World of Books pulled out all the stops to make their massive library of used books even faster and easier to buy for every customer with the help of commercetools. We asked Casey Zils, IT Project Manager of World of Books, why commercetools was a perfect match for World of Books to boost and future proof the business.
In a nutshell, what does your current IT strategy look like?
We have the core of our development team in Hungary, and business headquarters are in the UK, we are a global company and we have been selling globally for a number of years now. The idea of cloud-based services, to us, was just standard and has always been a continued direction of travel. The reason for microservices and APIs was just the simple communication and the scalability side of it as well. A lot of the applications behind that are internally built and driven. So that’s where the microservices / API side comes in. Formerly, this communication was between the previous solution used and our internal management systems: stock pricing and inventory levels. This was critical because we also sell on Amazon, eBay, and over 20 other marketplaces. So price changes and inventory levels are quite key to our business performance. We utilise an internal system that we developed years ago, that actually manages all of that side. The commerce system we used to run, was like a shiny window to the outside world but you know, most of the things happen in the background.
What made you move away from your previous solution and how did this work in practice?
With our previous solution, it was brilliant, until you got to about half a million products. After that, we ran into some issues. It took too long for indexing and things, we had loads of processes in the backend, but it was taking four to six hours to actually index everything. And so the idea was, to move. Moving to commercetools sped it up to about half an hour. And the number of SKUs has tripled easily, the number of books has gone from a million to about four and a half million.
Regarding the process, we were already working with a Java-based frontend. So, we merged that and completely built the frontend on our own. The idea was to start with the same or very similar frontend, both for a learning curve, but also so that we could then test against one another, to see how much better it was doing. After a year and a few months, we’re now starting to look at frontend performance and optimization strategies. Our first user testing session is scheduled, to offer more insight around the user experience. As far as the backend is concerned, we had all the systems already, so the change from our old solution was just plugging those into commercetools. The way businesses are shifting and growing, this was the best option for us.
We looked at quite a few options, even the monolithic solutions. But if you want some control, it can be difficult. And with the way the world and the retail industry changes, you want that control. That was why commercetools was a perfect match.
IT Project Manager, World of Books
Did you manage to transfer all relevant data?
Yes, all of the customer data and let’s say, a majority of the transaction data. As far as the metadata for the products, we get that fed in through third parties. We cache a lot of that information, so we just bring it up on the websites as and when needed. That’s another side of the API, you know, microservices call to put it up on the pages that require it.
How did you educate your tech team regarding microservices and headless?
Our development team understands the background of the headless approach, they’ve been working towards it for a number of years. We’re kind of headless, even with our previous system as everything else around it was headless. We went completely headless with the introduction of commercetools. Going headless wasn’t that scary because we already had our backend systems built in that way, but understand the fear of those that don’t have that development knowledge. It is the way many businesses are moving today, definitely the way they should be, and should start now.
Do you experience traffic peaks? And what does your cloud setup look like to account for seasonal business?
Christmas is a big one for us. And Black Friday as well. And for the US site, it’s Independence Day, where we got quite a bit of traffic. The US is still brand new, so we don’t have any history of what the actual performance will be over there. But yes, we’ve got the ups and downs any retail business would have.
Now that everything is cloud-based, if we need a little bit more performance we just easily add another virtual machine.
IT Project Manager, World of Books
We just launched one in the US. And we’ve got a few around Europe, but we’ve also got a couple in Australia as well. And the reason for that is just because we’ve got an Australia storefront, a UK storefront, and a US storefront, so the majority is Europe and the UK. And this actually why we decided to go full cloud in the first place. If you’re running a growing business in multiple markets like we do, we found that for the speeds that we need to have, and for the maintenance required to even get there, cloud migration was a requirement. We want to focus on what we know best, the online sales side of it. And we’re not a hosting company, we’re not the Rackspace or Google or anything. They offer a brilliant service for a good price. And so it was just, you know, the intelligent thing to do.