The 2010 holiday season may be remembered for the distributed nature of the shopping experience more than anything else. Mobile technologies are on the rise and application platforms are serving as hothouses for any number of developments to buy and sell products and services.

The iPhone, Android and now Windows Phone 7 handsets are as much e-commerce platforms as are game consoles, kiosks or the traditional personal computer.

The variety of ways to sell goods and services online means that traditional e-commerce practices are opening to the new world of cloud computing, dominated by APIs, access to social networks and data services.

This new breed of e-commerce platform is making it far easier for anyone to set up a storefront. More advanced integrations are faster, too, due in large part to open Web standards. Big data is making it easier to develop recommendation engines and other advanced systems. Search is far more sophisticated with the ability to curate data and optimize the experience for the user based on their browsing history.

A Look at Cloud Services and the fit with E-commerce

We will run posts over the next few weeks to explore how the cloud is redefining e-commerce. We'll look at different application platforms, APIs, analytics and the companies that are providing services. Our goal is to provide a deeper view of different cloud services by exploring the e-commerce market sector.

As a start, here is a breakdown of e-commerce systems as organized by type of cloud service.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

Defining e-commerce in the context of SaaS environments can mean a lot of things. There are any variety of SaaS services that have an e-commerce component. But there are a number of pure player providers that provide e-commerce services to help companies establish a storefront that they pay for on a subscription or usage basis.

In many respects it is SaaS providers that break down the complexity of selling online. This is especially true for small businesses. Services are getting richer, too, with features that include rich media capabilities, reviews and ratings, product recommendations, social media, click to call or chat and loyalty systems.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

These services offer APIs, applications and platforms for developing e-commerce environments. These platform are like living creatures in a way, providing tentacles that extend into the application ecosystem, pulling in data and pushing it out as part of a transaction environment. For example, CRM companies are launching platforms to round out offerings for sales management and customer service. This part of the market also features third-party services that may provide sales leads and marketing data to infuse e-commerce systems with ways to target particular market segments.

Infrastructure- as- a-Service (IaaS)

This is the kind of service a large retailer may use in order to manage a holiday season without concern for establishing any on-premise infrastructure. The service can scale up or down, based on customer demand. IaaS environments are often used by companies that need to find ways for connecting systems and application platform such as an inventory system or CRM environment. Customers that use these services will usually have far more complex requirements than companies that choose a SaaS service.

In our next post, we'll start looking at companies in each of these sectors and how they represent the changes occurring in the e-commerce market.