Bringing content and commerce together

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The traditional approach to building online brand experiences and e-Commerce shops is broken and can no longer scale to meet the demands of a new, empowered breed of digital consumers.

The old way of selling products and services online involves building entirely separate brand experiences and e-Commerce shops and hiding them behind a single “shop” link. The core e-Commerce functionality of such sites is typically reduced to a minimal feature set: browsing the catalog, checking out, and customer self-service. All other interactions take place in the “brand” area of the site. These functions may appear to be part of the same experience, but they’re not.

Many companies have discovered the fundamental problem with this approach: it doesn’t span the entire customer journey from awareness, engagement, and browsing to purchase, service, and subsequent loyalty. This problem is compounded by the fact that the underlying technologies are often very poorly integrated, resulting in an inconsistent user experience across the consumer’s buying journey. This approach is bound to disappoint, especially since consumers have increasingly come to expect a cohesive experience across mobile, web, and other channels.

Secondly, brands have realized that building rich content worlds engages consumers. Building communities, encouraging conversations and commenting make users spend more time on the brand experience. And engaged customers are more likely to spend more money and become repeat customers.

For these reasons, today’s trend is to build engaging experiences that bring rich, branded content into the e-Commerce world and vice-versa.  

Integrating e-Commerce and content

Bringing together the content and e-Commerce worlds has traditionally been a challenge – from a business as well as a technology perspective. Increasingly, however, there are solutions that address these challenges. In order to bring the content and commerce worlds together, web content management (WCM) and e-Commerce tools must be intelligently integrated. There are three ways to approach this task:

1. Commerce first

In this scenario, the e-Commerce system provides the front-end to the entire experience. A WCM system delivers single page fragments to the e-Commerce system, which then delivers the final assembled page to the consumer. This has been the traditional way to integrate these systems, because it provides an easy way to inject some isolated “islands” of content into the overall shopping experience. But this approach presents some significant problems:

  • Because the WCM system is not fully integrated, the content editor must jump back and forth between two entirely separate administrative tools.
  • Personalization needs to work across both systems, with e-Commerce sharing the user context with the WCM system.
  • Information is frequently incomplete or out-of-date, since content shared with the e-Commerce system often lacks detailed product information including real-time pricing and inventory data.
  • It is extremely difficult to re-use content in different layouts across different device platforms including web, tablet, and mobile – whether through responsive design templates or separately crafted online experiences.

2. Content first

In this approach the WCM system fronts the experience, integrating the e-Commerce system via a technology such as web services. From a customer experience perspective this is the perfect scenario. Web experience can be created in a sophisticated WCM solution. Marketers and merchants can work in their respective back-end tools with little or no jumping between tools.

However, this scenario only works if someone has done the hard work of integration – with the full breadth of e-Commerce features that consumers require. And it requires the ability to handle payments in a safe and secure fashion. The fact is that many WCM solutions lack a deep integration with e-Commerce utilities and hence many vital e-Commerce features are lost, including:

  • Personalization: In-depth marketing and personalization tools allow companies to target consumers based on their shopping history, behavior, and general profile data. In order for this to work in an integrated solution, the WCM personalization engine needs to be driven through the e-Commerce system.
  • Real-time Product information: Pricing depends on personalization, coupons, geography and many more factors. Inventory levels, determined in real-time, have a significant impact on the experience. The website needs to be able to adapt.
  • Unified Search: The site’s search engine needs to work effectively across both the content and product worlds, honoring any personalization and “searchandising” rules set up in the e-Commerce system.
  • Scalability: The WCM system needs to be able to manage large amounts of product content and variants. The traditional approach of copying the product catalog into the WCM system doesn’t scale. The integration needs to be real-time.
  • Security: Another important aspect of this integration is the fact that the WCM system is now in charge of handling financial payment data, such as credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII). Few WCM systems are properly certified to handle this responsibility.

3. Hybrid Integration

The hybrid approach attempts to bring the best of the “commerce first” and “content first” approaches together. The WCM system owns the customer experience up to the checkout process, at which point the e-Commerce system takes over. This pragmatic approach delegates the handling of financial payment information to the e-Commerce system while allowing the engaging experience to be managed by the WCM system.

Yet even this approach is not without its challenges:

  • The WCM system and e-Commerce system must provide a single cohesive experience to the consumer. To facilitate a seamless hand-off between the browsing experience and checkout, the user session must be shared between the systems.
  • Another challenge (common to all three scenarios) is the synchronization of the asset publication process. Good WCM systems are tuned to publish content every second. Product catalog information tends to be staged nightly. Yet as content and commerce become more interwoven, the dependencies between the systems will need to be tracked and honored by the publication processes.


LiveContext for IBM WebSphere Guide All three outlined scenarios will play an important role in bringing together content and e-Commerce and, in more sophisticated setups, multiple scenarios may come to play at once. Both the “content first” and “hybrid” scenarios are well suited to achieve a seamless integration across content, commerce, and multiple delivery channels – including the mobile Web, mobile apps, tablets, web, or kiosk applications.

The most important consideration is to choose a Web Content Management system that can address all the common pitfalls outlined above and bring the content and commerce system together to create a seamless experience for consumers, as well as the merchants and content marketers behind the scenes. CoreMedia LiveContext for IBM WebSphere Commerce is aimed at solving challenges that arise when creating engaging content-driven experiences with IBM WebSphere Commerce.

Discuss this article

There is one comment on this article.

  • (anonymous user)
    Very informative piece. Putting content first is definitely the perfect scenario from the customers perspective.
    Oct 28, 2013 3:44 PM