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Your Retail Tech Stack Matters—Now More Than Ever (Part One)

If you’re a technology leader at a retailer or brand, you should know that the specific tech choices you make right now will have a big impact on your future success. This article explains why that’s more true now than it’s ever been, and what you should consider when evaluating which tools, frameworks, and systems belong in your enterprise tech stack.

The simple fact is that your commerce software and technology matter more today than ever. That’s because success for retailers (and to an extent, B2B merchants as well) is now defined not by whether you can innovate for your customers, but how fast you can bring those innovations to the market. The wrong tech slows down development and deployment, hindering your ability to innovate. That’s a death sentence for a 21st century commerce brand.

Modern commerce is fast-moving, mobile-first, multi-channel, and real-time. Your technology choices should be, too.

The status-quo death spiral

When we talk with retail and enterprise commerce execs, the biggest pain point they cite is almost always some variation on this theme: ‘Our legacy commerce technology is putting us further and further behind on our goals each year.’ Here’s how.

To stay relevant and differentiate themselves from the competition, merchants need to constantly innovate and offer newer, better features and experiences for their shoppers. They need to customize and personalize, to leverage new technologies or experiment with new business models. But they are burning through their technology budgets just maintaining their existing systems. Their technical backlog keeps getting longer, which prevents them from freeing up their engineers to build innovative new features that could help attract new shoppers.

What do most of these companies have in common? They’re using legacy commerce platforms—or in-house/homegrown solutions—that were designed and built with older technologies. In fact, most of today’s ‘leading’ platforms have been in the market for over a decade—since before the first iPhone was even launched.

That’s the beginning of the death spiral. Eventually, many of these companies end up paying a steep price for waiting too long to modernize their digital infrastructure. Some will even end up paying the ultimate price of bankruptcy or liquidation.

To compete, retailers need to be able to customize, capture, and act on real-time, personalized shopper data across touchpoints.

Defining modern commerce

Dated technology can’t possibly be expected to support the needs of modern commerce. We’ve seen tectonic shifts in the commerce and technology landscape over the past 10 years, namely:

Shoppers have changed

Consumers have adapted to—and pushed the boundaries of—digital commerce far beyond what anyone could have predicted a decade ago, in terms of both how they shop and what they demand from retailers. Consider the following facts.

  • Mobile purchasing now accounts for well over 50% of all ecommerce sales (Statista). Ten years ago, that number was essentially zero.
  • Fifteen years ago, the average consumer typically used two touch points when buying an item. Today consumers use an average of almost six touch points, with nearly 50% regularly using more than four. (Marketing Week)

  • ‘Omnichannel’ or ‘multichannel’ retail is here to stay. To compete, retailers need to be able to customize, capture, and act on real-time, personalized shopper data across touchpoints—something legacy technology just can’t deliver. According to this Harvard Business Review study (cited in Forbes), the vast majority of business leaders see real-time analytics as important to their success, but very few are using them effectively.


The available technology has changed

In the ‘Age of Amazon,’ technology is now a core offering for retailers. Many commentators have observed that all retailers need to start thinking of themselves as tech companies. If so, then retail executives may have some catching up to do on broader technology trends.

  • The consumer tech revolution: Shoppers now carry powerful computers in their pockets, and they expect an online shopping experience to be just as satisfying on a mobile device as a desktop computer. Wearable tech, VR, shop-by-voice, and other emerging technologies will further change expectations in coming years.
  • New patterns in software development: Once upon a time, enterprise companies built (or bought) their own proprietary systems. That pattern evolved into the use of widely available components (often open source), as in the ubiquitous LAMP stack for web servers. The new pattern is the JAMstack (JavaScript, APIs, and templated Markup), indicating a trend toward even more modular, flexible, real-time systems.
  • From monoliths to microservices: Today’s microservices-driven software development approach breaks down large monolithic codebases into ‘single-function’ modules or services with well-defined interfaces and operations (a service that does one thing and does that well). This allows teams to be more agile and create scalable, testable software that can be deployed more frequently.

Modern commerce is fast-moving, mobile-first, multi-channel, and real-time. Your technology choices should be, too. As a digital leader, you have to blend retail expertise with mastery of the tech tools that support the new digital economy. If you’re serious about building tech-first thinking and digital fluency within your enterprise, it’s time to take a clear-eyed look at how your current tech stack, stacks up.

Editors' note: This is the first article in a series about tech stacks for enterprise retailers. In Part Two we'll look at how Reaction Commerce is addressing these challenges with our technology choices.


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If your legacy systems are slowing you down, now might be the perfect time to talk to our team. See if Reaction is the right solution to help drive growth and innovation for your commerce enterprise.

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