aggressive store roll-out schedules formed the perfect storm for traditional brick-and-mortar retail.

The outcome? Too much capacity, not enough demand.

But the subsequent response to all that excess capacity is mostly self-inflicted.

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The Retailer-Supplier Arms Race

In most, if not all industries, long-term profits are compressed over time where only those with the lowest cost advantage and lowest cost of capital can survive.

Retail is no different. The overbuilding of retail outlets only helped to accelerate this process.

To ease the pain of excess capacity, retailers do what companies do in such circumstances; they disrupt long-standing equilibrium and kick off an arms race by squeezing their suppliers without mercy.

Here’s what happened:

  1. Retailers demanded higher margins, return allowances, marketing contributions, markdown dollars and hundreds of other “programs” that all favor the retailer and stack the deck against the consumer product company.
  2. To add insult to injury, retailers also resorted to private labelling and knocking off their suppliers’ best selling products to capture more of the margin dollars on fast moving products.
  3. And to top it off, in order to attract traffic in an increasingly homogenized world, retailers have taken to a strategy of endless discounting which weakens the brands they carry and erodes much needed contribution margin. All of which has created a feedback loop which puts pressure on retail execs to squeeze their suppliers even more.

Not a pretty picture.

The Next Big Hit

If you have ever spent more than 15 minutes working with large retailers, you know they are perpetually craving new products.

They are forever addicted to the next hit product because hit products bring the thing they need the most: foot traffic.

So, instead of cultivating and developing relationships with emerging brands by offering incentives to innovate in concert with the retailer (they will tell you they do this but ask any new brand how their roll-out at “mega store x” went and you will hear a different story), they deploy draconian contractual provisions which are exactly the opposite of what fragile, new companies need to succeed and continue innovating.

The key takeaway is that the retailers themselves have created a serious threat to their flow of product. As I mentioned above, Amazon is without a doubt a major competitive threat, but what most people don’t realize is that the retailers have been busy strangling themselves.

All of which leads us to the current “death of retail” moment.

Stop over-building. Open SaaS is here.

Adapt your business to changing consumer buying habits and an ever-more competitive industry.

Open SaaS gives you the flexibility you need to stand out, the data orchestration you need for operational efficiency and the low total cost of ownership that lets’ you reallocate dollars to marketing spend, not technology debt.

The first step to a platform migration is an RFP. Our free template includes more than 100 questions to send to all platforms you are considering, including:

  • Hosting & Security
  • Design & Development
  • Marketing and Expanding to Omnichannel

Get the template. Save yourself time. And begin future-proofing your technology stack. 

Get your free RFP template now.

The Microbrands Strike Back

Whether you are an emerging brand or an industry giant, in the last few years, there has been a proliferation of SaaS tools that enable a company to control every aspect of the consumer product value chain.

Whether it is developing and sourcing new products or targeting and converting new customers, tools like BigCommerce, Mailchimp, OptinMonster, ShipStation and many, many more have greatly reduced the barriers to entry for conceiving of, producing, marketing and fulfilling a consumer product.

As is typical when you dramatically lower the barriers to entry for a given industry, a wave of new start-ups enter the market shortly thereafter.

New brands are quite literally popping up every day.

While many of these brands will fail, the truly innovative ones will succeed. And now, instead of having to hope they get picked up by large retailers, they can start selling in a matter of minutes using BigCommerce.

There is no need for rent. No need for long-term contracts. Just sign up for a free trial of your favorite ecommerce platform, connect your free Mailchimp account and you are on your way.

Large consumer product companies have adapted too.

In response to retailers attempts at gaining leverage on their suppliers, large consumer product companies have launched their own counter-measures such as building out direct-to-consumer channels while smaller players have been forced out of business or have had to dramatically alter their channel strategy.

Now, instead of relying on the foot traffic of retailers, they can target new customers with microscopic precision.

These same brands can fulfill their orders directly through their own distribution network or the many capable 3PL players in the market.

Getting direct access to the end consumer has never been easier on one hand and it has never been more competitive on the other.

These changes have delivered the last thing traditional brick-and-mortar retailers needed; more competition.

Attack of the Microbrands

A deep-dive analysis of the rise of the microbrand using hyper-targeted marketing and just-in-time manufacturing by Scott Belsky, CPO at Adobe.

Read it on Medium here.

“Retail is Dying,” or The Three Front War

Yes, sure Amazon is eating their lunch, but now in addition to trying to defend against a strong adversary with a significant scale advantage, retailers have opened up wars on two more fronts:

  1. Rapidly emerging brands that are skipping retailers entirely like SA Company
  2. Large consumer product companies that have had enough of the draconian terms forced upon them by the largest players in retail.

So, now retailers find themselves fighting a three front war all the while the underlying economics of the retail business worsen.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Retailers are being clubbed by the almighty Amazon while being subjected to the death of a thousand cuts from new brands that are chipping away at every conceivable niche and micro-niche.

Not surprisingly, the number of retail bankruptcy filings has increased significantly and is unlikely to subside any time soon. At the time of writing in 2018, there have already been 6 retail bankruptcies.

The dynamics outlined above are not short-term disruptions to an otherwise healthy market. They are significant and long-lasting changes that will require wholesale changes in operating tactics, channel strategies and financial levers.

Historically, change of this scale works out poorly for the incumbents.

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The B2B Ecommerce Trends Report: Millennial Buyers, Payment Options and a Maturing Market https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/b2b-ecommerce-trends/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/b2b-ecommerce-trends/#comments Mon, 07 May 2018 13:00:57 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=24571 A report from Forrester Research in 2017 estimated business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce transactions would reach $1.2 trillion by 2021. This accounts…]]>

A report from Forrester Research in 2017 estimated business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce transactions would reach $1.2 trillion by 2021.

This accounts for more than 13% of all B2B sales within the United States (up from the $889 billion in sales by the end of last year).

Frost & Sullivan provided an even more bullish view, with expectations that B2B ecommerce will hit $6.6 trillion by 2020.

Despite being slow to adopt ecommerce, B2B brands are increasingly looking to digital means to boost sales – a move driven by the success of Amazon Business and the changing B2B buyer demographic.

The B2B Buyer is Changing

In 2015, Google found that close to half of B2B buyers are millennials, nearly double the number from 2012.

As the “typical” B2B buyer changes, a business’ sales process should too.

Where a Gen X buyer may prefer the handheld experience that a sales rep can provide, millennials expect that same personalized experience through streamlined, digital channels.

That leaves merchants to decipher the modern B2B buyer’s needs, without much available guidance.

The Time is Now for B2B

How are merchants adjusting their business models to accommodate ecommerce?

How are they aligning with the new expectations for B2B sales?

BigCommerce conducted a survey of more than 500 international merchants – each relying on other businesses (B2B) for at least part of their revenue – to find out.

Though their B2B strategies vary, the group underscores a key truth:

Ecommerce is no longer nebulous for B2B but a driving force. Merchants need to take advantage of that growing opportunity or risk being left behind.

Here is what we found about current B2B online sales channels:

  1. 41% of B2B retailers expect B2B online sales to grow more than 25% in 2018.
  2. Reputation matters significantly for B2B retailers at both the awareness and consideration stage.
  3. B2B retailers have been online longer than the industry gives them credit for: at least 2 years and for most, upward of 5 years.
  4. Payment options are a vital part of the B2B ecommerce sales process, with checks and POs still heavily used. Mobile wallets are on the rise.

Take a deeper look at the data.

The 2018 B2B Ecommerce Report Executive Summary

In a survey of more than 500 B2B retailers, we’ve uncovered the top trends and hesitation points for traditional manufacturers and wholesale brands. This isn’t about direct-to-consumer.

This is about growing your B2B customer base online, and the payment information, UX and delivery experiences necessary to make that happen. 

Download the summary

B2B Ecommerce Payments Trends

Little over 23% of B2B retailers with an ecommerce channel still accept fax orders.

That number is much lower in comparison to the 3 most popular payment arenas:

  • Website: 80%.
  • Email: 77%.
  • Phone: 72%.

On the rise are mobile apps and marketplaces like Amazon, a clear sign B2B retailers are quickly moving from nascent ecommerce channel experimentation to full omnichannel sales approaches.

how business accept customer orders

Credit cards still reign supreme for the online channel (94%), though checks, terms, and purchase orders remain vital for B2B buyers (51%, 53%, 50%, respectively).

On the rise are mobile wallets like Amazon Pay and Apple Pay (26%).

In the “other” category, third-party financing and ACH were the most commonly cited.

how business accept business orders

In all, B2B retailers are not as new to online sales as the ecommerce industry makes them out to be.

Most B2B retailers (78%) have been selling online for at least 2-5 years, or longer.

how long businesses accept business orders

Those brands which are not yet selling through a dedicated website are overwhelmingly planning to in the next 24 months.

plan on selling to b2b

B2B Customer Acquisition Trends

B2B retailers, like B2C retailers, use a variety of acquisition channels.

Word of mouth and referrals are particularly important to the B2B segment, however, 63% of respondents finding prospects through recommendation.

Surprisingly, social media also plays an important role – highlighting again the shift in B2B buyer behavior and its move toward a more B2C behavior path.

On the “other” category, the primary channels specified were cold calling and sales rep outreach.

channels for b2b aquisition

Once prospects are on site, B2B sellers saw vendor reputation and price as the lead drivers to conversion at 53% and 47%, respectively.

Ease of online purchase, loyalty, and inventory mix were also ranked highly (39%, 43%, 35% respectively).

Ease of purchase for B2B retailers is often where B2B ecommerce managers and B2C ecommerce managers have varying levels of experience.

B2B businesses need some or all of the following to hit their “ease of online purchase” goals:

  • Credit limits
  • Quoting
  • Price list
  • Purchase orders
  • Quick order forms
  • Purchasing approvals
  • Financing
  • Bulk pricing

business usp

To make sure that their websites are properly converting all B2B buying prospects that land on site, B2B buyers focus primarily on easy site navigation (71%).

Additional payment and pricing options take the next 3 top spots:

  • Bulk ordering options: 45%
  • Various payment options: 47%
  • Custom quotes: 40%

Product information also ranks highly (37%) – likely helping to drive organic traffic as well as educate prospects during the consideration stage.

best selling features

B2B Retail Online Sales Expectations in 2018

Forty-one percent of B2B retailers in this survey expect B2B online sales to increase more than 25% by the end of the year. Only 10% expect sales to remain flat.

how much expect to sell b2b

With so much growth opportunity expressed from the analysts as well as sellers themselves, we want to know: what’s holding some brands back?

There are 4 main concerns from B2B retailers about their online channels:

1. Price transparency (33%).

Manufacturers and wholesalers have recently seen margins squeezed – and larger competitors can eat up the small guys once they know their pricing. You see that fear represented here, as many merchants expressed hesitations about listing B2B pricing online.

2. Inability to meet higher demand (17%).

When a good thing – lots of sales! – turns into a bad thing, merchants worry that they won’t have the capacity or resources to produce enough to meet the increasing demand.

3. Personalizing the experience (33%).

This is a time resource issue. B2B buyers want and need personalized onsite experiences, prices and portals to accommodate the additional complexities that accompany their sales process. These can be easily created – and then scaled – but setting them up does take time on the part of the B2B brand.

4. Maintaining multiple sites (37%).

Tools like ERPs and PIMs can readily solve for this, but B2B retailers do need to have at least one person dedicated to the ecommerce channel to make it work.

stakeholders concern

The 2018 B2B Ecommerce Report Executive Summary

In a survey of more than 500 B2B retailers, we’ve uncovered the top trends and hesitation points for traditional manufacturers and wholesale brands. This isn’t about direct-to-consumer.

