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Frankenstein Syndrome: It Doesn't Have to Be Fatal

Do you have a cohesive and growing business, or does your platform consist of a collection of lumbering, sewn-together parts? Find out by answering these four questions.

A unified retail system is a living, breathing structure made up of a variety of parts—order management, product management, inventory, business intelligence, wholesale, etc.—all of which work together to help your business function and thrive. Yet many retailers, especially those with technologies predating the launch of the first iPhone, are still relying on parts and processes bolted onto each other. This arrangement may pass muster at first blush, but eventually, disparate systems interact in unpredictable ways. The result? Unintended setbacks to your business, and monstrous investments in time, energy, and maintenance fees.

It’s called Frankenstein Syndrome, and your company may already have it. At best, the disorder forces retailers to put their innovation projects on the back burner. At worst, it paralyzes all forward movement: death by status quo. Do you have a cohesive and growing business, or does your platform consist of a collection of lumbering, sewn-together parts? Find out by answering these four questions:

Do you have easy access to all your retail data?

Here’s a common scenario: as a growing multi-channel retailer, teams across the entire organization—from in-store sales associates to customer support agents—utilize dozens of management systems in order to keep track of customer information. That ever-growing fleet may also include a point-of-sale system and social sharing, in addition to ecommerce and an alphabet soup of ERP, CRM, PIM, CMS, and more. But can you pull what you need when you need it the most, regardless of which department you’re in? If your retail data is siloed across channels, it means your teams may be operating on redundant, outdated, or inconclusive information. It means your org isn’t collaborating as well as it could, which means you probably aren’t responding quickly enough to customer expectations.

Integrating your data is the key to easy access and collaboration. Traditionally, retailers have accomplished this by utilizing REST APIs or custom integration solutions, which thread the disparate parts of their systems together through third-party connections. However, the time and cost of initial setup—not to mention maintenance—can easily snowball into an arduous, expensive ordeal.

For some, it may make sense to replatform entirely. Rather than rely on APIs, retailers are now opting to migrate to an inherently flexible commerce platform, one which provides them with the architectural foundation necessary to establish seamless connectivity out of the box.

Does your platform offer a single source of truth online and offline?

The goal of every company is growth, but are your retail operations ready for that next stage? As your business expands from a single online ecomm site to third-party marketplaces, drop-ship programs, brick-and-mortar stores, IoT, and wholesale, a whole new bevy of complexities fall into the picture. It’s one thing to integrate your online store to a POS platform. It’s another thing to integrate your online store to a POS platform, order management system, production management system, supply chain system, end-to-end inventory system, and procurement system.

Are your ecomm, retail, and wholesale systems working in tandem with each other, or are they organized inefficiently, siloed throughout the org, and unable to provide clear insight into big-picture objectives? Without a single source of truth across online and offline operations, even your most feature-rich products are essentially useless.

Can it manage a portfolio of brands?

These days, many major retail companies, such as J.Crew and Pottery Barn, own and operate a constellation of brands. Oftentimes, these brands live under the same family, sharing the same resources for retail, operations, and infrastructure. There are clear benefits to this type of model: A unified front provides customers with a more cohesive shopping experience, inspiring them to make more purchases across all brands, not just one; it reduces cost and ensures that all subsidiary brands have access to the same enterprise-level resources; it also allows provides retailers with a clearer picture of the customer and their needs.

But what if your current retail system is simply too fragmented to bring any of your brands together? What if each brand uses an entirely different set of frameworks and tools, follows entirely different deployment processes? Can your platform track and provide insights on multiple inventories, all from one central, unified place? Of course, not all companies aspire to launch a cohesive portfolio of multiple brands, but knowing that your platform is flexible enough to accommodate such a model—should the time come—ensures that you’re in good hands.

Is your technology scalable?

Oftentimes, companies come saddled with the baggage of their legacy systems. These companies were built on tech stacks that were once leading-edge, but are now considered clunky, heavy, and a hindrance to speed, dev time, and innovation (here’s looking at you, LAMP). Yet rather than refactoring and switching to more modern technologies, many opt to simply find workarounds in the form of plugins, add-ons, and third-party systems. The result? A bloated system laden with technical debt.

Have you future-proofed your tech stack yet, or are you still working with a hodge-podge codebase from the past? To truly innovate, orgs musn’t shy away from new technologies. A robust retail system shouldn’t be over-engineered. Rather, it needs to be able to scale resources both up and down. The best way to prepare your tech for the future is to go with approaches that allow you the most flexibility. Microservices, for instance, divides monolithic codebases into smaller, defined modules. This, in turn, eliminates any bottlenecks that may be slowing down internal processes.

Time for your check-up

Are your systems strong, unified, and ready for the future, or is it time to bid this science experiment farewell? Hopefully, the questions above have provided you with some food for thought—as well as symptoms to watch out for. Remember: your retail platform is a vital, complex machine made of many moving parts, each one contributing to the overall long-term success of your business. You’ll want to make sure it’s in good health.

Editors' note: A version of this story was first published by Digital Commerce 360.


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