E-Commerce solutions for Digital Transformation

How to find the right e-commerce solutions and compare e-commerce architectures to support your digital transformation strategy.


In this article, we’ll go in-depth and discuss the best way to find an e-commerce solution that matches and supports your digital transformation objectives. This isn’t just about finding the right vendor or buying the latest application. The architecture, competences in your organization, market developments, and growth you’re aiming for should be the main focus points.

Evaluation of the state of your e-commerce ecosystem

Answering these questions will lead to clues about which e-commerce solution is the best fit for your organization.

  • Is digital a strategic part of your (transformation) strategy?
  • Do you want to become digitally independent, or do you believe in collaboration and outsourcing expert tasks?
  • Does your digital workforce use various applications and technologies, or are you specialized in certain domains (e.g. Java vs. .Net, or Angular vs. React)?
  • Is your organization driven mainly by marketing or ICT objectives?
  • What’s the expected growth for your organization?
  • Do you expect to expand to different locations, customer groups, channels, services, or assortments?
  • How predictable do you consider your strategy and market developments to be?

Let’s have a look at some of the options.

Monolith vs. Best of Breed vs. MSA

First you have to decide the nature of your e-commerce platform:

  • A single platform that can support all your e-commerce requirements as is.
  • A Service Oriented Approach, consisting of separately connected components provided by either one of the following options: Best of Breed Architecture or Micro Service Architecture.

Please note that these are theoretical models. To a certain extent, almost every architecture out in the wild is a combination of different approaches. Nevertheless, it’s important to be aware of the differences, and decide on the preferred architecture setup for your digital strategy.

A monolithic approach

This often has a negative connotation, but that’s not necessarily always warranted. Using a monolith solution can offer many advantages:

  • It allows setting up a rich functional environment relatively fast.
  • Little to no overlap in functionality.
  • All layers of the solution come fully connected and integrated out of the box.
  • A Unified User Interface results in a low learning curve for employees switching between different functional areas.
  • The platform provides a strategic vision on future developments.

These are potential advantages of course, and not necessarily relevant for every monolithic platform. There are potential disadvantages as well:

  • Dependency on a single partner.
  • Potentially high license costs, and you could be paying for functionality that isn’t essential or even used.
  • You might be missing functionality crucial to your business case, or have to settle on an underdeveloped version of what you actually need.
  • Recruitment of experienced employees can be challenging.

When should you consider a monolith for your e-commerce strategy?

If there’s already a license available and there’s a potential match with this solution (e.g. historically, or negotiated organization-wide), a monolithic approach could be the best course of action. This lets you keep your focus on functionality, which is especially valuable if you have limited (in-house) resources available for maintenance and development. Implementing a monolithic solution is made considerably easier if there’s already a good match between the offered functionality and your business needs. This approach is also less time consuming and doesn’t demand as much experimentation and learning as the alternatives.

Best of Breed Architecture

A Service Oriented Architecture allows for different levels of granularity. On the top level it’s an architecture that consists of medium to large applications, such as CRM, ERP, Commerce, and BI and Marketing tools, all connected through API’s. This general structure is quite common, but the actual implementation can differ greatly between organizations. It usually ends up as mix of legacy applications, department specific tools, and global applications.

Advantages of a Best of Breed E-commerce architecture are:

  • It’s an efficient and pragmatic way of combining old and new applications.
  • It allows mixing out-of-the-box functionality with organization and department specific requirements.
  • It prevents becoming overly dependent on a single solution provider

Disadvantages of a Best of Breed E-commerce architecture are:

  • The architecture tends to be more complex, and an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is often applied as a countermeasure.
  • Managing different solution providers, with the added complexity of:
    • Overlapping functionality (this is ever increasing, as different solutions continuously try to expand their functional scope)
    • Different update schedules
    • Inconsistent roadmaps
  • Different components of the solution use different user interfaces, making it harder to switch between applications
  • The risk that specific critical domain knowledge isn’t available throughout your organization, but in the hands (and heads) of specific employees

When should you consider Best of Breed for your E-commerce strategy?

In many ways, a Best of Breed approach is a compromise; a pragmatic solution between a monolith, and several smaller tools that are required for specific goals. It allows merging old systems with new tools, and diverging the preferences of different departments. That’s why a Best of Breed approach is a good option for an incremental transformation strategy, that’s limited by time and resources.

Transitioning from your current setup to the platform as defined by your roadmap often results in a temporary Best of Breed architecture, because of its natural quality to serve as a bridge between different systems. That’s why a Best of Breed architecture tends to find its way to most digital transformation roadmaps, despite this setup not being the actual end-goal.


On the other end of the Service Oriented Architecture spectrum we find the Micro Service Architecture (MSA). With an MSA, all functionalities are cut into small, independent modules, each with their own specific functional goal, such as handling pricing, stock, and customer segments. These modules are unrestricted internally in terms of technology, as long as they’re able to communicate with the outside world using the defined API protocols.

A genuine Micro Service Architecture is often combined with a ‘Message Event Bus’ that enables services to post their messages independent from receiving services. Services that handle incoming messages can subscribe to be alerted when a new messages from a specific Micro Service is received, allowing the architecture to retain its extreme flexibility. New services can be added, and existing services can be copied and enhanced without removing the old services. Every messaging service can be setup independently to subscribe to the various messages floating around, optionally adopting new or improved functionalities or sticking with the old ones. 

A Micro Service Architecture and Monolithic offer completely different internal and external complexities: 

  • A monolith has an extreme amount of internal complexity and can be very hard to analyse or to change, but the interface to the outside world is usually surprisingly clear and structured.
  • In sharp contrast, an MSA consists of small programs that are very easy to use and change independently, but the external complexity is very high. Monitoring, maintenance, and coordination of a large micro service landscape can be quite challenging.

