Rather than simply performing housekeeping duties, the real payoff lies in adding functionality to the customer experience. Here’s how.
Online shopping is more competitive than ever, yet many companies spend large portions of their budget just maintaining capabilities that do not give them any competitive advantage whatsoever.
Let’s get specific. Do you consider your shopping-cart functionality a part of what differentiates you online? The answer should really be a resounding “No.” That’s because every online business has a shopping cart, and there’s nothing inherently unique or advantageous about having one.
Of course, you might choose to interact with your customers differently on the checkout page, perhaps by displaying unique offers or promotions that are specific to a certain customer.
But what we’re talking about here is a tailoring of the customer experience rather than an inherent benefit of simply having a checkout page. The basic cart functionality itself is really nothing special, and the same could be said for a number of other payment-related services.
This isn’t necessarily bad practice. In fact, it’s more common than you might realize. Many e-commerce companies use the same technology as their competitors so they can avoid having to build everything from the ground up.
An application programming interface (API) allows developers to easily access and combine a range of digital assets and services in different systems, even if those systems were developed entirely separately and were never meant to integrate. It’s how one piece of software talks to another piece of software.
In a consumer-facing world, APIs are the bridge that allows data to flow from one app or service to another. It’s an API, for example, that connects your bank account to a third-party digital wallet.
So if customers opt to pay for something via PayPal on an e-commerce store, they’ll click on a “pay now with PayPal” button that’s powered by an API. That ensures the end application can only do what it needs to, without being exposed to sensitive data.
Just because two businesses share the same checkout technology, however, does not necessarily mean their solutions are carbon copies of one another or that their customers receive exactly the same experience.
In fact, it may surprise you to learn that, by using standard frameworks and capabilities—such as cloud-platform providers, containerization, and orchestration—an e-commerce business can enjoy benefits and efficiencies that allow it to focus more of its time, money, and effort in building functionality, rather than simply performing housekeeping.
So, while there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, container-orchestration tools like Kubernetes can help you grab the wheel and steer your business toward success. Kubernetes is a container-orchestration tool originally designed by Google and now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.
Here’s how it works. In the 1940s, physical cargo containers revolutionized shipping. All of a sudden, deploying and transferring goods was quicker, safer, and more secure than it had ever been before. Digital containers work in much the same way, making the deployment of applications used by your business fast, effective, and seamless.
These digital containers can be thought of as a kind of “digital packaging” that comes complete with everything a particular application or service needs to run. These digital packages can then be deployed wherever and whenever they’re needed, reducing operating costs.
If we think of a group of standard services as an orchestra made up of many different instruments, Kubernetes would be the conductor that gets them all playing together in harmony. That allows a business to deploy a variety of services in a way that’s efficient and tailored to the unique needs of its customers.
It’s never really been a question of whether a business does everything itself, but rather what technology stack it employs and whether it allows for sophisticated interoperability of standard components.
On their own, these standard functional components, such as a cart or checkout, don’t look different from one business to the next. Effectively, they become a commodity that is simply delivered with the most reliable and lowest-cost method possible.
Having containerization as part of a technology stack, however, gives businesses far more options in terms of how it packages and deploys functions. Containerization allows businesses to essentially mix and match third-party services like payments providers, allowing them to streamline and scale at will.
In theory, any business could write and manage its own technology to do this containerization. But in reality, why should it? There is no competitive advantage, and it would simply incur a large overhead as well as the burden of maintaining the containerization code itself.
Instead, most businesses opt simply to use one of the common toolsets available on the market to deliver this capability to their teams—such as Kubernetes—and let someone else worry about the maintenance.
In the same way, there is really no competitive advantage for a business to build and maintain its own version of a shopping cart. Instead, it can simply use one of the many payment services that are available on the market that, thanks to containerization, APIs, and Kubernetes, will be more or less plug-and-play compatible.
Layers of Value
If retailers were able to tap into all of this functionality as part of an all-encompassing e-commerce solution, the benefits would be huge, and would largely fall into two key areas:
- It would enable a business to focus all of its available resources on building and driving genuine differentiating qualities in the customer experience, rather than trying to take care of basic housekeeping functions like payment systems and checkouts;
- It would reduce a company’s costs by removing the need for it to maintain the large number of services necessary to carry out basic functions. That frees up resources to deliver actual benefits.
It’s high time businesses started to view these basic components for what they are—the wheels on which e-commerce now operates. New-car manufacturers don’t go about reinventing wheels. They instead add layers of value and functionality on top of those wheels, improving on the technology by adding to it and enhancing it.
This is precisely the approach that retailers need to take now. Instead of constantly reinventing basic services, use the foundations that have already been developed through years of trial and error, and build and adapt from there.
In other words, put your precious resources into the things that can truly differentiate your business in a crowded marketplace.
—Udo Rauch is chief sales director, Emporix AG, Cham, Switzerland.