Consumers are keen to pick up deals on Black Friday, and retailers are equally keen to ensure they do. However, without a buying experience that’s easy and trouble-free, and more importantly, which stands up to the massive and chaotic traffic to be expected, chances are your potential customers will go elsewhere.
Technology is the key – specifically, robust and scalable technology.
Mobile shopping is expected to surpass any other device, with 46% of Black Friday deals to be placed via smartphone. In fact, 35% of all revenue during the shopping season will be driven by AI-powered recommendations.
Perhaps if they'd used commercetools the experience would have been different; it's the world’s leading digital commerce platform. They launched in 2013 and came to Australia two years ago at the request of none other than Qantas who selected them as the most capable product to power its Frequent Flyer rewards store where members use points as currency.
commercetools territory director APAC, Joshua Emblin (pictured), spoke with iTWire to explain what makes commercetools different, and importantly, how it provides retailers and customers alike with the strongest retail platform available that ensures 100 milliseconds response times.
Emblin has been with commercetools for two years to expand its growth in this region, joking that he “came with the pandemic.” Previously, he worked for 12 years in agencies implementing commerce sites for retailers before joining commercetools and being on the vendor side.
As mentioned above, it was Qantas who searched the market and identified commercetools as the market-leading product that was perfect for them. If you’ve spent your Qantas frequent flyer points online on deals while planes have been grounded, then you’ve experienced commercetools already. The frequent flyer store integrates with a variety of merchants and uses frequent flyer points for currency. It is capabilities like these that commercetools enables, along with nearly any innovation you can conceive of.
Since then nearly 20 customers have signed up, including K-Mart and Baby Bunting, alongside other, smaller, but no less nimble companies.
The secret sauce to commercetools is the MACH principles, which they pioneered and has since expanded to form the MACH alliance with 50 companies following the same principles.
Well, it's not actually so secret. By MACH, commercetools means Micro-services, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless. It’s these principles that give customers flexibility and agility at scale to build compelling and disruptive experiences.
These principles refer to how the product is made available to their customers; the API-first microservices approach means every facet of the functionality is exposed to a company’s software developers to integrate fully into your own custom or off-the-shelf applications. The headless approach means commercetools does not enforce any specific user interface or look-and-feel. Instead, your marketing, UX, merchandising and product teams are free to create your platform how they wish, while IT can sleep peacefully knowing nothing product does to modify the frontend will break the backend. It’s all the same API calls no matter what your site looks like.
This said, commercetools completed the acquisition of Frontastic last week, "which provides a head in some way,” Emblin said. “It gives customers a leading commerce platform and then the ability to run one of the leading frontend-as-a-service on top of it.”
Being cloud-first, the responsibility of scalability is on commercetools, which works to a sub 100 millisecond response time. The burden of scalability and handling vast increases in traffic is with them and again, your IT team can rest easy because server load, performance, efficiency and all these headaches are catered for. The customer experience is not disrupted when shopping on big sale events.
"commercetools pioneered the concept," Emblin said. "Our founder and CEO, Dirk Hoerig, had a vision saying the future is uncertain but RESTful APIs are here to stay. Let’s build an API-only interface – and that vision got us to where we are today as the world’s leading commerce platform.”
In fact, with such a platform commercetools allows anything to be shoppable. "NBC Universal has gone this path,” Emblin explains, “using commercetools to allow customers to buy from carousels within a video experience.”
"Eventually this will power shoppable television content where you can buy from anywhere,” Emblin said. This can only work with a headless platform “because nobody is building a video player in their commerce application.”
Strictly speaking, Black Friday is a single day. However, Emblin notes, many companies offer early offers to sales because, for one, they’re trying to get a share of customers' wallets earlier, but another reason is to deliberately distribute the load over the week so their websites stay up. By contrast, during last year’s Black Friday event, commercetools-powered websites were handling over 7,000 transactions per second, Emblin said.
Emblin says commercetools have signed a lot of enterprise customers in the last 12 months, and also have brands like Lego and Burberry who are coming up to their second orchard Black Friday event. “Customers look to us for stability and uptime,” Emblin said.
These are big brand names. Yet, commercetools is not only for these global luminaries. “The right fit for commercetools,” Emblin said, “is typically companies doing 10 to 20 million dollars AUD in revenue online.” However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Ultimately, the best fit are “businesses who are making and solving unique use cases and want the freedom to experiment,” he said. “Customers come to us and say ‘this is our challenge’ and that they have looked at other platforms and can’t solve them there. Instead, they find commercetools has the flexibility they need.”
On the other end, "there's no upper limit," Emblin said. "We have multiple customers with revenues of billions of dollars online and they use us to ensure scalability under load.”
So uptime and flexibility is a given with commercetools, but the product's use doesn't end with the sale. “Data-driven decision making is incredibly exciting,” Emblin said, explaining customers can capture data through the APIs like product lookups and extract the information into a data lake or data warehouse or feed into broader business systems. It allows deep analytical inspection of a company’s sales performance.
What's more, commercetools has a strong partnership with Google Cloud. The product is itself hosted on Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and the business works closely with the Google retail team to leverage Google’s massive wealth of insights, embedding it back into their machine learning to push out recommendations.
The partnership goes further; commercetools is built on GCP's underlying services and allows merchants to procure the product through the Google marketplace, and integrate with other Google products they use. The partnership also means customers can collaborate closely with commercetools and Google engineers to deploy best practice architectures in hours, not weeks or months.
While some retailers may worry about their website standing up to the crowds, Emblin says commercetools customers can relax. Instead, for them, it’s an exciting moment because “this is the boost the economy needs,” Emblin said.
“I’m really keen to see people back out in stores and cafes and retail. There’s a lot of pent-up shopping,” he said.