Exclusive Interview with uCommerce Founder and CEO
Here at CMS-Connected, one of the things that we are so passionate about is publishing unique and comprehensive reviews of content management and e-commerce platforms so we can bring to our audience a bit of something they won’t find anywhere else. With this goal in mind, uCommerce, a fully featured .NET based e-commerce platform, has recently piqued our interest as with more than 3,000 active websites running on uCommerce worldwide, more than 100 certified implementation partners and over 1,000 certified developers, the platform is widely utilized by e-commerce service providers and well-known global brands, including H.J. Heinz, BIC, British Library, Faber-Castell, Emirates, and Reebok. uCommerce is tightly integrated with two infamous Content Management Systems (CMS): Umbraco and Sitecore. The benefit of this is that if the commerce site is already built in these CMSs, then they can utilize the same interface for their online sales, and as a result merchandisers can deliver an end-to-end experience for their customers.
Laura and I were fortunate enough to catch up with Søren Spelling Lund, Founder and CEO at uCommerce, in Boston last week. To explore this powerful platform, we interviewed him right on the spot:
Søren said that when uCommerce was founded in 2009, there were not a lot of content management system providers out there providing e-commerce capabilities. As having worked in the agency space where he managed multiple teams that delivered e-commerce projects, he realized that they had to spend a great deal of time on bringing together different platforms. They thought why not develop a product out of this so people wouldn’t be wasting that much time bridging the gap between commerce and content. So Søren put his passion for software development to use to give birth to uCommerce.
Fast forwarding to today, Søren stresses that they fully focus on delivering cutting-edge e-commerce capabilities while the CMS providers keep their core focus on building their platforms. At the end of the day, the main purpose is smoothly integrating these two platforms together so end-users can get a unified view of content and commerce and they can manage everything from a single place.
When it comes to what makes uCommerce stand out from others in the space, Søren claimed: “What makes us unique is the ability to run across multiple CMSs as we don’t work only with one but with many different ones. So from the partner perspective, you don’t have to go around teaching multiple different commerce platforms. Instead, you can learn the one and use it across different CMSs.”
Another differentiating factor which I have found is that the platform offers uConnector which is a light integration framework that enables ERP or PIM integration with users’ uCommerce implementation. According to the vendor, instead of relying on the open API's and the Framework First structure of uCommerce to do this type of integration, with uConnector, all the developer needs to do is align the data format to fit into the uConnector data set - and then the uConnector will handle all the necessary exchange of data.
Get the Basics Done
Getting back to the interview; since Søren has been in the space, wearing various hats over the years, we wanted to inquire the reasons behind the struggle some experience with an effective commerce strategy, based on his experiences with the clients. He made an excellent point in that regard and said: “We operate in the US, Europe, Australia, and Asia, and what we have seen in the space is that there is a lot of tendencies to start off with a very high-level stuff such as personalization or a very sophisticated user experience without getting all the basics done.” He believes skipping the basics that need to be in place is one of the most common mistakes. He used an analogy to explain it and said: “It is like hunting a target that is a few steps further than the line that where you are right now.”
As the CMS-Connected team, we couldn’t agree more with him as this is one of the most common points that we have been hearing when we capture the buzz from the industry events. Despite the tremendous hype behind all the sophisticated features available in the market, the adoption rate of those features is concerning. To me, the real struggle is not that businesses haven’t proper use cases for utilizing them, yet the real problem is that they do not have a strong fundamental knowledge to connect the dots between the maturity levels. Therefore, it almost feels like trying to construct a marvelous building on a shaky foundation.
As far as basics go, another great point Søren made during the interview was the importance of listening to customers as much as possible. Even though it sounds very basic, I believe that it makes a huge difference in the end, and also it is something that organizations quite often overlook in the heat of competition and innovation. What he suggests is pretty simple as he says: “Instead of organizing big panels of users just keep it very simple, ask a customer what you could make it better for them today or tomorrow. I think many companies could learn a lot just by only speaking with one customer each day. By the end of the year, they will have done 365 different things - maybe small things but they will add up to become a big thing.” So the point of speaking with as many customers as businesses can is putting themselves in their customers’ shoes at the end of the day.
Direction of eCommerce
Lastly, we wanted to pick his brain on the direction of e-commerce space. He said: “From the commerce perspective, one of the things that we have seen in the commerce space is a lack of knowledge and time on how to operate a successful e-commerce business.” The reason behind this struggle is a heavy reliance on the marketing department. With regard to that point, he believes that as platform providers, they could do so much more than only building commerce capabilities: “as platform companies, we should focus more on how we can actually prescribe to a digital merchant how to be successful.”
I definitely agree that platform providers are not only responsible for rolling out new cool features but they should also come up with the use cases or at least, give them a pattern saying here’s what we think you could do with our data and technology. Søren takes this even to the next level and says that the platform should be able to guide merchandisers through intelligent recommendations: “Why not having a platform that actually tells you when there is an opportunity in the system as today, opportunities are endless in this space.”
From the vendor standpoint, the demand for e-commerce experience is driving CMS and CRM vendors to adopt stronger, more tightly integrated commerce capabilities. To receive some market share from this unprecedentedly emerging space, many vendors are heavily investing in providing very viable e-commerce solutions either through acquisitions and strong partnership or from building the capabilities in-house. Therefore, today, online retailers have much more options than they used to have a few years ago. That being said, every organization has its own unique needs and goals to meet, and finding the right technology to thrive is not an easy task.
For those buyers who are already running their websites on Umbraco and Sitecore, uCommerce seems to be a solid solution. Since the platform is built around a framework-first model, uCommerce is fully extendible and customizable. One of the nice things about the platform for the folks who like experimenting is that users get started at no cost, and down the road, if they want to unlock more features, they can upgrade to the Pro or Enterprise level. I also liked the idea that you get a designated “uCommerce Buddy” who has the technical background to help you with all your technical issues when you purchase a uCommerce Enterprise license.