A lot of retail categories are fairly mundane to analyze in terms of their ecommerce platforms: we may as well be observing Mars from the outside as a scientist collecting data and coming to conclusions.
But with food – oh, who doesn’t have lots of thoughts on the big brands from Ben & Jerry’s to M&M and everything in between? So today’s edition of the ecommerce platform review will be particularly fun!
So, the question we always start with is: what ecommerce platforms are the big ecommerce brands using? And what’s surprising or interesting about their choices?
To jump in, let’s start with the raw data. Here are the ecommerce platforms used by the big food brands (in the USA, of course), including a cross-section of different subsets of the industry:
|Food & drink||Platform|
|Ben & Jerry||Custom|
|Candy Warehouse||Netduite SuiteCommerce Advanced|
|Harry and David||HCL Commerce|
|Krispy Kreme||Custom (Partner with DoorDash)|
|Nespresso||SAP Commerce; Magento|
|Pilot Coffee Roasters||BigCommerce|
Now, overall, let’s step back and look at the summary data, by platform:
|Netsuite SuiteCommerce Advanced||1|
And interestingly, a few of the major brands didn’t have an ecommerce platform overall:
No ecommerce platforms
- Kellogs – but has a store that sells merch on Magento
Now, let’s step back and see what we can find that’s interesting or useful from this list.
First, it’s noteworthy that 12 of the 30 brands use Salesforce Commerce Cloud. As the high-end platform designed for high-volume retail and DTC commerce online – and the industry leader in that space, by far – this makes sense. High-volume and high-end retail stores, in food and other industries, have particular requirements and they tend to be complex: legacy system integration, multivariate testing, compliance with complex legal regulatory environments that change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and so forth. And Salesforce Commerce Cloud (ex Demandware) was built from the ground up with these issues in mind and thus, unsurprisingly, has conquered the space.
And seeing 12 of the top 30 using this platform is consistent with our research across industry verticals. We’ve seen an average of about 1/3rd of the top brands using Salesforce Commerce Cloud, usually followed by Magento. And this is the case in the food and beverage vertical as well, with Magento (at 4 of the 30) tied for second place with the up-and-coming Shopify.
It is surprising to see Shopify doing so strongly at this point. Shopify, unlike Salesforce Commerce Cloud, was built from the ground up for precisely this purpose, while Shopify is trying to graft on high-end functionality. The result, for Shopify, is lots of extensions that can’t talk to each other, much slower speeds as site complexity grows (particularly with lots of extensions, often serving from other processes on other servers), and the inability to even do the most vanilla high-end issues (such as, on Shopify, how you need to create a completely separate site if you need to show a changed version for a particular legal jurisdiction, for example.)
The main reason why large sites do use Shopify is, often, they’re overgrown Shopify sites. Often sites grow and scale and then – changing platforms can be a pain in the tushy, so many sites avoid doing so until the last possible minute. But there are exceptions – like Twinings, who has been selling tea for a long time, 314 years, as of today, as a matter of fact – and they chose Shopify. In the case of Twinings, the choice of Shopify is surprising, and my best explanation as to why that would be is that, traditionally, so little of their sales are online, their online platform was probably an after-thought for them. Just imagine the long-term contracts and sales relationships in place for a 314-year-old brand!
Another surprising appearance is that 3 of the top 30 – precisely 10% – are using BigCommerce. Wholey’s, Pilot, and Jeni’s. BigCommerce is a major player and a big boy, so it’s not that this is particularly surprising. But what is interesting is that there are three of the relatively smaller players that are using it. And with BigCommerce’s headless super-focus, well… Headless is a strategy that makes more sense of the truly huge players, and not the mid-sized ones.
