When news broke that HCL had acquired several IBM products, including the infamous WebSphere Commerce, many were left wondering how the platform would change. However, the general focus of WebSphere Commerce Version 9 (V9) is not set to shift, but rather, HCL plans to enhance the features of V9 to enable commerce players to enhance digital channels and modernize eCommerce platforms faster and more efficiently.
For those who have yet to upgrade to V9, the time is now. New capabilities that will roll out once the acquisition is complete are crucial to delivering an elevated experience for customers and streamlining digital efforts. For retailers who are ready to move to V9, there are three key areas to evaluate and consider in your business.
1. Business and Technical Knowledge
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Understand your business and identify where the gaps in content and technology lie. Most retailers know their business and their customers. They know who their target audience is and what they want. However, retailers don’t have the best data on the touchpoints with their customers, making it difficult for them to know how to market more effectively. There is a lot of competition in retail, and standing apart from the crowd can be challenging. Retailers often struggle with finding a way to create timely content quickly and consistently replace old content.
For instance, retailers that offer a variety of promotions during the holiday season need a way to create content advertising their offers and replace outdated digital ads daily. Many retailers struggle with processes like this, as the workflow and systems they push content through aren’t optimized for constant change. Retailers tend to be technically savvy and know that they need to provide these types of experiences, but don’t always know or have access to the technology to do so.
2. Business Strategy and Readiness
Once retailers identify their content gaps and agility deficiencies, they can move on to evaluating their business strategy. Generally speaking, retailers have well-defined business strategies. The problem lies in their readiness to change and evolve. Many retailers are bound by what they’ve done in the past, and struggle to truly transform themselves to be successful, timely, and innovative enough to be a differentiator in their industry and rise above the competition.
Once the strategy is clearly defined, retailers must tackle their readiness gaps. Think about what internal transformations need to take place. As many retailers have moved to eCommerce over the past decade, it’s not uncommon that there are just a few capabilities and tools missing from the technology stack that was implemented. Other possible issues could be that the system was not implemented properly initially, or that the platform is so antiquated that it creates a bottleneck in the stack as a whole. Adding to the technology stack, fixing initial implementation issues, and upgrading outdated systems will allow retailers to be more agile.
Though these seem like simple fixes, retailers often find that the systems causing the bottleneck are the ones that are the most fundamental to their operations. Legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or outdated product information management (PIM) solutions can become significant barriers in expanding digitally as they are almost impossible to replace all at once while continuing business operations. It’s wise to build a plan to phase in or phase out technology rather than doing it all at once, both from an operations standpoint as well as for your IT team.
3. Existing Platform Footprint and Compatibility
Retailers tend to be better positioned than B2B entities because they usually aren’t operating on such antiquated platforms. Rather, they’ve been forced to evolve as the internet has advanced. While new implementations and upgrades may be necessary, retailers are now faced with keeping up with the experiential shift that’s occurring in the marketplace. There is a paradigm shift in technology so even if a retailer has up-to-date platforms and systems, there are new initiatives that must be addressed and incorporated in their stack.
Advanced technology such as headless commerce, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), voice assistance, and more are all creeping into the realm of customer experience. If retailers fail to provide experiences that incorporate new technologies such as these where necessary, they will be doing their customers a disservice and falling behind competitors who are making these shifts.
Beyond those experiences a retailer can provide directly to the consumer, there are now many third-party platforms where retailers can interact. Opportunities for application programming interface (API) connections can empower retailers to enable interactions even though they aren’t the author of that touchpoint. Examples include external marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon, social media platforms like Pinterest or Instagram, applications that are built to work on devices like smartwatches, and voice assistants such as Alexa and Google.
Creating those microservice interactions is important to not only expanding the touchpoints where you can connect with your customers, but also to improving the customer experience. Retailers are starting to embrace the mindset that they have both a compelling experience that they own and operate for touchpoints they control, as well as the ability to provide a superior integration for touchpoints they don’t control.
WebSphere Commerce V9 is an amazing opportunity for retailers to improve their agility and make more meaningful connections in commerce. You need to both understand and evaluate your current business and technical knowledge, and understand where your readiness deficits are. You need to know your tech stack and existing platforms inside and out, while understanding where improvements can be made and how your platforms will be affected by an upgrade. Strategically shifting to adopt new eCommerce trends and market more efficiently will develop stronger touchpoints and relationships with loyal customers in the long run.
To learn more about the process and preparations required before migrating, download our guide on Upgrading to WebSphere Commerce V9.