What to know when comparing ecommerce platform capabilities | Acro Commerce
Mike Hubbard


Mike Hubbard

, Front End Lead, Developer

Comparing Ecommerce Platform Capabilities

Gartner has shared research that helps guide organizations through the important process of selecting the ideal digital commerce platform for their business. This data looks at the common capabilities found in most mainstream platforms and their common extensions. It gives readers insight by outlining a process to use in decision-making.

Download our ebook on the 3 approaches to digital commerce architecture for more insight >>

If you’re a new or existing ecommerce business owner/operator trying to find the best platform for your venture, this research should interest you. Continue reading for my take on the report.

The 5 layers of capability

At 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 are as follows.

1. Digital touchpoints or channels

Traditionally, digital channels are considered a website and maybe a phone app. However, the list of channels has also grown to include touchpoints such as kiosks, in-car systems, marketplaces, social media platforms, the Internet of things, 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 front-end digital experience.

2. Digital experience

This layer 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. A separate digital experience platform (DXP) is often 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 since, 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.

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 mid-tier organizations and above, a digital commerce platform should not be the master of any data, merely a source.”1 Thus, for these businesses it is 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 organizations 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.

An organization first needs to identify the capabilities of a platform broadly. Then, the organization can dig into 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 Commerce (click here).

Gartner’s report explains each component in detail, noting that the list focuses on the components and capabilities found native to most commerce platforms and their common integrations. They also note that it does not include all the capabilities that an organization might ultimately need. 

Is there something you need that you don’t see here? Reach out to our consultants to discuss your specific platform requirements. 

Taking it a step further

This is where I want to branch off from the report 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 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 data streams that need to be understood 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 profoundly impact business scaling and the overall bottom line.

A couple of visual examples of what I mean can be seen below.

Note: these are actual documents we’ve produced for clients, but any names and identifying information have been removed.

Example technical architecture from Acro Commerce

Example technical architecture document from Acro Commerce

Example checkout data map from Acro Commerce

Example checkout data map from Acro Commerce

Selecting the right commerce architecture

Wrapping up the report, Gartner introduces a high-level overview 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 are intertwined.

Gartner’s brief introduction to commerce architecture sets up organizations with the basic groundwork to determine the best architecture for their business. We understand that this process can be a little intense, and you may need more input. Don’t worry; we are here for you.

We have developed several resources to help you out. We have a great ebook titled “Understanding the Three Approaches to Digital Commerce Architecture” available to download here and a quick, interactive questionnaire that will tell you the best architecture for your business based on your answers.

As always, the first step to any task is just getting started. If you need an expert or two to help you along the way, do not hesitate to reach out. We're always here to help.

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 designations. Gartner's research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, concerning this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 14, 2019, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.