This is about growing your B2B customer base online, and the payment information, UX and delivery experiences necessary to make that happen. 

Download the summary

Top 7 B2B Ecommerce Trends of 2018

Now that you know the data, let’s talk about the trends and how you can implement them.

Here are the top lessons and B2B trends taken from multi-million dollar B2B businesses now using ecommerce to drive net new customer acquisition, decrease manual backoff input and work, retain happier customers than ever before, and ultimately grow their business for the next wave in their company’s lifecycle.

  1. Companies are focusing on new customer acquisition + user experience.
  2. Upgrading B2B ecommerce software to meet customer needs.
  3. A focus on product information and how it is displayed.
  4. Companies are learning from Amazon to improve customer experience.
  5. Integration of systems for multi-channel selling.
  6. Stay ahead of the competition by keeping your ears on the ground.
  7. Companies are embracing B2B mobile commerce.

Let’s dive in.

1. Focus on new customer acquisition.

Online selling for B2B merchants didn’t used to be a core part of B2B business and sales strategy.

Instead, sites were simply “portals” that were intended to replace customer service reps with online technology, orr they served solely as catalogs (if the brands had sites at all).

Any version of a B2B ecommerce site historically has served only existing customers, allowing them to place reorders by using an established term account.

Now B2B players want to acquire new customers and their ecommerce site is a great place for that. Online search tools enable new customers to research, find, and place an order easier than ever before.

Today, 74% of B2B buyers report researching at least half of their work purchases online.

With more B2B buyers going online to research and buy products, merchants must be where their customers are. Bringing in these new customers becomes a focal point of B2B online selling and the purpose of an ecommerce site.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Knobs Co

knobs co

For some B2B brands, earning net new customers means taking a part of their business directly to consumers.

This is what is known as “going direct.”

It opens a new revenue stream for your business, selling the same products at individual prices rather than bulk to B2B buyers.

This is how Knobs Co has done it. The company created a B2C focused site that allows B2B buyers to sign in and get additional benefits like price discounts, white glove service, and more.

FlexFire LEDs

FlexFire LED

For FlexFire LEDs, the name of the net new customer acquisition game is SEO, and focusing on this has enabled this B2B brand to attract the business of Disney, Apple, Ford, and more. They do it by providing extensive educational material on their products and proving to Google and future customers that they are a subject matter expert.

You don’t need a blog to do this. You just need evergreen, smart information, ideally using graphics and video in addition to text to explain your product, who it is right for, how to use it, etc.

Check out the image below to see how FlexFire LEDs does this on their learning pages.

FlexFIre LED Learning Page

2. Upgrade B2B ecommerce software to meet customer needs.

To accommodate a new online strategy, B2B sellers are looking to upgrade their ecommerce software for these online-savvy buyers.

In the past, B2B buyers often used a third-party plug-in to their ERP to enable online selling. Now, B2B sellers are turning to consumer-based technology.

57% of B2B executives said their top technology need for investment was an ecommerce platform, making it the highest reported need.

To provide a better experience, business-to-business sellers need updated B2B ecommerce software centered around their specific customer requirements like price levels and term accounts.

They’re also looking for their online sites to allow customers to manage their own account to perform tasks like applying for a credit account, making payments, and reviewing order history.

B2B sellers are dedicating more of their technology budget to ecommerce-related investments.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Spectrum Audio

Spectrum Audio

John McCann, the founder of Spectrum Audio, migrated his site from Magento to BigCommerce years ago – and then set out to build the one functionality he thought was missing: a quoting tool.

This allows high-volume customers to get an immediate quote from the business for their bulk orders – helping to speed up the process from prospect (self identified) to customer.

Today, John now also runs Quote Ninja, a BigCommerce-specific technology app used by hundreds of B2B brands to win new customers, grow sales, and solve for a B2B quirk not often found or needed in the B2C ecommerce world.

Check out the GIF below to see how it works.

Spectrum Audio gif

Vypin

Vypin

Vypin’s products help truck and freight companies understand the temperature of the items they are carrying across the country.

This is vitally important for their own business – as it is for their customers, who require regulated temperatures for the transport of certain products.

Vypin allows these companies to rent the device using a recurring order system much like that used by B2C brands BirchBox or Stitch Fix to enable ongoing recurring monthly revenue, and keep their B2B customers updated and hassle-free the whole time.

AUTOMATED RECURRING BILLING & CREDIT CARD VAULTING

Need recurring billing and credit card vaulting power? We have you covered.

Get the app the biggest brands are using here.

3. Rethink your product information and how it is displayed.

It wasn’t too long ago that most B2B buyers still researched and bought from B2B companies via paper catalogs, fax machines, and landline phones.

Online selling has largely changed that.

Back in 2013, 69% of B2B sellers said they expect to stop printing a catalog within five years.

Today, we can see that change in how B2B executives manage their catalogs. Print catalogs will not go away entirely, but they will get smaller.

B2B buyers are turning to more interactive online tools to share and distribute their catalogs. This makes it easier for them to expand their relationships and work directly with more retailers and suppliers.

Let’s look at some examples.

Restaurantware

restaurantware

Want a catalog? Great – Restaurantware will send you one.

If you want to shop right now in the same way you would on a B2C site, Restaurantware has you covered. The company sells goods to restaurants around the world and has a massive catalog as well as customization options for their online buyers.

This complicates a selling cycle online where large amounts of SKUs can be difficult to manage and customizations are hard to track.

That’s why they sought out a platform that would enable both – and integrate to backend systems to make sure everything happened seamlessly. Now their online store is no mere catalog. It is interactive. It is organized. It allows for a customer-chosen product discovery journey.

And it works – no matter what you want.

Dupont

dupont

Dupont has set its site up a bit more traditionally for the B2B segment than Restaurantware, but the same challenges of product organization and discovery are being solved.

Using a side navigation product bar (also known as faceted search), Dupont allows visitors to dive deeper into their resources and offerings. They keep the homepage set up for marketing and promotion to introduce the brand and all the good ongoing work they do.

4. Learn from Amazon.

Just like B2C, Amazon has set the standard for the online B2B customer experience. Many B2B buyers rate their experience against Amazon as a benchmark.

However, 63% of B2B e-business professionals say that their experience is worse than Amazon’s.

Many believe that what’s holding them back from a better “Amazon-like” experience is their current B2B ecommerce technology.

B2B sellers will look to SaaS-based B2B ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce to deliver an omnichannel experience across every customer touchpoint.

Gartner predicts that by 2018, 70% of ecommerce will move from B2C and B2B models to models that focus on the individual customer experience.

B2B buyers have specific needs and sellers must meet them.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Bulk Bookstore

Bulk Bookstore

Bulk Bookstore is a version of what Amazon once was – an online bookstore.

Taking pages out of Amazon’s own playbook, search functionality on the site plays a huge role in product discoverability. This allows customers to jump in, know what they want, and find it quickly.

A catalog search CTA is clearly visible above the fold as well to help browsers find what they may want.

Since Bulk Bookstore is selling to a B2B audience looking for bulk orders, it features a dynamic search bar that allows customers to type in just about anything and get the result they want in a blink of the eye.

Nelson Education

Nelson Education

Nelson Education does similar work to Bulk Bookstore – selling specifically to educators through its online site.

You can see site search is still a significant CTA (using ISBN, title, author, etc.), as is providing a fun B2C-like shopping experience for teachers.

Atlas RFID

atlas RFID

Atlas RFID doesn’t rely as heavily on search to help users find what they want. Instead, they categorize items into buckets, allowing customers to click and drill down based on their own preferences.

All buckets are visible throughout the process as you get more and more granular, allowing customers to easily see their options and toggle back and forth between them.

Customers can even choose multiple products to compare directly side-by-side. Amazon doesn’t even do that.

5. Integrate your systems for multi-channel selling.

While the B2B ecommerce sector is growing, sellers have a relatively small market to choose their technology from.

B2B requirements are tough to meet and not every platform does it well enough.

B2B sellers can purchase large, expensive ecommerce platforms that require expensive customizations and a whole team to run the site. Others will turn to multiple vendors to get the job done.

Some B2B sellers are choosing third-party applications to work alongside their ecommerce platforms in order to manage order fulfillment, inventory synchronization, or financial transactions.

However, when going down this path, an integration provider is needed to tie those multiple systems together to efficiently manage your business.

Fifty-seven percent of B2B executives stated that ecommerce integration was another top technology need. They defined ecommerce integration as integrating backend technology for managing operations like inventory and customer orders with their ecommerce platform.

B2B site examples used earlier in this article have used integrator agencies like Americaneagle and Jasper to solve for complex ERP and back-office needs.

But not every site needs an integrator partner. Let’s look at an example.

Folding Chairs and Tables

Folding Chairs and Tables

Folding Chairs and Tables sells – you guessed it – chairs and tables to B2B businesses. In the fall of 2016, when BigCommerce launched the ability for brands to push items over to Amazon, the team decided to give it a try.

The company bundled a popular set together and pushed just that one item over to Amazon. Within hours they were selling by the hundreds, and within days they had to pull the listing down and focus on restocking.

Today, the brand sells both on their own online channel and Amazon, and has transformed their business 3x in the span of a single year.

That’s multi-channel efficiency.

6. Stay ahead of the competition by keeping your ears on the ground.

The growth of B2B ecommerce is evident, and trends like these show how B2B sellers are evolving their online strategies.

Getting your B2B ecommerce strategy right requires an extraordinary amount of time, planning, and investment.

You must understand your customers, choose your systems and process strategically, and train your organization for these major changes. Those who don’t do this risk being left behind by the competition.

7. Embrace B2B mobile commerce.

Here’s some recent B2B research and data from Google and BCG released last year that indicates the importance of a seamless mobile experience for B2B customers:

  • 80% of B2B buyers are using mobile at work.
  • 60% of B2B buyers report that mobile played a significant role in a recent purchase.
  • 70% of B2B buyers increased mobile usage significantly over the past two to three years.
  • 60% of B2B buyers expect to continue to increase their mobile usage.
  • 50% of B2B queries today are made on smartphones. BCG expects that figure to grow to 70% by 2020.

Mobile drives, or influences, an average of over 40% of revenue in leading B2B organizations.

What does this data suggest?

  1. You should read Google’s research reports more often
  2. That beyond getting your B2B business online, it needs to be mobile-friendly first.

Let’s talk more about that…

BCG visualizes Doom Loop thinking like this:

doom loop

Overall, this type of thinking is what has kept many B2B brands from launching online to begin with.

It comes down to this:

  • Fear of lack of experience in a new channel or medium
  • Paralyzation based on fear about a new channel or medium
  • Loss of revenue due to laggard activity

You don’t want to be in that boat. After all, BCG’s research also found that brands who are quick to adopt mobile see increased revenue through the channel in comparison to those who wait to catch up.

mobile leaders

This might be the last B2B ecommerce trend on our list, but it is arguably the most important.

Some brands, like Atlanta Lightbulbs, have even gone so far to create an app for their B2B buyers.

This allows those buyers to log in and see their specific pricing and checkout using a vaulted credit card – all in a matter of minutes. This is how you embrace B2B mobile commerce.

“We’ve used an app from the BigCommerce marketplace called AppMixture that enabled us to build our own shopping app,” says Doug Root, CEO at Atlanta Light Bulbs. “Our customers love it!”

