The Ideal Ecommerce Technology Stack (According to DTC Experts)

Ecommerce technology is constantly evolving. So we curated insights from top direct-to-consumer (DTC) experts to create a list of what makes the ideal technology stack to help you make better business decisions and enhance the customer experience.

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What You’ll Learn:

  • How technology is changing the ecommerce industry, the way we sell goods, and how customers buy from and interact with brands.
  • The top ecommerce technologies that will help you grow your business and create customer experiences that delight your customers.
  • Ecommerce technology trends to start exploring as you plan for the future of your ecommerce business.
  • And much more!

Who This Guide Is For:

  • You’re a business founder or CEO of a DTC company exploring new technologies to scale and enhance your ecommerce business.
  • You’re a head of ecommerce keeping an eye on technology trends and deciding what technologies you want to integrate into your tech stack.
  • You’re a marketer managing multichannel ecommerce marketing campaigns and looking for technologies that will automate and streamline the marketing process.

IMG_3594-1About the Author

Shannon Abel is the Content Marketing Manager at Tradeswell, creating content on topics that matter most to brand and retail leaders. She previously worked for an ecommerce agency, where she learned the ins and outs of customer experience, digital transformation, ecommerce technology, digital marketing, and more. She has a marketing degree from Clemson University and lives in Charleston, SC.

We recently came across a tweet by Ari Sadwick, Director of Growth at Sharma Brands, about her top recommended ecommerce tools. The tweet exploded with a thread filled with ecommerce technology recommendations from other direct to consumer (DTC) and ecommerce experts.


The Tweet that started it all:

Ari Sadwick tweet about ecommerce tools


The thread got us thinking, what makes the ideal ecommerce technology stack?


But first…

How technology is changing ecommerce

Most of us were born into a world where ecommerce (heck, the internet) didn’t exist, but now ecommerce is integrated into many aspects of our lives. For example, even when you shop in a brick and mortar store, think about how often you take out your phone to compare prices, check reviews, or take a picture of an item to send to family and friends for an opinion.

Anywhere ecommerce: Making every moment shoppable

Before technology heightened customer expectations, it only took an add to cart button and checkout flow to convert shoppers online. Today, shoppers not only expect personalized, frictionless buying journeys, but they also want to be able to shop anywhere, anytime.

According to Forrester, 80% of shoppers see the world as digital, with no divide. This new normal is often referred to as “Anywhere Ecommerce.”  

Achieving Anywhere Ecommerce requires a modern technology stack to integrate and unify data, connect shopping flows, and deliver personalized experiences across channels–both online and offline.

Preparing for a cookieless world

As brands try to overcome the hurdles of Apple’s iOS privacy updates, Facebook’s retargeting restrictions, and Google's plan to end third-party cookies, first-party and zero-party data will become more valuable than ever.

Technology that seamlessly (and securely) captures customer data, unifies it, and turns it into actionable insights will help brands plan business strategies, pivot marketing campaigns, and forecast changing consumer behaviors without relying on third-party data.

Highly competitive landscape

Thanks to digital commerce platforms like Shopify, the barrier to entry for ecommerce is extremely low. As a result, the online landscape is more competitive than ever. Brands have access to more tools at more affordable price points — allowing them to disrupt long-time household brands that led their categories for years.

What an ideal ecommerce technology stack looks like

Based on trends in ecommerce, customer needs, and what experts are recommending, we compiled a list of our recommended ecommerce technologies:

  1. Commerce platform
  2. Ecommerce operating system
  3. Marketing automation
  4. Reviews and user-generated content
  5. SMS system
  6. Customer service platform
  7. Personalization engine
  8. Payments
  9. Subscription services

Commerce platform to sell, promote, and process online transactions

Your commerce platform allows you to sell, promote, and process payments through an online storefront. Modern commerce platforms, such as Shopify or BigCommerce, can manage inventory, orders, and returns and provide drag and drop store builders that make it easy for you to customize your storefront without coding.

Many commerce platforms have extensive app stores that allow you to customize how you manage and grow your online business and include responsive themes that deliver consistent customer experiences across devices.

In most scenarios, you’re able to integrate your commerce platform with social media channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and online marketplaces so you can manage orders across channels.

