Putting Racing Stripes on a Snail Doesn't Make it Fast! Time to Rethink?

Putting Racing Stripes on a Snail Doesn't Make it Fast! Time to Rethink?
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I've been in the eCommerce industry for over two decades and have had the pleasure of working with fantastic entrepreneurs and merchants to try to solve the challenges they face. So many great business leaders are out there fighting to take the next step - every day - and I thought I'd share some learnings I have picked up over the years.

My primary one is this: Always keep your costs under control, but don’t get strained by your vendors’ priorities or technical roadmaps. Make sure you really go to the bottom on hidden fees or upgrades and don’t end up in a never ending story of compromises and consulting hours spent to build around the limitations of your chosen vendors’ shortcomings.  There are, of course, many things to consider in that regard, but to illustrate, let's look at a topic close to our heart at Brink Commerce: the tech stack. You need one to sell online. It's a necessary investment and cost. There's no way around it. And it's not only the CapEx - the initial investment - but also the OpEx - the running costs - that need to be controlled.

For example, traditional eCommerce platforms offer all the functionality you’ll need (I know; I founded one and ran it as CEO for 17 years) in one package. This is excellent when starting on your eCommerce journey. But will it help or hinder you over time? As the Head of Business Development at Brink Commerce, I'm obviously biased, but let’s look at some of the questions we encourage prospective customers to consider when looking at do-it-all platforms:

Feature utilization: Do you use every feature in the do-it-all platform? Probably not, but you still have to pay for them. Do you need to make crucial compromises in your everyday business with a frustrated e-commerce team trying to find ways to get around the limitations set by your current tech stack? In the Composable Commerce space where Brink Commerce operates, the philosophy is to use (and pay for) only what you need. Wasted resources and costs are kept to a minimum. On the other hand, you must be very careful when choosing your Composable Components (the different systems in your tech stack), or it may be costly.

Capacity and Cost (CAC): That’s where CAC (not to be confused with Customer Acquisition Cost) comes in. We use it to decide how to select the best components for you. Best-of-breed systems look nice on paper, but do you need them? We help our customers to find the right balance. Don’t end up with an expensive symptom of “Shiny object syndrome.”

Always look under the hood: A few years back, every eCommerce-related system suddenly became Headless, at least in writing. The same will happen in Composable Commerce. Putting racing stripes on a snail doesn't make it fast. It's the core that defines the object, regardless of the outer layer. For example, is logic built into the so-called headless platform that imposes constraints on your product model when integrating a PIM? Similarly, does the discount and promotions engine have logic that restricts your e-commerce team in their daily business?

We always encourage merchants to look under the hood. An older monolithic system built on older technologies can never be genuinely composable (or headless, MACH-based, etc.) by decoupling the frontend or adding some APIs as an afterthought. I strongly recommend merchants to avoid monolithic platforms as a base for their ecosystems. It will create massive problems over time, and it will cost you. A lot. Instead, visit the MACH Alliance to see what products are certified and ready for your next steps.  

Development projects: This is probably the primary cost for many merchants when you look at the lifetime costs - and also the hardest to compare. It’s not just direct cost but lost revenue. Interdependencies, older technology, rigid frontend frameworks, and lack of an API-first architecture make most projects expensive and lengthy. In contrast, you can get away with much smaller projects with modern Composable tech. And you will also own your roadmap. And speed up your time to market as well. Win-win-win.

Version upgrades: One of the ways the traditional way of building software hinders you is upgrades. When there’s a new version available, you will most likely need to pay for the upgrade (development projects, downtime), or you will get left behind. And you need to do it continuously. It’s almost like blackmail. With modern technology, utilizing microservices, upgrades can be done discreetly. For instance, Brink Commerce API is updated 10s, if not 100s of times each month without downtime.

Resource allocation: Want to do a major product drop? With a do-it-all platform that isn't cloud-native (not the same as hosted in the cloud), you must plan ahead, add over-capacity to avoid crashes, and implement costly monitoring. Most likely, a lot of that capacity will be wasted. And so will your money. With an auto-scaling system built on MACH principles (Hint: Brink Commerce API), that isn't a problem.

Downtime: Downtime due to planned maintenance (really, in 2023?) or crashes may not be a direct cost, but it definitely means lost revenue. And with older traditional platforms, it's a thing to consider. With a Cloud-native system like Brink Commerce, it's not. Maintenance is always done behind the scenes, without interruption, and we have yet to have a second of downtime (knock on wood!).

Payment and other fees: Since they only have one base currency, many do-it-all platforms add currency conversion fees when you sell abroad. Over time, this cost can be significant. The same goes for PSP fees, where you most likely can't select the one best suited for your business. Both things are something to consider before taking the next step.

The eCommerce landscape is constantly evolving faster and faster. So, should your approach stay the same? It’s time for a rethink!

I know I'm speaking in our best interest here, but I firmly believe that every merchant should opt for a Composable Commerce approach from now on. Why? Because it's not just about adopting modern technology (a great thing in itself); it's about making sound decisions that benefit your business in the long run.

But don't just take my word for it. Speak to merchants that have made the switch. I can put you in contact with several of them. It's never just smooth sailing in the eCommerce world, but our customers have reported a decrease in their total cost of ownership by up to 50% after switching to Composable Commerce. These aren't just numbers but a testament to the financial sensibleness of adopting modern commerce solutions.

Keep fighting!


Christian Zanders
Christian Zanders

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