Corporate BS is (an unfortunate) practice in the ecommerce industry

Why You Should Care About eCommerce Corporate BS

In Omnichannel eCommerce by Anca MatcovschiLeave a Comment

Corporate BS is (an unfortunate) practice in the ecommerce industry

Quick question: How familiar does the following ecommerce technology description sound to you?

“X-Commerce is the best-of-breed ecommerce option designed to proactively transform maintainable e-tailers. Capitalizing on the open-source natural language processing and web-enabled processes, X-Commerce maximizes the potential of continuous integration, holistically orchestrating cloud-ready results.

Embracing the latest in customized e-markets trends, X-Commerce pursues uniquely accurate metrics to efficiently utilize market-driven expertise that will initiate user-centric growth strategies in a synergistic manner, quickly developing market positioning customer services, and globally engage corporate infomediaries.

Don’t let your competition get ahead: contact X-Commerce today, and benefit from the quickly expedited customized supply chains, that conveniently promote scalable storage, continually deploy economically sound users, and hyper-scale ROI. Become more mobile and disruptive overall — There is no other industry equally open-source.

Ready to e-enable the next generation of web services?”

If you made it until the end, then you should be proud (and a little worried)! You’re more immune to ecommerce’s corporate BS than most people. Who are these“most people?” I don’t even know — but it sounds convincing, doesn’t it?

If, however, you only skimmed the description… You haven’t missed out on a single thing. I made it all up using online corporate BS generators, like Atrixnet, Apptic’s, and, to show that randomized buzzwords and on-purpose corporate BS in the ecommerce sector aren’t distant cousins at all.

Why should you care? Because…

1. Corporate BS is (an unfortunate) industry practice

There’s just no escaping empty, misused words like “to hyper-scale ROI,” regardless of the field. And ecommerce is still a very young and green industry, overly-excited about riding the corporate flow, and using all the slang that cool kids do.

Mike Bates, Founder & CEO at HotWax, recently wrote about this industry-wide lack of maturity: “Just like a teenager, developing from a child into an adult, today’s enterprise commerce tech has some amazing, new, powerful capabilities. It also has an uncanny way of tripping over its own feet.” Bates called out the industry’s complicated licensing, prohibitive costs, and secret proprietary code, but I would also add “pompous product descriptions” to the list.

One of my first tasks at HotWax Systems was to read up on our main competitors, in order to define our own communication strategy. As if the task of understanding Unified Commerce hadn’t fried my brains in the first place, I had to dig with a shovel on these competitors’ websites for an ounce of information — or unambiguous truth!

In a few cases, it took weeks before I’d stumble upon a forum where active customers revealed that a product’s “omnichannel” claim would be more accurately described as “some channels, sometimes.” Similarly, they’d comment on how the unregulated extension-producing “ecosystem” is potentially exposing them (and their clients!) to cyber-security issues, or that the “low cost/affordable solution” actually requires full-time staff to function within close-to-normal parameters.

Often enough, these customers would call us, and let us know exactly what they thought about “Miss Popularity Ecommerce Platform’s” dirty laundry, but it was only after a great deal of effort and money that the limitations of those patchwork systems were revealed. It wasn’t the customer’s fault — how could it be, when these ecommerce platforms promised to do anything but wash the dishes?

Thank god there are numerous popular solutions that have already been vetted by thousands of clients before you, you’d think. Right?


2. Even the popular companies do it

If we’ve learned anything from the schoolyard conflicts between the heavy weight champions of the commerce tech world, it’s that the bigger the company, the more skeletons hiding in their closet. But this doesn’t rule doesn’t apply to complicated, and prohibitively expensive ERP systems alone. It’s prevalent in the world of SMB ecommerce, as well.

It only took me a glance at “THE most powerful ecommerce platform” to notice the abundance of corporate BS, and to imagine their marketing team meeting that brought these gems into website reality:

BS Sample #1: No other platform gives you the power to create unique and engaging shopping experiences.
Translation: “We’re the only ones that have eeever, ever, ever thought of customer engagement. Nobody uses it. And nobody’s special, other than us. We should google this novel idea of ’engagement,’ and see if we can copyright it. It’s more than just sales, it’s about making the client feel involved in the brand, like he’s part of something, you know? Did you google it? It exists? Crap. Whatever, I’m not rewriting this.”

BS Sample #2: One of our customers improved customer retention by a double-digit percentage.
Translation: “It’s pretty big deal, depending on the reference point, but not a big enough deal to actually call the number out. It’s more like 10-12%. We don’t actually know. Also, it’s just one client. Yes, we have 250,000 clients, but this one is pretty special. That’s like a 0.0004% success rate. Can’t argue with the numbers!”

BS Sample #3: Share Your Fans’ Potential
Translation: “We should mention the social media buttons, but call them something else. We have social sharing, so we should keep ‘share,’ and fans — right? ‘Cause they like you. They like you because you have social media buttons and they can share. And once they’ve shared, that brings… opportunities. Only we’ve used that in the phrase before. Call it ‘potential.’ I’ve got this: Share Your Fans’ Potential, because it’s not your fans that are potentially sharing, it’s you sharing their potential with the world. ‘Fans’. Definitely ‘fans’. Marjorie, I’m on a roll!”

BS Sample #4: Your messaging must be relevant to drive customer engagement.
Translation: “Is this the part where we talk about ads? Oh. I don’t feel like people understand the notion of advertising, or how important it is to match it to a… person, you know? I’m gonna explain it to them just in case. Here, this sounds compelling, now they get it!”

