We kicked off the new year with “Go Composable or Go Bust” — a blog about the #1 takeaway from Modern Commerce Day 2022. For the second blog in our series of six, we’ll be highlighting the insights, ideas and advice shared by the eCommerce leaders who spoke at the event to bring you nine more of the most valuable takeaways.
1. Waiting to modernize your technology is no longer an option
At this point, if you’re still "waiting" to modernize your commerce technology, you’re jeopardizing your business future. As Gartner® has boldly proclaimed, the future is composable — and you can no longer afford to allow your monolith to slow you down. In the session, “The MACH™ Alliance: Spearing the Future of Digitial Commerce,” Danielle Diliberti, Chief Executive Officer, Sommsation; Senior Director in Strategy, Eldridge Industries and an Ambassador for The MACH Alliance, who has led multiple companies through digital transformation, stressed, “It's a real risk to organizations to get left behind…People are moving faster and faster to get into the market — and you have to be able to compete with that.”
As if any further reinforcement was needed, Carrie Tharp, VP of Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud, made it loud and clear, “Transformation in retail truly is a race. Many of you kind of hold the future of your organizations in your hands over the next 10 years. Whether or not you'll be growing shares or potentially declining can hinge on a lot of the decisions you’re making today.”
2. Involve your customers in planning your commerce experience
The old-school approach to gaining and retaining business was to assume what your customer wants, design your commerce experience around that, launch the site and make incremental changes based on what ends up working and what doesn’t. Well, that’s not the best plan anymore. Jason Thomstatter, Head of Digital Commerce at Mars Wrigley, shared that in planning a new B2B commerce experience for one of their divisions, he decided that the first step would be to talk to their customers. “We knew we needed to take action to address the experience our customers were having…but we knew the only way to build a successful platform was to design it based on customer feedback.”
Jozef Stawarz, International Head of Engineering at Alcon echoed the same sentiment. When his company was creating “My Alcon Direct,” its first B2C site, his team “completed many interviews with many stakeholders including eye care professionals (ECPs) and consumers.” The goal was to develop a commerce experience that was not only convenient and easy-to-use, but also truly fit the needs of both the ECPs and their patients — ultimately, decreasing the chances either would consider checking other channels before ordering contact directly through Alcon.
3. Commerce’s new buzzword is “optimize”
Optimize, optimizing, optimization — the importance of making business choices that create efficiencies which, in turn, open opportunities that deliver results, was mentioned multiple times in multiple sessions. “Optimization with the macroeconomic dynamic is a big theme right now,” acknowledged Carrie Tharp, Vice President, Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud. “That’s marketing optimization, pricing optimization, planning and forecasting. So, as things get tight in the world for the consumer…how can the retailer continue to provide value for money?"
Andrei Rebrov, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Scentbird pointed to two specific optimization outcomes his company recognized: “Instead of having a person who spends the entire day in the admin creating new products, we can just upload the CV file…in a matter of minutes, 50 or 100 new products on the platform….same for the merchandising team. Instead of chasing the brands, looking into multiple data reports and understanding how to manage products on the platform, they now have one place they go and manage it easily. Because of that, they were able to remove the request for additional headcount. Obviously, that's…a money-saving moment for the company.”
4. Make creating a Minimum Testable Product (MTP) a new milestone
The object of the MTP phase was to make the least effort to get the maximum amount of customer and consumer learning.
International Head of Engineering, Alcon
Traditionally for most commerce build projects, stakeholders are focused on launching a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), but for Alcon, its first milestone after insights and discovery was delivering an MTP. This additional step accomplished two goals. First, it confirmed that the business case (a B2C site) was a viable commercial idea, and second, it gave the company more information on which to base its RFP and ensured the best technology vendors for the project. As Jozef Stawarz explained, “The object of the MTP phase was to make the least effort to get the maximum amount of customer and consumer learning.”