Ecommerce operating system

The proliferation of marketplaces, retail channels and DTC platforms has introduced new levels of complexity when it comes to running an ecommerce business, and this has given rise to a new category of technology — the ecommerce operating system. 

An ecommerce operating system takes away the guesswork and tedious task of running an online business by collecting data from all of your sales and marketing channels—including DTC, marketplaces, email, and social media—and provides a single system of intelligence. 

No more waiting for an analyst with a spreadsheet to provide insights that may be days or even weeks old. Unlike traditional analytics tools, ecommerce operating systems use artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically generate actionable insights on advertising, financial, inventory, and operational trends. 

Implementing an ecommerce operating system will help you solve these common yet complex business challenges:

  • Using spreadsheets to manually input and upload data
  • Data silos that cause misalignment and slow go-to-market
  • Using third-party data to capture insights and generate predictive models

In an era of rising customer acquisition costs, having easy access to accurate, integrated data allows you to preserve margins, improve operational efficiency, make decisions faster, and identify revenue opportunities.

Your ecommerce platform, marketing tools, and ecommerce sales channels all integrate with your ecommerce operating system. Say you have a DTC store built on Shopify, but you also sell products through Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, and Instagram and use Klaviyo for email marketing. All of these channels integrate with your ecommerce operating system. 

By feeding data to a unified platform, each function has access to the same data and can easily collaborate to make business decisions that drive profit and improve the customer experience.

Guide: What is an ecommerce operating system?

Marketing automation

Marketing automation platforms use smart technology to build email lists and deliver personalized messaging at the most opportune times in the customer journey. Here are a few ways marketing automation can help drive online sales:

  1. Automatically segment shoppers based on products they viewed, how often they purchase, their average order value, their location, or their loyalty status.
  2. Use mobile-first forms to capture email addresses and other customer information (Example: what product categories are they interested in?) and use this data to personalize the email welcome series.
  3. Automatically email customers product reviews based on items they viewed on the website.

With a marketing platform like Klaviyo, you can leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to A/B test and predict a customer’s next step in the online shopping journey.

When you align your marketing efforts with your ecommerce operating system, you can: 

  • Ensure you’re promoting products the company can fulfill
  • Track ROI from your marketing efforts and adjust campaigns to maximize revenue
  • Calculate individual products’ net profit margin inclusive of marketing costs

Reviews and user-generated content

Sharing customer reviews and repurposing user-generated content (UGC) has become necessary to convert online shoppers. An estimated 90% of consumers say UGC holds more influence over their buying decisions than promotions, emails and search engines.

UGC and reviews allow shoppers to get honest opinions about a product from their peers, see how it looks in real-life, and make an informed decision. While some brands may be hesitant to reveal reviews, it’s a win-win situation:

  • By giving customers the power to make informed decisions on products, you minimize the risk of returns.
  • You create brand authenticity: According to Hubspot, consumers are 2.4x more likely to say that UGC is authentic compared to brand-created content.
  • You gain insight into what customers like or don’t like about products, which you can use to plan inventory and inform your product roadmap.

UGC tools, such as Yotpo, make it easy to capture customer reviews via email and repurpose them on product pages, social media, and marketing campaigns. By enriching the customer journey with customer photos and videos, you can boost product discovery and engagement and decrease cart abandonment.

SMS tools

SMS tools, such as Postscript or Omnisend, enable you to automatically push notifications via text messages at opportune moments in the customer journey. A customer abandons their cart? Automatically send a text message with a discount code. 

SMS tools also help cultivate loyal customers by alerting them and giving them early access to sales or product launches. For the most loyal customers, SMS tools make it easy to manage and facilitate one-on-one customer conversations for a personal shopping experience. 

An increasing number of consumers use SMS to interact with brands—2.5% of orders across all channels on Black Friday 2020 were driven by SMS. By the end of 2020, click rates reached 10.6%—a 5.5% YoY lift.

Customer service platform

While you may think you only need customer service during the post-purchase experience, the brands that last will be the ones that proactively and reactively serve customers throughout the end-to-end customer journey.

Advanced customer service platforms, such as Gorgias, allow you to turn customer service into conversational marketing. For example, you can:

  • Provide personalized product recommendations via live chat as a customer is browsing the website.
  • Email a coupon on the customer’s birthday—this will help increase customer loyalty and retention.
  • Communicate with customers across your social media channels, share relevant links, redirect them back to the store, and ask for information like an email address to nurture or upsell them.