“We’re able to give it to our commercial customers, too, set them up, put their favorite products in their phone, and then say, “Here, bam! All you’ve got to do is order on your phone, and you’re ready to go.”

“Orders just roll in on the BigCommerce platform. It all talks back and forth wonderfully.”

And they aren’t the only ones.

15% of B2B retailers reported having and using an existing app for their customers.

mobile app

Another 36% reported launching initiatives to have a mobile app in the next 24 months.

develop mobile app

Why? Because a mobile app enables faster-recurring orders based on the business account as well as can sync with your sales team for on-the-go sales that sync with your systems.

Handshake + BigCommerce

“A significant portion of B2B sales are still conducted manually on paper, and for brands selling both to other businesses and consumers, B2B operations are disconnected from the rest of the business, creating duplicative workflows and inefficiencies,” said Glen Coates, CEO and co-founder at Handshake.

“Through our partnership with BigCommerce, merchants will now have access to a complete SaaS ecommerce solution for both B2C and B2B selling, empowering businesses to sell more efficiently while maximizing ROI from their technology investments.”

  • Dedicated apps for field reps and B2B buyers. With support for both online and offline order capture, the Handshake Rep App for BigCommerce creates a seamless integration between sales rep and buyer ordering workflows. The Handshake Direct Mobile app for iOS and Android provides self-serve buyers the flexibility to place orders from the stockroom or when offline.
  • Streamlined workflows and shared product attributes spanning B2C and B2B. Product attributes sync seamlessly between BigCommerce and Handshake, providing a single source of truth across both B2C and B2B channels. Once synced, Handshake orders flow back into the BigCommerce control panel, providing real-time visibility into inventory levels and orders.
  • Advanced B2B ordering capabilities and pricing management. Provide B2B buyers with fast, convenient bulk order entry and instant reordering through an optimized interface. Enable support for advanced business rules, split orders, seasonal and customer-specific pricing, quantity breaks, and more.

GET THE APP NOW

Executive Summary

Overall, 41% of B2B retailers expect to grow their online channel by more than 25% this year.

Payment options and site UX remain the two most important factors for conversion on a B2B site, and reputation in the market remains important both in the awareness and the consideration phase.

B2B Ecommerce Statistics:
  • 41% expect B2B online sales to grow more than 25% in 2018
  • 80% accept payments on their website
  • 77% accept payments over email
  • 72% accept payments over phone
  • 23% accept payments via fax
  • 94% accept transactions through credit card
  • 51% accept transactions through checks
  • 53% accept transactions through terms
  • 50% accepting transactions through POs
  • 26% accept transactions through digital wallets like Amazon Pay and Apple Pay
  • 48% have been selling online for more than 5 years
  • 78% have been selling online for more than 2 years
  • 63% say word of mouth referrals are one of the top ways new prospects hear of them
  • 53% say reputation is important to closing the deal
  • 47% say price is important to closing the deal
  • 71% say easy site navigation is highly important in converting customers once they land on site
  • 47% say various payment options are important to converting customers
  • 33% say price transparency is a top fear for not selling online more aggressively

Want more insights like this?

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The State of Ecommerce Platforms in 2018: Cloud Commerce, Open SaaS and The API Economy https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/ecommerce-platforms/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/ecommerce-platforms/#comments Tue, 24 Apr 2018 14:00:43 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=16955 Meeting your business objectives isn’t easy – no matter how many Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company or Medium posts go viral…]]>

Meeting your business objectives isn’t easy – no matter how many Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company or Medium posts go viral within the executive community explaining why this or that strategy produced hockey stick growth.

The truth of the matter is this:

What makes your business successful is your dedication to customer experience, your market strategies, your operational efficiencies and the team of people you build.

Your unique combination of these aspects is unlike that of any other ecommerce business out there – and is why no FUD headline like “Why Your Business Will Fail” or “8 Innovative Ways to Skyrocket Growth” will ever fully apply to your brand.

Of the many decisions you make to drive success for your online business, one of the biggest is which pipes you install.

That is, which ecommerce platform you choose to power your business and ready it for scalable, long-term growth.

For most growing mid-market businesses, this technology is typically provided by BigCommerce, Magento, Salesforce Cloud Commerce (formerly Demandware) or Shopify.

The selection of one of these four platforms is where you can truly unlock performance.

Understandably, this decision has wide-ranging implications –– to your customers in engaging with your brand and reducing friction of getting the product they need, to your employees that have to implement campaign strategies, and to your bottom line in terms of sales growth as well as cost of maintenance and installation.

The following ecommerce platform comparison and explanations will help you evaluate the key criteria and make an honest assessment of which solution best suits the needs of your business.

We’ll cover:

  1. What an ecommerce platform is.
  2. Why brands use them.
  3. What your options are (hint: Open Source, SaaS, CaaS).
  4. What the heck cloud even means these days (hint: it’s just where your hosting environment is).
  5. How an ecommerce platform can benefit your business.
  6. Important questions to ask your ecommerce platform solutions in your consideration set.
  7. An advantage and disadvantages breakdown of the most popular platform options.
  8. Additional FAQs in case we forgot anything.

Let’s dive in.

What is an Ecommerce Platform?

An ecommerce platform is a software application that allows online businesses to manage their website, sales and operations.

Ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce offer the powerful features needed to run a business, while also integrating with common business tools — enabling businesses to centralize their operations and run their business their way.

Why Use an Ecommerce Platform?

Whether you’re expanding a brick-and-mortar store, looking to switch solutions, or even starting a business from scratch, your choice of ecommerce platform has a huge impact on the profitability and stability of your business.

The only real alternatives to using an ecommerce platform are:

  • Building one from scratch, which is out of the question for most businesses — and only justifiable for multimillion (or multi billion) dollar companies.
  • Using a plugin, which isn’t an option if you’re looking to build and grow a legitimate business – even a small one.

What ecommerce platform options are there?

There are 3 main ways to classify the different types of ecommerce platforms:

  • Open Source.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service).
  • CaaS (Commerce as a Service).

Beyond this, there are two ways in which ecommerce platforms offer a hosting environment for their customers.

All online business need a hosting environment on which to run their website.

The two types of hosting environments are:

  • Cloud: Hosted Elsewhere.
  • On-Premise: Self-hosted on your business premises.

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Open Source Ecommerce Platforms.

  • Hosting Environment: Cloud or On-Premise, though all patches and platform updates require manual implementation across the board.

Open source ecommerce platforms are ecommerce solutions in which you can modify all aspects of code.

This type of ecommerce platform was the most popular in the early 2000s and remains popular with development and IT heavy organizations who want 100% control of their ecommerce environment.

Running an open source ecommerce platform means you – the brand – are responsible for:

  • PCI Compliance
  • Hosting (depending on if your open source solution is on-premise or cloud).
    • Cloud Commerce solutions that are open source differ from on-premise only in that your hosting environment is offered by your provider and managed off-site.
    • Keep in mind that just because your ecommerce platform is hosting your store using a cloud environment doesn’t mean you have unlimited bandwidth like you would see on a SaaS solution. Ask about specific bandwidth allowances, specifically if you are evaluating Magento or Volusion.
  • Manual patch and update releases from the platform provider
  • Security issues
  • QA for all additional applications, often including integrations with:
    • ESP
    • CRM
    • CMS
    • ERP
    • Analytics and BI Tools
  • The building of net new tools for the site, often including:
    • Discount and Promotion Engines
    • Merchandising Tools
    • Design Drag & Drop Elements

For many brands, open source ecommerce platforms are too cumbersome and expensive to maintain.

ecommerce platforms on-premise spend

As such, there has been a massive movement to the two other types of ecommerce platforms:

  • SaaS
  • CaaS 

In fact, open-source ecommerce platforms hosted via the cloud (i.e. not on-premise) are today only 46% of the consideration set for large ecommerce brands.

ecommerce platforms retailer survey

Why?  

Because on average, open-source ecommerce platforms have a 6x annual cost of ownership versus SaaS or CaaS models.

Brands can get to market materially faster with SaaS and CaaS, in an average of 55 days.

And we live in an incredibly competitive environment, where a slowdown to innovative UX, product or backend optimizations can give your competition the leg up.

The Number 1 SaaS Ecommerce Platform

Internet Retailer’s 2018 survey found BigCommerce to be the #1 SaaS ecommerce platform preferred by mid-market and enterprise retailers. Learn more by downloading their report.

SaaS ecommerce platforms.

  • Hosting Environment: Cloud.

SaaS ecommerce platforms remove much of the complexity from running an online business because instead of managing the software yourself.

Instead of building and developing a custom solution or an open-source solution (which is often developed upon so much as to be custom), you essentially “rent” the platform.  

When factoring in development cost, this is a vastly cheaper option than open-source solutions.

Product updates, security, hosting, PCI compliance, and every other task that comes with managing your own software are managed by the SaaS provider.

Marketing and growth teams at ecommerce brands are often the internal cheerleaders for SaaS ecommerce solutions at their organizations. This is due to a SaaS solutions ability to go-to-market quickly and affordably.

IT and development departments are often concerned about a lack of flexibility and customization due to the closed off portion of code on a SaaS solution. APIs help to ease this concern, as well as non-proprietary coding and staging environments for UX build outs.

Platforms that meet the above criteria are often referred to as “Open SaaS.”

Leading Global Brands Choose Open SaaS

Get more flexibility and customization from your ecommerce platform.

Discover why brands like SONY and PEPSICO use open SaaS to tackle:

  • Direct-to-Consumer & B2C Implementations
  • Bring B2B Complexity Online
  • Operating Divisions Across Umbrella Brands
  • And much more.

Join the Legends

CaaS ecommerce platforms.

  • Hosting Environment: Cloud.

Commerce as a Service (CaaS) platforms is a newer term for a broader microservice architecture and technology stack build.

Commerce as a Service is a step toward that broader microservice architecture.

Historically, with on-premise hosting, open-source platforms or proprietary platform builds, IT and development departments at large brands have been controllers of the business.

Monolithic technology stacks were expensive and time consuming to maintain.

SaaS models and cloud hosting disrupted this model – allowing for faster go to market with significantly lower total cost of ownership.

This need for speed and innovation from a marketing standpoint (and desire for SaaS) has been put at odds with the need for complete control on the IT side via monolithic systems.

Commerce as a Service alleviates the pain point.

Using APIs and occasionally decoupled technology, brands can maintain their single source of truth monolithic systems on the operations end.

On the presentation layer, SaaS APIs allow for a modern SaaS technology stack, including ecommerce SaaS platforms as well as everything from ESPs and even lighter weight ERPs like Brightpearl.

The best analogy to give here is like IKEA furniture.

The individual pieces of the item are the microservices and, when put together, they create a final finished project.

ecommerce platforms ikea example

For many ecommerce brands, the first step toward this microservice architecture is being done via Headless Commerce.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless Commerce is a version of CaaS ecommerce in which the shopping cart is decoupled from the CMS.

In these use cases, brands often use WordPress or Adobe Experience Manager as the CMS of choice and plug in a decoupled ecommerce shopping cart solution to serve as the cart.

SaaS technologies like BigCommerce are also often used here in place of decoupled carts due to their low total cost of ownership and API flexibility.

The cart or the SaaS platform manages PCI compliance for the brand, as well as checkout best practices, and pulls on APIs or EDIs to sync with other decoupled solutions to ensure brand data is updated across the board.

