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The Future of eCommerce: 6 Predictions From 6 Experts

Reading the tea leaves of eCommerce is virtually impossible.

But that’s exactly what we’ve asked 6 top experts in the eCommerce space to do. 

In our Future of eCommerce series, our CEO, Bob Giovannini, along with Kuba Zwolinski, Aaron Sheehan, Damien Retzinger, Isaiah Bollinger, and Curtis Schrum, shared their perspectives on the exciting up-and-coming developments and potentially significant shakeups poised to transform the eCommerce landscape.

In this post, we’ll share:

  • 6 consistent themes from our Future of eCommerce interview series
  • The impact these predictions could have on the eCommerce space
  • What the fallout could mean for merchants

6 themes of the future of eCommerce interview series

Each interviewee covered a lot of ground with IronPlane’s Director of Engagement, Tim Bucciarelli, but six main topics kept cropping up in their interviews. Let’s explore each in a bit more detail.

Edited word cloud

Word cloud created from the 6 expert interviews

1. eCommerce, brick and mortar, multi-channel, omnichannel - it's all about the holistic commerce experience

Multiple interviewees talked about how they think the term “eCommerce” will become an outdated term as companies see a demand for increased unification across all their channels. There are already indicators of this trend with buy now, pick up in-store models, local delivery, and in-store kiosks.

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Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash

As Kuba Zwolinski puts it, “There should be a unified shopping experience wherever people are shopping – if it’s online, offline, on-the-go. We don’t know what the next big technology innovation will be in three or four years, but I think it’s all about experiences, and everything else is just a tool to get there.”

2. eCommerce technologies will consolidate

One of the most resounding takeaways from these interviews was that consolidation in eCommerce technology is unavoidable.

Damien Retzinger said it best, “Historically, there’ve been a lot of different players. But these days, the ecosystems have stratified: some serve small markets, some serve mid-market, and others serve enterprise.

I would assume there would be some sort of consolidation of a lot of companies…Just like we have Apple, Microsoft, and Linux for operating systems, we’ll see the same kind of thing for eCommerce platforms. There is too much complexity to have so many different ones, and over time, we’ll end up with an oligopoly.”

3. Headless and composable architectures will play a larger role in the future of eCommerce

There were various opinions shared about headless and composable eCommerce solutions, but two elements came out consistently:

  • These approaches are very new and are currently highly complex and more expensive than more traditional options
  • These approaches are currently best for a very specific set of businesses with unique commerce needs and a strong willingness to invest in the supporting technology.

Some interviewees were worried that some enterprises may move in the headless direction too quickly.

Isaiah Bollinger says, “Sometimes large companies are not mature in eCommerce, so it’s actually a bad idea for them to headless…I do think headless will make a big difference in eCommerce, but some people have gone headless where maybe they shouldn’t have and gone back because they couldn’t handle it.”

Kuba Zwolinski adds that composable architectures can be very difficult to maintain, “It needs very, very high skills in creating the architecture first, and it takes skills to maintain everything. In theory, [composable] looks great, like ‘We take just different pieces, collect them together, and it just works.’

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Different technologies are still different technologies, and even if they are using common interfaces, there’s a lot of work synchronizing everything.

Composable architecture solutions require greater integration standardization to become more approachable in terms of cost and effort of implementation. That said, most interviewers were bullish on the concepts of headless and composable in general.

Bob Giovannini says, “In the world of complex integrations and multi-channel, headless is probably a really good solution because it gives you massive flexibility and separates your backend from your frontend. You're not coupled and tied, and so the whole idea of scalability and flexibility over a three to ten-year period would seem to be stronger in that scenario.”

Others mentioned that headless and composable architectures could potentially alleviate tech debt and streamline the process of making adjustments to a site.

As Aaron Sheehan says, “You can use the best possible systems for each function in your business…and nest them all together to provide an amazing customer experience. And that experience is decoupled enough to where I can take one Jenga block out of the tower, put a better one in, and the whole Jenga tower doesn’t come down.”

4. There are major platform changes on the horizon

Each big eCommerce platform player is going through a particularly interesting transformation. 

Shopify

Shopify is dominant in the B2C SMB market and are trying to go up-market with Shopify Plus and their recent efforts to accommodate more B2B functionality launched their B2B suite in June 2022. Overall, it seems like Shopify will continue to build more of its own functionality into its eCommerce framework and will rule the roost of a single platform for most needs.

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Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash

However, the core eCommerce functionality they provide is not the primary driver of their revenue.  Aaron Sheehan thinks of them almost like a fintech company: “Shopify and everything else they build or buy is really a facilitation engine to get credit cards running through those rails. Because that’s where they make the money. ” 

Look for similar value-added Shopify services that take a cut of merchant profits in 2023.

Adobe Commerce & Magento Open Source

Each of our interviewers felt that Magento Open Source and Adobe Commerce remain solid options for mid-sized to enterprise companies that need greater customizability for their design, integration, or custom functionality.

