B2B vendors add content management to their e-commerce software

By June 22, 2015

The vendors say they’re responding to strong demand among B2B buyers for content-rich and user-friendly e-commerce sites.
Technology vendors such as commercetools, EpiServer and HighJump Software Inc. are moving toward offering software that integrates e-commerce with content management software. The aim is to provide business-to-business customers with the rich media, video and zoom functions they need to purchase complex products online, the vendors said in recent interviews.
Arthur Lawida, general manager of the U.S. operations of commercetools, a provider of Internet-based software for e-commerce sites, said in an interview at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago last week that commercetools is considering building ties between its technology and a major content management system, or CMS.
Lawida did not provide a timeline or specify the CMS provider. But he said the inspiration came from the demand for such integrated technology from clients and prospective clients of commercetools’ Sphere.io technology platform, which includes software for managing online orders, product information and inventory records.
Commercetools hosts its Sphere.io technology and clients access it through a web browser. Sphere.io is used by some 40 European B2B and retail companies, Lawida said. They include the Brita water filter manufacturer and apparel brand manufacturer Carhartt Inc., which specializes in selling protective clothing worn in outdoor work environments.
“We’re talking to some very large B2B customers in the $200 million annual revenue and up range that have very complex back-end technology and want to put their items online,” he said. “They want a really rich, content experience, but they don’t want to spend three to five million dollars to do that.”
Commercetools, which is based in Germany, opened an office in New York in May 2015 to help develop its Sphere.io business in the U.S.
Another vendor focused on bringing richer content to e-commerce is EpiServer, the product of the merger of Ektron Inc., a provider of content management software, and EpiServer AB, a Stockholm, Sweden-based provider of e-commerce technology and services for B2B as well as retail e-commerce operations. Private equity firm Accel-KKR combined the two companies in January 2015, and the new company serves 8,800 customers from 30 countries, the company says. The merged company took the EpiServer name.
“B2B is our most rapidly growing market—it’s driving growth at EpiServer much faster than business-to-consumer,” chief marketing officer James Norwood said in an interview at IRCE. He added that the merger with Ektron brings to EpiServer content management technology that improves its ability to build personalized web content on its clients’ e-commerce sites. EpiServer focuses on e-commerce clients with annual online revenue ranging from $100 million to $800 million, he added.
EpiServer CEO Mark Duffell said at the time of the merger that it addressed a gap in the market of integrated CMS and e-commerce software as noted in the 2014 Forrester Research Inc. study “The Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Delivery Platforms.” “Despite significant investments underway, an evaluation by Forrester Research found no leaders among digital experience delivery platforms,” Duffel said when announcing the merger earlier this year. “We believe this combination will fill that void by delivering real value to businesses and their customers alike.”
Accel KKR also backs HighJump Software, which specializes in providing warehouse management and supply chain management technology. HighJump recently acquired Nexternal for its cloud-based e-commerce and content management software. The acquisition will enable HighJump to put into effect its plan to offer a complete package of e-commerce technology—from a customer-facing e-commerce front end to back-end software for managing the flow of goods from suppliers, says Bill Ashburn, chief marketing officer at HighJump. He declines to comment on the cost of the acquisition.
Executives at commercetools, EpiServer and HighJump each said they were motivated to offer software that e-commerce and CMS technology by the similar efforts of Sitecore Corp. In May 2013, Sitecore acquired CommerceServer.net e-commerce software from Smith, a global digital technology and services agency. CommerceServer was initially developed by Microsoft Corp.
“Our vision from the beginning has been to deliver a complete, connected experience platform that puts the customer at the heart of every interaction and engagement,” Michael Seifert, CEO of Sitecore. “With this acquisition our customers can now add enterprise-scale e-commerce capabilities to create truly consistent and personalized experiences.”
In June 2014, Sitecore formed an agreement with Insite Software to more tightly integrate e-commerce technology with web content management systems, putting them in a better position, to compete against companies like hybris, Intershop and Adobe, according to Forrester Research Inc. vice president and e-commerce technology analyst Peter Sheldon. “We see a lot of momentum in terms of the convergence between the leading content management system vendors and the leading e-commerce platforms,” Sheldon, vice president and principal e-business technology analyst of Forrester Research Inc., told B2BecNews at the time.
At IRCE last week, Sheldon and Forrester analyst Andy Hoar presented data showing that 52% of companies in a recent study cited content management systems as an investment priority as B2B buyers seek more online imagery and user-friendly online shopping features.