Other decoupled solutions a CaaS provider works with include:

  • CMS
  • ERP
  • ESP
  • PIM
  • OMS
  • POS
  • Marketplaces like Amazon or Ebay

Kodak is a great example of a Headless Commerce solution. The brand is using WordPress as their CMS and a BigCommerce cart as their checkout.

This allows the brand to have increased control over their site experience, while out-sourcing PCI compliance and security best practices and assurances to a commerce solution provider – either as a decoupled solution or via the SaaS platform itself, the latter of which is the most common.

ecommerce platforms kodak example

View the Kodak site experience here.

Let’s look back at our IKEA example and take the classic IKEA nightstand.

If you replace the top piece of the nightstand with their new wireless charging enabled top, you’ve done headless commerce in a way:  

Using a different front-end piece that gives you an updated take on the original, but still with the same foundation and utility (e.g. drawer = cart/checkout).

What are the Benefits of Self-Hosted vs. Cloud?

There are two ways ecommerce sites can be hosted:

  • Self-Hosted
  • Cloud

Neither of these two options are platforms in and of themselves.

They are merely how the site itself is hosted, with machines on-site (literally in a room that your IT or development team control and manage) or off-site and managed in a warehouse (think Amazon Web Services, for instance).

Self-hosted ecommerce platforms.

Self-hosted ecommerce platforms require online store owners to find hosting, deal with installations and oftentimes perform updates to the software manually.

Running an ecommerce website using self-hosted ecommerce requires developers to maintain and update the website, which can get quite costly and time-consuming.

The benefits of this option include more control over your online retail platform, greater visibility of your own data, and a better understanding of data security.

While this route makes sense for some extremely complex businesses, it usually results in higher expenses and lower revenues.

Cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms.

Cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms offer hosting for their customers via off-site solutions like Amazon Web Services.

This means the cloud platform manages uptime for the brand. Cloud ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce manage 99.99% uptime annually and have had 4 years of 0 downtime during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the highest trafficked times of the year.

Not all cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms offer automatic installations of patches, updates or upgrades. Only SaaS and CaaS solutions do that.

This is where solutions like BigCommerce and Salesforce Cloud Commerce (both SaaS solutions) differ from a solution like Magento Commerce (Cloud).

Platform of Many Names

Magento 2 is now called Magento Commerce (Cloud) or Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition (ECE).

Magento renamed their offering within the last 6 months, which is a little confusing.

How will an ecommerce platform benefit my business?

In addition to scalability and protection of your data, ecommerce platforms, whether hosted on-premise or in the cloud, offer a handful of operational benefits and business tools.

These include:

  • A product management suite
  • Merchandising
  • Pricing
  • Promotions
  • Search capabilities
  • The ability to personalize sales and services to your liking

Ecommerce platforms offer businesses the ability to customize product information and how it’s solicited to best fit their own online retail needs, which can be a mutual benefit for both the business and its customers.

For larger organizations using their own ERP, PIM or OMS solutions, ecommerce platforms offer open APIs for data syncing as to not disrupt business as usual.

What are important ecommerce platform features?

Every business has unique needs, and choosing the right solution is wholly dependent on a platform’s ability to solve the day-to-day challenges inherent within your organization.

There are, however, some basic things you should find out about prospective provider.

Important ecommerce platform features:
  • Hosting environment, year-over-year uptime and bandwidth
  • Unlimited API call volumes
  • Fully customizable site free themes in non-proprietary languages
  • Extensive application marketplace full of pre-built integrations with best-in-class service providers
  • Mobile optimized site, checkout and full experience (out of the box) and fully customizable
  • PCI Compliance mitigation
  • SEO features and fully customizable URLs throughout the site
  • Built-in basic ecommerce features including promotions and discounts, analytics, catalog management, WYSIWYG editors, etc. 

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Things to Consider When Choosing an Ecommerce Platform

Social media integration.

Social commerce is getting more important by the day.

Advertising to social media users is a must if you want to capture a massive and engaged audience.

Facebook alone boasts over 1.94 million active monthly users. That’s a lot of potential customers.

BigCommerce offers built-in integrations with Facebook and Pinterest so you can market to users directly in their news feeds or main accounts.

With the advent of Buyable Pins, Facebook Shop and Shopping on Instagram, you can even sell directly to users without them needing to leave their platform of choice.

Most important social media integration questions to ask a provider:
  • Please describe how we can publish our product catalog to Facebook Shop. Is there an additional cost for this service?
  • Can users check out within Facebook or would they be re-directed to our online store?
  • Do you support Pinterest buy buttons?
  • Do you support Shopping on Instagram?
  • Does your product meta data include Open Graph Tags?
  • Please describe how we can publish our product catalog to Facebook Shop. Is there an additional cost for this service?
  • Are social media sharing links on PDP supported?
  • Are social media sharing links displayed post-purchase?
  • Can customers or end users login to our storefront using Social Login (Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc)?
  • How can we display User Generated Content such as Pinterest or reviews in our store?

80 Shopping on Instagram Examples

You don’t have to go digging around the internet for Shopping on Instagram examples. We did it for you.

You’ll get to:

  • Explore more than 80 real examples of Instagram Shopping in the wild, no more stalking to see who is doing what
  • Draw inspiration to educate your own posts and your own strategy. Some folks are seeing as much as a 1,416% increase in sales and traffic!

Download your examples.

The number of products you can sell.

Maybe you offer a wide assortment of products, or perhaps a significant number of variants for your basic product line.

This can add up to a lot of SKUs, and some platforms are better than others when it comes to SKU count.

If you have a large catalog or plan to grow your business, choosing a platform with low SKU limits essentially restricts the upside of your business.

Most important catalog management questions to ask a provider:
  • Please describe how we can manage our product catalog within your system.
  • How do you import/export catalog & customer data?
  • Can we preview our product catalog in any theme, without purchasing the theme?
  • Can we add multiple images per product? Is there a limit to the number or size of images?
  • Do you support SKU level images with image switching on variation selection?
  • Is Product Image Zoom enabled by default?
  • How easy is it to add video to PDP? Is there a limit on the size and length of videos we can upload?
  • Please describe how product options and option sets are managed in your system
  • Please describe how variations or options can be configured?
  • Is there a quick edit option available to modify stock levels or pricing change?
  • Do you support both digital and physical products?
  • Is Inventory Management built-in?
  • How do you support real-time Inventory sync within multiple channels?
  • Can inventory be tracked at variation level?
  • Does the shipping system understand and support Dimensional Weight?
  • Are Custom Product Attributes supported?
  • Can you configure related items?
  • Is it possible for related items to be automatically generated?
  • Do you allow pre-orders?
  • How do you support custom Product Pages? Can these be configured per category?
  • Are Product Reviews built-in?
  • Is it easy for customers to share products with friends from the PDP?
  • Is Site Search predictive?
  • Can Categories be sorted manually in the Control Panel?
  • Can Categories be used for Private Sales?
  • Are Category Filters supported?
  • Do Categories & Products have Breadcrumbs?
  • Are Page/Product/Category URLs auto-generated?
  • How can we customize the product and category level URLs?
  • Does the platform support multi-level category navigation?

Understand what customer service is provided.

You’re inside an ecommerce platform every single day.

No matter how intuitive the design or straightforward the features, at some point, you may need assistance.

And when that time comes, it’s good to know that you can get ahold of a real-life person to assist you with the problem.

Some platforms outsource their customer service and make it difficult — or practically impossible — to call in and get help when you need it most.

At BigCommerce, we feel that every one of our customers is entitled to personalized customer support.

Most important customer service questions to ask a provider:
  • Please provide details about your on-boarding processes for new clients.
  • Please provide an example of an implementation timeline.
  • Do you provide training and user documentation for the entire platform?
  • Please describe your support process (including tools) along with standard SLA’s.
  • Please describe your change management processes including the system audit logging capabilities.
  • How does our historical data (orders, customers, products) migrate to your solution?
  • List all Services resources who will be dedicated to our business.
  • Provide an example of a QBR or Customer Success Plan you offer your customers
  • Do you have extended support hours for supporting an event’s onsite operation?
  • How big is your customer support team and where are they located?
  • Please detail your Phone Support offering. Is it available 24/7? Is there an additional cost associated with this service?
  • What are your average wait/response times for phone support?
  • Is there a priority queue available for urgent and time-sensitive requests?
  • Can we get a dedicated Support Representative if needed?
  • What ticketing system do you use? How can we track status of our tickets?
  • What are your Support SLAs?

Ready to begin the RFP process?

Issuing an RFP is the next step for brands considering a re-platform. However, RFPs can be tricky – and what you include in them makes a world of difference in terms of what you get from your new platform (and also in making the right choice to begin with).

This free RFP includes 188 questions, from big ideas to minutiae, so you don’t miss a thing. 

Get your RFP template.

Ecommerce Platform Comparisons

All ecommerce platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. It is important for businesses to evaluate the various platforms based on their own specific needs and use cases.

Here is an overview of the most popular ecommerce platforms, their advantages and disadvantages.

BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is considered an Open SaaS platform provider and a growing CaaS ecommerce provider based on low total cost of ownership and highly flexible APIs.

BigCommerce’s advantages include uniquely sophisticated customizability and flexibility of the platform for a SaaS ecommerce platform. For this reason, it is the #1 SaaS platform of choice for mid-market and enterprise brands.

The company offers small business and start-up plans as well, with more built-in features and 100% URL (SEO) control across the board than competitors.

BigCommerce’s initial learning curve is higher than some other SaaS platforms due to the complexity of built-in features.

Magento.

Magento is historically an on-premise, open source solution preferred by brands who have already heavily invested in IT or development teams. Magento 2 (AKA Magento Commerce Cloud or Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition) launched a cloud, open source solution in more recent years.

The advantages to Magento include 100% control of your own ecommerce instance.

The disadvantages to Magento include manual patch and bug updates, requiring entire site and integration QA.

Foregoing these updates can often result in a lack of PCI compliance for brands as well as data breaches.

Many of these have been high profile in news reports over the last few months.

BigCommerce v. Magento

See how BigCommerce and Magento compare for your specific business needs.

VIEW The MAGENTO COMPARISON

Volusion.

Volusion is an ecommerce platform aimed primarily at starter stores and hobbyists.

The company currently runs and supports two different platforms, which takes a heavy tax on engineering resources as they are maintaining and building two completely different platforms.

BigCommerce vs Volusion

BigCommerce offers more conversion-driving tools than Volusion without having to pay extra for:

  • Traffic spikes.
  • The number of products you sell.
  • Basic phone support.

This allows you to grow 28% year over year — 2x the industry average.

VIEW The VOLUSION COMPARISON

Demandware.

Salesforce Cloud Commerce, formerly Demandware, is a SaaS ecommerce platform provider preferred often by high-profile fashion retailers.

It is an open SaaS model similar to BigCommerce.

The disadvantages of Demandware (or Salesforce Cloud Commerce) is the high cost and the dependence on developers.

WooCommerce.

WooCommerce is an open-source ecommerce platform, offering a cart solution in addition to a brand’s WordPress instance.

It is most often used by starter stores and hobbyists, bloggers expanding into ecommerce, and brands utilizing developers most comfortable with the WordPress environment.

WooCommerce disadvantages include scalability without slowing down the live store and the high developer costs associated with most open source platforms.

3dcart.

3dcart is another SaaS ecommerce platform, though typically considered more of a minor player.

3dcart advantages include multilingual support and advanced shipping solutions – no API required.

