The end is nigh for Amazon’s Webstore hosting solution, which is closing down in July. Merchants currently on the platform are either underway with site migration already — or looking for a quick solution that will make the transition seamless on a short timeframe.
To make the switch as easy as possible, we’ve summarized the key features of Amazon Webstore that merchants should ensure their new platform provides — and the areas where they should seek to expand their capabilities to satisfy shoppers’ needs in 2016 and beyond.
Amazon Webstore offered merchants a potent combination — a solid eCommerce platform that took care of the headaches of hosting the Web site, while also integrating tightly with Amazon’s pioneering online merchant services. In their quest to find a replacement, merchants should seek out:
A stable, tested platform. By piggybacking on Amazon’s massive ecommerce infrastructure, Webstore merchants could rest assured that their offerings were on a solid platform with proven tools and features. In searching for a replacement, merchants should quiz vendors about core ecommerce functionality, including:
- how product information is handled, including import routines from other systems
- rich imaging capabilities, including video
- how customer reviews and other user-generated content is integrated
- on-site search functionality, including whether faceted search is available
- categorization and navigation flexibility
- promotions and discounting capabilities
- personalization tools
- shopper account features, such as registries, wish lists, and order histories
Intrinsic mobile support. By now, most merchants acknowledge the central importance of mobile in the shopping experience. Fully 59% of time spent with brands now occurs on mobile devices, according to measurement firm comScore; and initial holiday results from the MarketLive Performance Index reveal that mobile is accounting for 55% of traffic and 34% of revenues.
Amazon Webstore merchants who have enjoyed the platform’s built-in mobile functionality will need to consider whether potential new vendors are up to snuff — and whether mobile offerings are intrinsic to the platform or offered through a third party provider. They should especially investigate whether technology provider are fluent with responsive design, which is increasingly used to deliver consistent experiences across touchpoints. While using a single base of code deliver device-appropriate experience on the fly streamlines updates and maintenance and delivers SEO benefits, responsive design can also cause performance drag by upping page weight, and failure to properly size images can further bloat load times. To avoid these pitfalls, merchants should closely examine responsive design claims from potential vendors and ask for references from clients with responsive design implementations.
Security and anti-fraud features. Merchants who relied on Amazon’s payment gateway will need to familiarize themselves with the alternatives and ensure that the technology provider they select will interface seamlessly with them, as well as with any third-party fraud detection services they select. In addition, merchants should quiz potential vendors on PCI DSS level 1 security certification and threat monitoring capabilities.
Hosting capacity. Just as Amazon Webstore merchants relied on the ecommerce giant’s proven features and functionality, so did they enjoy the advantages that came with hosting sites on Amazon’s massive server network. Merchants should quiz vendors offering a hosted solution about how their solutions can scale — both during temporary traffic spikes and for long-term growth. Multiple physical instances of servers in different regions, 24/7/365 performance monitoring, an explicit capacity management plan for shared server resources, disaster recovery plans, and solid partnerships with content delivery networks are all signifiers of a serious commitment to delivering optimal performance. Kibo offers merchants hosting through AWS, Amazon’s own hosting platform — thereby guaranteeing the same level of hosting service Webstore merchants have previously experienced.
Amazon (and other) integrations. To replicate Webstore services, merchants migrating off the platform should seek out vendors with a proven history of integrating with Amazon’s myriad merchant services: marketplace selling with or without fulfillment services, Amazon Payments, and Amazon’s pay-per-click advertising solution. Depending on how important these services are for merchants, they should seek referrals from prospective vendors for clients with a successful track record of selling via Amazon.
Going beyond one-for-one replication of Amazon Webstore’s offerings, merchants should also explore further alternative payment integrations, such as inclusion in mobile digital wallet solutions and loyalty club points and rewards redemptions as well as services such as Paypal. Such services are becoming increasingly crucial as shoppers seek to transact seamlessly across touchpoints, and should be part of merchants’ strategy for growth.
Poised for takeoff: core features for growth
It’s not just in the area of payment integrations that merchants should consider how their needs may soon eclipse what Amazon’s offering provided. As shoppers increasingly seek relevant, unified brand experiences that cater to their individual needs, merchants must respond with technology solutions that bridge touchpoints and deliver a compelling combination of products, content, and offers. Among the emerging must-have criteria for merchants to consider:
Rich data. It seems obvious that any eCommerce platform investment should include the means to track its success – but nowadays, capturing a comprehensive picture of online ROI is both trickier and more crucial than ever. For merchants whose goal is unified commerce, data is the essential connective tissue that enables shoppers to move effortlessly among touchpoints and to receive relevant messaging as they go.
Merchants acknowledge the importance of integrating systems to achieve a holistic view of shoppers’ activities across the brand: fully 83% of merchants somewhat or fully agree that a single view of the customer is crucial to long-term success, according to eConsultancy. As part of the vendor selection process, merchants should ensure that the new technology will help create that unified view, as opposed to creating disparate data points that defy integration. Platform-generated reporting should be available to enable tracking performance across devices, and the vendor should support integrations with widely-used solutions such as Google Analytics. Further, merchants should seek out the ability to import data into and export data out of the platform in order to build comprehensive customer profiles.
Content. Content is experiencing a resurgence as a brand priority, and for a host of good reasons, from supporting SEO to providing stellar customer service. As a result, the eCommerce platform must increasingly provide toolsets formerly more commonly seen in Web content management systems – including the ability to add value-added article content not directly related to product information, content in rich media formats, and submission and review tools for user-submitted content. And merchants must have the ability to seed this content throughout the shopping experience, whether in stand-alone tutorial or community sections, as part of the product page offerings, or on category or index pages. Merchants should further ascertain how easily product and lifestyle content can be syndicated elsewhere, whether by the staff via social media or by consumers who want to pin, tweet and otherwise forward information to friends.
Online/offline support. Increasingly, shoppers expect brands to present a unified experience regardless of where they shop. More than half of shoppers said it was important for brands to recognize them across devices and screens, and 45% said they expected brands to take into account their behavior and purchases from every touchpoint to deliver the best possible shopping experience, according to research from the E-Tailing Group. That means call center and live chat reps, social media customer service specialists and store associates are expected to pick up the conversation where shoppers left off on the eCommerce site and to recognize past online buyers as the potentially loyal customers they are.
The ability to integrate with inventory and fulfillment systems across the organization should therefore be paramount for an eCommerce solution. Merchants should quiz potential vendors about what integrations already exist – and shouldn’t just settle for a check-box answer, but rather fact-check by speaking with the integration partners themselves, shopping the eCommerce provider’s merchant sites, and even asking for merchant references specifically related to inventory and fulfillment operations. To support store associates and service reps, merchants should ascertain whether vendors offer specific apps or features to enable savvy one-to-one interactions and transactions.
This post is produced in conjunction with the Plumtree Group, part of Kibo’s Implement program. Through Kibo and the Plumtree Group, omni-channel retailers can quickly deploy and customize e-commerce features and functionality in order to meet market demands, increase revenue and loyalty. The Kibo/Plumtree partnership provides the emerging merchant who will need to transition off of Amazon Webstore in the coming months with the tools they need to succeed today and grow with unlimited scale tomorrow.