Forget the Hype: Focus on getting your foundations right in tech

Written by Alan Morkan, CTO at StudioForty9.

Alan shares the benefit of 15 years experience in the tech industry and his ability to zero in on what really matters. In a world where Web3, crypto and AI are dominating the headlines, Alan shares some down to earth perspectives on technology in the real business world.

Technology and ecommerce

Technology moves fast. Things don't stand still for long. At least, that's the message we hear every day.

On the one hand, this is true. Innovation is happening all of the time and there is a constant stream of new releases both in hardware and software.

However the number of these that genuinely impact retail ecommerce is much smaller and less frequent than you might think. It’s the constant visibility of column inches dedicated to the new and the shiny with the advertisements to back these up which make it hard to know which tech innovations to embrace and when to invest.

Major shifts in the last 15 years

In 15 years in ecommerce, I see only 3 major game-changing technical innovations:

1. Smartphones, their capabilities and their mass adoption as the way to connect online and shop online, anytime.

2. The meteoric rise and slow decline of social media as an incredibly cheap method to do targeted advertising.

3. The maturation of cloud computing whereby it has become far more cost effective to outsource key technology requirements (the checkout, security, peak traffic spike provision) to SaaS providers such as Shopify.

These innovations point to a pattern where major shifts in technology occur only about once every 5 years! That's a lot of space and time to let one's mind focus on more pressing topics, which I'll come back to below.

What factors do hyped technologies have in common?

When you meet a technological innovation that you do feel is worth investigating, what should you consider? How do you determine if it's the right fit for your business? How do you calculate the cost/benefit analysis?

As an example, that serves as a cautionary tale, let's look at 2 innovations that were, and still are to a greater or lesser extent, touted as the next big thing but haven’t made the same mark as the more successful ones listed above.

1. Mobile Apps.

2. Progressive Web Apps / Headless Architectures / Composable Commerce

When the dust settled on these innovations, they had a couple of things in common:

They solved problems for only the largest of ecommerce merchants.

The ones that had loyal customers that would be returning to the site multiple times per week (and so wanted an icon on their home screen) and where percentiles of performance transformed into millions in revenue lost or gained. You needed to be earning more than 10 million online each year to justify the costs of ownership of such technology.

They were built on shifting sands.

Smartphones have proliferated in versions and vendors over the past 10 years with different operating system versions, browsers, screen size, etc. The skilled developer base is small and demands high fees, and with these constant changes it was difficult to institute any efficiencies when faced with the prerogative of upskilling. In reality the biannual hot fashionable Javascript framework, that powers much of the PWA/Headless approach to ecommerce, has become a running joke in development circles in terms of its inability to stick with an agreed approach to solving problems and build longevity into the ecosystem.

Where should you focus your attention?

The majority of the technology that is at the core of retail ecommerce and drives value for the customer has been around for a long time.

For example:

1. MySQL database first came out in 1995. Changes have been minimal in the past 10 years.

2. PHP is reported to power 64% of the websites around the world and was the original programming language for Facebook. Again it has only seen incremental changes in the past 10 years - it is a fundamentally stable piece of technology.

3. Even the enabling technologies of Web 2.0 (i.e. AJAX) which once depended on third-party Javascript libraries such as jQuery, are now baked into the browsers that we use on our devices.

Instead of chasing new technology, merchants would benefit much more from standardising tried and tested technology and aiming to minimise the total cost of ownership.

With the time and space that this creates, you could be focusing on your own data. This can be the data already in your IT systems (EPoS, ERP, ecommerce, etc.) or data currently stuck in the heads of employees or customers.

Effectively utilising your data can lead to better decision making, finding opportunities, identifying losses, increased efficiency, reduced costs and improved margins.

Some pertinent questions to ask about the use of data in your business

As you focus on the potential that your data can offer your business, here are some questions to consider:

  • How do we leverage the existing data to drive market or customer insight?
  • How do we leverage the existing data to drive automations to increase productivity and minimise costs?
  • How do we capture more data? Even if we don't have a current use for such data, as long as it's stored somewhere in a structured format, we can use it at some point in the future. Often the most valuable data is time-series data where we can extract trends, patterns, average or lifetime values.
  • What are your employees or your customers doing every day that might be useful to encode?
  • How can we make capturing that data frictionless so people don't even realise they are recording it - it just becomes part of their everyday routine?

More about StudioForty9

StudioForty9 are experts in everything ecommerce. We’re adept at taking complex problems and finding sound solutions.

Our services include consultation, platform migration, bespoke integrations, UX/UI design and performance marketing across email, PPC, paid social and SEO.

Trusted by over 70 of Ireland’s best known businesses, we build long lasting partnerships where you can lean on our knowledge and experience to guide your business forward.

Build your success with StudioForty9.

Email to start finding solutions to your ecommerce challenges.

Photos by Igor Miske | Towfiqu barbhuiya Unsplash

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