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Creating competitive momentum with your digital commerce solution

  • 02 August 2021 / By Kami Kris
  • eCommerce Digital Transformation

In an increasingly virtual market environment, leaders from retail, CPG and manufacturing organisations are asking important questions:

  • How can we support a fast and reliable “buy-online/pick up in-store” experience?
  • How can we go “direct to consumer” in new and different ways?
  • How can we use data intelligently to target customers more effectively?

Perhaps the overarching question across the entire sector is:

How can we use technology to build a better bridge to the current and potential customers?

The spectrum of solutions

While businesses can select from a range of digital commerce solutions, some are better positioned for competitive advantage than others in today’s market. Many companies have found that legacy enterprise commerce solutions that once were the best option are now too expensive and take too long to rip and replace; leadership wants to close the gap between time to value. On the other hand, complete custom applications developed in-house allow retention of control but are resource-intensive and also incredibly expensive.

In terms of what we at Kin + Carta are seeing in the market, with both the legacy enterprise solutions and the disparate solutions that have to be integrated separately, there is a need to re-platform often, which is not a desirable situation.

Out-of-the-box solutions offer the speed needed to keep pace with the market, but few if any are enterprise-ready and are better choices for companies with relatively low unit sales (less than 10 million per year).

Whether it’s in retail, CPG or manufacturing, enterprises now have another option, one that can support competitive advantage and position for future success. Adopting a framework with a flexible, API-first, cloud-based architecture offers the advantages of out-of-the-box as well as the ability to customise. It is a valuable starting point for a fully customised experience and control over the pace and nature of application rollouts and updates. Adopting an API-first or MACH approach allows organisations to break away from their old legacy systems and incrementally add new functionalities that bring value to the customer and bring competitive advantage. The value here is time to market with a reduction in overall cost of ownership.


Challenges in digital commerce

Three primary challenges we see businesses face are:

  • The need to deploy applications and updates more frequently.
  • Maintaining control over the front-end user experience.
  • Spreading the ecommerce load so that IT is joined by the product team and the ecommerce experts to fully support digital commerce.

Addressing these challenges requires strategic attention in a range of areas, including:

  • Talent acquisition and retention: Going fully headless (that is, decoupling front-end and back-end functionality) can have a positive and significant impact on application development and update speed. Achieving this state, however, means attracting and retaining the right people with the right skills..
  • Leaving legacy commerce enterprise solutions behind: Many companies are following a “strangler pattern". They go headless and then start moving to APIs one at a time, beginning with the product util page, moving through category pages, the customer profile, the shopping cart, and finally the checkout. They may roll out a new API every week, one piece at a time, until eventually they can just turn the lights off on the old legacy platform. Time is the challenge here, because it can take from four months to nearly a year and a half, depending on how fast the business can make the move.
  • Using data for the most business impact: Capturing data, then analysing and acting on it quickly, is a business imperative. Volume of data and data-to-insight speed impact your ability to make informed decisions that shape the success of the business.
Person buying at a store paying with cellphone

Content mixed with commerce is becoming the spot to delight your customers to come to your channel and shop on it. They get the relevant content and obviously the ability to buy something as a result of being informed.

Nikhil Kulkarni - Sales Director, commercetools

The best way forward is in the cloud

Like other business sectors, retail, CPG and manufacturing are moving to the cloud. APIs address the need for speed and flexibility and allow control of the front-end customer experience. Essentially, a cloud-based commerce solution offers the control of customisation without the high cost and long timelines. And unlike legacy applications where all code changes are made, tested, and released in a single code-base, extensions and customisations in cloud-based architecture are all standalone microservices, so you can update a few or a lot of application functions any time and as frequently as necessary.

Data becomes strategically valuable on a modernised cloud-based commerce platform. Any data generated on the customer end, like a placed order or an updated customer account, is immediately visible and available for analysis and insights, and allows further personalisation, building a tailored experience and a seamless journey for the customers. Content is king here: if the content journey combined with commerce is relevant, the user will be willing to commit in the beginning.


Once you have the first and third party data, you can start doing things like demand forecasting. Implementing a successful recommendation engine, for example, can really have a huge impact on revenue.

Omer Mahmood - Head of Customer Engineering, CPG, Google Cloud

Too much could be too much

The capabilities that cloud-based commerce unlocks may present an interesting challenge for any enterprise. In a company where applications updates have been released on a quarterly basis, users may need to adjust to the experience of multiple daily updates. Kelly Goetsch, Chief Product Officer at commercetools, said that “One of the biggest challenges that our customers have is they're not used to releasing so fast. A large UK retailer, for example, was releasing 10 times a year when we began working with them. In 2020, they released 5,000 times. The business actually had to throttle back the IT team because it couldn't keep up from a business requirements standpoint".

COVID has obviously had an impact as well: in the last 12 to 16 months, we’ve seen a rapidly increasing shift from the store to online shopping. In addition, the customer is demanding a mixed experience (for example, online shopping + curbside pickup). The shopping experience needs to transcend all channels, offering a frictionless and customised journey in whichever channel the customer is, rather than developing solutions that are channel specific. A key element of a blended experience is ensuring the inventory availability that is shown online is available for pickup in-store in a timely manner. Having the data ready to support this will increase conversion and frequency of purchases.

This situation, where IT is now faster than the business’s ability to adapt, can be a fundamental change in culture that may take time to iron out. It’s important, therefore, for technology leadership to think in terms of how much is enough but not too much, and how update frequency may need to be coordinated with the business and perhaps increased over a period of time.


For some organisations it’s hard to start breaking apart the solutions they've already got. The composable approach lets them break this inertia, allowing them to focus on particular areas of the business and apply an incremental, laser precise transformation.

David Ogidi - Head of Sales, UK and Ireland, Contentstack

Conclusion

Cloud-based commerce is the right way forward. It is the foundation of the better technology bridge to current and potential customers, providing the means to answer the questions that will create competitive momentum and keep the business moving forward.

The best strategy to pursue is to strive for a balance in the open source components and data platforms being utilised and to make sure that the solution has the scalability needed to keep pace with business growth and customer demands.


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