Let me explain. To go headless is a new tech fad, and this fad is to use back-end-only ecommerce platforms (or any platform) so that you can, theoretically, use any front-end on top of it. Your front-end and back-end are linked only via an API, not as an integrated whole. This theoretically frees up your front-end designers to do anything they dream of, to not be constrained to “The WordPress Look” or “The Salesforce Commerce Cloud Look” (you can tell when a site is on a particular platform, a bit too often, if you’ve seen enough of those sites; there used to be a WordPress Look but a bit less today; and there definitely is a SFCC look today!)
But the problem with going headless is that it adds enormous complexity and work to both creating and maintaining the site, for benefits that are very, very much theoretical. I usually recommend the headless approach for companies that are both larger and that have custom or complex front-end needs. And looking at these three sites, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
Another surprising and interesting aspect of this data is that Oreo runs Magento. Oreo, owned by Nabisco – I would have expected something more serious and better for high-end, complex cases than an open-source package!
One explanation could be that most of Nabisco’s brands don’t even have an ecommerce presence but merely simple promotional sites.
In that context, merely putting together an ecommerce site is revolutionary and probably something like a “Skunkworks” within Nabisco to see if they can do it. So trying it with a free and open-source package makes sense.
And indeed, it seems that in much of the food retail industry’s online sales, the name of the game is promotion, not ecommerce. Food brands tend to want a promotion-first, ecommerce-second platform. And this is important to keep in mind, because not every ecommerce platform has strong content capabilities needed for good promotion.
Indeed, this might be a reason to use Magento. Now owned by Adobe, it plays nicely with Adobe Experience Manager. Here at ArganoUV, when we implement Salesforce Commerce Cloud, we often recommend setting up a separate content system so you can get a stronger content platform, and then there are various ways to integrate them or have them play nicely together.
Another surprising detail is the appearance of Kibo, a more obscure ecommerce platform, to power M&M’s ecommerce site. What makes Kibo interesting is that most commerce platforms are either B2C or B2C; take Salesforce, that has Salesforce Commerce Cloud for the B2C space, and CloudCraze for B2B – and the two don’t talk to each other. (Note that they are in the process of renaming Commerce Cloud to “Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud” and CloudCraze to “Salesforce B2B Commerce Cloud.”) B2C and B2B are entirely different beasts: selling to an individual who wants a $25 box of candy vs selling to a partner who wants a $25,000 box of tens of thousands of them on an invoice to be paid later, and so forth. But Kibo’s vision is to unite the two. This is interesting because all serious food brands also have a serious B2B side of their business also. This is, for the record, sometimes called “Unified” commerce. And indeed, Kibo’s vision is, to quote themselves on their own site, “a unified commerce solution to serve a mid-tier merchant” – which makes a first-class, huge brand’s use of them, such as M&M’s, surprising. But growing together is one of the best success strategies for an ecommerce brand.
Note also that Kibo is, uncommonly, a combination of a platform creator and an implementer – so they implement the client work themselves. This means M&M’s is tied not just to their platform, but to hiring their consultants to make any changes. This is in general both high-risk and will definitionally make the work expensive, since there is no competition. “Here, buy my refrigerator and if you ever want it fixed, you have to pay me a huge hourly” – I personally would rather buy a fridge that anyone can fix. (And why I’m angry at Apple for only letting official repair centers fix their computers.)
The most interesting and surprising item on the list is Krispy Kreme. Ah, Krispy Kreme – I remember when it was all the rage in New York for those 5 minutes. But apparently lots of people still love them! The most interesting part is that instead of building their own ecommerce site, they partnered with Silicon Valley’s hipster cool DoorDash to do online delivery and order fulfilment. Now that’s clever. Rather than have the huge cost to build an ecommerce platform yourself, you partner with a company that needs the money and credibility and brings tech coolness as well as first-rate tech talent and… you get a win-win! It’s a clever out of the box approach to ecommerce.
In conclusion, there are lots of ecommerce platforms and lots of choices, especially in the food and beverage space. And if you want to have a brainstorm to see which one is right for your needs, let’s have a call any time. Just drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org