5. Make tech choices that make developers happy
Everyone knows tech has a high turnover rate. While having modern technology in place isn’t the only way to attract and retain talented developers, Chris Bach, Co-founder of Netlify and a MACH Alliance board member, made it very clear that “tech choices matter,” offering a comparison to validate his point. “Imagine telling a marketer they just have to do legacy ads in the yellow pages…that’s it. They’d probably move on. The same goes for developers…they don’t want to work with legacy solutions. They want modern stacks.”
Echoing this opinion was Alex Shiferman, Chief Technology Officer at Nuts.com, who stated, “If you want to retain your team…make them happy and make them excited to come to work every day. Find a platform that’s developer friendly.”
6. Fail fast and move forward
The truth is, sometimes things work, and sometimes they don’t. Failure is essential to innovation. The beauty of modern commerce is that businesses are able to test new features and new campaigns without risk. For example, Sree Sreedhararaj, Chief Technology Officer at Sephora, said his company tried multiple strategies during the pandemic to provide customers with an experience comparable to shopping in-store. “Some of them are successful, some are not...but we move on and get to the next thing.”
He pointed to “Virtual Artist,” an augmented reality feature that allows shoppers to try on makeup virtually, as something they tried but have temporarily shelved because of color accuracy issues. Their online beauty advisor initiative provided another great example. The company thought their customers would love getting advice via live video chat — they did not. However, they embraced text chatting with advisors so the company moved forward with that feature. “They're not bots…they're truly expert professionals who are interacting with you and trying to understand your concerns. That has been really successful. We have amazing adoption on the chat and those interactions are driving a lot of conversion on digital channels.”
7. Commerce is complicated, don’t expect the journey to be easy
If digital transformation was a piece of cake, every business would have already rushed to take the first bite, but as Kyle Barz, Global Direct to Consumer Product Owner at Mars Wrigley cautioned, it’s not. “First, we really had to increase our, what I call ‘tech quotients’ internally, both on the technology side and on the business side, to better understand how to leverage the capabilities that are being offered.”
Barz doesn’t recommend tackling the project on your own, stressing the importance of “identifying the right partners and agencies to help [you] from an integration standpoint. We’ve found that there isn’t a huge number of agencies out there that have experience doing this, and so it was very important to us to find a partner that has proven experience in being able to do this.”
8. On that note, choose your partners wisely
Almost every speaker mentioned the role of partners in helping them accomplish their goals — with the consensus that it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel when there are vendors that make best-in-class wheels and integrators that can help you find the right ones for your needs.
It’s not to say we don’t have great technologists, but I’d rather deploy them elsewhere.
Chief Technology Officer, Nuts.com
Nuts.com’s Alex Shiferman offered three suggestions on what to look for in choosing a partner: (1) stability, (2) expertise and (3) track record. The whole point of partners is to enable your team to focus on what makes your brand unique — “your secret sauce” as he called it. “It’s not to say we don’t have great technologists, but I’d rather deploy them elsewhere.”
Alcon’s Jozef Stawarz agreed: Having the ability to make your secret sauce is key. “We don’t have to worry about maintenance, upgrades, compatibility. We’re given APIs and SLAs and we just focus on what’s important to us…our secret sauce, if you will, without having to worry about servers and this and that and everything else.”
9. Nothing trumps human interaction
Tech is not an inhibitor. People are.
Director of Digital Product & Experience, Harry Rosen
Technology is amazing and no one is questioning that fact. But it’s designed to support humans, not replace them. It has to be used to reinforce commerce — and for that to work, humans have to embrace it. Tovi Heilbronn, Director of Digital Product & Experience at Harry Rosen, laid it out perfectly, “Tech is not an inhibitor. People are.” From his perspective, visiting his stores is critical to understanding what the customers want, “Talking to the people who actually operate these stores. I'm continually blown away by the deep insights I can learn just by being face to face and talking to people.”
And, even as passionate as Google’s Carrie Tharp is about the things technology is making possible in the world today, she seconded his opinion, stating, “At the end of the day as a brand leader or a retailer, you are still in charge of the orchestration of the technology and the humans that bring to life your brand and experience.”