In the early 90th when companies started to offer their products online some early adapters began to develop software that enabled companies to sell products online. These software packages are known as e-commerce solutions. Since then Gartner has been comparing the various solutions every year in the form of their Magic Quadrant for E-Commerce. The purpose of this report is to evaluate the various e-commerce vendor solutions and help customers select the right e-commerce platform for their needs.
Ever since the first companies opened their online stores for business the e-commerce industry has been growing significantly. E-commerce vendors are competing every day by launching new features and enhancing their capabilities. One of the most important aspects of e-commerce is payment, which enables customers to pay for goods that they buy online securely over the Internet. While this has become fairly straight forward for regular products like shoes or books that you buy and receive in the mail, it is more complicated for purchasing services online that you consume over a longer time period and require ongoing payments like for example a magazine subscription.
Several companies saw this capability as an opportunity in itself and created software solutions for just this specific aspect of conducting online business. These solutions are known as billing platforms or subscription platforms. The core of these products is to enable service providers to manage the relationship and the financials with their customers. This includes everything from regular scheduled payments to overcharges and one-time payments.
Service providers who are in the market for an online solution for their business need to decide if they should select a billing platform or an e-commerce platform or maybe both. E-commerce platform vendors realized the need for a billing solution within their platforms and have been creating solutions while billing platform vendors realized that customers might need more than just billing and have been enhancing their platforms with e-commerce features.
E-commerce and billing platform capabilities are rapidly converging. The diagram below illustrates what this convergence looks like.
Ecommerce and Billing Platforms Converge
E-Commerce Platform Vendors
Below are listed some of the largest and most notable eCommerce vendors. Their platforms offer varying degrees of scalability, support and other features that make them ideal for some businesses more than others. These are powerful platforms designed for large enterprises, and most of them are designed to work with other software, providing a complete solution for the businesses that use them.
Hybris was founded in 1997. The company specializes in eCommerce solutions. Over the years, it has expanded its reach. Starting out in Europe, the company pushed into the US and North America with the 2011 acquisitions of iCongo. Today, they include large, well-known eCommerce companies among their clients.
Hybris Platform Overview:
The Hybris platform is designed to work with web and mobile eCommerce. It also provides support for B2B and B2C business models, integrates merchandizing features and more. Their product is available in cloud and on premise versions. It is a scalable solution for eCommerce businesses that offers a great deal of flexibly and power.
Hybris Billing Solution:
Hybris uses the Vindicia billing solution and has been since 2013. It supports subscription services and other recurring revenue models, including ones with unusual pricing structures.
Oracle is a well-known name in the world of software and hardware. The company produces open solutions that are notable for their low cost and the diversity of products that the company offers.
ATG Platform Overview:
ATG is a highly scalable eCommerce solution. ATG is available in versions that are designed for B2B and B2C eCommerce. The platform is designed to deploy rapidly and works in conjunction with other Oracle solutions for business. This is a highly scalable solution for eCommerce.
ATG Billing Solution:
Oracle uses the Oracle Self-Service E-Billing, Oracle iStore and Siebel E-Commerce platforms for billing. The platform supports recurring revenue products and complex subscription models.
IBM (The International Business Machines Corporation), has been in business since 1911. They have a reputation as being among the most innovative companies in tech, producing an enormous range of products has having five Nobel Prizes to its credit.
WebSphere Platform Overview:
IBM’s WebSphere is designed to provide a complete eCommerce solution. The platform includes tools for marketing and merchandizing, accommodations for both B2C and B2B eCommerce, as well as mobile commerce. The platform comes with starter stores already set up. It has sophisticated inventory features and more built into it, making it flexible and scalable enough for large and growing businesses.
WebSphere Billing Solution:
WebSphere supports AB and others, depending upon industry. The platform can handle price quotes, subscription models, contracts and other complex sales requirements, making it suitable for the largest businesses with the most complex pricing structures.
DemandWare was released in 2004. The company currently boasts in excess of 800 sites using its platform. DemandWare specializes in scalable solutions and works with retailers of all sizes.
Demandware Platform Overview:
DemandWare is a scalable, constantly improved eCommerce solution that offers an option for businesses small and large. It is designed to work with mobile eCommerce as well as traditional eCommerce and has been adopted by businesses worldwide.
Demandware Billing Solution:
DemandWare uses Transverse as its billing solutions provider. The platform can provide subscription management, recurring billing and other complex types of sales. It is fully capable of handling complex pricing models and other eCommerce sales models depending upon the needs of the user.