3dcart disadvantages include a lack of a CDN, resulting in poor site uptime during high traffic volumes for stores and difficult to reach customer service. They also lack modern responsive themes.

Shopify.

Shopify is a well-funded and public SaaS ecommerce platform provider. They are popular with starter stores, hobbyists and brands with SKU counts of less than 100.

Shopify advantages include a quick learning curve for non-experienced ecommerce practitioners, resulting in a quick go-to-market for new brands.

Shopify disadvantages include restricted API call volume, a URL structure that is not fully customizable (sections of Shopify store URLs cannot be changed), high transaction fees for not using their proprietary POS and a lack of built-in basic ecommerce features.

BigCommerce vs Shopify

According to Internet Retailer, BigCommerce and Shopify are the two fastest-growing platforms serving B2B and B2C sites selling more than $1 million per year online — but BigCommerce outranks Shopify in both adoption and growth rate.

VIEW SHOPIFY COMPARISON

Kibo.

Kibo is an omnichannel platform provider which acquired the SaaS ecommerce platform Mozu in 2016.

Mozu was built from the ground-up, offering, in theory, the most modern of ecommerce SaaS solutions.

According to current and previous customers, however, the Mozu platform is still very much a beta project in which bugs are rampant and few items are fixed.

You can read a detailed post on the troubles here.

Prestashop.

Prestashop is a freemium open-source, cloud-hosted ecommerce platform.

The platform can be used in 60 different languages and is popular outside of English-speaking countries where other platform providers dominate including:

  • BigCommerce
  • Demandware
  • Shopify
  • Magento

Squarespace.

Squarespace is a SaaS website platform provider. They are best known for their work with the creative community. Their ecommerce platform was spurred off by a need from that creative community for a light-weight cart to sell items.

It is used primarily by the creative community with low SKU volumes.

Squarespace disadvantages include limited shipping & payment gateway solution as well as limited discounting and complexity for basic built-in ecommerce features.

Big Cartel.

Big Cartel is an ecommerce solution designed for smaller merchants who do not need a sophisticated platform. Typical Big Cartel merchants are bands, clothing designers, jewelry makers, crafters, and other types of artists. The platform is very easy to use but has a limited feature set. Big Cartel likely won’t fill your needs if you have a large product catalog.

FAQs About Ecommerce Platforms

What is the best ecommerce platform for a small business?

BigCommerce, Shopify and WooCommerce are the most common ecommerce platforms for small businesses.

Depending on your experience and your specific brand needs, each platform has its advantages and disadvantages.

Should a startup use an ecommerce platform or build a custom solution?

Most startups used an ecommerce platform – particularly a SaaS solution.

SaaS ecommerce platforms allow brands to rent the technology at a low cost, making the barrier to entry to online selling extremely low.

Custom solutions require immense monetary resources to build, and have delayed go to market times.

Are there free ecommerce platforms?

No, there are no free ecommerce platforms.

Most open source platforms are technically free in that you aren’t paying a licensing fee, but there is a high cost in terms of hosting and development.

SaaS platforms charge a monthly recurring fee.

Costs range from $7 a month to $50,000+ a month.

Can I integrate my ecommerce platform with an Amazon store?

You can push your products from an ecommerce platform over to Amazon and vice versa. This is called multi-channel selling where you sell both on your own website as well as on a marketplace, in this case, Amazon.

What programming languages are ecommerce platforms written in?

Most ecommerce platforms are written in commonly used programming languages, including:

  • Ruby on Rails
  • PHP
  • Javascript
  • CSS

Many SaaS companies use an abstraction layer for their programming language.

Shopify, for instance, used their proprietary Liquid as an abstraction layer for Ruby on Rails. BigCommerce uses Handlebars.

ecommerce platforms handlebars

Executive Summary

Don’t just take my word for it.

There are tons of ecommerce platform comparisons out there. I’ve chosen this one for a deep dive as the the methodology is sound and comprehensive.

Here is a brief summary of how SelfStartr found the data to do the research:

  1. Used BuiltWith to find the 20 most popular ecommerce platforms
  2. Pulled a giant spreadsheet for all the ecommerce websites on each platform (our Magento list had 23,887 sites)
  3. Used RAND function in Google Sheets to assign a random number to each row
  4. Collected data on the first 100 websites on each platform (100 sites x 20 platforms = 2000 sites)
  5. Used a team of 4 researchers to collect data for each website
    • Load time from Pingdom
    • Mobile PageSpeed, Mobile UX and Mobile Friendliness From Google
    • Ranking Data From Ahrefs
    • URL test from SEO Site Checkup

Here is the research criteria they measured against:

  • Price
  • Performance, including: site speed for desktop and mobile, mobile UX, platform SEO,
  • Features, including: SEO tools (sitemaps, customizable metadata and URLS, bulk editing), fuzzy and exact product search, ability to send abandoned cart emails, blog, mobile store, coupon and discount capabilities, integrated ratings and reviews, multiple product photos with zooming capability, ability to handle subscriptions/recurring product orders, drop shipping integration, ability to sell customizable products, fulfillment by Amazon integration, real-time shipping and tracking, reward points program compatibility, Google trusted stores
  • Scalability, including: number of payment gateways and options, Amazon, eBay, Etsy integrations, Facebook, Pinterest syncing, Google Product data feed, Open API, design customization
  • Ease of use, including: phone support, 24/7 support, chat support, certified additional dev/marketing support, free templates

Here are the results of the study (in depth here and via screenshot below).

ecommerce platforms results

 

Go ahead and take a look at the article, as well as Internet Retailer’s 2018 Ecommerce Platform Report.

Learn more about migrating to BigCommerce

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The Delicate Balance Between Speed & Safety: Why These Enterprise Brands Chose SaaS Ecommerce Technology https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/large-business-ecommerce-examples/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/large-business-ecommerce-examples/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 16:11:22 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=21341 The retail space is competitive and ever-changing. No one wants to be held to a 12-month launch timeline costing half…]]>

The retail space is competitive and ever-changing.

No one wants to be held to a 12-month launch timeline costing half a million dollars or more for an ecommerce campaign, website or headless commerce initiative.

Now, enterprise brands are no longer strapped to expensive site launches to support ecommerce channel business initiatives.

  • Whether you are going direct-to-consumer and need a site to test new product launches before wholesaling to Target and Walmart…
  • Or need to take your B2B operations online and provide Target and Walmart’s new millennial B2B buyers with a more streamlined, custom B2B buying experience… 

Ecommerce technology is no longer a money pit.

Balancing Speed & Safety

Retail organization become more complex as they scale.

Brand IT teams, engineers and developers must maintain brand safety while also balancing the need for speed from the marketing organization.

Historically, getting to market quickly has implied the giving up of safety.

Or, conversely, making sure the ecommerce technology is safe, reliable and resilient meant slowing down the pace of innovation.

This push and pull between IT and marketing teams has often made ecommerce scalability and innovation for established brands a longed for dream. Something that just was not possible.

As a result, disruptive brands have gone direct-to-consumer with new business models and similar products, building community and brand equity along the way.

And these brands have done so using SaaS ecommerce technologies that lower the cost barrier to launching and scaling an ecommerce business.

Now, more and more enterprise brands are looking to SaaS to better compete in the modern retail ecosystem.

But not all SaaS platforms are the same.

Fred Lebhart, CEO, efelle creative

“Companies looking to run a more effective online business are increasingly making the move to SaaS for its flexibility, scalability, and operational efficiency, and in this regard, BigCommerce is a true industry leader.

They have an unparalleled commitment to their customers, and built a platform that not only meets, but anticipates, the needs of today’s mid-market brands. As an Enterprise ecommerce solution, they’ve thought of everything.”

The Most Popular SaaS Models & Their Security Implications

SaaS platforms are multi-tenant software solutions hosted in the cloud. Their extensibility functions on the use and call power of APIs – which enable micro-service architecture.

It is the APIs which allow the marketing team their innovation, and the business operations teams the proper system syncing.

This is how you build end-to-end systems that enable innovation at speed and don’t break already established internal best business practices.

But, for the IT team, security still needs to be addressed.

All SaaS platforms maintain Level 1 3.2 PCI Compliance, which protocols how to encrypt and manage sensitive credit card information.

But SaaS platforms handle personal data aside from credit card information differently.

Multi-Tenant Differences Between Platforms:

BigCommerce is multi-tenant, but not at the database level.

Our firewalls, load balancers and application servers can accept requests for any store on the platform, but they have to pull that data from the store’s database using a unique set of credentials for authentication.

This means it’s highly unlikely, nearly impossible, for a developer to accidentally expose one store’s data to another.

BigCommerce also does encryption at rest, in which, upon customer request, we will encrypt the data at AES-128 encryption level in database tables that contain Personal Data.

Shopify is multi-tenant all the way down to the database level.

Shopify does not do encryption at rest, but will soon use Disk Encryption, which will do encryption at rest at the filesystem level.

If someone cracked the filesystem encryption, the database would be exposed (unlikely, but a possibility).

Demandware creates bespoke solutions so it is likely to vary per customer.

It is this difference in multi-tenant data security, in combination with API strength and call volume limitations that win over IT teams from established retailers.

SaaS Use Cases for Established Retailers

But, how then do these retailers implement their new, cost-effective systems?

It varies by brand and their particular problem to solve, but there are 6 typical ways this is done.

  1. Direct-to-Consumer Implementations
  2. Online B2B Deployment and Personalization
  3. B2E & Internal Collateral
  4. Education & Publishing Vertical Deployments
  5. Operating Division GTM
  6. Headless Commerce (API-First)
Big Brands Using SaaS Ecommerce in Their Tech Stack:
  1. Bliss.
  2. SkullCandy.
  3. Toyota.
  4. Spinning.com.
  5. Sony.
  6. CamelBak.
  7. Ben & Jerry’s.
  8. Paul Mitchell.
  9. Sharp Electronics.
  10. Avery Dennison.
  11. Freund.
  12. Cargill.
  13. Old Spice.
  14. Natori.
  15. Ford.
  16. QVC.
  17. Georgia Pacific.
  18. Kohler.
  19. Rand McNally.
  20. Dupont.
  21. Assurant’s My Wit.
  22. Powell’s Bookstore.
  23. Delaware North.
  24. Carolina Panthers.
  25. Grand Canyon.
  26. Detroit Pistons.
  27. New Chapter.

The Use Case Booklet

From Toyota to Skullcandy and everyone in between, Fortune 500 and enterprise retailers are exploring SaaS ecommerce options for fast GTM while maintaining necessary security protocol.

See who they are, how they are doing it and test drive your own sandbox site.

Download your use case guide now.

Direct-to-Consumer & B2C Implementations

Legacy B2B and wholesale brands are needing to launch additional B2C channels.

Here are the top reasons why established brands like Chapstick and Natori are launching direct-to-consumer sites alongside their highly profitable wholesale channel.

Top 2 Reasons Brands Go Direct:
  • Test new products in new regions: Being able to test new products in new regions by swinging up sites in those new areas gives established retailers ample testing power, saving them time and money on expensive in-country deployments.
  • Build a direct line to what customers are asking: Brands without a direct-to-consumer channel have a huge lapse in time from when they develop an item to when Walmart (or their wholesale partners) will sell it. Why? Because the brand has no way to prove the customer will want the new item. With a direct-to-consumer site, these brands can get imperial evidence in a short period of time by collecting tons of customer data points. For instance, would Heinz have launched purple ketchup if they could have tested it on a direct-to-consumer site?

These direct-to-consumer sites must be cost-effective, meet modern UX standards and pass procurement’s strict requirements for stability and security.

