E-Commerce Product Evolution, a Retrospective: 2000 vs. 2014

As I was reviewing both current and dated market research in preparation for the launch of Ars Logica’s new e-commerce practice, I was struck by the nearly identical language of analyst reports published nearly 15 years apart.  As an example (I did not spend a lot of time searching for the closest match), compare the following excerpts from two analyst reports, one published in early 2000, the other in late 2013.  I’ve omitted from the quotes the firms’ identities, antiquated acronyms, and product names that would give chronological clues.

Excerpt 1: “E-commerce initiatives are driving the convergence of the content management market. Increasingly, customers are turning to vendors that provide the highly packaged end-to-end solutions that enable rapid deployment of e-commerce sites. While content management solutions and commerce servers previously represented distinct markets, functionality from both kinds of products must now be tightly integrated to satisfy the demands of today’s e-businesses. The then-fledgling vendors that marketed discrete content management and commerce server products early on have enjoyed great success in the converging content management/e-commerce market, even though these discrete offerings have not been uniformly well-integrated to date, while more established vendors from both backgrounds have struggled to expand and integrate their products simultaneously.”

Excerpt 2: “This desire on the part of B2B companies for new and better technologies to enable robust customer experiences, scalable online and multi-channel selling, and deep integrations with critical front- and back-office systems has driven technology vendors to raise their game.  To deliver on the necessary features and functions and offer a more complete stack, vendors have partnered with best-of-breed solutions providers or simply acquired key technologies.” Later in the report, the author writes, “Furthermore, [vendor name] has a unique opportunity in the market to lead the convergence of commerce and content management with the amalgamation of [vendor product 1] with [vendor product 2], although this part is a work in progress.”

Which is which?  The first excerpt is from an article entitled, “Market Overview: Content Management in E-Commerce — an Emerging, Converging Market,” that I published (co-authored) on March 2, 2000 at Giga Information Group.  (If you want to reminisce, you can read the full report here). The second is from, “The Forrester Wave: B2B Commerce Suites, Q4 2013,” published October 7, 2013.

Does this make you wonder how or whether e-commerce technology has actually evolved in nearly 14 years?  Well, it has – but not by much as you think.  To oversimplify – but not by much as much as you think – the better part of two decades of market evolution, the real improvements in e-commerce offerings have come primarily in these areas:

  • Expertise in integrating a wide variety of enterprise applications to create overall e-commerce operations (note that this is a people-process improvement, and not necessarily a technological one)
  • Application usability for digital marketers (a combination of user interface improvements and provision of better tools)
  • Management of the customer experience
  • Data analytics and its practical applications

In support of the claim that technology hasn’t evolved as much as you might think, most of the technical capabilities of current B2B and B2C e-commerce platforms were already on vendors’ product development roadmaps by early 2001. In fact, some of the weaknesses of leading platforms identified in current analyst reports were actually strengths of some leading products in 2001.  For example, the Forrester report referenced above identifies product information management as a weakness in a current leading vendor’s e-commerce lineup, whereas one leading e-commerce platform in 2002 managed all product information (not just what was shown online) for items in the Sears catalog quite adeptly.  This is not to claim that the 2014 product and the 2002 product are functionally equivalent, because they aren’t.  Rather, I only want to point out that there hasn’t been as much e-commerce product evolution as some would have you believe.

In many ways, the dot.com crash of 2001 dramatically retarded product evolution among leading e-commerce platforms. Roughly speaking, e-commerce product evolution resumed in earnest just in time for the housing market bubble to pop, and has only regained the intensity of 2001 in the last two years or so.  So it really isn’t so surprising that the language used to describe feature-functionality, customer implementations, etc., is so very similar at a 13-year interval.

Coming back to April 2014, I would like to welcome everyone to Ars Logica’s new e-commerce practice. This blog entry will probably be the last one dedicated so heavily to the distant past of the e-commerce market, but I am looking forward to sharing my insights on current market states, predictions for future market states, vendor and product evaluations, industry trends, and practical advice from customer implementations.  To get started, our first three reports will have titles something like:

  • “E-Commerce Platforms: State of the Market, Q2 2014”
  • “Synergies and Overlaps in Analytics, E-Commerce, and Digital Marketing Platforms”
  • “Sizing the B2B and B2C Software Markets, Q2 2014”

I will publish the first two pieces in conjunction with CMSWire from the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2014 in Tampa, May 12-15.  Note that the venue will in no way bias the research.  I am publishing from the Summit only because of the event’s contribution to increased interest in the research.

Again, welcome.