They’re used for everything from product sales and special content packages to events and subscriptions.
But as stores become more central to publishing operations, it’s increasingly important to reexamine how they’re being built and used.
Folio:, in partnership with AdvantageCS, heard from more than 100 publishers on the status of their Web store efforts to date.
Build vs. Buy
In the never-ending debate between build and buy, companies looking to get into ecommerce have taken a do-it-yourself approach.
Two-thirds of respondents say their companies developed some of their online store themselves, with 40 percent claiming they did so entirely on their own, without paying for any external personnel, software or licenses.
Companies handle even more of those responsibilities after the stores are built—82 percent say their platforms have at least some maintenance done internally. And the vast majority of that crowd say they do all the required upkeep themselves.
While it might seem like a DIY approach could save money, it might not be so simple, says Dan Heffernan, vice president of sales, marketing and product planning for AdvantageCS.
“It’s often quicker to get up and running on a vendor’s platform than to build,” he says. “In today’s market, time-to-market is extremely important.”
Existing ecommerce platforms are getting the job done fine, though performance can vary significantly based on which task is at hand.
Overall, respondents seem to be fairly pleased with their ecommerce platforms. Two-thirds say their marketers are “somewhat satisfied,” while another 13 percent self-identify as “very satisfied.” A little more than a fifth claim at least some level of disappointment, with 4 percent reporting that they’re “very dissatisfied.”
On a task level, it’s a different story though.
While 43 percent of respondents felt the time it takes for new products to go from idea to reality in their stores hit the Goldilocks zone—“just right”—40 percent say it takes “a little too long”; 17 percent say that lag is “way too long.”
Respondents are also split on how easy it is to retrieve demographic and behavioral data from the system—44 percent say it’s “very easy” or “somewhat easy,” while 37 percent say there’s room for improvement there.
Moreover, that data isn’t always being delivered in real time. A third of the respondents surveyed say their online stores don’t integrate seamlessly with their back-end systems.
That can be a critical omission, Heffernan says.
“Marketers want to be able to catch consumers as they are moving through the store—very much like a salesperson in a physical store—to make custom offers to them, upsell them, substitute products for those out-of-stock, and catch them before they leave the store altogether,” he says.
Most companies are planning to upgrade their online stores, but there’s no real consensus on a lifecycle here. Respondents were evenly split on timelines for upgrading their platforms, ranging from next month to more than a year out; half of the group says they don’t have any idea when, or if, they’ll make a change.
Whenever they do decide to upgrade, there’s a few things they’re looking for though.
Far and away, increased ease of use for the customer is the most commonly cited feature respondents would like to see—close to 90 percent of those surveyed say it’s a priority. The point was further accentuated by respondents’ emphasis on design, a factor closely tied to ease of use. Design was the fourth-most critical feature, noted by 42 percent of respondents.
Internal use was secondary to external, with ease of updating (55 percent) and analytics (51 percent) ranking second and third, respectively, among respondents’ priorities for an ecommerce platform.
Foresight is limited though, and that’s why flexibility might be the most critical consideration when looking at a platform.
“Selling t-shirts is a very different business than subscriptions and may not require as much sophistication,” Heffernan says. “Building something ‘simple’ can limit future growth. Often times, vendors adapt more quickly and can be a partner in business changes.”