See how these enterprise brands make this work.

1. Bliss World

2. SkullCandy

3. Toyota

4. Spinning.com

5. CamelBak

6. Ben & Jerry’s

7. Paul Mitchell

8. Sharp Electronics

9. Hisense

10. Natori

11. Kohler

14. Ford

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Bringing B2B Online

As the new generation of buyers ages into management positions, more and more B2B customers buy online –– and expect the same B2C UX experience they get elsewhere.

This market is expected to account for $6.7 trillion by 2020 – 27% of all B2B sales.

Heavy reliance on a single source of truth OMS or ERP has historically halted B2B brands from online initiatives.

Not anymore.

Robust APIs with unlimited call volumes make BigCommerce agnostic to your single source of truth.

Make millions online, without tripping up your delicate backend balance.

See how these B2B brands make it work.

1. Avery Dennison

2. Freund

3. Clarion Safety

4. Dupont

5. Ingredion

Peter Wokwicz, COO, Alpine Consulting

“Our retail clients are increasingly looking for an ecommerce platform that enables the business to focus on generating sales instead of maintenance and integration costs.

At Alpine, our goal is to provide superior service and solutions, and working with BigCommerce’s industry experts enables us to deploy even the most complex B2B ecommerce solutions with ease.”

B2E & Internal Collateral

Employee benefits at large organizations include first access to company deals and percentages off merchandise or company-required purchases from uniforms to equipment.

Your HR team doesn’t have time to also be a tech center.

Now, using SSO/SAML to authenticate employees, you can launch an un-indexed site no one can find, and no non-employee can enter.

From Assurant to Sony to Pepsi, see how these enterprise brands launched B2E deployments so successful, they then launched B2C sites.

1. PepsiCo Healthy Living

2. Assurant’s My Wit

3. Sony

The Use Case Booklet

From Toyota to Skullcandy and everyone in between, Fortune 500 and enterprise retailers are exploring SaaS ecommerce options for fast GTM while maintaining necessary security protocol.

See who they are, how they are doing it and test drive your own sandbox site.

Download your use case guide now.

Education & Publishing Vertical

Ecommerce has disrupted the business model of every industry – and the education industry is no different.

This is why universities, traditional textbook suppliers and online publishers partner with BigCommerce.

From launching a direct to consumer site to sell books and downloadables to leveraging a site for B2B deployments, see how these brands are pre-populating negotiated prices, selling in bulk and building educated communities online.

1. Harvard Law

2. Rand McNally

3. PSI

4. Nautilus

Operating Divisions

Delaware North is one of the largest hospitality and food service companies in the world.

Founded in 1915, the family-owned and privately-held company has global operations at high-profile places such as sports and entertainment venues, national and state parks, destination resorts and restaurants, airports, and regional casinos.

Delaware North has annual revenues of $3 billion in the sports, travel hospitality, restaurants and catering, parks, resorts, gaming, and specialty retail industries.

Several of Delaware North’s clients and operating locations –– including the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium and the National Park Service at Grand Canyon National Park –– use BigCommerce to power their fan sites and drive additional online revenue from loyal consumers.  

1. Carolina Panthers

2. Grand Canyon

3. Detroit Pistons

The Use Case Booklet

From Toyota to Skullcandy and everyone in between, Fortune 500 and enterprise retailers are exploring SaaS ecommerce options for fast GTM while maintaining necessary security protocol.

See who they are, how they are doing it and test drive your own sandbox site.

Download your use case guide now.

Headless Commerce (API-First)

Technology shouldn’t hinder your proven processes nor your future innovations.

You own your brand experience and operational best practices.

That’s why we’ve taken an API-first approach – called Headless Commerce – to allow brands of all sizes to plug us in and ramp up sales without disrupting established protocols for which both employees and customers recognize your brand.

You can’t actually see headless commerce in action, though.

It is a set of API usage and backend processes by which brands increase speed to market, data security and user experience for employees and customers alike.

Here are a few brands currently implementing headless commerce on BigCommerce.

  1. SkullCandy (Direct-to-Consumer End-to-End Solutioning)
  2. Freund (Online B2BEnd-to-End Solutioning)
  3. Avery Dennison (Online B2BEnd-to-End Solutioning)

Ecommerce Flexibility on Time and on Budget

The industry is constantly changing. Disruptive brands (micro-brands) are growing.

Your business needs to build brand equity – safely and quickly.

SaaS is how. Multi-tenant is how. The devil is in the details.

Get a free sandbox store to test drive it yourself now.

Daniel Townsend, Founding Partner, The Plum Tree Group

“We’re seeing a trend with large brands leveraging SaaS ecommerce platforms to design shopping experiences in a fraction of the time and cost as legacy systems without compromising requirements.

These shopping experiences vary from creating unique direct to consumer shopping channels on social media to custom purchasing portals that serve a B2B customer segment. This is all representing a shift in approach, ‘agile commerce’, that brands are taking in order to keep pace with rapidly evolving customer needs.  

We’re excited because The BigCommerce Enterprise platform is uniquely positioned to support large brands’ unique challenges of being agile while meeting enterprise requirements of performance, security and flexibility at scale.”

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Everything You Need to Know About Achieving PCI Compliance [Checklist Included] https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/pci-compliance/ https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/pci-compliance/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2018 14:00:47 +0000 https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/?p=16884 If you’ve been contacted by your bank or financial institution lately only to discover that your credit card information has…]]>

If you’ve been contacted by your bank or financial institution lately only to discover that your credit card information has been compromised, then you’ve felt the growing frustration many consumers face today.

Indeed, the situation with respect to credit card fraud is only getting worse.

Dealing with a compromise is a time-consuming hassle from a consumer’s perspective.

This is particularly because many of us maintain large numbers of (supposedly secure) personal online profiles that afford us a convenient way to deal with recurring monthly or annual payments.

How can we be sure that these online service providers, who so readily accept and retain our credit card information, are taking the appropriate measures to secure it?

This is the purpose of PCI DSS –– and every retailer is required to comply.

Depending on the ecommerce technology and backend a retailer uses, PCI compliance can be an easy check on a long list of things retailers need to do to ensure their customers are transacting securely.

Or it can be a big pain –– costing ample time, resources and money.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What PCI DSS is.
  • How to achieve it for your business.
  • How your ecommerce backend plays a large role in your required effort.

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What is the PCI DSS?

PCI DSS are standards all businesses that transact via credit card must abide by.

Originally created by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express in 2004, the PCI DSS has evolved over the years to ensure that online sellers have the systems and processes in place to prevent a data breach.

The most recent version is PCI DSS 3.2. Version 3.2 was introduced in April 2016 and officially replaced version 3.1 on February 1, 2018 as the standard all companies must follow.

The PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) defines a series of specific Data Security Standards (DSS) that are relevant to all merchants, regardless of revenue and credit card transaction volumes.

Achieving and maintaining PCI compliance is the ongoing process an organization undertakes to ensure that they are adhering to the security standards defined by the PCI SSC.

The SSC defines and manages the standards, while compliance to them is enforced by the credit card companies themselves.

Again, these standards apply to all organizations that deal with cardholder data.

Cardholder data refers specifically to the credit card number, along with cardholder name, expiration date and security code (CSC).

In total, PCI DSS outlines 12 requirements for compliance.

Twelve requirements may not sound like much. In fact, a quick scan for PCI compliance documentation online will lead you to believe that PCI compliance is easy.

In reality, maintaining PCI compliance is extremely complex — especially for large enterprises.

It actually means you need to comply with a total of 251 sub-requirements across the 12 requirements outlined in PCI DSS 3.2 to fully address the growing threats to customer payment information.

Level 1 PCI Compliant Hosting

Level 1 PCI Compliance is just the beginning. With 99.99% uptime, site-wide HTTPS and more, BigCommerce handles security table stakes.

See how security is built in.

Why Credit Card Security is Often a Neglected Subject

Jasper Studios provides ecommerce development services to omnichannel retailers both large and small.

As such, we have seen every kind of credit card storage transgression imaginable.

We’ve witnessed cardholder data stored in plain text files without any encryption or basic obfuscation residing under the CFO’s desk in a dusty PC dating back to the late 1990’s –– all freshly captured from an insecure payment gateway in a homegrown ecommerce platform.

  • Could my credit card number have been stored in that dusty old PC?
  • Was yours?

This sort of practice is plain negligence.

Fortunately, however, this isn’t a practice undertaken by most organizations, and when done so, it’s typically caused by unintentional ignorance on the subject.

But, these sorts of horror stories still persist today.

No wonder so many of our credit cards have been or eventually become compromised.

It’s not just smaller organizations that can have deplorable standards for data security.

Most Notable Retail Data Breaches:

In 2005, Wal-Mart had a serious security breach targeting their point-of-sale systems.

An earlier internal audit revealed thousands of customer card numbers and other personal data had been found on their servers in unencrypted form.

This data may have been compromised during the breach, although that has not been officially confirmed.

More recently, in 2013, U.S. retail giant Target Corporation was hacked –– a staggering 40 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen from their network.

In 2014, Home Depot saw a similar breach –– with 56 million credit card numbers stolen.

And in 2018, Saks and Lord & Taylor are the latest victim of breach –– this time coming from a hack in their POS solution in-store.

If this can happen to some of the world’s largest retailers, it can certainly happen to smaller ones, too.

Do I need to ensure PCI Compliance for my organization?

If you operate your own on-premise or self-hosted cloud commerce solution, then the short answer is, yes.

Ecommerce PCI compliance is important whether you run a single brick-and-mortar retail location or you are a large organization selling goods across multiple stores and ecommerce sites, anywhere that your credit card merchant account has been connected and integrated requires attention.

All credit card transaction volumes your organization processes are aggregated across multiple channels (i.e. in store retail point-of-sale terminals and online payment gateways) and summed up to determine an appropriate PCI compliance level.

This means a large international retail chain handling 6 million transactions per year will still be considered a Level 1 merchant (the strictest level) and will be held to the highest of PCI compliance standards, even if their related ecommerce store processes less than 500 sales orders per month.

Fortunately, if you operate a SaaS-based ecommerce store and do not have any access to any credit cardholder data (which is the case for most modern SaaS commerce platforms), your need for PCI compliance is greatly mitigated.

The heavy lifting has vested expertly and wonderfully in the hands of the technology experts working for the SaaS companies, which in our professional opinion is exactly where it belongs.

How SaaS compares for PCI Compliance:

SaaS solutions like BigCommerce takes care of the vast majority of the steps toward ecommerce PCI compliance for any customer on the platform.

With an ecommerce software like Magento, a business will have to pay someone to set up servers and networking and take the steps to secure that infrastructure to get them PCI compliant for your online store.

Magento is not PCI compliant out of the box. In fact, thousands of Magento stores continuously experience breach as a result.

Ecommerce PCI Compliance Requirements

If you host and manage your own ecommerce platform (i.e. a custom solution), you will need to ensure PCI compliance for your organization.

The first step is to determine the required compliance level.

All merchants fall into one of four levels based upon credit or debit card transaction volume over a 12-month period.

Level 1 is the most strict in terms of DSS requirements, where Level 4 is the least strict:

Almost all small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) classify as the lower Level 3 or Level 4 merchant, however, this does not preclude the necessity to maintain compliance with the same diligence as larger organizations.

In fact, it’s a costly misconception encountered amongst SMBs who believe they do not need to worry about compliance at all because they don’t do a significant enough volume of online or in-store sales.