Digital River has been in business since 1994. The company provides marketing services and eCommerce platforms, as well as other services and products. Digital River also provides payment processing services and product fulfillment.
Digital River Platform Overview:
Digital River offers eCommerce solutions for businesses of any size, with particular emphasis on global business. They have a cloud-based platform that can be localized to accommodate customers. Currencies, language and other information can be directed toward the user’s own nation. The platform can also handle complex inventories and service requirements.
Digital River Billing Solution:
Digital River offers a global payment solution of its own. It includes features such as recurring subscriptions, fraud protection and more. Digital River can accommodate subscription sales and service agreements as part of the billing model, or simple one-time sales.
Vendor: Intershop Communications Inc.
Company URL: Intershop
Intershop Company Background:
Intershop debuted an Internet store in 1994. The company handles eCommerce for several large corporations today, including BMW and Hewlett-Packard. They are located in the Americas and in Europe and do business worldwide.
Intershop Platform Overview:
Intershop 7 is the current offering from Intershop. The platform is designed to be customizable to any business type; B2B, B2C, etc. The platform allows for the management of different business types, as well as marketing, content management, subscription management and more. This is a scalable solution, and one that is able to handle very large businesses, as the company’s list of clients indicates.
Intershop Billing Solution:
This platform allows users to work with various payment methods and to set up subscriptions. It also works with services and complex pricing models, such as one-time purchases being combined with subscription services.
CommerceServer.net was purchased by Sitecore in 2013. The platform itself goes as far back as 2000, with origins in the Microsoft company. Sitecore is now an independent company, however.
Commerce Server Platform Overview:
This platform is designed to accommodate most any business mode, B2C, B2B or combinations of the two. Commerce Server can also handle businesses that have more than one site and that have more than one brand. The platform is built on open XML, SQL Server, .NET and Visual Studio foundations. Customization options are extensive with this system, as it offers a platform built on familiar and tested technology.
Commerce Server Billing Solution:
Commerce Server can accommodate subscriptions and other recurring payment methods, many different payment gateways and other features. It has robust scalability and customization capabilities, so it can be changed to accommodate the needs of almost any business in terms of billing processes.
Billing Platform Vendors
Billing platform vendors generally do not provide the eCommerce end of the services retailers use, but provide a billing solution alone. Some of them, however, do offer additional services that are either added onto the original service or that come as a feature of it. For example, PayPal offers a shopping cart service in addition to being the largest only payment processor at present.
Some of these billing providers are very specialized. Some of them only handle subscription billing, for instance, and have services that are very much specialized toward that niche. In addition to handling subscription services, for instance, they may be able to work with providers that offered tiered or metered services and ensure that customers get the subscription that they paid for; no more, no less.
Billing platform vendors are not necessarily payment processors. An eCommerce company may still have to have a payment processor account to enable them to collect the money their customers spend. The billing platform may only provide customer account management, notice services and other support for business that operate on a subscription model.
Zuora was founded in 2007. The company is primarily known for their subscription management software. The company provides software that works with product and service sales. Zuora has expanded in recent years, moving from California out into the rest of the US, and now also having offices in Europe and Asia.
Zuora Platform Overview:
Zuora’s platform name is the same as the company name. It is based around providing services for subscription selling businesses. Their clients include those in the media, healthcare and communications industries. They also work with cloud services, such as cloud storage services. The company heavily markets itself as being a ready solution to the subscription economy.
Vindicia was founded in 2003. The company currently offers SaaS products to the business market. Their product CashBox can accommodate several different business models, including microtransactions, subscriptions and more. The company currently handles more than 250,000 transactions on any given day.
Vindicia Platform Overview:
Vindicia offers subscription billing services. Their platform also allows tax collection management and other billing considerations to be taken care of quickly and easily. Their platform is also designed to provide analytics information that can be used to better serve customers and increase company revenue.
Aria was formed in 2002. The company has been working with recurring billing services since its start. The company provides SaaS solutions for these needs. The company’s greatest focus is on improving the technological solutions that businesses have available for handling recurring revenue.
Aria Systems Platform Overview:
A cloud-based solution, Aria allows companies to handle recurring revenue streams with many complications. For example, subscriptions many also include tiers, metered services and other types of services that require software to handle and administer these programs in complex ways, and Aria is designed to handle that work. The company advertises their platform as being able to accommodate any pricing model.
