Slatwall ECommerce Platform Impresses a Digital Marketing Veteran

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to drop-in on a local company that is building ECommerce software. This was a non-sales visit and simply based on my curiosity, as well as my love for all things related to ECommerce. It is also interesting that they are located in Worcester, MA. Massachusetts has many ECommerce companies such as Rue La La, ShoeBuy, Wayfair, Chewy, Bose, Staples, BJs and so on. Long time favorites of mine, Salsify (PIM, etc) and Trellis (Digital transformation and ECommerce integrator etc), are also located here. Most of these digital marketing and eBusiness related companies are scattered near Boston. Worcester, our second largest city, might have an image of an old city but there's construction everywhere as companies set-up shop in a more business friendly real-estate market. Boston real-estate costs are out of hand these days and the traffic is soul crushing. Everywhere I look in Worcester there are new buildings popping up and businesses moving in. Speaking of which, they will be getting a minor league baseball team soon so coupled with the growing restaurant scene, Worcester may become the new Boston in Massachusetts. Now, if they would just setup a show like SXSW Conference all would be well in the universe.

I met President of ten24 Digital Solutions, David Crouch, at B2B Online Conference, the best ECommerce related show in the US, back in October of 2018 in Miami. I had heard of their ECommerce platform Slatwall because it is Open Source. I love Open Source software, but unlike most, this platform is based on JAVA and not PHP. Speaking of PHP, I wondered if Slatwall would become the next Magento Commerce, thus another reason to visit. Magento was recently bought by Adobe and there have been many articles wondering what Adobe would do. Adobe is a great company but having loved and used two of their software programs in the past after a M&A, then to see them killed, makes me weary. Still, Magento is a great platform for small and mid-size companies and I use it for a hobby site of mine, but after my visit to Worcester, I think that's really about to change.

In case you haven't read my resume or looked over my LinkedIn profile, I've been in ECommerce and Digital Marketing for over 20 years. I studied Computer Science and Marketing at ECSU in Connecticut and started in retail sales. Retail Sales experience + C.S. + Marketing + a knack for the artsy stuff = ECommerce right? I lived in Japan for 14 years and love international business culture. Returning to the states in 2016 after my 'tour of duty' overseas, I have worked for B2C and B2B companies; from distributors to manufacturers. That's a little background so you can be assured I write this with extensive knowledge of what it takes to succeed in ECommerce.

After a short drive to Worcester, I entered the hip office of ten24 Digital Solutions, which happens to be next to a new Japanese Ramen restaurant; a good omen! President David Crouch and VP Sumit Verma walked me through what they have accomplished with their team of 30+. I've sat through countless 'sales demos' where the representatives talked in warm & fuzzy speech as well as marketer gibberish. It's a massive waste of time and too often, you end up with 10 minutes to cover items of substance. Instead, what I saw from these two guys was a connection of ECommerce passion and straightforward explanation. It was really dead-on target for people who live and breathe ECommerce everyday. Maybe because David and Sumit aren't pure marketing guys. LOL. And so, we spoke the same language without any need of 'babble fish'. From ECommerce managers, to ECommerce directors and even ECommerce VPs, all of us need to overcome adoption challenges and incremental sales growth for our channel. As I watched the presentation, my mind was jumping to past pain points that could be overcome from what I saw. Not to mention brainstorming on functionality that was beyond reach in past projects. A bit like... "If I can do this, then I can layer on that, and do this, and that can lead to these outcomes."

Does it sound like I was impressed? I was. You might be thinking, "This is a paid influencer article." And you would be 100% wrong. Other than living in the same state, I have no connection to these folks. I have used WebSphere, Oracle, SAP Hybris, Magento and just about every digital and ECommerce platform out there. There's always some limit on out of the box, always some areas that left me wanting... why didn't they do ABC... XYZ process is completely wrong. And so on. I reflected back to business requirements I had written in my past 20 years in ECommerce and knew that so many would never be possible due to platform limitations, cost limits or technical complexity. I hammered these two for one hour on their platform - Slatwall Commerce was truly impressive.

How many of us have sat through demos and were sold on a dream, only to find out when you opened the 'box', the box was empty. I mean, there aren't enough fingers to count the times that an account manager and their 'tech guy' stated in a meeting or presentation that unique function you needed was 'Out of the Box'. And so, you sign the contract and later find out that function either doesn't exist or it is so basic that it requires further custom development to get to what you need. And of course, the more custom development you do, the greater hardship the upgrade path becomes. Not to mention when bringing in new developers, you will either lose them in the 'hack' or see them quit over lack of a good framework and documentation. The opposite of this is a platform that tried to do so much that it does nothing well. Or does one thing well, and everything else was really an afterthought to get to 'we are a complete platform!' Rubbish that.

