eCommerce Tech Stack: The 2021 Definitive Guide
So you want to create a strong eCommerce tech stack.
New technology is constantly hitting the eCommerce landscape. In this article, we’ll dive into the essentials, helping you distinguish signals from noise so that you understand what best-in-class eCommerce startups are using to run their online stores.
This is your 2021 eCommerce technology list.
Tech stack defined
Your tech stack is the infrastructure and technology behind your eCommerce business. It consists of technology and systems you use to run your business, including tools for billing, accounting, fulfillment, CRM, and much more. Your tech stack also has to do with the coding languages you use: PHP, Python, Rails or Node, React, Vue, Angular, etc.
The challenge is knowing what tech to have along different points in your growth journey. Upstarts require a very different tech stack than unicorns, for example. As you grow, you’ll need to evolve your underlying tech to meet changing needs. In this article, we’re going to cover what you need for a startup tech stack.
Elements of an eCommerce tech stack
So, which tools need to make up your eCommerce tech stack? Let’s dive into the essentials.
Most eCommerce brands should start with an eCommerce system like Shopify or BigCommerce. These monolithic systems play multiple important roles in your business. Their primary functions include hosting your storefront, hosting your pages as a CMS, displaying your brand to the public, processing orders, and storing customers in a system. These eCommerce systems also help you manage shipping, taxes, and discounts.
eCommerce systems are built to be extensive, offering many tools and basic functionality for online stores. But they don’t offer everything. There are always add-ons — many of which we’ll cover below — that fill in the gaps of your tech stack.
Popular eCommerce systems
Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Squarespace , Magento, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Commercetools
Analytics and data management system
The analytics platform provides reports on various aspects of your business, especially how acquisition occurs on your website and how you capitalize on those acquisitions from a revenue perspective.
Analytics and data management systems help you answer: Which pages do people visit on my website? How engaged were my website visitors? Where did my site visitors come from? They also report on how often a customer purchases and engages with your brand.
Popular analytics and data management systems
Google Analytics, Elevar, SARAS analytics, Source Medium
Your accounting system manages all the money and cash flows in and out of the business. It integrates closely with your eCommerce system, translating store data into real revenue numbers. Your accounting system is your single source of truth for eCommerce finances.
In addition to helping you understand your numbers, it provides reports for taxation and your financials to keep you ahead of tax day, raising investments, and more.
Popular accounting systems
Xero, Quickbooks, Freshbooks, Wave
Your warehousing system receives orders from your website and turns that into a shipped order. The warehouse system takes inputs and customer-related data and turns it into a real shipment that can be tracked by the customer.
Warehouses often work with select providers, so ask your current warehouse provider which software they use. It can come by warehouse or, from a tech stack perspective.
Popular warehousing systems
Ship Bob, Ship Hero, Shipstation
This is the system and tool you leverage to manage the entire returns process. Returns can be complicated. It involves sending return labels, educating customers about how to successfully make a return, and then actually processing the return so nothing gets lost along the way.
Fortunately, there are several great companies that handle all of this for you.
Popular returns providers
Returnly, HappyReturns, Loop Returns
Email management system
Your email management system is the primary channel through which you interact with the customer. At a foundational level, it helps you store contact information. An email management system allows you to foster connection with your customers, send newsletters, create hyper-targeted marketing campaigns, and update subscribers about new deals or updates. Email is the primary form of contact for many businesses — and an email management system gives you the tools you need to do so effectively.
Popular email management systems
Klaviyo, Omnisend, Drip, Mailchimp
SMS (short message service)
Like an email management system, SMS is a tool for connecting and providing information to your customers and leads. Except SMS specifically handles text messages. When a customer gives you permission to text them, you can use this for basic updates as well as for marketing purposes.
Keep in mind: there’s a lot of strict regulations you need to follow when it comes to using SMS. But when done right, it allows for a light, one-way conversation direct to your target customer’s phone.
Popular SMS systems
Attentive and Postscript
CRM (customer relationship manager)
The CRM is connected to the email system. In fact, the two functions often take place within the same single tool. Your customer relationship manager is where you’ll store key data about each customer: email addresses, past purchases, shipping preferences, and much more.
The core purpose of a traditional CRM in eCommerce is to have the pre-acquisition activities stored in one place. Before they buy from you, you already know what the consumer has talked about or done, including abandoned carts, chat conversations with support, and more. All this information helps convert the consumer into an eventual sale.
Klaviyo, Omnisend, Drip, Mailchimp
Your help desk system is what the customer service team leverages to have a conversation with the consumer. It allows them to look up customer data and orders. Within a help desk system exists every conversation you’ve ever had with the consumer so that you can track it — and customer service teams can do their best job, using the most comprehensive and latest information.
Popular help desk systems
Gorgias, ZenDesk, Intercom
Reward / referral system
A reward and referral system helps you encourage word of mouth marketing through reward-based retention tactics. The purpose is to take your happiest customers and turn them into your biggest promoters.
A reward system incentivizes customers to talk about your company and products. It offers special promotions to referrers in the form of discounts, gift cards, and cash rewards.
Popular reward / referral systems
Yotpo Loyalty & Rewards, Smile, Refersion
This has grown increasingly popular in eCommerce. Your subscription platform fulfills recurring orders for customers. Instead of ordering your coffee in one-off purchases, they can elect to join a monthly subscription. This automatically charges their card every month and ships the customer a new bag of coffee — or whatever your product may be.
Popular subscription platforms
Upscribe, Recharge, Bold
And finally, your review system allows customers to leave reviews of your product on your eCommerce website. The review system allows the consumer to rate and rank the product and leave a written feedback about their experience with your company.
This fosters trust between you and your customers, as well as provides you insight into how customers feel about your brand and product. And if you have a high rating, a review system also provides great social proof to encourage future sales.
Popular review systems
Biggest thing people get wrong
Now that we’ve discussed the primary tools you’ll need in your eCommerce tech stack, let’s discuss the most common thing startups get wrong when it comes to choosing their tool suite.
Through more than a decade working with eCommerce brands, the most common mistake I see brands make is choosing the wrong tech stack for the current stage in their business. Many new startups look to the biggest companies in their space for inspiration. But these companies have usually matured to their technology using an iterative approach to technology.
In other words, established eCommerce companies require completely different tools than starting brands. It’s important to test drive a product before you buy to make sure it’s truly the right tool for this stage of your business.
Selecting your eCommerce tech stack is like choosing the right vehicle to get you to the next destination. Many startups go for a Boeing when all they really need is a cessna.
Look for tools that bridge your need to run lean with your ability to scale. Let the enterprise companies pay for the custom, robust software. You’ll get there someday, but don’t rush into those tools until you’re truly need them.
Did you enjoy this article? You may also enjoy this piece about the role of qualitative research for emerging eCommerce brands.