Non-compliance is equally as costly as a breach, in which you are required to assess to the Level 1 standard for the next year, including an on-site audit.

BigCommerce’s PCI Compliance:

BigCommerce’s Cardholder Data Environment is PCI DSS Level 1 certified as both a Merchant and a Service Provider.

This protects against credit card data breaches and eliminates the massive cost and hassle of compliance.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

PCI is not, in itself, a law.

It’s a standard that was created by the major card brands including Visa, MasterCard, Discover, AMEX and JCB.

The credit card companies typically do not directly handle payment processing functions themselves, but rely on third party processors (such as Chase Paymentech or Moneris Solutions) to handle the transactional services.

Merchants that do not comply with PCI DSS and are involved in a credit card breach may be subject to fines, card replacement costs or incur costly forensic audits.

The credit card companies, at their discretion, are the ones who administer fines to the merchant’s bank (or similar financial institution, known as the acquirer) and can range between $5,000 – $100,000 per month for PCI compliance violations or breaches.

The bank/acquirer in turn passes the fines downstream until it eventually hits the merchant.

On top of fines that originate from the credit card companies, merchants may be subject to additional penalties from their bank as well.

Banks and payment processors may terminate their relationship with the merchant altogether, or simply increase per-transaction processing fees and require the merchant to pay for the replacement of the credit cards that have been compromised in the originating beach.

What’s arguably even worse is that the bank or processor may require the merchant to move up a level in compliance if they are breached, making the adherence requirements all the more onerous on the merchant moving forward.

Penalties are not openly discussed nor widely publicized, but they can be catastrophic to a business.

It is important to be familiar with your credit card merchant account agreement(s), which should fully outline your exposure.

What the PCI Data Security Standards Involve

The full PCI DSS (data security standard) is an extremely dry read, akin to watching paint peel agonizingly off your wall on a hot summer afternoon.

It’s a pretty technical subject to cover as well, which is summarized in the next chapter.

Most of the topics found in the PCI DSS deal with maintaining a professional data storage solution.

It includes information on securing an internal hosting network, adequately protecting cardholder data, implementing strong user access control measures, managing data security policies, executing a vulnerability management program and performing an external security audit.

It also provides detailed instructions on how to complete your own PCI Self-Assessment Questionnaire.

In all, if you’re a pure play (i.e. online-only) merchant that does not have a physical retail store but you accept, retain or transmit credit card data through your own self-hosted ecommerce store (via open source platforms such as: OpenCart, ZenCart, Magento, etc.) you should positively familiarize yourself with the PCI Security DSS and understand your required compliance level.

Consider hiring a qualified external party who is well versed in PCI subject matter and can provide an objective opinion on how to specifically achieve compliance for your organization.

PCI compliance is its own entire universe of complexity and many organizations don’t have the internal resources qualified enough to delve into its bowels.

We also recommend obtaining an independent adoption consultant along with a Qualified Security Assessor (or QSA). PSC is one such QSA partner who can provide detailed guidance as to how to obtain compliance and also act as an independent auditor to test your internal security.

Ecommerce PCI Compliance on Open Source Platforms

The topic of PCI compliance is immensely important to any online retailer that transmits or stores cardholder data (i.e. credit card or debit card information) in their own, physical on-site servers or remote data farms.

Cardholder data that is processed through an online store and retail point-of-sale system combine to form a single transaction volume used to determine an organization’s merchant compliance level.

SaaS is PCI Compliant Out of the Box:

Keep in mind that if you are using a SaaS or cloud-based ecommerce technology solution like BigCommerce, your PCI compliance is greatly mitigated through your provider.

For those not utilizing a SaaS or cloud-based ecommerce technology, the following information outlines the steps you must take in order to ensure that your online business is PCI compliant.

Your compliance level determines the amount of work you need to do, and the levels are as such:

  • Levels 1 and 2 are for merchants processing 1,000,000 transactions or more per year
  • Level 3 applies to an organization that processes greater than 20,000 credit or debit card transactions per year
  • Level 4 applies to an organization that processes less than 20,000 transactions per year

In the interest of brevity, as this subject is vastly complex, we’ll concentrate on a Level 3 or Level 4 organization.

Self Assessment for PCI Merchant Levels 3 and 4

If you are a Level 3 or Level 4 merchant, the PCI DSS provides you the option of doing an internal assessment, whereby a qualified staff member or corporate officer from your organization can perform his or her own audit and sign-off to produce a formal PCI DSS Attestation of Compliance package indicating such.

The first steps are to determine your required compliance level and then download and review the appropriate Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) found on the PCI SSC Website.

There are different SAQs for each merchant level and also different related DSS Attestation of Compliance forms for each level as well.

Before you venture down this path and attempt to download your SAQ and get started, you’ll need to first digest a six page document just to figure out which SAQ form to use in the first place.

And, if you aren’t thoroughly bored and confused after doing that, you almost certainly will be after referring to the lengthy PCI glossary of acronyms and technical jargon related to the subject.

In my humble opinion (and also according to the PCI SSC themselves), the best and easiest thing to do here is to contact your merchant bank and have them help you identify which specific documents you need to use.

This is an essential step, as they will often point out deviances in the standard PCI DSS they feel may apply in your case.

Level 3 merchants require quarterly external vulnerability scans by an ASV (Approved Scan Vendor).

A list of ASV’s can be found here and include such companies as Cisco Systems Inc, Alert Logic, Inc and Backbone Security, Inc to name a few.

Completing a self-assessment questionnaire for Level 3 and Level 4 merchants is based upon the honor system, much like completing your income tax return.

It’s tempting for organizations to guesstimate their way through some answers or outright fabricate them to avoid the human and physical resource expenditures required to correct vulnerabilities.

Many frankly don’t understand some of the items on the SAQ to be begin with.

That said, don’t be dishonest or misrepresent information on the SAQ. If you have a data security breach and your documents come under scrutiny, you can be fined heavily and, in the worst case, your merchant account(s) can be dropped by your bank/financial institution.

Achieving PCI Compliance: Getting Started

The PCI DSS contains what are actually common-sense general data security best practices for any system administration team that is used to hosting sensitive corporate information in a modern network environment.

The trouble in reaching compliance begins when an organization does not have experienced enough internal IT/IS departments and can unfortunately discover that their internal hosting environment is wildly insecure and susceptible to both internal snooping by their own staff or they are wide open to outside intrusion.

Every organization aiming to achieve PCI compliance begins in the same place.

There are three steps in the journey to adhering to the PCI DSS and becoming compliant:

  • First, Assess –– Perform your own audit to identify the cardholder data you are responsible for, take an inventory of your IT assets and business processes for payment card processing and analyze them for vulnerabilities that could expose sensitive cardholder data.
  • Next, Remediate –– Fix the vulnerabilities you discover in priority sequence. Ideally move away from storing cardholder data at all unless you absolutely need to. Many organizations store cardholder data within their own homegrown ecommerce platforms after taking a one-off guest checkout order with no intention of using the information again. In this case, why hold onto it at all? Only a merchant looking to set up recurring billing may actually need to retain cardholder data themselves and we’ve often found that B2C ecommerce merchants typically don’t need to support recurring billing profiles.
    • Wherever and whenever cardholder data can be stored by an external qualified body instead of your own organization is ideal, because nothing will help reach immediate PCI compliance more quickly than not storing or transmitting cardholder data at all.
  • Finally, Report –– Compile and submit required remediation validation records (if applicable), and submit compliance reports to the acquiring bank and card brands (i.e. Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc.) with which you do business.

Completing the Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ).

The SAQ is a relatively short document (i.e. five or six pages long) and can itself be completed in a number of hours by someone qualified within your organization.

The work getting to that point, though, comes into play when attempting to answer the SAQ questions truthfully and thoroughly, and in a manner that will actually result in achieving compliance.

In so doing, an organization will doubtlessly encounter some significant technical challenges.

Below is a quick outline of what you can expect based on my own experience is seeking compliance for clients.

1. Technical Challenges to Satisfying the SAQ.

Even if credit card data passes through your self-hosted (i.e. non-SaaS) ecommerce platform, you are still on the hook for ensuring that any related servers you control (be it your database server, PoS system, credit card processing terminal, utility server or internet application server) are sufficiently secure and compliant.

Each server that cardholder data is stored inside or transmitted through is termed a CDE (cardholder data environment) and requires:

  • Tripwire software with a notification escalation profile to alert administrators that someone may have gained unauthorized access to the server and/or tampered with the files/permissions on the server. A tripwire is software that detects the presence of a code change or file structure profile change on a server. A notification escalation profile is a series of automated email or SMS messages. dispatched to key systems personnel in the event that intrusion is detected or an unexpected change to the file structure profile has occurred.
  • Virus scanning software installed and running daily.
  • Its operating system to be kept up-to-date with the latest security patches.
  • The containing room or server rack (i.e. the physical environment containing the computer systems running commerce related servers) be kept under lock-and-key with limited authorized administrative access only.
  • Entrance to/from the room by administrative personnel (including date/time and purpose of access) needs to be logged. These logs need to be archived and migrated off of the primary servers and housed securely elsewhere so that auditors can readily access them if required by the bank or credit card company.
  • All cardholder data that is retained for local storage be done so using what the PCI DSS refers to as strong encryption (see the PCI SSC Glossary of Terms for more info). Encryption protects the data from easily being read and utilized by attackers if stolen during a breach event.
  • The underlying strong encryption architecture must be fully documented and kept up to date.
  • Personnel with remote access (or non-console administrative access) to the server environment must connect via multi-factor authentication only.
  • External penetration testing be performed every six months to ensure the environment is secure.

2. Ongoing Maintenance: Mitigating Common Data Security Exploits.

Physical servers need to be continually patched against newly discovered security vulnerabilities.

Consider various security exploits that have arisen recently such as HEARTBLEED, POODLE and Logjam.

Pro Tip

TLS (transport layer security) – sometimes referred to as SSL – is the underlying encryption protocol for secure data transmission over the Internet. It is the “S” in HTTPS.

Your web application or ecommerce platform that is processing credit or debit cards also needs to be secured against client side (i.e. web browser) code exploits such as XSS and SQL Injection Attacks, to name a few.

PCI Breakdown: Time and Costs to Reach Compliance

On average, our experienced systems administration team will spend three to four business days securing a single server and preparing the appropriate documentation for a Level 3 or Level 4 merchant.

The costs for doing so when factoring our time and the merchant’s staffing resources averages out to about $14,650 USD.

Merchants attempting to reach PCI compliance themselves however, without support from an outside partner, and who are already themselves adept at dealing with data security subject matter, can expect to spend upward of 3-4 weeks of time performing the following tasks:

  • Researching the PCI Data Security Standards (DSS)
  • Determining which level of compliance and which PCI SAQ is required
  • Securing their physical servers (often the largest and most costly aspect of the project)
  • Examining any third party plugins or software components on the servers that cardholder data passes through and ensuring they, too, are PCI compliant and can produce external documentation that proves such
  • Completing the PCI SAQ and Attestation of Compliance (ROC)

For complex undertakings involving more than one onsite data center and where a merchant is both capturing and retaining cardholder data, budget at least six weeks in your project plan and estimate related costs to be between $48,625 – $64,900 USD to reach compliance.

The above estimate factors some time for multiple staff within your organization that usually involves a multidisciplinary group of:

  • Business analysts.
  • System administrators.
  • Ecommerce platform developers.
  • Project managers.
  • Legal teams.
  • Resource protection staff.

