Product Spotlight: Episerver Experience Commerce Platform
Once just a tool for putting up content and images on websites, the online content management system (CMS) is no longer just for getting content out, it now plays an influential role in the brand experience for consumers. For instance, smart personalization engines alone, which recognize customer intent, will enable digital businesses to increase their profit by up to 15% by 2020, according to Gartner. This ever-increasing demand for personalized and end-to-end customer experience has been driving WCM vendors to rebuild their experience platforms around a commerce engine. As a result, many vendors today provide very viable commerce solutions either through acquisitions and strong partnerships or from building the capabilities in-house. However, Episerver is the only company to provide a fully-integrated Commerce and CMS solution to help agile, mid-market organizations smartly manage digital content, commerce, and marketing using the cloud.
With that in mind, our media reporter, Laura Myers, reached out to Episerver’s Commerce Strategist, Ed Kennedy to discuss not only Episerver Commerce but also strategies for success in that realm:
During the interview, Ed first stressed that with today’s technology, merchandisers can do a lot by just tracking what behavior visitors are doing on their commerce sites without actually having to explicitly ask consumers to provide data. That being said, he also shared some strategies and tactics that retailers could use to motivate their visitors to share more information: “Progressive profiling is a strategy that a lot of retailers and brands are using to incrementally add customer data to their customers’ profiles. Throughout certain parts of the shopping experience, instead of asking consumers to fill out a form for 15 fields, they are asking just one at a time as they continue to build up a complete profile.”
So with this strategy, a piece of customer information that helps with personalization, whether it is a certain shopping preference or their birthday, is being collected incrementally over time as the consumer engages with the site.
One of the tactics that retailers and brands are using to capture the data are “reviews”, according to Ed. He explained: “When the purchase is made and the customer is happy, they are willing to write a review. Often times, you are getting a double benefit there as it does not only help with other purchases when you post the review of a product onto the page but also it allows you to capture particular data about that customer.”
Last month, here at CMS-Connected, we also welcomed Joey Moore, Director of Product Marketing at Episerver, to discuss multichannel commerce strategy. During his interview, he recommended organizations carefully and closely monitor what their prospects/customers different touchpoints are, and from there create a holistic plan that can address each touchpoint. With this recommendation in mind, Laura asked Ed about some best practices for off-site personalization. He spoke from experience and said the biggest channels are search and email. Then he explained how to connect the dots between those two channels and the website that are personalized based on the data gathered: “One practice in search is personalizing the landing page, a banner or text. That’s basic personalization. On the site, you can also use that in reverse. You can take behavior data of what the consumers have done and use that in an app when you are doing remarketing. So there are opportunities to take that data out of platform such as Episerver and use it in personalization in banner ads.”
According to Ed, the most important off-site channel is an email as he believes that it results in better customer engagement and higher conversion rate when brands inject personalized articles or personalized content based on their visitors’ behavior on the site.
In one of his recent articles, Ed divided personalization into multiple tiers by using a crawl-walk-run-sprint analogy. While Ed stresses that companies should be utilizing all three approaches as they are all low hanging fruit, he believes that the rule-based personalization is the one that takes the most effort: “Because you have to understand personas and what buyer journey is and then create visitor segments in your platform that personalize the content based out of those personas. And those are usually data elements that you need to capture from consumers by specifically asking for that information.”
James Norwood Weighs in on Episerver’s New Placement
In recognition of the need for all these capabilities that Ed shed a light on, Episerver has been beefing up its DX Cloud which contains five solutions, including their Experience Commerce Platform, Product Recommendations Engine, Email Marketing Platform, A/B Testing, and Enterprise On-Site Search.
Last year, Episerver made two acquisitions; Peerius for omnichannel personalization and Optivo for omnichannel campaign management, and the vendor didn’t waste any time putting these new technologies to use as shortly after the deals closed, it announced the launch of Episerver Perform that includes major new product enhancements.
This year, its strong commitment to the cloud and product innovation has started paying off as Episerver debuted in Forrester’s B2B and B2C Commerce Suite Waves in Q1 2017 published in March, and the vendor once again placed in Gartner's "Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce" for its B2C, B2B and B2B2C digital commerce capabilities late last month.
