From the way the digital store is run, to how the customer experience has changed, organizations are choosing to restructure their teams and select new architectures to remain agile.
In this webinar, Who’s Minding the Digital Store?, Alex Shiferman, the VP of Technology at Nuts.com, talks about how the company went from a small family business to a multimillion-dollar online retailer and why they are making the switch to headless commerce. Alex is joined by Jeffrey Liss, Director of the Connected Commerce Practice at KPMG, US who provides interesting statistics and market trends.
The Changing Technology Landscape
To set the scene, Nuts.com became a pure online player around the year 2000 when the company was growing so quickly that it felt natural to get rid of their brick-and-mortar store in Newark, NJ. Over the last nearly 20 years, the technology landscape has changed drastically so the role of IT at Nuts.com has also had to evolve.
As a technology team, right now we own the layout, the counters, the checkout… We truly own the user experience of the store.
VP of Technology, Nuts.com
Not only have technology teams become the main drivers of innovation, but they are also working hand-in-hand with business leaders to make decisions that will impact the entire company. Jeffrey Liss points out, "IT organizations have become much more collaborative, much more agile, and the technology professionals have become much more customer-focused."
The Impact on the Organization
Where marketing or merchandising may have led businesses in the past, now technology is the leader. What happens when technology takes this starring role and how do the other teams adjust?
“It’s really easy for technology to become a silo because we are, in large part, self-sustaining,” says Shiferman. “We are really mindful we don’t forget about our partners like marketing, merchandising, etc. One thing we’ve done to make sure we avoid silos is we’ve really embedded cross-functional resources across the majority of our business teams. For example, UX is part of Technology, but design is part of creative. We also embed Product Managers into marketing.”
In addition to developing cross-functional teams, Nuts.com also adopted agile methodology. Not just the technology team, but also marketing, operations, HR, recruiting. etc. Shiferman talks about how helpful it has been to “speak the same language” across teams and share the same mindset.
To be successful today, all teams across organizations must be working together toward a common goal. Jeffrey Liss highlights the concept of a Connected Enterprise – meaning the entire organization aligns their front, middle, and back office to be customer-centric. Liss says, “Business strategy and technology strategy are no longer separate. They need to be together.” According to a report included in this webinar, organizations that are identified as customer-centric are 38% more likely to report greater profitability than those that are not.
Picking the “Right” Technology
Nuts.com is in the middle of a replatforming effort to migrate their internally developed commerce platform to commercetools. In planning their migration, they started with questions like, “Do we buy or build? What options do we want to use? What are our needs? What are our business and technology needs? What things are important to us as a company?”
Identifying these questions is a critical part of a replatforming strategy. It’s also important to do prototyping and get feedback from different teams, including sales and technology. And finally, you want to make sure the technology you choose aligns with your business goals – that the whole organization is bought in.
After Nuts.com evaluated their business and technical needs, stacked that against market trends, and also took into account keeping their technology team happy with new and innovative software, they decided to go with the commercetools headless commerce solution. “It aligns with our organizational philosophy – technology trends, architecture, flexibility…. It basically would save us the need to build another checkout process and another product catalog but it would still allow us to build a very unique, very special experience for our customers.”
The other reason a headless platform was important for Nuts.com is because Shiferman had a dream to never have to replatform again and to be as future-proof as possible.
We chose commercetools because it really gave us that opportunity to not only address the known business needs to them tomorrow, but also help us prepare for unknown business needs. If something becomes obsolete, I can replace a piece. If I’m missing a feature, I can always add on top of the out-of-box solution. My team is not constrained by the boundaries of a fixed front-end, fixed back-end, monolithic platform that’s really hard to move.
VP of Technology, Nuts.com
Jeffrey Liss adds, “Headless is becoming much more of an enabler…. Once you do take on the challenge of moving to a headless architecture, it does give you the flexibility to those of us that want to continually innovate and be on the best platform possible. For never wanting to have to replatform again, this is starting to let us move into that world.”
Modernizing Without Breaking the Business
How do you replace legacy systems, or do you decide to add new ones and create a bigger martech stack? How do you work with procurement and make them your good friends so that you can get the platform and tools you need?
Nuts.com wanted to move from a home-grown platform to a modular approach where everything is plug-and-play. Their big question was, “How do we get there?” One of the main challenges they faced was making sure the transition was smooth, for instance with their checkout process.
Moving a platform piece-by-piece is a lot easier with an API-first platform. Nuts.com is starting their migration with the commercetools PIM product catalog, and will then move into checkout and other components. According to Shiferman, moving in pieces is a much easier approach because you can easily roll back if things don’t work out and also you can task each individual transition.
Jeffrey Liss discusses how moving to a faster, more agile environment puts a lot of pressure on other areas of the organization, oftentimes procurement or legal. It has been a stress point for them with many of their clients, so they choose to address it as soon as possible.
From an infrastructure standpoint, when we work with clients that are moving through this transition, having a well thought-out migration strategy from your old platform to the new environment you’ll live in is critical…. Understanding the pieces that are going to be coming together and how you will be un-plugging one and plugging in a new one is really important to think through.
Director of the Connected Commerce Practice, KPMG
What has to go right to be successful? What can go wrong? How can your experience help others in their digital transformation journey?
Speed. Nimble. Agile. Moving quickly. These are the keys to the new approach to technology and “to be able to move at market speed”, states Liss. “It requires the flexibility of the technology leaders and a new operating model to be more collaborative and empower the organizations to dynamically respond at-scale with what’s needed.”
Liss identifies the 4 characteristics of organizations that will aid in the success of the outcomes they’re driving toward: Flexibility, breaking down silos, working with cross-functional agile teams, and scalability. “The connected end-to-end, aligned delivery capabilities is a key characteristic of enabling speed,” says Liss. “The hierarchical commanding, control organization does not work when you’re trying to move fast in today’s environment. You must be comfortable with shared power and control and empowering teams to make decisions. Decisions need to be made quickly.” He also points out that shifting from a project to a product mindset is critical.
Shiferman reaffirms that adopting an agile mindset for their company has been very helpful to get everyone aligned around language and methodology, especially in defining boundaries and discipline. The other helpful strategy for Nuts.com has been their Objectives and Key Results (OKR) process, which is publicly shared and easily accessible. Every team and every person knows how their work rolls up into the overall strategic objectives and what they’re responsible for.
Finally, Nuts.com emphasizes how helpful it has been to have the ability to experiment often, measure things, and fail fast. They’ve done a lot of trial-and-error to see what works and what doesn’t. In doing so, they’ve become more prescriptive in the expected outcomes of the tests they’re running. “Really having a clear understanding of the expected opportunity, expected improvement, possible risks, and possible API impacts before we start testing something has been incredibly helpful for the team at large”, says Shiferman. It has helped Nuts.com measure success and figure out what the next steps should be.
Overall, breaking down silos to drive business outcomes is the key takeaway in a successful migration project.
Does IT drive the experimentation or does the culture of the organization drive IT to try new things?
According to both Liss and Shiferman, it’s cultural. Liss says it needs to come from the top – the sense of innovation and willingness to fail is a critical element of being able to move quickly.
Shiferman agrees that it’s part of company culture, particularly a willingness to try new things and see what works. “Experimentation and measuring success and failure is a really critical part of product development.”