When walking through the functions of Slatwall Commerce, I was constantly stopping Sumit and David to grill them on what I was seeing. One part of the demo was what they call Collections. I immediately thought of the process of allowing customers to pay their account online. But actually, Collections is completely different. (I joked they need to change the name.) In a nutshell, it allows you to build queries in an intuitive manner and present them in a graphical format. Here's the part I loved... I asked, "So how long does it take the developer to create these complex queries?" The answer was, "Well, they can, but this is powered for the business user." Whhhhhat? I have much respect for developers, and work well with their managers, but its always a struggle to obtain resources to develop something that helps you better understand your business. It shouldn't be but that is the nature of the beast at the enterprise level. This is a topic I have always felt wanting in other platforms. Sure, they give you basic stats in some dashboard and some other reporting. Of course, your web analytics team will also chime in and state, "We can give you the insight you need." Great, but people who do ECommerce 24/7 (we work 24/7 right?) want to be empowered. We want to build tools that match our dreams and help drive the business by data and we want control plus self-service. With this power, we can focus like a laser in getting those incremental sales, understanding opportunities and look at data from different views to conduct actionable results. I think what I saw in Collections was ground-breaking and normally would require several third-party tools; its not just web analytics or your ERP BI tool; it's aimed at ECommerce people like you and me. (Insert, "With Great Power Comes..." line here)

I left David's office with two negative thoughts. First was that going back to my old platform, how could I be satisfied? It's like having great coffee and never wanting to drink the rubbish that a certain New England chain sells again. (I am from Brasil after all.) Second was that this platform is flying under the radar of a lot of B2C and B2B companies. They need to do more to market this jewel. I want to see them take that next step up and add a sales guru to the team.

For me, ECommerce is still in its infancy and many companies are thinking:

I will just give up and sell my stuff on Amazon... so I guess I will just compete on price alone (Gasp!).

Our products are too complex to sell online (Umm.. CPQ).

Our customers prefer field sales (Sounds like they haven't read recent data or spoken to the next generation of millennial managers).

We have our catalog as a PDF online, isn't that enough? (Sounds like you need a new CMO/CIO).

How can I afford SAP, Oracle or IBM? (Sounds like your integrator isn't doing their due diligence).

or... I own SAP, Oracle and IBM, why do I need another platform? (I hate Frankenstein systems... but sometimes there is a case to add another tool. The ROI pays for the tool quickly usually).

ECommerce is just channel shifting, it brings no value for our business (Sounds like the CEO use to be Sales VP. FYI, I love sales folks, their job is HARD. I want to help them and the company make more money. ECommerce is a partner for growth folks).

We need to develop our own platform because we have this Frankenstein back-end system and we need to hide the green and black terminals from the millennials. (What is your main business? It's probably not software sales, so why are you still making custom software? Sure, for some unique tools, you will need to. But your team can't out code a team that is solely focused on developing an ECommerce platform 24/7).

We are good with the limitations of our cookie cutter SASS platform (In some cases this makes sense, for example, if you want to run a trial site. In the long run, your customers will ask for functionality or you will need functionality to create a value-add. I'm not convinced they have the agility to deliver in the long run.

What's a PIM? (Oh boy, let's sit down and start at ECommerce 101).

That last one is a joke, but it pains me when I go to conferences and still meet folks who have product information in spreadsheets. Ouch! Their digital transformation is probably 5 years away. More likely their competitors won't let them reach that 5 year mark or when they do, their competitors will be 20 years further than them!

I decided to write this article the day after visiting with David and Sumit not because, as mentioned, we have some connection or there is any expectation on my part; there isn't. I was moved to write about it because I love ECommerce through-and-through and I know there are many ECommerce managers like me who are having challenges. They need to recommend to the C-Suite a short list of ECommerce platforms that can meet their needs today and tomorrow. Their jobs are on the line if online doesn't deliver. The other reason to spread the news about this platform is because ... I shop online. Surprise, surprise. But the thing is, since this is my day job, when I shop online, I'm not just looking for good prices and service, I am thinking about the entire sales funnel in front of me. I HATE BAD ECOMMERCE SITES. Yes, even more than normal people who shop online I suppose. I can't tell you how many times I've taken the time to email the store's manager to offer advice. My thinking is that poor customer experience reflects on all ECommerce!

Let me finish off by saying whether you are a small company, mid-size, and yes, even enterprise thinking you need to drop a few million, otherwise the platform is rubbish, you need to take a look at Slatwall. Based on experience, the vendor you are working with won't bring them up. They will give you a short list of platforms they only work with or have some backdoor incentive to recommend. Insist Slatwall be on your short list. Insist on a demo from them. This is coming from an ECommerce guy who has seen it all. Also, if you love Magento and Open Source, grab their demo and do a local install to check out the features.

About the Author: Carlos Camacho is a Senior eCommerce Manager with 20+ years’ experience leading eCommerce, content marketing, merchandising and technology teams. With a track record of working in both B2C and B2B, Carlos has led and developed eCommerce strategy at a horticultural supply company, medical and pharmaceutical distributor, scientific instrument manufacturer and industrial distributor. Originally from Brazil, with 14 years of work experience in Japan, Carlos is currently based in Connecticut. You can follow Carlos on Twitter at @ECommerceCzar.

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