Customer service platforms also help automate tasks, leaving the customer service team more time to focus on building customer relationships. Advanced help desks can edit orders, initiate returns, or refund payments. FAQs allow the shopper to self-serve and quickly get the answers they need to move on in the buying journey.

When reviewing customer service platforms, find one that gives you multiple avenues to communicate with customers. 42% of customers prefer real-time online chat, 23% prefer email, and 16% prefer social media.

Personalization engine

Did you know that 71% of consumers feel frustrated with impersonal shopping experiences?

Ecommerce personalization engines, such as Dynamic Yield, allow you to present personalized product recommendations across the customer journey, including the homepage, product pages, checkout, paid ads, text messages, and email marketing.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rely on 3rd party data to personalize the experience. This is where quizzes come in. 

Quiz platforms, such as Octane AI, help you increase online sales by capturing customer data through custom quizzes. You get to know your customers at a personal level and can use the data to segment shoppers and personalize messaging, product recommendations, and how you communicate.

Payments

Gone are the days of credit or debit being the only payment options customers need or want. 42% of customers say they would abandon a purchase if the company didn’t offer their favorite payment method.

You have multiple payment options to consider for your online store: Digital wallets (Apple Pay, PayPal, Venmo), buy now, pay later (Klarna or Affirm), traditional credit and debit cards, and cryptocurrencies.

That said, don’t include every payment option available on your site—it can overwhelm the customer. Identify a few options that align with your customer’s demographic and test them on your site before making a final decision.

When reviewing payment options, you need to ensure they are PCI compliant and understand their charge fees, what payment methods they accept, and if they create tokens for sensitive payment information.

Subscription services

According to Gartner, 75% of DTC brands will have a subscription model by 2025. It’s a win-win for customers and brands: 

  • Brands gain the benefits of recurring revenue and customer insights. 
  • Customers gain the benefits of “setting and forgetting” frequently purchased products and the convenience of getting the items delivered directly to their doorsteps.

Subscription services like Recharge and Shopify’s subscription APIs allow you to embed the subscription experience directly into your online store—customers never have to leave the site to complete the purchase.

Ecommerce technology trends to watch

As the ecommerce landscape continues to evolve and shopper expectations heighten, we expect new technologies to play a more prominent role in shaping the customer experience.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

AI and ML will continue to revolutionize how we sell and buy goods and remove manual tasks that would otherwise take days. For example, an ecommerce operating system uses AI and ML to automatically generate insights that help brands make better advertising or inventory decisions. Without AI and ML, these insights would take several spreadsheets and days to develop.

We expect more brands to leverage AI and ML in their business processes, copywriting efforts, chatbots and virtual assistants, personalization strategies, and inventory management. 

Ecommerce brands that do not invest in AI and ML will find it challenging to turn big data into insights, create personalized experiences, and stay competitive.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

AR and VR capabilities can facilitate lifelike shopping experiences from the comforts of their homes. For example, Lovesac allows customers to create 3D versions of their ‘sactionals’ and place them in their own space using AR.

TOMS created a VR experience that takes customers on a donation tour via headsets. Many people are familiar with the company’s humanitarian efforts, giving away a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. On the virtual donation tour, shoppers can “meet” the people receiving the donated shoes and see their living conditions.

As VR headsets become a standard household item and the metaverse gains more traction, we expect more brands to invest in AR and VR capabilities. PacSun is already testing a metaverse experience that allows shoppers to buy and sell fantasy items.

Voice commerce

It’s estimated that there are nearly 95 million smart speakers in American homes. People have grown accustomed to asking their smart speakers to set a timer, order a roll of paper towels, or play their favorite album. While more people are comfortable ‘voicing’ their requests rather than typing them into their phone or computer, the future of voice shopping won’t require a smart speaker.

Voice commerce will turn the shopping experience into a conversational journey that allows buyers to complete purchases without clicking on a website. Voice commerce gives companies the opportunity to bring their brands to life through pitch and tone and build intimate relationships with their customers.

Final thoughts

Consumers have higher expectations than ever for the digital experiences, forcing brands to evaluate their ecommerce technology stacks and determine what they need to meet those expectations. While this list is exhaustive, there are many new ecommerce technologies entering the market. We’ll continue to keep an eye on trends and update the list.

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