It also takes into account some budget for outside consultant/auditor fees, and provision to hire a third party Qualified Security Assessor.

Note that our estimate does not factor in any additional costs related to purchasing new server racks, upgrading computer systems, adding new software licenses and installing access control systems (such as staff ID card systems) or any other physical expenses that may be required to achieve compliance.

How Your Ecommerce Platform Affects Your PCI Compliance

You can acquire ecommerce software in different ways:

  • Buying commercial software to run on your on-premise hardware
  • Using open source software on your on-premise hardware (the Do-It-Yourself approach)
  • Signing up for hosted software delivered as a service (SaaS)

Each approach strikes a different balance between your costs, benefits and ecommerce PCI risks and workload. The table sums up the highlights, and the following sections discuss each option in more detail.

#1: Commercial Software: The Costly Option

This requires you to buy and maintain your own hardware, plus shell out for a commercial software license and annual support.

The ecommerce software might be PCI-compliant out of the box, or you could have lots of work getting there. But any extra support you require from the vendor for PCI will likely cost extra.

This option could work for you, if your company chooses to:

  • Buy and maintain on-premise hardware
  • Pay for an on-premise software license and support
  • Maintain in-house expertise to install, customize and maintain an ecommerce platform
  • Keep someone on call 24/7 to troubleshoot any problem and get the platform back up fast if it ever goes down

Clearly, the drawbacks here are the high costs of hardware, software, and support –– plus the unknown burden of handling some of your own PCI compliance.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, skip this approach and read on.

#2: On-Premise, Open Source Software: Lower Cost, Higher Risk

This option is a lot like writing your own code.

You still pay for your hardware, but you avoid paying any software license fee. Sounds like a bargain, right? Not so fast.

You have to assemble, compile, install and tweak your own software. And, as for PCI, this can turn into a money-pit. Open source is a black box where no one really knows what’s going on.

“The problem with open source is that you’re not buying from any vendor,” says Beckett. “So there’s no one to fall back on for help. You might not get any support, or no phone number you can call. Or maybe the PCI auditor might not like something about the platform.”

In that case, you’re stuck.

You may have to document every step of your process in painful detail. That means holding meetings, analyzing code, sketching flowcharts, writing reports… spending weeks of effort that can easily outweigh any savings you gained from open source.

The DIY option could work, if your company can afford to:

  • Buy and maintain on-premise hardware
  • Maintain in-house expertise to link, tweak and maintain ecommerce software
  • Take staff time to hold many meetings and create PCI-related documents

Using open source software means you are responsible for 100% of your PCI compliance ––  not to mention your store’s uptime.

If you don’t want to take on those burdens, skip this approach and read on.

#3: Hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Low Cost, Low Risk

Software running as a service is accessed through the web, running on hardware maintained in a secure data center by your service provider.

If you want to save money, and can’t spare a lot of staff to develop PCI policies and write reports, consider using a hosted ecommerce service such as BigCommerce.

This way, you can forget about fiddling with ecommerce hardware and software, pay one monthly fee to cover your ecommerce platform, and remain PCI-compliant with a minimum of time and expense.

An important consideration when selecting this option, however, is that you will still be required to complete an SAQ (self-assessment questionnaire) as a Level 2-4 merchant and an ROC (i.e. report on compliance, also synonymous with Attestation of Compliance) if you are a Level 1 merchant.

Therefore, the work in documenting and reporting on a quality SaaS ecommerce platform regardless of your compliance level is much less involved in terms of cost and risk than the other two options presented.

The SaaS option will work for you if your company:

  • Wants to save money on hardware, software licenses and support
  • Doesn’t have people to fiddle with hardware and software
  • Prefers to pay one monthly fee to cover your ecommerce platform
  • Wants to remain PCI-compliant with a minimum of effort

With lower costs, less risk, and fewer PCI hassles, this option is the chosen path for many online stores.

Here is how a few popular ecommerce platforms breakdown:

PCI Compliance Checklist

Again, this is only applicable to your IT team if you choose not to go with a SaaS solution.

If you use a open source or custom built ecommerce platform, your IT team will need to go through the following checklist annually.

We’ve broken the checklist down below based on the PCI requirement.

Remember, there are 12 PCI compliance requirements.

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 1 includes:

  1. Positioning firewalls to only allow necessary traffic to enter your CDE
  2. Having a “deny all” rule for all other inbound and outbound traffic
  3. Dynamic packet filtering
  4. Creating a secure zone for any card data storage
  5. Ensuring all outbound connections from your CDE are explicitly authorized
  6. Installing a firewall between wireless networks and your CDE
  7. Documenting all firewall policies and procedures, including business justification for each port or protocol allowed through firewalls

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 2 includes:

  1. Maintaining an inventory of all hardware and software used in the CDE
  2. Assigning a system administrator to be responsible for configuring system components
  3. Implementing a system configuration and hardening guide that covers all components of the CDE
  4. Disabling or uninstalling any unnecessary services, programs, accounts, drivers, scripts, features, systems, and web servers, and documenting which ones are allowed
  5. Changing vendor-supplied default usernames and passwords
  6. Documenting security policies and operation procedures for managing vendor defaults and other security settings
  7. Using technologies such as VPN for web-based management and ensuring all traffic is encrypted following current standards
  8. Enabling only one primary function per server

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 3 includes:

  1. Documenting a data retention policy
  2. Having employees acknowledge their training and understanding of the policy
  3. Eliminating storage of sensitive authentication data after card authorization
  4. Masking the primary account number on customer receipts
  5. Understanding guidelines for handling and storing cardholder data
  6. Making sure primary account number storage is accessible by as few employees as possible, including limiting access to cryptographic keys, removable media, or hardcopies of data

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 4 includes:

  1. Reviewing all locations, systems, and devices where cardholder data is transmitted to ensure you’re using appropriate encryption to safeguard data over open, public networks
  2. Verifying that encryption keys/certificates are valid and trusted
  3. Continually checking the latest encryption vulnerabilities and updating as needed
  4. Having a policy to ensure you don’t send unprotected cardholder data via end-user messaging technologies
  5. Checking with vendors to ensure supplied POS devices are appropriately encrypting data
  6. Reviewing and implementing best practices, policies, and procedures for sending and receiving payment card data
  7. Ensuring TLS is enabled whenever cardholder data is transmitted or received through web- based services
  8. Prohibiting the use of WEP, an unsecure wireless encryption standard

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 5 includes:

  1. Deploying anti-virus programs on commonly affected systems
  2. Setting anti-virus to scan automatically to detect and remove malicious software
  3. Maintaining audit logs for review
  4. Ensuring the anti-virus system is updated automatically
  5. Setting up administrative access to ensure anti-virus can’t be disabled or altered by users
  6. Documenting malware procedures and reviewing with necessary staff
  7. Examining system configurations and periodically evaluating malware threats to your system

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 6 includes:

  1. Having a change management process
  2. Having an update server
  3. Having a process in place to keep up-to-date with the latest identified security vulnerabilities and their threat level
  4. Installing vendor-supplied security patches on all system components
  5. Ensuring all security updates are installed within one month of release
  6. Setting up a manual or automatic schedule to install the latest security patches for all system Components

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 7 includes:

  1. Implementing access controls on any systems where cardholder data is stored and handled
  2. Having a written policy that details access to cardholder data based on defined job roles and privilege levels
  3. Training employees on their specific access level
  4. Configuring access controls to only allow authorized parties and denying all others without prior approval or access

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 8 includes:

  1. Monitoring all remote access accounts used by vendors, business partners, IT support personnel, etc. when the account is in use
  2. Disabling all remote access accounts when not in use
  3. Enabling accounts used for remote access only when they are needed
  4. Implementing a multi-factor authentication solution for all remote access sessions

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 9 includes:

  1. Restricting access to any publicly accessible network jacks in the business
  2. Keeping physical media secure and maintaining strict control over any media being moved within the building and outside of it
  3. Keeping media in a secure area with limited access and requiring management approval before the media is moved from its secure location
  4. Using a secure courier when sending media through the mail so the location of the media can be tracked
  5. Destroying media in a way that it cannot be reconstructed
  6. Maintaining a list of all devices used for processing and training all employees to inspect devices for evidence of tampering
  7. Having training processes for verifying the identity of outside vendors wanting access to devices and processes for reporting suspicious behavior around devices

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 10 includes:

  1. Having audit logs that track every action taken by someone with administrative privileges, failed log in attempts, and changes to accounts
  2. The ability to identify a user, the date and time of the event, the type of event, whether the event was a success or failure, where the event originated from, and the name of the impacted data or system component
  3. Having processes and procedures to review logs and security events daily, as well as review system components defined by your risk management strategy
  4. Having a process to respond to anomalies or exceptions in logs
  5. Keeping all audit log records for at least one year and keeping logs for the most recent three months readily available for analysis

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 11 includes:

  1. Running quarterly internal vulnerability scans using a qualified internal resource or external third-party
  2. Running quarterly external vulnerability scans using a PCI-approved scanning vendor (ASV)
  3. Using a qualified resource to run internal and external scans after any major change to your network 
  4. Configuring the change-detection tools to alert you to unauthorized modification of critical content files, system files, or configuration files, and to configure the tools to perform critical file comparisons at least once a week
  5. Having a process to respond to alerts generated by the change-detection tool
  6. Running a quarterly scan on wireless access points, and developing a plan to respond to the detection of unauthorized wireless access points
  7. Performing penetration tests to confirm segmentation is operational and isolates systems in the CDE from all other systems

Maintaining PCI compliance for requirement 12:

  1. Developing written compliance and security policies
  2. Ensuring every employee working in the CDE completes annual security awareness training
  3. Creating a company policy documenting all critical devices and services within the CDE, including laptops, tablets, remote access, wireless access, and email/Internet usage
  4. Developing a comprehensive description of each employee’s role in the CDE, and documenting acceptable uses and storage of all technologies
  5. Creating an incident response plan in the event cardholder data is compromised
  6. Creating and updating a current list of third-party service providers
  7. Annually documenting a policy for engaging with third-party providers, obtaining a written agreement acknowledging responsibility for the cardholder data they possess, and having a  process for engaging new providers

We’ve Successfully Achieved PCI Compliance: What’s Next?

As if achieving PCI compliance wasn’t complex enough on its own, maintaining compliance year-over-year and keeping up with ever-evolving nuances to PCS data security standards (DSS) has proven itself a perpetual expense and burden to any organization.

The latest PCI DSS standard (version 3.2) released in April of 2016, for example, defines a number of changes to previously accepted rules and regulations on a variety of PCI subjects, touching upon both documentation requirements and technical adjustments to the physical hosting environment (CDE) itself.

This means as a self-hosted merchant you’ll need to concern yourself not only with getting all these requirements perfected the first time around, but you’ll also be expected to manage lists of future change requests and down-the-road migration plans that will keep your technical teams very busy ad infinitum (i.e. forever).

Let’s face it, they often have more than enough to do as it is.

In short, maintaining compliance is an ongoing process, involving all of the above as well as quarterly vulnerability scans and completing a new SAQ and Attestation of Compliance each year.

If your organization is presently at PCI compliance Level 3 and your credit card transaction volume is trending upwards at a rate of 20% or more annually, consider hiring a QSA and having a formal external security audit done every year, even if your bank doesn’t require it.

In this manner, your team won’t be flanked by a last minute crunch to get it done which will result in overstatements, omissions and increased third party auditing costs.

You’ll also proactively position your organization for an easy transition upward to a higher compliance level at a later time.

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