How and Why We’re Making “Distributed Commerce” A Thing

At FERMÀT we’re all about distributed commerce, but we realize that term might not mean a whole lot to everyone outside our company. In reality, if you manage an ecommerce business, there’s a good chance that your products are already sold across multiple channels: your own site, social shopping, maybe even physical stores. When we refer to “distributed commerce,” we just mean pushing that practice to the extreme, so you can reach your customers in as many contexts as possible.

We expect the fragmentation of D2C sales channels to be a pretty huge trend, and there’s already a growing number of companies cropping up to support this. While we’re excited to see the future of distributed commerce taking shape, we’re also wary of the fact that if it’s not done correctly, it could have serious adverse impacts on how direct-to-consumer businesses operate. It’s extremely important to us that we build distributed commerce the right way, and that you understand why the distinction matters.

In one approach, distributed commerce can be accomplished through mediation. A mediating channel might act as a middle-man between your existing commerce stack and your customers. It will help you reach new shoppers through new formats, with minimal disruption to your operations. But by sitting in between you and the customer, a mediator might disrupt your direct consumer relationships. Depending on how the purchase flow is implemented, marketing automation for abandoned carts or post-purchase retargeting may cease to work. Your understanding of customer loyalty and lifetime value may become fragmented. And worst of all, the consumer experience may become clunky and confusing if a third party sits between your fulfillment ops and the buyer who actually placed an order.

These are some serious tradeoffs to consider if you’re trying to build a lasting business. But the good news is that there’s an alternative to these mediation layers: direct distributed commerce. At FERMÀT, we’re building our distributed commerce stack to be an extension of your brand, not a reseller of it. By extending your existing commerce operations, we can ensure that your products reach consumers in as wide a variety of contexts as possible, without disrupting your existing marketing or fulfillment operations.

When shoppers interact with your products through FERMÀT, your marketing automation will still work as expected, your company will be the merchant of record on any receipts, and your fulfillment ops will proceed exactly as they usually do. This is what it looks like when distributed commerce is built correctly: everything working the way it should, but in more contexts than before.

Ok, time to lay all my cards on the table — I’m an engineer, and what you’ve just read is more or less all the marketing speak I can muster. I hope that’s a compelling description of the benefits of extension over mediation, but what I’m most interested in doing is talking about how we pull it off here at FERMÀT.

The distinction between mediation and extension is a really useful way of framing the difficult problems that our engineering team needs to solve, and why those problems actually matter for our customers. While I could go on about it for ages, here are just a few of the things we’ve done to try and build an effective distributed commerce platform:

  • We’ve built deep integrations into several ecommerce platform APIs, including batch and streaming data syncs, cacheing to avoid rate limits, and of course, direct pass-through of order and consumer data so that brands keep their customer relationships.
  • We’ve designed normalized internal representations of resources that are common across different ecommerce platforms (e.g., products, discounts) so that consumer experiences remain consistent and reliable.
  • We’ve defined clear boundaries between backend capabilities and consumer-facing applications, so that we can rapidly experiment with shopping experiences to find what works best for each brand we work with.

I’ll have plenty more to share about the specifics of our product/engineering challenges and the stack we use to address them in the future, so stay tuned if that’s what you’re interested in. But if this has already been enough to convince you of the merits of our approach to distributed commerce, then get in touch — we’re excited to collaborate!