Monexa first went into business in 1998. The company provides billing and online payment services for subscription sellers. The company is the first to offer on-demand subscription billing and payment platform software to businesses. They claim that their product is the most sophisticated of its kind available.
The Monexa platform allows businesses to manage their catalog and their services in one place. The platform can sell on-time and recurring products and can handle complex product options. It allows customers to upgrade services and it allows service and subscription sellers to bundle their products together to offer customers greater value for their money. The Monexa platform supports sophisticated options such as tiered pricing structures, discounts and more.
PayPal was officially created in 1999, when a developer for Cofinity developed a way to email payments. In 2000, the company’s service was integrated with eBay, paving the way for it to become more successful. PayPal was originally the name of the product and Cofinity—and later X.com—the name of the owning company. In 2001, the company took the name PayPal officially.
PayPal is still expanding, increasing its global reach all the time. It has, since it was founded, offered programs that allow customers to pay for purchases later and increased its level of services to merchants.
PayPal Platform Overview:
PayPal offers a wide array of eCommerce solutions, with user-friendly products such as simple to configure payment gateways and shopping carts. The company allows solutions for accepting payments, for integrating credit card payments and more. The company also offers enhancements for eCommerce sites, such as streamlined checkout pages and more.
Oracle is one of the largest IT companies in the world. They produce a range of different products, including open solutions for many different industries. They offer eCommerce platforms and more.
Oracle BRM Platform Overview:
Oracle Communications Billing and Revenue Management are designed to handle subscription and recurring revenue streams of other types. It offers a flexible pricing model, scalability and the ability to handle partner arrangements. The platform is also designed to be easily integrated with cloud services and other cutting edge business models. This platform has a modular design and supports full convergence.
If you have questions about any of the platforms or need help deciding which platform is the right one for your business contact us.
Ecommerce Features Explained
Customers shopping on eCommerce sites expect a range of services and features as standard offerings. The site has to be easy to use, and providing that ease of use is one of the functions of eCommerce platforms.
These platforms can be used in conjunction with catalogs and listings of services to offer customers a great deal of information automatically. For instance, whether or not items are in stock or out of stock can be displayed on the site so that customers know before they make an order. Services and subscriptions can be easily purchased. After they are purchased, some of these platforms have sophisticated features that allow the customer to modify their subscriptions. Customers might increase or decrease their length of service with the company, for instance, add features or order new hardware.
These platforms are sometimes integrated with other software, such as CRM software or other enterprise level solutions. They may also provide features such as a ticketing system for customer complaints and user support. Coupons, discounts and special offers can also be accommodated by the most advanced examples of this software.
Some of the companies that provide these solutions concentrate on one particular area of service. Some of the billing providers, for instance, work exclusively with subscription services. With the advent of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS), recurring revenue models have become more important for service providers and eCommerce platforms have been built to accommodate those needs.
Navigation on eCommerce platforms is often complex, particularly in cases where large inventories, complex services and product information may make a site content heavy. Good navigation systems can work with databases and other information to create useable navigation structures.
A vital feature for retailers with a lot of products, the site search allows users to find specific items or services in much the same fashion as they’d use a web search. For the largest sites, it’s necessary to allow customers to narrow searches by categories or to search for specific item criteria, such as price and so forth.
Content targeting means changing the content on the website—on the fly—to accommodate a visitor. This is quite often seen on sites that automatically change the language of the content to match the nation from which the visitor is arriving. Other, more sophisticated, forms of content marketing include serving ads for products related to the products that a customer has already purchased.
Mobile compatibility makes an eCommerce site usable for visitors on mobile device. Screen sizes, menu sizes and so forth can be adjusted to accommodate the different screen sizes on mobile devices.
Landing pages are designed to make it as easy as possible for a visitor to take an action—and to persuade them to do it—such as buying, submitting an email and so forth. E-Commerce platforms can serve these based on various criteria. In subscription models, a subscriber might be served a landing page that offers them an upgrade based on their length of service or other criteria.
Platforms that feature localization support will generally feed content to the subscriber based on their nation, as well. The language, for instance, may change depending upon the IP that the visitor is using.
The shopping cart allows people to gather up and order for the checkout. The design of the shopping cart and the features it makes available—such as saving it for later—can have significant impacts on how customers use the site.
Some payment providers, such as PayPal, provide shopping cart software for free as part of their service. Shopping carts have to be secure and reliable, as well as designed to make it as easy as possible for the customer to edit, finalize and complete their purchases.
