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Embrace Modern Commerce Today, for a Brighter Tomorrow

Embrace Modern Commerce Today, for a Brighter Tomorrow

  • By JAY SMITH |

Encompassing a far broader range of touchpoints and interactions throughout the entire consumer journey than ever before, the era of modern commerce seeks to optimize the customer experience, across a myriad of platforms, delivering a seamless, engaging environment for consumers. If done right, modern commerce combined with a steadfast focus on quantifying and scoring high on customer experience, will lead to tremendous commercial and brand success for merchants and business owners.

Ecommerce businesses adopting the latest technologies to deliver this experience—including headless, progressive web apps (PWA), software-as-a-service, ML/AI and automation—are likely to see 25% or higher increase in customer satisfaction and revenue.

Innovation is a necessity. Put simply, it’s a case of innovate today, or be gone tomorrow.

Cloud-based, headless ecommerce platforms, in particular, are playing a large role in this transformation, because the traditional, monolithic ecommerce application is brittle, painful to update, and likely to incur downtime for even the most routine of deployments. With a monolithic application, your front end team is hamstrung, restricted by the complexity of the back end, which isn’t helping you bring in new customers or sell faster. A new recommendation engine however, or a great marketing promotion will, so you need those aspects to be agile and easy to change, often.

As a result, the world is moving on to customer interfaces, or front ends, that are decoupled from the back end ecommerce application, giving merchants the flexibility to deliver any user experience, to any device, and update its features and functions as often as they need to. This, in turn, enables ecommerce engineering teams to run at their own natural pace, keeping the backend more stable, while creating synergy and higher levels of efficiency.

This alone, however, is not enough. To attain true agility, modern commerce businesses need continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), where your developer is committing changes without any downtime to a code repository, like GitHub, testing it for both functionality and load, before those changes are then reflected on the website. It’s an automated build and deploy process that moves at whatever pace it needs to, and involves as little manual interaction as possible.

It’s a great story, but like any great story, it would be incomplete without a bad guy, and in this episode, it’s Core Web Vitals.

This month, Google will mandate to the world that if the front end experience is not up to par, then it has to be improved. They must start to measure and deliver on the metrics that define great customer experience. Fail to do so, and you risk being demoted in their search rankings, which can spell disaster for an ecommerce brand that has fought long and hard to secure page one for their products. It’s a problem the entire industry is struggling with, but it’s here to stay and merchants need to get there as fast as they can.

Let’s spend a minute on understanding what causes poor CWV scores.

First Input Delay (FID) and Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) are two pieces of the puzzle that can cause you headaches. If your images are too big, you’re making too many requests, or if you’re not lazy loading, you are basically downloading too much data and forcing the browser to deal with too much content. This slows down load times, and subsequently the LCP. There are Cumulative Layout Shifts (CLS) to consider too, essentially making sure you use correct page structures so your user’s browsing experience is consistent.

Here at Webscale, we want all these assets as close to the user as possible, because it reduces their network transfer time. We want to reduce the size of the content we are delivering, the number of requests that have to be made, and the time it takes to deliver them. It’s why our 2021 product lineup has gotten “edgy.” We focused our engineering efforts on moving a lot of the performance, security and automation capabilities we have already developed and delivered to our fully-managed cloud customers, to the edge where we can substantially reduce delivery time. We’re delivering these features with an emphasis on security, while continuing to increase visibility into your infrastructure.

Security at the edge is of particular importance, because when we talk about “modern commerce” and its myriad of touchpoints, we talk about opening up many more attack vectors for cyber criminals.

Take competitor scraping as an example. A lot of your product and pricing data is cached and delivered to the internet from your CDN. If that’s not protected or controlled, then you won’t know it’s happening, so we use “edge controls” in our security platform to manage that, identifying suspect IP addresses and preventing them from accessing certain data. At the same time, we allow exceptions for the well-known search engines so you are not negatively impacting your search results.

There is research to show that automatic traffic, or bots, represent more than half of all internet traffic. Many of them masquerade as real users, so we identify and filter out that traffic automatically, so you are not paying for daily egress and you are not giving your data to people who shouldn’t have it.

While external threats are more common, there are steps in the process of deploying a new build of the site to production that are also susceptible to risk. In larger enterprises, there may be multiple members of the team involved in the deployment process, and it takes only one to be using compromised open source code (Magecart infected Javascript as an example) to expose a security vulnerability.

In ecommerce, this level of exposure can present a PCI compliance problem which can have an immediate impact on your ability to process credit cards, not to mention expose you to a potential visit from the Secret Service. The check-in and review process must include a security portion to look for malware, and other rogue software, in your deployment, so that you are not introducing a security threat into production.

This brings me to my final point, which is the building of true microservices architectures with containers. Now, for many, even the word “container” can send you running for the hills, but bear with me. Being able to deploy code through containers is significant, not only because it facilitates the type of rigorous quality control we just discussed, but also because it enables zero-downtime deployments, and dramatically accelerates our ability to create new services on behalf of our customers.

One example would be image management. If your storefront is serving predominantly mobile traffic yet your developers are focused on delivering a flawless user experience on desktop, it’s firstly a horrible management strategy, but you’re going to be hurting from a conversion standpoint, and Core Web Vitals will punish you for it. In this scenario, we provide not only the visibility to understand the challenge at hand but, with rapid containerized deployments, we can quickly, and safely, deploy image optimization tools to help them render those images for mobile, so that they get their Core Web Vitals scores where they need to be.

Clearly, there is an overwhelming, industry-wide requirement for agility; for engineering teams to work at the pace they need to, on both the front and back end; for security teams to stay ahead of the latest threats, lest their brand fall victim to a cyber attack and tarnish that hard-earned reputation for good; for CI/CD so that downtime during deployments becomes a thing of the past, and the rapid release of new tools becomes simple; and for every developer out there sweating bullets about Core Web Vitals, to ensure their storefront remains at the top of the search rankings.

Let’s be honest here, these are not simple challenges to resolve, nor are they cheap. Moving to a well-managed headless environment, or building a one-off PWA is expensive, and few merchants have done it as a result. But now, with your organic search traffic at risk, that expense becomes justified because that traffic is essential to the continued growth of your business.

Gimmicky point solutions will not get you to where you need to be. They are at best, aspirins, that may provide some short term relief but will not fix the root cause. It’s similar to moving to the cloud – it’s more than lift and shift, it’s about fixing auto-scaling, security, performance, DevOps, and having the backup of a support team that knows you and your business intimately.

Regardless of whether you’re an existing valued customer, a member of our awesome partner network, or a merchant we’ve yet to meet, I’d like to end this letter with an invitation to engage with us, and tell us what’s on your mind. Let us spend a few minutes reviewing your site performance, your deployment strategies, your security posture, to help figure out how you can stay ahead of the storm that is “modern commerce”. You can reach out to our team at info@webscale.com.

Webscale is not a cloud hosting company—we are a technology powerhouse learning from tens of platforms, hundreds of merchants, thousands of storefronts and millions of users worldwide. Our cloud platform delivers on the current, and future needs of ecommerce merchants, whatever their choice of application, toolchain or cloud provider, so that we can bring modern commerce to you, in the simplest way possible. All you need to do is focus on your core business, and leave the rest to us.

JAY SMITH

Jay lives in the mountains outside of Boulder with his wife and three kids. He loves to cook and chase bears with his dog Ginger. When not chasing bears, Jay works with a talented group of friends building Webscale.