Open ecommerce platforms provide stability, flexibility (photo credit: Stijn on Unsplash)
Are open ecommerce platforms a concept whose time has come?
If we’ve learned anything from the last two-plus years, it’s that flexibility and choice are key to endurance during dynamic events, a lesson that applies to both life and business, across categories and industries.
As in-person work is back, we want to decide whether to go into the office or work from home. As inflation persists, we want month-to-month terms and free cancellation for digital services. As appetites and schedules fluctuate, we want to mix-and-match our subscription meal kits. No one wants to be trapped in, without the option to choose.
When it comes to retail, the shopper in all of us wants to purchase how, when and where we want. Across multiple touchpoints – from online storefronts to in-store shelves and everything in between – we want optionality and convenience at every juncture. And maintaining customer loyalty is more challenging than ever.
This expectation is increasingly upending the traditional sales funnel for brands, forcing them to think outside the box to best serve their customers. Brands and their shoppers need open systems, ecommerce platforms and services that support their omnichannel demands.
Walled Gardens Up Against the Wall
Many brands selling online rely on vertically integrated ecommerce platforms — walled gardens — to reach and convert large audiences.
It’s true that some verticalized ecommerce platforms give brands tremendous reach, which can initially boost the popularity and audience of a growing brand. But in many cases, they don’t give those same brands the ability to own and leverage the customer base they’ve cultivated.
Because brands can’t use that valuable customer data to inform marketing and other business processes on outside platforms or channels, once they’ve exhausted the audience they can reach via a closed ecommerce platform they’re left with far less momentum than perceived.
This same, singularly dependent approach applies to other components of running ecommerce operations. Tying end-to-end business operations to a closed or vertically integrated solution stifles the ability to customize capabilities and maintain control.
A verticalized approach often forces brands to use systems and processes not designed to meet their unique needs. In other words, it leaves brands with no choice.
Choosing the Customer
DTC brands like men’s grooming and skincare company Beardbrand pulled out of selling on Amazon pre-pandemic. While sales initially increased using the platform, the brand experienced various logistics issues trying to run an Amazon operation within budget and time constraints, including dealing with counterfeits, fulfillment and customer feedback problems.
The company’s founder, Eric Bandholz, said in a blog post that the company couldn’t deliver the experience that it wanted on Amazon. Since leaving Amazon and expanding into other sales channels, the company has doubled online sales, decreased shipping times and elevated the customer experience.
Opening Up End-to-End Ecommerce Platforms
Brands don’t want to have to go all in with a single platform if it doesn’t offer exactly what they need. That’s why omnichannel brands need open ecommerce platforms that allow them to connect and control the components that best fit their end-to-end operations, from sales channels to fulfillment to delivery and beyond. There are several reasons why.
First, as discussed in a recent Entrepreneur article, brands do best when they focus on their core competencies. When companies attempt to vertically integrate but lack the deep expertise and infrastructure necessary to do ecommerce fulfillment and operations well, the outcome is often costly errors and decreased customer satisfaction.
Getting physical goods to customers is currently challenging in and of itself due to supply chain issues, rising costs of goods and labor shortages. Why, then, consider any partner that lacks the technology, services or support to enable brands to ramp up or down depending on demand?
Second, given our current macroeconomic state, ecommerce brands need diversification and optionality to enable maximum scale online. Omnichannel integration is necessary to support an increasing number of sales channels, like social commerce and third-party retail marketplaces beyond Amazon that amplify discoverability and reach.
Whether a first- or third-party product, brands selling on marketplaces must still guarantee a reliable customer experience. This requires not only real-time visibility into inventory and orders across channels, but also a flexible, connected fulfillment network to guarantee swift, dependable and cost-effective fulfillment at scale.
Third, ecommerce fulfillment operations integrated with an open ecommerce platform also surface insights about customers and channel preferences that can be utilized in other marketing and business efforts. Armed with powerful data, brands can personalize shopping experiences and products themselves to retain their most high-value customers.
It’s time to have an open mind when it comes to the technology you use for end-to-end ecommerce fulfillment. By choosing an open platform that keeps you in control of your ecommerce operations, you can meet your customers where and how they’re shopping, powering success and scale even in the midst of dynamic events.
Ben Eachus is co-founder and CEO of Flowspace