The checkout is the stage where the customer gets the full total of the bill, including all the items, shipping costs, taxes and so forth. They then have the option of completing payment for the items that they’ve brought to the checkout.
After the checkout the customer is usually brought to a payment gateway. This is an area of the site, of course, that has to be secure. In the most sophisticated systems, an abandoned checkout can be retrieved by a customer later so that they don’t have to reconstruct their order from scratch.
Some checkouts will not involve products but subscription services. Most eCommerce platforms have accommodations for this built into them, making it easy for customers to be offered a last-minute add on to their service or another bonus offering.
Catalog and Product Setup
Catalog and product setup can be very simple or very complex. Some products are not actually physical—services—so they may require more complex parameters than purchasing a product. The most complex eCommerce platforms can set up products and catalogs of them in whatever configuration the user needs, and bill for them appropriately, set up subscriptions and so forth.
Order notifications send information about completed transactions to those who provide the service or ship the goods. These order notifications might simply inform the business that a new subscription has been ordered or they may initiate the process of picking the order from the warehouse and shipping it to the customer. Several parties within a business may need to get the order notification, including billing, shipping and so forth.
Order management involves handling customer information, inventory information, communicating with the people involved in fulfilling the orders and more. Very complex eCommerce solutions can handle order management across several different sales channels. The convenient description is that order management involves the billing, picking and shipping of the items ordered.
Inventory can be reported to the eCommerce system, allowing available items to be changed according to whether or not they’re actually available in the warehouse or shop. Inventory management is one of the features that eCommerce platform makers advertise heavily to potential clients, emphasizing its important to retail business flow.
Order fulfillment features improve communication, accuracy and, therefore, customers service. This part of the process involves actually getting the orders out the door, and all the logistics that go into making that happen.
In the case of subscription orders, fulfilling the order may involve offering access to a software download, a website or another product that completes the customer’s order.
Billing Features Explained
Recurring billing is any sort of billing that is performed automatically by the system for a given length of time. An electronic magazine subscription, for instance, would involve recurring billing for each issue at the subscription rate.
The recurring billing—or recurring revenue—model is increasingly important to businesses. Complex eCommerce platforms can accommodate recurring billing models that have many different variables, such as different prices based on terms of service, levels of service and so forth. Some companies specialize in collecting revenue solely for businesses that us this model.
A notification engine can push notifications of new orders to a variety of different devices, including mobile devices. They remind customers and businesses when payments are scheduled to be made or when they are made. In the case of a small business, the notification system may only have to inform one person that an order has been made. In large businesses, several different departments may need to know about the order for it to be fulfilled.
An API allows one piece of software to connect to another piece of software. This Application Programming Interface allows users to extract data from their platform and to otherwise interact with the system. It also allows customized applications and other forms of flexibility that may be necessary for some businesses.
Subscription revenue is vital to today’s eCommerce businesses. Subscription reporting features provide information on when subscriptions are ordered, modified, cancelled and so forth.
Plan Changes and Prorating
Plan changes and prorate features increase customer service levels. They may allow customers to change their own plans, such as upgrading or downgrading cell phone service. Prorating allows customers to pay a lesser price for a subscription that is purchased outside the beginning of a subscription billing cycle. This is a part of subscription billing and recurring revenue, which require that customers have the ability to purchase a term of service and either initiate their own billing cycle or be prorated for the cycle in effect when they signed up.
Free and Paid Trials
Free and paid trials allow customers and clients to sample a service. At the software end, billing might be delayed fifteen or another number of days if a subscription is not cancelled before the time allowed. The automatic features allow the business to make these offerings without having to manually manage the subscription’s status. Ecommerce businesses also use fraud protection for these programs, ensuring that people don’t sign up twice for a free trial, for instance.
One time fees are sometimes part of a subscription agreement. For instance, a subscription to SaaS may include an initial account setup fee that is required at the time of purchase, but never again thereafter. The eCommerce platform should be able to charge the one-time fee along with the subscription fee, but only bill the subscription on a recurring basis: see below.
Combine One-Time and Recurring Sales
This allows shoppers to purchase a subscription, for example, in the same shopping cart where they have one-time sales. This can be particularly useful if support services are being sold along with software or if the business has some other type of combined service/product that increases value for their customers.
The platform should also be flexible enough to manage one-time service sales that are outside the services offered by a recurring subscription.