BS Sample #5: Utilizing embedded precision targeting tools […] will help you identify your audience and drive better results.
Translation: “What do you mean ‘Better than what?’ Just better. You know, everything these days is about bigger, better… bigger, stuff like that. And we’re precise. We use ‘precision targeting tools,’ kind of like laser pointers. We’re snipers with laser pointers, that’s what we are. Are you writing down all of this, Marjorie? This is gold, I tell ya’!”

I could go on forever, but I’m afraid I’d give poor fictitious Marjorie a heart attack.

The upside (or was it downside?) of things is that malintent is not always the case. Sometimes definitions are just… fuzzy.

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3. Fuzzy definitions are the root of all evil

Even specialists sometimes struggle keeping up with languages, and their quickly evolving vocabulary. From day-to-day words, to slang and lingo, it’s often the user who sets the tone on how certain terms are to be used, or evolve in their meaning.

ERPs, for example, originally encompassed manufacturers’ CRM system, their business analytics and financial applications. As their sophistication grew, these systems expanded into retail and services, to include data from the purchasing, inventory, sales, marketing, finance and human resources departments. But since there isn’t a fixed combination of specialized software that comprise an ERP system, the term “ERP” has almost become a generic name for any 2+ systems feeding into an analytics tool.

To make matters more confusing, the newest developments in commerce technology still compete with ancient legacy systems, whose slow and painful death perpetuate ERP’s limited definition of “financial system.” This makes it tricky for a potential customer to understand where exactly does the notion of ERP reconcile with a product’s unique makeup — or, better said, what exactly it is that he’s paying for when he’s shopping for an ERP system.

Omnichannel — the promised land of customer experience —  is on everyone’s lips these days. It has been described as a “multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience, whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store.” Beyond mere “multichannel,” the latin prefix “omni” suggests that this type of technology should provide a completely novel type of client experience, one which includes improved customer services, access to detailed shopping history, or complex shipping and payment options. Alas, omnichannel often refers to simple functionalities like accessing the same shopping cart on desktop and mobile, as long as you’re logged in, far less potent on its own than it sounds like.

Where omnichannel fails, unified commerce thrives, but the notion of “unified commerce” itself isn’t less confusing. We’ve all heard it before, but what exactly does it mean? The definition varies. For some, it’s unifying sales channels, meaning Unified Commerce = Omnichannel. To others, Unified Commerce unites front-end interface with back-end systems, creating a seamless transition and smooth management. But where do you draw the line? What systems should be included, what should be excluded?


“Unified Commerce is the native coordination of commerce business processes across multiple functional areas”Mike Bates, HotWax Founder & CEO

Mike Bates, Founder & CEO of HotWax Systems, defines unified commerce as “the native coordination of commerce business processes across multiple functional areas”. Having created and developed the world’s leading open-source unified commerce platform, HotWax Commerce, Bates felt the need to create his own, more accurate definition for an emerging industry that is sought-after by SMBs and enterprises alike.

Unified commerce has been around since at least 2013, when BRP’s earlier surveys defined it accurately, and in a manner similar to Bates’: “(Unified commerce) goes a step beyond omni-channel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a single commerce platform.” In the four year since, however, unified commerce’s definition has only been diluted to fit omnichannel gimmicks, instead of true unification, broadening its meaning to fit more companies.

When Gartner evaluated our company in 2015, it seemed to us that their top consultants weren’t quite sure which category our software product belonged to, because of its novelty and the fact that it crossed multiple traditional areas of focus. It was only in 2017 that Gartner acknowledged the trend at all, and created a category of technology called Unified Retail Commerce.

The products included in it, however, offer limited unification, covering only 5-10% of unified commerce’s capability and potential of running the entire enterprise on a single platform, not just the sales channels. The consultancy firm’s definition is, unsurprisingly, closer to the “working version of omnichannel” definition — limited to praising mobile shopping and kiosks.

It’s this kind of “fuzziness” and selective use of terms that which has driven us to start our own educational effort. Subscribe to the Unified Commerce Series, and have cutting-edge whitepapers sent straight in your inbox, as soon as they are published, or join the commerce HOTFIX mailing list for your monthly dose of commerce technology.

The bottom line is: when you’re researching your company’s next ecommerce, digital, or even unified commerce platform, it’s obvious to everyone that time is money, the budget’s short, and there’s no room for error because of ambiguity, differences in definitions, or marketing zeal. So take your time to brush up that lingo, ask for details, compare products and vendors, and use every trick up your sleeve to better understand the technology, and dodge the BS ball like a Highschool Musical version of the Matrix.

And since work is never done, make sure you…

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4. Stay ahead of the BS game

Mastering ecommerce lingo (corporate BS included) cannot stop with implementing the one platform. New technological developments come up every day, and commerce software is evolving faster than ever. The once prohibitive costs of Unified Commerce platforms, for example, have gone down to that of a MagentoEE solution, while the sophistication of enterprise-grade open-source software has gone up to match that of SAP Hybris.

Whether or not that level of sophistication could be used in full by a small company differs from case to case, but I preach that it’s better to start off on a scalable unified commerce platform, and fit into it as you grow, rather than outgrow your technology time and time again, only to waste more efforts and opportunities in the process.

Between eCommerce and Unified Commerce is a small, but formidable step, which shouldn’t be taken lightly, even with Unified Commerce’s simplicity and added efficiency. Start your digital commerce education today, and you’ll never have to worry about corporate BS getting in the way of your — now — educated decision.

As the great oracles of online BS generators proferred:

“At the end of the day, the marketplace has changed.
Streamline literally or unpack.”

Do you have any favorite ecommerce corporate BS lines? Or maybe some corporate BS experience that you’d like to share with us? Please do!

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