Finding (and Hitting) the Moving Target of E-Commerce Customer Expectations

“The third generation of commerce is all about headless. What does that mean? It’s the opportunity to provide capability without being prescriptive as to what the customers experience needs to look like.”

A Conversation with Matt Alberts, VP of Global Solution Consulting at commercetools

Every once in a while we get to look at the global commercial economy – or in this case, the global e-commerce economy – from such a high level perspective that patterns, trends and pathways become so obvious that they need to be noticed and called out. This conversation with Matt Alberts was one of those times. Matt is VP of Global Solution Consulting at commercetools. His position there provides him an opportunity to see things with a clarity that many of us who operate in the trenches never notice. This was an enlightening conversation.

See the transcript of our conversation below.

TheCustomer: Tell us about commercetools and what you do?

Matt Alberts: commercetools is a company out of Germany, and it’s focused on providing ecommerce solutions into many of the large retailers and other non-retail industries out there in terms of running commerce sites with a variety of methodologies on our technology.


TheCustomer: What are some of the differentiators, and this is a, this is a very much an evolving space and I want to get into some of the trends that you’ve seen in this space but but first let’s talk a little bit about you know the differentiators. I mean you’re in a crowded space. So how have you been able to stand out from the crowd in your industry?

Matt Alberts: I view commerce as having kind of…we’re in the third generation of commerce. The first generation of commerce is really what everybody thinks about is when Amazon was founded in some of the early adopters of platform solutions brought out into the market in the late 90s into the early 2000s. Companies like Demandware, now, Salesforce, Shopify and others really taking the second generation of commerce, bringing customers into the cloud, a different way to contract, a different way to manage their overall solutions. And really for us, you know, the third generation of commerce is all about headless, right? What does that mean? It’s the opportunity to provide capability without being prescriptive as to what the customers experience needs to look like. If you look at many of the solutions over the last 25 years, everybody comes complete with an entire suite. This is how it works and this is how your customer will use it. And commercetools comes out and says, ‘Listen, we don’t know what your customer wants. We don’t know how your customer might want to consume that from you, so we’ll provide all of the capability and give you the total flexibility as to where, when, how your customer can interact with it’. So, it’s, you know, channel agnostic which is you know Omni channel again take all the industry terms and kind of lump them together with us and we just simply say we can power them all.


TheCustomer: Who are some of your customers?

Matt Alberts: Some of our larger customers, AT&T, L.L. Bean, Lululemon, Lego BMW, Audi, John Lewis; these are major retailers that you, that many people would recognize, you know interacting every day.


TheCustomer: And what are some of the trends you’ve seen with their marketing?

Matt Alberts: When I talked a little bit about, you know, three generations of commerce, for a lot of these brands, the way that they built their ecommerce businesses were around that first generation of technology and they took that all the way to the end.  Other vendor solutions that they that they purchased have now finally gone end-of-life and for them they really didn’t see the opportunity to go into that cloud generation. The SAAS-based, the Shopify’s, the big commerce’s, the Salesforce commerce cloud. They just didn’t see the capabilities necessary to meet their business needs. So as these solutions have come into life and as we bring something unique into the market, they see a huge opportunity to take a step forward in their capability but still retain a lot of the engineering talent that exists in their business, and the knowledge, and just simply redistribute the technology in a in a way that’s more impactful for the business versus where it was in the past, which is generally a single channel solution, a dot com-only solution.


TheCustomer: You’re talking about meeting the needs of the customer, retail commerce. This is a moving target.  How do you navigate that?

Matt Alberts: What we’ve done is we stay to our core, which is if you look at development capabilities of the last ten years, you think about companies that we think of as industry leaders, whether revenue, whether profitable or not. They’re all using common methodologies and common techniques, and it allows for them to easily adapt to where their customers are moving. So again, you know whether it’s Amazon, whether it’s Uber or whether it’s eBay, these types of companies are able to quickly move to where that customer is and so we stopped there. We provide that capability. For people who are using our technology, again, it comes down to in some cases it feels like a bit of a game of Wack-a-Mole? Do we know if Tik Tok’s going to be next? Which cryptocurrency is going to win, you know, is the metaverse going to take off? And in each case, each of these different environments brings a different set of technologies and we provide a standard capability that’s fairly unopinionated as to how you would stitch a solution like that together.

So, we allow our customers to be really creative and quickly able to adapt into those spaces in two ways: one from a developer standpoint or an engineer standpoint to do the work and then for the business to make quick decisions and not realize that it’s a huge investment with technical alignment and a road map and ‘what is our vendor doing’ and ‘is our vendor in this particular space?’  We don’t have to be involved in those conversations. So, it’s that flexibility to really have that freedom to think, freedom, to play, freedom to try very quickly and cheaply in some cases.

TheCustomer: It sounds like what you’re talking about is you’re coming in under the hood for the companies, but it stops there. You don’t need to then extend really beyond that and you’re able to provide solutions by doing just that?

Matt Alberts: Yes, and because most of the interaction points that customers would use today all prefer to use the concept of APIs which our entire platform is powered by. Imagine some of the circumstances in which you interact with these brands, right, whether you call into a pharmacy and punch in the codes from your prescription. That’s calling into a set of API’s which could be powering the same system that’s powering the website and powering the store, right? That’s the kind of concept of using a common technology set as opposed to what our previous generations of technology and some of our competitors do where they focus solely on specific channels or specific devices, or specific interaction points, right? And that’s where all the problems lie, right? When a customer walks into a store and gets a different price or a different promotion, or can’t find stock in an omnichannel situation like we’ve had the last 10 or 15 years, they’re disappointed.  Certain generations of people don’t understand why that problem exists and for commercetools we look at that and say ‘it doesn’t have to.’

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