Range of Billing Periods
This allows the vendor to provide options for subscription terms of various lengths. The platform might also send out reminders to customers when their subscriptions are expiring, no matter how long the customer signed up for before renewing.
This is particularly important in instances where the customer has a very long-term subscription and requires a reminder notice before it expires. Automated systems send out notices based on the length of time the service is contracted for, not bothering customers that have long terms of service remaining and not forgetting to remind customers who need to renew.
Billing and E-Commerce Features Converged
Some systems combine the billing features for subscriptions and the functionalities required for retail eCommerce into one package. Other services may be set up to handle only subscription income or only eCommerce transactions.
This defines which types of payment that an eCommerce platform can work with. It may include credit cards, online payment providers, eChecks and so forth. Some payment providers offer multiple modalities. PayPal customers, for instance, can also use their credit cards or eChecks from their PayPal account, allowing merchants to process several different types of payments under the umbrella of a single provider.
Some of the payment modalities, particularly if the business completes a lot of transactions, require assessments to ensure that the site is in line with industry standards.
Tax Collection and Management
Robust eCommerce platforms can generally accommodate many different tax collection and management requirements, which is particularly important if business retails or sells services in many different nations or tax regions. This also affects customer service, as customers being given the correct tax rates for their region is imperative.
Multi-currency pricing has to use current exchange data to calculate the price of an item or service in different currencies. This can be served to the customer as a form of localization; presenting customers in Japan with the price in yen instead of dollars, for instance. Advanced eCommerce systems can handle this, allowing businesses to expand their global reach.
Allows the software to change the language that content appears in; the most basic form of content targeting. Businesses that conduct transactions in many different nations have a particular need for reliable technological solutions for accommodating local languages.
Fraud protection for eCommerce businesses involves several different areas of concern. Protecting against fraudulent credit card charges is one part of it. Some platforms support features or integrate with other products that allow transactions to be flagged as suspicious if they come from particular nations, if they come from behind VPN connections or based on other criteria. Invalid transactions, of course, are declined.
On another front, fraud in the form of people using multiple accounts to get multiple free trials of software and services can also be a problem and needs to be monitored.
Order Page Customization
The degree to which the order page can be customized has impacts on branding, customer service, ease of use and more. It’s not uncommon for eCommerce systems to have well-designed templates for standard pages such as order pages, as well. Customization can range from simply changing the names of fields to adding one-time fees, shipping rates and so forth.
Subscription services may come with contracts, which the eCommerce solution might add to the checkout and purchase process, ensuring that the customer gets a chance to read over and agree to the TOS before they purchase a new service or subscription.
For eCommerce businesses, not being in compliance with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards could result in fines and other penalties. Being in compliance requires that payment gateways and shopping cart software is up to current PCI standards. In some cases, this may require validation on the part of the merchant, particularly if they are a high-volume seller with many credit card transactions.
Time-limited offers and offers for discounted goods and services based on other criteria can be managed by most enterprise eCommerce software. This allows marketers and other non-programmers to set up these offers and to have it managed by the eCommerce platform automatically. Promotions might also be offered to customers based on their own profiles and account activity. Someone who has purchased a video game subscription, for instance, might be offered a discount on an expansion and a good system could ensure this is taken care of automatically.
Coupons are usually integrated with the checkout process. The customer most often enters a code when they make payment, which gives them a specified discount on goods or service. Using an eCommerce platform, these campaigns can be handled automatically.
Some coupons are tracked as part of affiliate marketing or for other revenue relationships. The eCommerce software can record the coupons used, ensuring that partners are paid appropriate or simply that promotions are traced for effectiveness.
Large-scale eCommerce platforms can be integrated with call centers and other customer service channels. They can also integrate with CRM software to streamline the process of getting customers assistance when they need it.
Ticketing systems, live chat and other features are increasingly being added to eCommerce enterprises as ways to keep customers satisfied with their experience. Enterprise eCommerce systems are always integrating new customer service features and improving the ones that they have.
Ticketing systems allow customers to notify the company of an issue, which is sent to the correct people for resolution automatically. This is a very popular way to offer customer service online and one that most customers will likely be familiar with. Properly managed by a good platform and with good policies behind it, it can be very efficient.
Roland Oberdorfer is a Managing Director and Co-Founder at SiteOlytics Inc. Prior to his current role Roland was the CTO of HP’s consumer direct organization and the General Manager for Web and eCommerce at NIVIDIA. You can find him on Google+ and on Facebook.