Innovation – what a great concept! These days, who wouldn’t want to be innovative? As a brand or a retailer, you’d like to show the world that you’re prepared for all the new and shiny future stuff: voice devices, chatbots, you name it.
While this is indeed a valid strategy, people tend to forget that innovation usually does not come in a big bang kind of way. Instead, businesses are toying with ideas and experimenting with features behind the scenes. Some things do not work at all, some do a little and need to be refined. Mostly, this means getting back to the drawing board, improve and then test them again. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, this looks like a big-bang moment indeed. In reality, however, we can be sure that many prototypes were produced, that a lot of them were thrown away and that it took many arguments and nervous breakdowns until Apple got it right. And, to be sure: more than ten years after its inception, Apple is still improving its flagship device – one iteration at a time.

The Merry-Go-Round of Innovation

In other words, iteration – and being able to iterate – is a core requirement for innovation. If you cannot put something like an MVP (minimum viable product) online, and gradually improve it based on the learnings you get by exposing it to your customers, you are in bad luck. Usually, it’s like a merry-go-round which never stops: build, test, learn, build again – the famous cycle of innovation.
But here’s the thing: many brands and retailers out there still view their online sites and shopping apps as the results of a very long and thorough planning and implementation process. It’s not uncommon for such a project to run for several years. The reasons for this: a very complex organizational structure and an inflexible, outdated software infrastructure.
As we outlined a while ago (The End of Webshops as We Know Them), some of the world’s largest retail businesses still run on software like Intershop and SAP Hybris which were built in the mid-90s. At the time, e-commerce was still in its infancy. Consumers were quite content with using what was available at the time: browser-based webshops visited on the home of office PC. Both software architecture and project setup were made for very long update cycles. Customer behavior was predictable and homogenous, so retailers could afford spending years on setting up their offerings and locking themselves into using slow-moving software.

Perpetual Testing

But, of course, things have changed. The amount of touchpoints is exploding; consumers expect convenient, personalized and inspiring shopping experiences 24/7. It is no longer possible for brands and retailers to wait until things like voice devices are turned into standardized features of the software they are using. Instead, they need to be able to build a lean product within a few weeks or even days, bring it to production, learn and improve.
So these organizations need to have processes and technology in place to be able to iterate – again and again. Here, having everything running in the public cloud is vital: Instead of wasting valuable time with maintaining and upgrading infrastructure, developers can go straight into implementing custom features. Also, innovation should not be stifled by a complex and rigid architecture which is hard to customize. Instead, engineers need to be able to work with flexible APIs to create value for their customers – and not waste time reading their software vendors’ manuals.
As nice as a big project launch after a 3-year project is – with a fancy release party, illustrious guests, and few bottles of champagne: Real innovators enjoy a small launch every month and have a new feature ready when others are still sobering up.
commercetools offers a cloud-based, API-first commerce platform that helps brands and retailers to drive innovation and increase their time-to-market. To find out more, take a look at our platform page.
(Image: Wikimedia)