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Finding a middle ground in ecommerce debate over platform or best of breed

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Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that ecommerce is actually a relatively new business.

Sure, Amazon launched in 1994 and brick-and-mortar stores and online pure plays have been adding to the full-on digital commerce rush ever since. But compare that to the first department store, which opened more than 300 years ago.

The point is that ecommerce is still finding its way. Add to that the mad pace of technological evolution and it’s no wonder that the state of ecommerce often appears to be up in the air.

I was reminded of all this when I met up with Art McManus of FitForCommerce at, the annual gathering of ecommerce professionals. Among other things, we talked about a debate that has been raging for years.

Is suite or best-of-breed better for ecommerce?

When it comes to deploying technology in ecommerce, is it better to take a suite approach or choose to combine a number of best of breed technologies? McManus offered his thoughts in the video below.

I think it’s safe to say that the issue is hardly settled.

As you heard McManus explain, it seems the prevailing wisdom on the issue has run in an almost cyclical pattern. Ecommerce operations embrace platforms that bring with them everything from content management to marketing and merchandising, to commerce, to payments and more.

Then they become nervous about being at the mercy of one third-party vendor — often a big, global third-party vendor. They understand that the vendor has leverage. If it is slow to innovate on one aspect of its offering, what’s a retailer to do?

Does a retailer scrap its entire ecommerce suite, just so it can improve one aspect of its operation?

On the other hand, does it make sense for a retailer to coordinate and manage a dozen vendors, each providing a different tool for a different function necessary for success? Does a best-of-breed approach create unnecessary complication when it comes to getting a big-picture view of customers?

McManus said that we are in a period of “decoupling,” a time when retailers are seeing the wisdom in having a collection of the best tools for all the jobs they need to do. 

But all the back-and-forth suggests that maybe the full platform vs. best of breed isn’t a dichotomy. Maybe the fact is that it’s a matter of degree.

Why not the best of suite and best-of-breed combined?

In other words, maybe we’re headed in a greater degree to a world in which platforms are embedded with third-party tools that work seamlessly with the platform and update regularly and automatically when the platform upgrades.

Such a model would have the advantage of continuity and compatibility, while still offering the flexibility to switch out parts. And it would give those buying solutions one more point of validation, assuming the technology they’re looking at is embedded in a platform they already know and trust.

Think of the model as best-of-breed, plus. 

Photo by iStock

Reach Mike Cassidy at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].