Kelly Goetsch, Chief Product Officer at commercetools, explains which technology trends will shape online retail in 2021
MUNICH (Germany), January 11, 2021 – 2020 has been a challenging year for retailers – ‘uncertain times’ was the buzzword of the year and COVID-19 showed not everything can be predicted. The pandemic made it clear that ability to adapt to change is key, which is only made possible by flexible and agile technology, not clunky outdated systems. But what specific commerce technologies will be the defining trends of the new twelve months?
1. Modern commerce platforms free front-end developers from the confines of legacy tech
Retailers are well aware that in a competitive marketplace, they need to adapt to constantly changing customer needs and deliver outstanding yet consistent experiences no matter their channel of choice. Front-end developer skills, which are in short supply, are key to achieving that, but the 2020 lockdowns have magnified developer dissatisfaction with the clunky, inefficient legacy technology that slows them down and makes their job harder than it should be. Despite the pandemic, the skills gap in tech means workers still have leverage to job-hop. In 2021, employers will realise that to prevent loss of top talent, they need to listen to their employees’ concerns and provide them with modern technology platforms that allow them to thrive in their roles by giving them back time to innovate and problem-solve. Modern commerce architecture based on ‘MACH’ principles – microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless work with developers, not against them, taking off pressure, improving job satisfaction and retention. Increased adoption of modern technology will free developers to be more creative and generate better results.
2. 2021 will be the year of composable commerce
Composable commerce describes how retailers can pick and mix elements of their commerce technology from numerous vendors that do one thing only but one thing well, and ‘consume’ them through individual APIs independently. Composable commerce enables retailers to move away from one-size-fits-all, ‘take it or leave it’ technology stack solutions and have greater control over the online shopping experience they are creating for customers. The driving factor for composable commerce is continued advancements in cloud computing, as more powerful cloud services will make it even easier for developers to create unique experiences made up of ‘best of breed’ products for different parts of the business ecosystem. There is already one company that solely focuses on date parsing, enabling IT teams to input a string of data to return a date that charges per API call for example. Next year will see a raft of 100% cloud and SaaS-based new market entrants that only provide a single piece of the puzzle, whether it be product search, checkout or something else, but provide an exceptional experience for that commerce functionality, so that when they are all used together by a retailer, shoppers are satisfied throughout the entire online experience.
3. Late adopters finally get on board with headless commerce
In 2021 the laggards, more conservative companies still tied down by legacy software suites, will no longer be able to ignore rigid tech stacks holding them back. The old saying that nobody gets fired for buying such decades-old tech is not in the vocabulary of the new developer generation. Instead digital natives are asking “Why wouldn’t you choose the most suitable tool for the job?”
By decoupling their frontends from their backends through the adoption of a headless commerce solution, IT teams will finally be able to get rid of serious competitive disadvantage and increase agility. With headless platforms, tech leaders and their teams will be able to realise superior compatibility with their CRM systems, deliver higher degrees of customisation to fit their commerce needs and roll out new features to multiple front ends faster to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty and sales.
4. Auto-generated software development kits join no code software and automation tools as developer favourites
Developers will use more smart tools to eliminate repetitive, monotonous work and give them back precious time to focus on more complex and bigger picture tasks. Traditionally, whenever developers make a change that affects APIs, their software development kits (SDKs) have to be updated. The more updates there are and the more developers making changes, the more complicated the process, and the more times SDKs have to be manually revised. In addition, teams may not be sure what is up to date or the latest version. Auto-generated SDKs automate updates giving back precious time to development teams to focus on more complex tasks. In addition to mainstream no code/low code software which automates routine integration work, more developers will leverage auto-generated software development kits (SDKs) which take away the headache of remembering to keep records up to date.
5. Use of machine learning shifts from the experimental to pragmatic phase
AI hype is well and truly over – seemingly every vendor is claiming they are using AI to some degree but not all of it is the ‘real deal’. 2021 will sort the wheat from the chaff – in the next twelve months, the phase of experimenting with machine learning will pass and organisations will become more pragmatic, focusing on the use cases that add business value. For example, machine learning will be increasingly used for customer product recommendation, whereby AI such as collaborative filtering algorithms recommend items based on what shoppers have selected previously to drive increased average basket spend. There are countless other opportunities for how machine learning can be used, including churn prediction, which predicts when customers will cease use of a service and analyse the reasons for that, forecasting stock levels to make production and distribution more efficient and sentiment analysis to understand perception levels of individual products, all of which will increase in use next year.
6. GraphQL will no longer be in the shadows
GraphQL, otherwise known as Graph Query Language – has been steadily increasing in popularity across big brand names that leverage high-tech as well as in the commerce community over the last three years. While many developers are using it, the open source query language has yet to enjoy the fame it deserves. GraphQL, which is a layer that can be applied over any REST API, simplifies the process of data retrieval, making the overall process of building commerce applications far quicker and easier. As more and more developers realise its value, GraphQL will no doubt go from being the industry’s best-kept secret to being recognised as an essential tool in 2021.
As online shopping continues to grow, having the right technology will be key to brands keeping pace with continuous change and shopper demands. Retailers need to invest now to reap the rewards and stay ahead of the competition.