Talking Shop at Shoptalk
At Shoptalk 2022, commercetools focused on the power of modern technology and its ability to deliver limitless commerce possibilities. Our agenda included hosting fireside chats, where we sat down with clients to learn more about their journey and their vision for the future.
In the 2nd in a series of four Shoptalk Fireside Chats, Sree Sreedhararaj, CTO of Sephora, sat down with commercetools co-founder and CEO, Dirk Hoerig, to share his thoughts on modern commerce, the significance of MACH, and what’s next for the multinational beauty retailer and leader in omnichannel commerce.
With his very first question, “What motivates you?” Dirk Hoerig seized the opportunity to learn more about Sree Sreedhararaj. The “innovative, disruptive” CTO — which is his LinkedIn profile description — didn’t miss a beat. “Retail has always been exciting to me, just because consumer needs have been changing ever since I started.”
When Sreedhararaj joined Sephora in 2017, he never thought their digital journey would be as challenging as some of previous experiences. He mentions work he did with Best Buy and Walmart as examples. He also points out that at Walmart, Sephora was just a small case that generated a small amount of revenue. So, when he met with the company, “It was exciting to see the opportunities just from a technology standpoint. What we had and what we could do from the consumer side, just with the experience.”
Sreedhararaj says that’s still what motivates him and keeps him at the company. “We started our journey 5 years back and we still have a lot to do.”
Intrigued, Hoerig asks Sreedhararaj about Sephora’s digital journey. While he’s unsure of the date of the company’s first eCommerce order, he says the company has always been at the forefront of digital. “We started as the first specialty retailer to have a website (Sephora.com launched in 1999) and the first one to have a mobile app.”
He explains since venturing into digital commerce, Sephora is continually exploring what the consumer needs. “We’ve been growing slowly as an organization to scale to the point where we are today.” To reinforce exactly what that means, he offers an example, “We had about 200% growth in digital because of the pandemic just because of stores being closed. At a certain point in time, digital was the only revenue.”
He says 2020 was a pivotal year in terms of Sephora’s digital journey.
We started to see a lot more demand in the speed at which consumer demands were changing. We started seeing a lot more bottlenecks on the technology side. We had to make things faster, we had to retrieve things faster, and that’s what brought us to the MACH approach.
Sreedhararaj stresses he has been a MACH ambassador, and on the MACH journey for a long time. Long before it was called MACH — when it was just a bunch of people talking about microservices, the cloud, and headless. As one of the key proponents spearheading Sephora’s headless journey (which began about 5 years ago), he says the company had a bit of a headstart on creating desirable customer experiences. They integrated new technology that enabled them to turn around super fast, but there were backend issues that still slowed them down. “That’s when we started looking at some of the technology architecture and defining what makes sense to exit out from the big monoliths of the world and get into the more composable nature of architecture.”
That exploration led Sephora to commercetools, he tells Hoerig. “I found that you guys have a pretty strong product and proven architecture with some retailers in the world so I thought, “Why not?” Being a MACH ambassador means I need to take that step and have trust in the architecture and get into a relationship with you guys and see how we can take Sephora and commercetools to the next level.”
While commercetools coined the term MACH, Hoerig points out that not everyone is familiar with it. So, he asks Sreedhararaj, “What’s the benefit for the business? You need the business buy-in.”
From my standpoint, MACH is going to be the next-generation of cool technology architecture for eCommerce…
Sreedhararaj summarized the value of MACH quickly. “Microservices is all about composability of what you can achieve and how you can achieve it. API is just to support your headless nature and it works hand in hand with Headless. Headless just means you manage your experiences and the business needs differently than the back end architecture of the services. Then comes the cloud-native aspect…”
Sreedhararaj stresses capitalizing on the cloud is of key importance. “Take use of the elasticity of the cloud, so that you can work and expand with the business. That gives you much more flexibility and agility with the business which you need in the upcoming future.”
As for what’s next in Sephora’s digital journey, he says the focus is on two key initiatives. The first is improved personalization. Most of their loyal customers are happy to allow them to use their data, he says, “as long as we use it for personalization and for giving back what is relevant to them.” The second is the “Only Journey,” which is the process of merging the physical retail world — which they entered first — with their digital world. The vision is to marry the two. “We have to look at how we can do that, bring together consistency in experiences, and bring additional features like buy online, pick up in store. Even today we are one of the specialty retailers offering products same day delivery. How do we keep that demand coming in from the consumers? And, how do we support that?”
Sreedhararaj wraps up the chat by telling Hoerig, “That’s the next few years of our journey and that’s why we’re investing a lot in technology. As you can see with commercetools introduction, I think that says a lot. We are truly invested in technology through an organization that can truly drive the business to the next level.”
Ending on that note leaves Hoerig clearly elated. “Awesome,” is all he can say before thanking his guest.
Get the full story, view “The Digital Journey” fireside chat video.