Advantages of an MSA architecture are:

  • Changing small components without running the risk of breaking the entire system.
  • The option of having small teams that focus on specific functionality, and making these teams end-to-end responsible for design, development, deployment and maintenance. Senior-minded developers should welcome this responsibility and purpose.
  • Different teams can completely embrace their preferred (internal) technology, without having to fight global decisions.
  • Each service component can be tailored to perfectly fit the capabilities and needs of the organization.
  • Extreme scalability, adaptability, and flexibility.
  • Limited to no dependency on external solution providers (even though central systems, such as an event bus, can become new ‘single points of failure’).

Disadvantages of an MSA architecture are:

  • Using a Micro Service Architecture to its full potential requires substantial development effort.
  • Maintenance and adding new modules requires a lot of technical resources.

When should you consider MSA for your E-commerce strategy?

A Micro Service Architecture is a good choice if:

  • You consider digital to be of strategic importance to your organization, and you want to limit external dependencies.
  • Your organization has specific use cases and requirements that aren’t available in any OOTB solution.
  • You require maximum flexibility due to market developments, changing requirements, and growth potential, especially if you’re developing your own software solutions for the market.
  • You focus on a multiple channels and audiences, and could potentially benefit from a Headless Frontend Strategy.

Note that transitioning to a full MSA can be a long-term strategic decision, achieved in many small steps. If you’re moving from an existing architecture, this is usually the most viable approach. Features and modules that aren’t performing good enough can be isolated from the existing solution, and reconnected to the new frontend and backend by an API. For this scenario to work, your platform must have the flexibility to disable certain built-in parts of the solution and let external applications handle things instead.

Having a long term vision in regards to your desired architecture certainly helps when making short term decisions. This guarantees consistency in your choices, and leads to a better result that’s understood and supported throughout your organization. This in turn results in an ever increasing buy-in from management, allocating the required budgets, creating a fitting recruitment strategy, and last but not least; the benefits of running a maturing E-commerce platform, and a capable organization in general.



Fitting existing market solutions in your strategy

If you have a good understanding of your current business, and you have a clear vision of your future e-commerce platform, you could start comparing actual e-commerce offerings from vendors such as SAPBloomreach, IBM, Adobe, Salesforce, Sitecore or commercetools.

Some of these – including SAP, IBM and Salesforce – offer a complete solution portfolio that cover most of your needs (and then some). The decision for an e-commerce solution should be based on what’s already pre-installed, and if you’re allowed to add extra modules for reasonable prices. If you already run a SAP ERP system, and you’re serious about your e-commerce ambitions, SAP Commerce (previously ‘Hybris’) is a logical candidate. If your organization is already leaning heavily on Salesforce as its CRM system, you should consider Salesforce Commerce Cloud when expanding your capabilities. And in similar fashion, if you’re invested in IBM, Websphere should be on your shortlist.

If you don’t have an obligation with any of these vendors, or you simply don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, you have a lot more options. Start by deciding how many internal resources you want to invest in your e-commerce solution, and to what extent you want to rely on third party vendors in the long term. This should already point you in the right direction. If you’re focused on marketing, you could consider combining a headless system with a complete engagement platform, respectively Commercetools or Bloomreach for instance.

If you already have structured, channel-independent content, and some savvy designers and frontend experts, a headless approach with a custom frontend could prove to be your best bet. Especially in a scenario where the frontend experience is crucial for your brand(s), and you have to maintain a diversified frontend landscape of apps, sites, shops, and kiosks. On the other hand, if you need strong (out of the box) B2B capabilities, provided by a solid and flexible development platform, you could also decide on a Best of Breed setup, and combine SAP Commerce with your existing CRM and ERP.

Whichever platform or feature catches your eye, make sure it matches your strategic approach before creating your shortlist of e-commerce solutions. Because if you’re already mesmerized by a certain solution when window shopping, the software vendor responsible will almost certainly blow you away with a slick demo. And rest assured, they won’t forget to mention the many advantages that come with their ecosystem. During this process, it’s hard to maintain your objectivity.

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Stay grounded with an experienced partner

A good safety measure, that can help you stay grounded and focused on your goals, is getting advice from an independent agency. The process of selecting an e-commerce platform can be compared to buying a house. As soon as you fall in love with the gorgeous kitchen or large bathroom, and picture yourself living there, it’s easy to forget about the foundation. That’s why it’s always helpful to have an expert by your side to ask all the important but somewhat boring questions. Are there any hidden flaws? Has the property been properly maintained? Are there any big repairs coming up that aren’t visible to the eye? Did you take redecoration costs and essential future upgrades into account, that will add substantially to the base price? Don’t forget, an independent agency can also help you manage your budget.

To stick with this comparison, an independent partner could also help you see through the superficial work that’s needed to fix up a place and focus on the potential. A house might look unsuited at first, but an experienced agent will see that by removing a wall and installing a larger kitchen, or adding a few meters to the living room, a certain house could be perfect for you. At a very decent price and in a great neighbourhood to boot. Do you see the similarities to software applications? Having proper guidance when you set out on your digital transformation journey can save you a lot of money and frustrations down the line.

If you need a sparring partner during your software selection process, feel free reach out to us at SQLI. With more than 30 years of experience in E-commerce, we know exactly what to look out for, and can warn you about pitfalls we’ve experienced ourselves while working with these platforms. We also know what really sets an applications apart, and how to make the most of your budget when setting up your new platform.

In closing, we would love to put our experience to good use and help you choose the best e-commerce solution for your specific situation. Of course, we don’t need to limit ourselves to an advisory role. We’ll gladly stay by your side and fulfil both your current and future ambitions together, supporting you during the never ending process of expanding and improving your E-commerce solution.


Get in touch to discuss how we can drive your digital success.

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