Interviewees also agreed Adobe’s priority is moving merchants to their cloud offerings by communicating the value integrating their Adobe Commerce Cloud platform with other cloud offerings like Adobe Experience Cloud and Adobe Sensei.

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Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

While Adobe has professed the value of the Magento community, the long-term future of Magento Open Source was viewed unanimously as unclear. The open source community has been the engine of Magento innovation for many years and have recently struggled to reach the desired pace of development with Adobe’s more limited community support.

Damien Retzinger says, “It takes one and a half years on average for me to fix a bug in Magento, give it to Adobe, and have it show up in the merchant’s codebase. So that makes a developer annoyed.”

Mage-OS is a recent fork of the Magento Open Source platform that may provide merchants with another open source alternative in the near future.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is emerging as the ideal middle-ground between Shopify's all-in-one solution and Magento's full custom alternative. With a more open architecture and faster API throughput than Shopify, and with a more intuitive, template-driven design, this SaaS eCommerce platform has made great strides into the mid to enterprise level of businesses. They recently launched their B2B edition, which offers extensive B2B functionality, and they are pushing their commerce engine as a strong contender in the headless architecture space.

Curtis Schrum says, “BigCommerce is bigger than people think it is. They’re having a market year compared to other platforms on the list. And really, two words sum up why: Open SaaS…[BigCommerce] doesn’t want to make decisions for clients, they want clients to make decisions for themselves and give them the toolbox.”

BigCommerce is also well-positioned to be useful in the composable space. Aaron Sheehan says, “[BigCommerce] has more headless builds than any other platform.”

5. European eCommerce technologies will continue leading the way

Just as Europe has led the way in privacy (GDPR) and accessibility (WCAG) efforts, they continue to lead the way with headless and composable. Some of our guests theorized that this is because many more merchants in Europe have developers on staff who can learn about and adopt new technologies quicker than merchants in other markets who don’t have technical experts on staff.

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Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Many headless and composable vendors are headquartered in Europe (Vue Storefront, Storyblok, Front Commerce, CommerceTools to name a few), as is the MACH Alliance, a group that “represents and advocates for an open and best-of-breed enterprise technology ecosystem.”

MACH stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and Headless. Many headless and composable vendors are a part of this Alliance and are working to help "future-proof” enterprise technology and enable companies to take advantage of the most innovative and flexible enterprise technologies available.

6. Exciting new technologies will enhance the customer experience

Several of our Future of eCommerce guests mentioned some technologies and trends that will uniquely shape the customer experience moving forward, including:

  • AR/VR/3D - Vendors like Threekit and Zakeke will only become more prevalent as customers want to recreate an offline experience online. At IronPlane, we’re already seeing this trend skyrocket in furniture, custom framing, and even retail industries. Bob Giovannini says, “How can you make your products stand out for the consumer? [A good example is] a furniture company using 3D renderings. You can picture every color in every wood finish on their website, and you can visualize how products might look in your home through augmented reality.”
  • Digital footprint analysis - As time passes, there will be a demographic shift in your customer base, and it’s critical to use language and imagery that speaks to that generation. Curtis Schrum suggests following Titanium Worldwide, the world’s first certified-diverse agency collective, to learn how to bring multidimensional thinking to your eCommerce site and digital marketing.
  • Privacy, security, and accessibility - Most people in the eCommerce world are fairly well-versed in all of these topics, but they’ll only become more and more important over time. Designing with all three in mind is paramount to delivering an exceptional customer experience and safeguarding your company from litigation.
  • Personalization, ML, and AI - Soon, highly personalized experiences will become table stakes. Customers are already expecting merchants to speak to their individual desires rather than more broadly as a persona. Machine learning and artificial intelligence tools (such as Adobe Sensei or Bloomreach) will help retailers design these more personalized experiences, learning from customer behavior.

What these predictions mean for merchants

While we can’t know if all these predictions will come true, our main takeaway for merchants is that hundreds of excellent eCommerce platforms are available today.

Many of them will meet your needs, but some won’t. Take time to analyze each platform and select the one that makes the most sense for your business. Calculating the total cost of ownership is a good first step. Don’t forget to include costs associated with customizations, hosting, accessibility, privacy, and design.

But choosing an eCommerce platform is only the first step. There are also hundreds of ancillary applications that can take your online store to the next level.

Consider working with an agency partner to ensure that your eCommerce platform is part of a reliable and scalable tech stack. This guidance is a must-have before and during consolidation — experts can help you navigate the waters as some businesses get absorbed or go away altogether.

Agencies can also help you determine whether composable commerce is right for your business. Currently, it’s best applied to a limited set of use cases for companies with a substantial resource commitment to eCommerce.

Choose an eCommerce platform with lasting results

While leaning into new trends can be tempting, it’s unclear what the impact might be. For now, it’s safe to say that a solid eCommerce platform and tech stack will help merchants ride out the potentially choppy waves ahead.

Struggling to make sense of the eCommerce landscape? Reach out to the experts at IronPlane, we’re happy and eager to chat.

In the meantime, check out our Future of eCommerce series on our YouTube channel or follow along on LinkedIn.

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