The New Retail: Examples of Adaptable Commerce Platforms in Action
In my previous posts, I’d explored the future evolution of ecommerce, and why DevOps, microservices and identity will be cornerstones of the flexible and agile retail platforms of the future. One factor compelling this movement is how monolithic platforms present increasing issues, particularly as more applications are deployed in the Cloud.
The difficulties of scaling monolithic platforms and the laborious and costly hurdles dictated by linked change cycles defeat attempts at modularity, and have driven microservice adoption. Retailers must respond to customer needs more quickly and innovate faster, and monoliths cannot meet that test.
As I said previously: DevOps provides the processes, microservices provide the building blocks, with the glue for a successful commerce build being provided by identity. Moreover, this model allows smaller retailers to enter the fray against mega-retailers, and we’ve cited Yoox and ASOS as examples of how Adaptable Commerce Platforms are engaging and delighting online shoppers.
As Yoox explains in their own technical blog, the merit of microservices is how the retailer can take advantage of the singular virtues of each microservice. Each of them is small, focused on doing one thing exceedingly well, runs as a separate and independent process, communicates via language-agnostic APIs, and is highly decoupled.
The net-net for Yoox, as for other retailers who have embraced Adaptable Commerce Platforms? They find themselves able to integrate new technologies far more quickly than old-line monolithic platforms would ever allow. This is particularly important when one considers the protean, even fickle nature of today’s online consumer, who is quick to accept innovation while still expecting absolute consistency of brand experience across any touchpoint, especially mobile.
For the Yoox shopper, login via website or common social platforms (via API) must be seamless, regardless of device. Account information, shopping carts and wish lists must be congruent, regardless of their point of entry. They also expect protection of that data, which is where a microservice architecture capable of supporting persistent identity across all clouds is crucial.
In the case of ASOS, over 30 independently deployable microservices are employed on Microsoft Azure, allowing fresh innovations to be deployed as quickly as they’re developed. Another benefit to ASOS of microservices is the ability to make “more granular choices,” as they put it, about how and where data is maintained, expediting critical response times.
In advancing to an Adaptable Commerce Platform based on a microservices architecture, ASOS ripped out its legacy system. Some may have caught their breath at making the leap, but the first-year results verified they had made the right move: Orders increased 100% YOY, peaking at 33 orders per second on Cyber Monday; sales grew 45% during the week of Black Friday, and the platform handled 68% of total traffic arriving via mobile.
Gilt provides an example of how adaptable architecture fulfills a particular (and brand-centric) retail strategy. Gilt specializes in “flash sales” of luxury brands and retail goods, driving massive traffic spikes to the site in the fifteen minutes before each sale begins, and usually declining in the hours following. As Gilt’s own VP of engineering characterized it, “It's our own self-imposed denial of service attack, every day,” and its previous, monolithic architecture left it extremely vulnerable.
Moving to a microservices model provided the organisation with a variety of benefits. Multiple technologies and frameworks are now supported, and many different initiatives can run in parallel. Innovation is enabled now that it is easier to fail and simply move on without dire consequences.
A few other ecommerce examples of migration to an adaptable, agile solution?
- BenefitCosmetics.com was built by digital agency Third And Grove using Drupal and Hybris; the former handles content and rendering, the latter ecommerce and back-office integration, with a variety of other applications rounding out the mix, each doing what it does best, and often invisibly.
- NotOnTheHighStreet.com is an online marketplace where over 5,000 of the UK’s best small creative businesses offer over 170,000 original products, many bespoke or built to order. Holiday periods placed huge demands on their legacy ecommerce platform, so the retailer moved to a service-oriented architecture to improve scalability and diversity of programming languages within the application stack.
- We may not think of it as a retailer, but Netflix is certainly in the business of selling content, and engineered its own “orchestration engine” for coordinating a host of microservices and apps, Conductor.
In all of these cases, the quality of user experience is dependent on identity. Frictionless interaction across multiple channels requires a single notion of identity available to all microservices involved in the customer journey. These retail models also validate what I (and others) have asserted: There is significant competitive advantage in the Adaptable Commerce Platform model, as it reduces software complexity whilst providing outstanding agility, flexibility and opportunity for experimentation, all necessary for meeting the escalating challenges of today’s ecommerce.