What to Know When Comparing Ecommerce Platform Capabilities

What to Know When Comparing Ecommerce Platform Capabilities

A research report from Gartner


A research document was recently made available to us from Gartner that helps guide organizations through the important process of selecting the ideal digital commerce platform for their business. This research looks at the common capabilities found in most mainstream platforms, and their common extensions, and gives readers insight by outlining a process to use for narrowing down the many options out there.

If you’re a new or existing ecommerce business owner/operator and are trying to find the best platform for your venture, this research should be of interest to you. Continue reading for my take on the report, or, if you just want to go straight to the document, follow the link at the bottom of the page.

The 5 layers of capability

In the beginning of the report there is an interesting section that talks about the “five layers of capability”1 that digital commerce operations require. The layers and a brief summary of each is as follows.

1. Digital touchpoints or channels

Traditionally, digital channels are thought of as a website and maybe a phone app. However, the list of channels has grown to also include touchpoints such as kiosks, in car systems, marketplaces, social media platforms, IoT, and more. This pushes the requirements of today's commerce platforms to support decoupling, or the separation of the platform’s backend admin tools and the frontend digital experience.

2. Digital experience

This is the layer that interacts with the customer and forms the overall presentation. A digital commerce platform may or may not have the capability to provide a robust customer experience beyond that of the store itself. In most cases, a separate digital experience platform (DXP) is added or integrated with the commerce platform to provide the digital experience layer.

3. Commerce journey

The commerce journey is probably the easiest to understand as, for the most part, it’s made up of a path that we’re all familiar with. The core customer journey of digital commerce, as defined in the report, is shown as follows.

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

This graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner document is available upon request from Acro Media (click here).

This, however, is not the only commerce journey. The report goes on to explain:

“The rise of experience-driven commerce means that this traditional buying funnel is no longer the only journey. Richer product experiences, narrative driven, social, or lifestyle-oriented journeys can better drive conversion for some product types. Integration to social networks, home digital devices and other touchpoints create new journeys that require interoperation with the digital commerce platform.”1

4. Supply chain actions

Most platforms provide adequate capabilities to satisfy the needs of small and medium sized businesses. However, enterprise businesses or other businesses with non-standard supply chains need a commerce platform that can integrate with external systems.

5. Systems of record: ERP and Master Data Management

Gartner’s research recommends that “For midtier organizations and above, a digital commerce platform should not be the master of any data, merely a source.”1 Thus, for these businesses it’s again important that the commerce platform selected be capable of integrating with external systems. Systems of record are further broken down into Payment, Customer, Product and Order.

Identifying platform capabilities through its components and your functional requirements

From here, the report goes on to explain how organizations can use a “platform capability model” as a way of identifying if a platform’s components broadly meet required business goals. Then, Gartner suggests organization use a “functional model” to expand on the platform’s capabilities to understand if it supports the key functions that the organization expects the platform to be able to do.

Basically, an organization first needs to broadly identify the capabilities of a platform. Then, the organization can dig-in to each component in finer detail to know if it supports specific business actions that the organization needs the platform to do.

The following graphic, taken from the report, shows core digital commerce platform functional components grouped into the 5 layers of capability.

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

This graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner document is available upon request from Acro Media (click here).

The report then goes on to explain each component in detail and Gartner rightfully identifies that this list is focused on the components and capabilities found native to most commerce platforms and their common integrations. They note that it does not include all of the capabilities that an organization might ultimately need. A link to the full report is at the bottom of this post should you like to read about each component above.

Taking it a step further

This is where I want to branch off from the report itself and talk about identifying the capabilities and components required by your business. The report acts as a guide to help you do this, but this exercise in and of itself is actually a significant task for any organization to undertake on its own.

When you start to dig in, it’s not always as straightforward as you might initially think as many businesses have unique processes, complex buyer flows, and other streams of data that need to be understood in order to know what you need from your digital commerce platform. How this data flows in and out of the platform is critical and shows where issues and opportunities can be addressed that could have a profound impact on business scaling and the overall bottom line.

A couple visual examples of what I mean can be seen below. These are actual documents we’ve produced for clients, but any names and identifying information has been removed.

Example technical architecture from Acro Media
Example technical architecture document from Acro Media

Example checkout data map from Acro Media
Example checkout data map from Acro Media

Selecting the right commerce architecture

Wrapping up the report, Gartner introduces at a high-level the idea of digital commerce platform architecture and briefly goes over the three most common approaches, commerce led, experience led and API oriented, and how the capabilities of a platform and intertwined.

While this report is useful in selecting the right commerce platform, the brief introduction into commerce architecture leaves organizations with a follow up task of determining the best architecture for them. Readers may be able to discern which architecture is the most suitable for them, but if not, don’t worry. We have developed a number of resources to help you out. Notably we have a great ebook titled “Understanding the Three Approaches to Digital Commerce Architecture” that is available to download here as well as a quick, interactive questionnaire that will tell you the best architecture for your business based on the answers you provide.

Read the full Gartner report

As always, the first step to any task is to just get started. You’re doing that now and I would highly recommend that you read through the full report as a next step. Gartner has given us the green light to share the full document with our readers for a limited time, so check it out now before it’s archived forever. Click the link below to continue on.

Read the full Gartner report


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

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

Mike Hubbard
Contributed by

Mike Hubbard

, Frontend Developer
Up Next:

Understanding Digital Commerce Platform Capabilities: 5 Recommendations from Gartner

Next Article
Get Free Widget

Fields marked with * are required.

×