On the topic of Episerver, I thought my piece wouldn’t be complete without James Norwood’s in-depth insight. Therefore, once again I reached out to him to discuss Episerver’s debut in both Wave reports. First and foremost, he is, naturally, delighted with being the sole Microsoft .NET vendor that has been recognized as one of the most significant vendors in the digital world by Forrester. He also made a very interesting point based on the changes in vendors’ placement in the Wave: “There is a commerce replacement cycle going on right now, and I think the new Forrester Wave is a really good reflection of that as you see some of the bigger players that have been in those waves for a while are sort of moving backwards while there is a lot of new entrance. I think that’s a reflection of the fact that there is a lot of re-platforming going on as people look to be more agile and more effective in terms of their commerce connection with customers.”
He also backed up this point with his experience at Episerver and said: “Over the years we have learned about a third of our customer base which was involved in some sort of commerce scenario has been growing really a lot over the last months.” Based on the conversations with those customers, James told me that they are going through platforming because the organizations are looking to do things differently.
Besides the change in customers’ perspective in the market, James believes that their significant investments in social commerce, in machine learning-based personalization technology, and such also brought Episerver to the attention of Forrester. During the interview, I have learned from James that Episerver actually holds a customer base with 50 percent B2B and 50 percent B2C, which also presents one of the reasons that the vendor debuted in both B2C and B2B Waves.
One of the things that struck me from the Wave reports was that Episerver’s platform received a high rating in Experience Management with a score of 4.2 whereas the average score was 2.4, so I wanted to inquire what Episerver is doing differently to earn this impressive assessment result. He explained: “In this omnichannel world, everybody today is trying to maintain this continuous and consistent level of engagement with customers across channels and to be as seamless as possible delivering the right message and the right offer at the right time. So the way to be able to differentiate and stay relevant is experience-driven commerce, which is really at the heart of what Episerver does.” How Epi provides that, you may ask. Well, the experience-driven commerce is delivered through its unified platform which brings content and commerce together.
Speaking of the scores, Episerver received an even higher score on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which is at 5 out of 5, while the average is at 3.8 out of 5. When James was explaining the reasons behind this success, he mentioned that organizations which are growing rapidly, have smaller budgets while they are tasked to deliver the same level of sophisticated experiences with enterprises, that are also trying to gain market share in the shadow of Amazon. So this is where Episerver’s commitment to the cloud comes into play for upper mid-market and lower enterprise companies.
“We have our niche market and it’s rapidly growing as our customers want to be disruptive in the space and want to act like an enterprise company,” said James and added: “So our job is to help them differentiate the experience rather than through price and availability. That’s definitely a section we can support well and that’s where agility is very important too.”
Just like all platforms on the Wave, Episerver also has some areas to improve. Lastly, I asked James about the areas of improvement that Episerver will be addressing in the near future. He stressed that they have an ongoing roadmap they made in reference to artificial intelligence, social commerce and so on. However, he also elaborated on the point made in the Wave expressing that the vendor needs to improve its PIM and OMS capabilities to meet market standards. He said that their purpose is to have very strong best-in-class connectors on all of the PIM systems as they don’t aim to go to market with all-in management systems, and that decision they made was very much a reflection of the market they are in.
James also said that they are building their products by making sure that they support the needs of the customer in the market. Based on that, here are some of the capabilities he mentioned that are included into Episerver’s roadmap:
Lots of omnichannel features around for pick up or ship to store.
Advanced work around fulfillment and inventory management.
The artificial intelligence technology that is going to help merchandisers with more powerful search, personalized search and search ranking capabilities.
From the market perspective, to deliver and optimize a seamless experience for both external and internal stakeholders, retailers need to be armed with the right technology that can translate explicit and implicit insights into actionable recommendations so they can attain their consumers’ interest, as James puts, in the shadow of e-commerce behemoths like Amazon. Therefore, all the activities through the sales funnel, from initial browsing to final conversion in terms of acquiring and nurturing consumers should be in great harmony.
From the vendor perspective, as mentioned earlier, Episerver has recently been enjoying the recognition made by the most established market research firms. However, nothing comes easy and the same is true with success. To me, the main reason behind Episerver’s success is that the vendor has seen the revolution in the space and started steering its ship in the same direction with the most significant vendors in the market. What I have understood from the conversations we had with their key executives both during the vendor’s annual event, Ascend 2017 and our exclusive interviews published here at CMS-Connected, Episerver has a clear, strong go-to-market roadmap and a strong commitment to keeping up with the emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is imperative for vendors to build up a trust with their users and banish their doubts when it comes to maximizing their technology investments.