Why a content platform is the ecommerce solution for complex offerings

With today’s digital advances, opening an online storefront is tempting. Launching an ecommerce business requires less overhead to set up and maintain than traditional brick and mortar stores.

Online stores can be managed by smaller, even dispersed, teams, payment options are easy to set up and there are plenty of resources to help developing brands get into (and stay in) the game — as long as the product or service being offered is relatively simple.

For retailers looking to differentiate themselves from the competition by creating buzz-worthy, innovative products, set-up and optimization processes are less straightforward.

These products have complex specifications and promotions that might be stacked on top of the industry or region-specific regulations. There’s often a labyrinth of problems to solve before they can be sold and marketed in digital space, which basic site builders like Wix, Squarespace and WordPress can’t address.

The storefronts and ecommerce websites most equipped to support complex ecommerce offerings are built with modern architectures and flexible technology supported by individuals with the know-how to set up and maintain them. 

To make headway on the above, retailers looking to scale their complex retailer offerings strategically might get support from an experienced digital consulting agency like Nascent.

For the last 12 years, the Canadian-based agency comprised of designers, engineers and strategists has supported digital transformation and innovation for small businesses, startups and those more accomplished such as TELUS, Air Miles, Mastercard and RBC.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike Kretz, engagement manager and developer with Nascent, to discuss how the agency supports complex ecommerce stores products and projects by integrating Contentful with their favorite ecommerce platform, whether it be BigCommerce, Shopify or something else entirely.

This post provides a high-level overview of real-world ecommerce complexities and how proper content management, with the right technology, successfully addresses them. For additional details and insight from Mike, check out the recording of my interview with him. 

Unique products (and promotions)

Unique products (and promotions)

The most obvious complexity that retailers encounter is marketing and selling complex products online. Such products are high risk, high reward.

To launch and sell such products successfully, companies generally invest in multiple plugins, add-ons and integrations, and developers must devote time and energy to set them up. If managed and marketed properly, these products can sell big due to their differentiation within the larger market.

While these products can take many forms, the most recent one that Mike encountered with Nascent was a fall detection wearable. The only thing more unique than the actual product — which had to be linked to an emergency contact database and an EMS system — was its promotional requirements. There were so many floating around (e.g., marketing ads, doctor referrals) with different rules and requirements, they became difficult for the company to validate during check out.

Ordinarily, there are purpose-built APIs that take care of this. In this case, however, the promotion API was still being created, meaning Nascent was tasked with building a temporary solution.

Mike and his team used Contentful to create a viable workaround which, when a customer purchases a product, double-checks the rules and dates of the promotion. With the functionality created, the client could even implement region or language-specific promotions if they wanted to.

Fast forward a year, the promotion API is still being built and the company’s Contentful-powered, Nascent-built solution is still going strong.

Surprise and delight diverse markets

Diverse, multilingual markets

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar stores that sell their wares to customers within throwing or driving distance, ecommerce sites give brands legs to attempt multichannel and global scaling, provided retailers know how to stretch them. Localization is one method for success.

Localizing content for promising new markets offers brands an opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors and get personal with consumers. For certain markets and digital products, localization might be as straightforward as translating the storefront into another language. Often, localization isn’t so cut and dry. It usually requires translating for multiple languages and adjusting the content to meet regional requirements or legal regulations.

According to Mike, a headless content platform with content models pays dividends in such instances. Content models are like templates — they break a piece of content type into smaller pieces or modules. Being in Canada, which boasts two official languages, nine regional languages and more than 60 indigenous languages, Mike and the Nascent team are veterans in this area.

Mike opened up to me about a recent project which had him localizing app content for cultural groups within a single region. He localized for English, French, Punjabi, and Chinese — simplified and traditional. When the translations were complete, team members rushed home to unveil the apps to family members who spoke those languages natively. The surprise and delight that follow localization efforts are rewarding enough. 

While localization seems complex, the right architecture and technology simplify things and make translation processes scalable for the future.

“[Localization] is not too hard of a problem to solve when you set up your product and content models the right way, where Contentful very easily just allows you to select your different languages,” points out Mike.

Deep competition and incredibly fast speed to market

Deep competition and incredibly fast speed to market

For retailers, a shift to digital means a shift — or rather an increase — in competition. With customers having the newfound ability to check prices and visit competitor storefronts with the click of a button, retailers must figure out how to attract customers and hold their attention just long enough to get them to fill their shopping carts and make it to the checkout.

One way to help individuals progress from browsers to buyers is to offer great prices with speed and efficiency. During my conversation with Mike, we discussed the competitive edge that headless technology offers in being able to quickly edit a price and post it.

One real-world example we touched on featured a company that was able to overthrow a competitor’s promotion, which had been months in the making, by hopping into Contentful, doing a quick price adjustment, hitting publish and having the change go live in a matter of minutes. With this level of ecommerce agility and responsiveness, the brand was able to stay relevant in the market and their product became more attractive to customers than the competitors. 

“If you aren't using Contentful, or something headless with your commerce platform, you actually have to do full releases, which can take time. Some companies are really fast and they can do multiple pushes every day. Others are slower and they do pushes once a month. Contentful has been a really good tool to help us push out those changes faster without a full release,” notes Mike.

In introducing a headless, flexible content solution, Nascent clients enjoy faster time to market (changes take minutes, not days) and greater flexibility. Legacy ecommerce software and CMSes, with their lengthy release cycles and rigidity, simply can’t deliver this.

Non-technical contributors and collaboration

Non-technical contributors and collaboration 

With traditional CMSes, the pricing change previously mentioned requires coding, meaning it becomes a responsibility of the engineering team. For smaller retail teams or teams that want to focus development efforts on creating exciting customer experiences, this bandwidth might not exist.

Content platforms make this a non-issue with a foundation built on content models. These easy-to-use, easy-to-learn editorial interfaces can be customized to meet the needs of content creators and editors. 

“[Our clients] can actually involve the marketing team and the business team. [Contentful] even helps them QA and check their own work — and that's been really powerful, ” says Mike.

Part of his role at Nascent is empowering client team members to use the software. Nascent offers training sessions where consultants show users how to work inside Contentful, coaching them from the moment they enter the Contentful space until they’re entirely comfortable publishing content on their own.

In providing great customer support, Nascent offers additional instruction for client team members who will be in charge of onboarding future in-house Contentful-users. That way, clients can grow their team and Contentful users independently. “We train them so they can manage [Contentful] themselves. So [they] don’t have to rely on us,” notes Mike. 

While exciting for some, online businesses with large product catalogs and teams managing them might find such editorial freedom risky. There’s often concern over such capabilities falling into the wrong hands and fear regarding what could follow premature or error-laden publishing.

“You have a team that’s pushing products out and they're trying to figure out how to do it most efficiently. How do they manage a catalog of 300 to 5000 different products? How do they launch those things without having a lot of hoops to jump through?” asks Mike.

He answers this question by pointing out all the fail-safes that Contentful offers. Governance capabilities offer the option to assign roles and build out more specific restrictions, while Contentful’s Preview API allows editorial teams to preview content before publishing it. These functionalities help ensure the content being pushed out is consistent and accurate.  

Further information

Looking for more resources and guidance on best practices in agile ecommerce? Check out this product demo, where I explain how a content platform makes it easier to quickly build, test and personalize ecommerce experiences across digital channels.

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