Essential ecommerce middleware

Discover the power of ecommerce middleware: Bridge systems seamlessly for enhanced sales efficiency. Explore options now!
Explore the role of ecommerce middleware in connecting systems for efficient sales processes, bridging the gap between diverse technologies. Discover various middleware options, including custom-built solutions, plugins, and full API integrations. 

For brands to achieve their full potential you must be able to connect your existing backend systems with new sales channels and services. This vital role is fulfilled by ecommerce middleware, either as a standalone solution or as part of an ecommerce platform.


In this article, we examine the crucial role of ecommerce middleware in ecommerce. 


We’ll see how it unlocks new sales possibilities and greater efficiencies, and look at the best middleware options for different use cases.


What is ecommerce middleware?

Ecommerce middleware is a type of software that enables multiple systems to work together, regardless of differences in programming languages, database types, schemas, or other potential incompatibilities. By acting as a translator, middleware can overcome these fundamental differences.


The first instances of middleware allowed some of the earliest applications to connect their technical backend processes and databases with more intuitive frontends. Middleware is more often used today to connect multiple applications and systems – not just a complex backend with an easy-to-use frontend experience.


This has special value in ecommerce, which relies on the smooth interworking of numerous systems to flourish.


By bridging the gap between different languages, schemas and protocols, ecommerce middleware can connect highly complex and mixed data sources with a variety of processes. It connects dataflows across multiple distributed systems and networks, making it easier to orchestrate ecommerce processes and integrate partner services.



Why is ecommerce middleware so useful?

On one hand, many ecommerce processes have become more uniform, and so have consumer expectations. On the other hand, each business also has its own way of doing things and their own technology stack.


Middleware enables an online business to reconcile these uniform expectations and standards with their own unique backend, and it makes it possible to sell via more channels.



The advantages of ecommerce middleware

Schema agnostic – You’re not limited to specific logic or database schemas, because middleware can translate one to another.


Your own ERP/online store – By connecting existing systems to (multiple) other technologies, brands and online retailers can extend into new markets and segments using their current ERPs.


Stable – Because you’re not interfering with your own systems, middleware ensures minimal disruption.


Creates opportunities – Middleware ‘opens doors’ for businesses, enabling them to connect their systems to new selling channels and partner services.


Maintenance – There is a low burden of maintenance when middleware is provided as an included feature of ecommerce software, or offered as a third-party service.


Flexibility – Middleware gives you the flexibility to change providers, add capabilities, or sell via more channels, without changing anything in your backend.


Easier for users – By connecting multiple systems, middleware can make life easier for ecommerce managers, who can consolidate functions into a single familiar interface or fewer interfaces.



More agile ecommerce

In addition to the advantages above, ecommerce middleware is the secret behind more agile ecommerce paradigms such as composable ecommerce and headless ecommerce.


In the case of composable ecommerce, middleware can connect microservices and packaged business capabilities (PBCs) with your own systems. For example, enabling you to connect a geolocation service with your WMS, customer service software, or contact center.


Headless commerce similarly links backend and frontend elements, ensuring each of these elements can work together seamlessly.


And, looking to the future, middleware gives the option of adding new technologies or selling models that haven’t been dreamt of yet – without needing to change your own core systems or processes.



Three common examples of middleware used in ecommerce

Order management – Marketplace systems must synchronize with your backend for inventory and order processes, and share relevant data with logistics partners. Data from couriers and customer service updates must also be able to flow back to the customer as well, via your order management system.


Stock synchronization – Inventory is often held in multiple locations, and the quantity on offer online cannot exceed the available quantity in the warehouse. Warehouse management systems must be able to synchronize with orders and returns in real-time, and the available stock must be 100% available on all channels, without the risk of overselling. Middleware ensures that data is shared across all these different systems, taking account of differences in database schema, numerical formats, warehouse locations, pack sizes, and delays in synchronization intervals.


Tracking – Middleware enables the IT systems used by couriers and logistics partners to communicate with your own order management and customer service backend, potentially automatically updating the customer with new information by email or SMS.




What types of middleware options do you have?

There are many different types of middleware, depending on the use-case and specific systems involved. Common examples include object request broker (ORB), remote procedure call (RPC), message-oriented middleware (MOM) and API (application programming interface) middleware.


The option you choose depends on the number and types of different systems, and whether your business needs are likely to grow or change.



Middleware option #1: A custom built solution

For a long time, the only way to bridge the gap between multiple systems was to build a middleware solution yourself. In some cases, this is still the best option.


The downside to a custom-built middleware solution is that it’s costly and takes time to build. Very often, time-consuming hand coding (a.k.a. high coding) is needed for highly unique systems, and scalability is lacking too.


Ongoing maintenance costs are another factor that can dissuade organizations from pursuing a custom solution.



When to use custom-built ecommerce middleware

If you’re connecting just a handful of simple systems with clear requirements that will not change, or if your needs are highly individual, complex, with no suitable pre-built solution available.



Middleware option #2: A plugin solution

Plugins are lightweight and easy to install, and may well be the ideal solution for many brands and online retailers.


ChannelEngine provides plugins that allow merchants to connect their backend PIM, ERP, or online store/webshop solution such as Adobe Ecommerce, WooCommerce or Shopify with multiple marketplaces. These can be installed in a very short time, meaning you can get selling sooner.


The advantages of an ecommerce middleware plugin like this are very low cost, low maintenance, and almost instant integration. The disadvantage is a lack of customizability and limitations for some features.



When to use plugin ecommerce middleware

Plugin ecommerce middleware is the ideal solution for commonly used ERPs or online store platforms.


Also ideal for starting out with multichannel ecommerce, as it’s a low-threshold way to launch a pilot initiative before committing to a more comprehensive API integration.



Middleware option #3: a full API connection

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are the most comprehensive way of integrating multiple systems. A well-developed API connection can ensure a smooth and stable interworking with diverse systems, and can more precisely match the needs of each business.


In many ways, APIs offer all the advantages of a custom-built integration, but with far greater flexibility.


APIs do take longer to integrate than plugins, but can offer the full breadth of functionalities while needing very little maintenance.


ChannelEngine provides a powerful and robust Merchant API integration that gives businesses the full range of connections and functionalities.



When to use API middleware

APIs offer the greatest value when scalability is important.


This kind of ecommerce middleware is the best choice for brands and retailers with their sights set on growth, as they need the ability to support a growing array of channels, functionalities, and services.   




The right middleware for your ecommerce success

The role of ecommerce middleware is to break down potential barriers to success by connecting multiple systems and combining their strengths.


The best ecommerce middleware for your situation should be quick to install, require no maintenance, and offer the full range of functionalities and capabilities.


But let’s be realistic – a compromise is inevitable. While plugins can shorten your time to market, they may not offer everything you need. Conversely, an API integration can take a little longer, but the end result is robust and comprehensive.


If you want to talk this over to better understand which is best for you, then get in touch with one of ChannelEngine’s ecommerce experts. Our ecommerce platform performs all the functions of ecommerce middleware, wrapped up with the most powerful ecommerce capabilities and tooling.


With a full API integration, you can get the most advanced selling tools and the greatest possible number of connections with new selling channels. ChannelEngine also offers a selection of well-maintained plugins that work with all major ERPs, WMSs, PIMs, and online stores like Magento/Adobe Commerce, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and more.



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