Adobe’s Magento Deal Makes Great Sense

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Adobe yesterday announced its purchase of the Magento Commerce platform, a widely used ecommerce system, for a cool $1.68 billion.

That Adobe would purchase an ecommerce system was the least surprising thing about the deal: it fills an obvious gap in the Adobe product line compared with Oracle, Salesforce, IBM, and SAP, which all have their own ecommerce systems. Owler estimates that Magento had $125 million revenue, which would mean that Adobe paid 13x revenue. That seems crazy but Salesforce paid $2.8 billion for Demandware in 2016 on $240 million revenue, giving a similar ratio of I2x. It’s just what these things cost these days.

More surprising was the mismatch between the two business’s client bases. Magento sells primarily to small and mid-size firms, while Adobe’s Experience Cloud products are sold mostly to enterprises. The obvious question is whether Adobe will try to use Magento as an entry point to sell Experience Cloud products to smaller firms, or use Experience Cloud as an entry point for selling Magento to big enterprises. The easy answer is “both”, and that’s more or less what the company said when asked that question on an analyst conference call about the deal. But my impression was they were more focused on adding Experience Cloud capabilities like Sensei AI to Magento. References during the call to cloud-based micro-services also suggested they saw the main opportunity as enhancing the product Magento offers in the mid-market, not selling Magento to big enterprises.

This could be very clever. Selling enterprise software packages to mid-market firms doesn’t work very well, but embedding enterprise-class micro-services would let Adobe add advanced features without asking mid-market IT managers or business users to do more than they can handle. It would also nicely skirt the pricing problems that come from trying to make enterprise software affordable to smaller firms without cutting prices to large enterprises.

The approach is also consistent with the Adobe Experience Cloud Profile announced last month, which uses an open source customer data model co-developed with Microsoft and is hosted on Microsoft Azure. This is also at least potentially suitable for mid-size firms, a market where Microsoft’s CRM products are already very strong. So we now see two recent moves by Adobe that could be interpreted as aimed at penetrating the mid-market with its Experience Cloud systems. Given the crowded, competitive, and ultimately limited nature of the enterprise market, moving downstream makes a lot of sense. Historically, it’s been very hard to do that with enterprise software but it looks like Adobe has found a viable path.

(As an aside: it would make total sense for Microsoft to buy Adobe, a possibility that has been mentioned for years. There’s no reason to think Adobe wants to be bought and the stock already sells at over 16x revenue compared with 8x revenue for Microsoft. So it would be hard to make the numbers work. But still.)

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the deal is that Magento is based on open source.. This isn’t something that most enterprise software vendors like to buy, since an open source option keeps prices down. Like other open-source-based commercial products, Magento includes proprietary enhancements to justify paying for something that would otherwise be free. Apparently Adobe feels these offer enough protection, especially among mid-size and larger clients, for Magento to be a viable business. And, Adobe’s comments show it’s very impressed at the size of the open source community supporting Magento, which it pegs at more than 300,000 developers. That does seem like a large work force to get for more-or-less free. Again, there’s a parallel with the open source data model underlying Experience Cloud Profile. So Adobe seems to have embraced open source much more than its main competitors.

Finally, I was struck by Adobe’s comments in a couple of places that it sees Magento as the key to making “every experience shoppable”, an extension of its promise to make every experience personal. The notion is that commerce will be embedded everywhere, not just isolated in retail stores or Web sites. I’m not sure I really want to live in a world where everything I see is for sale, but that does seem to be where we’re headed. So, at least from a business viewpoint, let’s give Adobe credit for leading the way.

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