An ecommerce tech stack can make or break a business. It’s often what sets a successful, agile brand apart from one that struggles to scale profitably.
And while the ideal tech stack will look different for every company, the best practices for building it are the same. In this article, we’ll go over the fundamentals of creating a scalable ecommerce stack.
The current ecommerce ecosystem
For every ecommerce need, there are solutions. There are specialized tools for order processing, inventory management, customer support–and everything in between.
In fact, the ecommerce tech ecosystem is growing larger by the day. It’s estimated that there are more than 10,000 martech vendors, making the industry worth over $344.8bn.
So, with so many different solutions to choose from, the key to success isn’t about selecting any one particular tool. Instead, it’s about ensuring that you have a solid framework to grow, experiment, and scale effectively.
What is an ecommerce tech stack?
An ecommerce tech stack is a combination of tools and technologies that help you run your business efficiently.
Ecommerce tech stacks are usually made up of:
- platforms, and
- programming languages.
These tools and platforms are then “stacked” one on top of another to create a fully functioning system.
The main parts of an ecommerce tech stack
Your ecommerce tech stack will have two main parts:
- The front end (client-facing)
- The back end (server-facing)
The term “front-end” refers to the applications and languages that are used to develop and design your website or online storefront.
The term “back-end” means the server, application, and database that work behind the scenes to deliver information to the customer.
These terms come up a lot when talking about ecommerce technology. That’s because innovative solutions make it a point to separate front-end functionality from back-end functionality.
The reasons why this is important will make more sense as we continue. But in general, the separation of front-end and back-end technologies gives ecommerce brands the freedom and flexibility to scale.
This is particularly significant for ecommerce brands, who are constantly under pressure to meet customers across a growing number of channels and touchpoints.
How to future-proof your ecommerce tech stack
To build an ecommerce tech stack, you need a proper framework. Again, there are so many different technologies you can layer on top of one another. So, at this stage, it’s more about setting the ground rules than anything else.
The question becomes: how can you future-proof your technology and scale current and future digital experiences?
1. Avoid monolithic, all-in-one solutions
A monolithic application is a single-tiered software application in which the user interface and data access code are combined into a single program from a single platform. A monolithic application is self-contained and independent from other computing applications.
Some of the most popular monolithic software platforms for ecommerce include Salesforce, Shopify Plus, Magento, and BigCommerce. While they were effective during the first generation of e-commerce technology, they are limited compared to today’s options.
The issues with monolithic applications become apparent when businesses try to innovate. Because all of the components are so tightly coupled, changes to the logic of one component or service run a much higher risk of affecting everything else.
These interdependencies make it difficult to change to new or advanced technology, language, or framework. Usually, the impact change is not very well understood–which then requires extensive manual testing.
It should be noted that for some SMBs, monolithic architecture can meet their needs. Monolithic architecture is usually easy to develop, test, deploy, and scale horizontally. But, enterprise businesses that need to grow, scale, and innovate across markets and channels will inevitably run into issues.
2. Use composable commerce architecture
Composable architecture is essentially the opposite of monolithic architecture. It allows you to select best-of-breed commerce components and combine them or ‘compose’ them into a custom application built for your specific business needs.
As our friends at Contentful put it, “composable architecture breaks the capabilities of all-inclusive monolithic suites into individual microservices that can be constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed again and again to meet evolving digital needs.”
It’s important to understand that APIs are what make composable architecture possible. All of your different applications are going to need to work together–and they do this through APIs.
For that reason, you want to make sure any software you select has a well-document and easy-to-use API. Work with your team to understand the business process that will flow through the APIs and anticipate any potential problems.
3. Opt for headless commerce solutions
Lastly, opt for headless commerce solutions. Headless commerce is regarded as one of the ways to future-proof an ecommerce tech stack and overcome common limitations.
Headless commerce is a modern approach to ecommerce that allows companies to become more agile and flexible, by better separating the front end and the back end of their ecommerce experiences.
Let’s compare this with traditional ecommerce. With traditional ecommerce, any change you make to the back end must also be done to the front end. This is because your commerce functionality is connected to your front-end framework, such as your website.
Headless commerce, on the other hand, means that changes to data and functionality only need to be made in a single back-end, with all front-ends then having immediate access to those changes. You have a single source of truth that can be deployed across your website, mobile app, customer service channels, and more.
Why does this matter? When you separate the back-end from the front, you’re no longer limited to pre-defined themes or ecommerce suites that have most of what you need. Instead, you have the full flexibility to integrate with any head/channel you like.
Again, in a world where there are different solutions for every specific pain point, you don’t want your website, app, or front-end platform to dictate what you can and can’t use.
Some other key reasons to switch to a headless approach include the ability to:
- Facilitate a true omnichannel experience
- Improve the digital experience on existing web applications and mobile apps
- Reach customers on emerging touchpoints
- Speed up developer workflows, eliminate downtime
Business functions to build your ecommerce tech stack around
Now that you’ve laid the ground rules for your tech stack, you can start thinking more about your specific business needs.
Below are the key business functions to build your ecommerce tech stack around and some of the leading vendors in each area. We’ve selected these vendors because of their ability to operate in an open, best-of-breed enterprise ecosystem.
Content Management / Digital Experience
Providing an online shopping experience that is visually pleasing, functional, and enjoyable isn’t easy—but it's absolutely critical for ecommerce success. This is often the first step in building a modern ecommerce tech stack.
Leading CMS platforms and digital experience partners include:
- Branding Brand
Product information management (PIM)
Product information management tools help you store, organize, and handle all of your data, content, and materials needed to market and sell your products. It centralizes content into a single source of truth.
Some leading PIM tools include:
Digital asset management (DAM)
Similar to PIM, digital asset management tools provide a systematic approach to efficiently storing, organizing, managing, retrieving, and distributing an organization’s digital assets.
Some of the leaving DAM vendors include:
Order and inventory management
Investing in order and inventory management technology can drive lower inventory costs and enable higher cash flow, all while improving customer experience.
Key vendors include:
Order and payment processing
When choosing a payment processor, look for the type of payments they accept as well as the type of fraud protection services they offer. Find a secure and reliable service that flags and denies risky transactions. Encryption, security, and ease of integration should be on the top of your list of criteria.
Some key software solutions include:
Fulfillment and shipping
Ecommerce fulfillment problems are one of the fastest and most common ways to lose business, especially for those with huge inventories. Selecting the right ecommerce fulfillment and shipping tools will help you better manage and predict your inventory needs.
Leading fulfillment and shipping vendors include:
An emerging trend in the ecommerce industry is the shift towards conversational commerce. Businesses are making things convenient and seamless for their customers by meeting them on the channels and apps they use every day.
For that reason, make sure you choose a tool that lets you create, deploy, and manage a modern conversational strategy across all of your customer touchpoints.
Leading conversational commerce platforms include:
Data and analytics
Lastly, you can have the best software in place, but if you don't know how to truly unlock them, then they aren’t worth much. For that reason, business intelligence (BI) dashboards are critical.
Some of the leading enterprise-grade data and analytics vendors include:
Remember to ask the right questions
Now, you have a solid understanding of how to approach your ecommerce tech stack. As a final word of advice, make sure to ask the right questions when considering any new technology for your business.
Ask questions like:
- Is it compatible with existing tools?
- Is the technology scalable?
- Does it meet our performance requirements?
- How well is the technology documented?
- Will it create any dependencies that will become a challenge down the road?
- Is the API user-friendly and consistent?
These types of questions will help you protect your company against tech obsolescence and costly redevelopment.