Preparing for Ecommerce Success in 2021
Leading digital agency in the UK, Eclipse recently joined us for a webinar to discuss ecommerce success strategies for 2021. From Eclipse, Tim Stainthorpe, Co-founder and Director of Client Services and Ged ZALYS, Director of Business Development, joined Adrian Luna, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Webscale. You can check out the full session here, otherwise here’s a quick summary of what you missed.
2020 was an extraordinary year for ecommerce. What are some of your key observations?
Ged ZALYS: Here in the UK, 50% more businesses were created in June 2020 versus the same month in 2019. And a record 81,000 businesses were registered in July! We saw a lot of pivoting of technologies, especially AI which made deep inroads into retail, driving an online customer experience that is closest to physical shopping in a store. Even many B2B businesses decided to move online.
What do you think are some of the major learnings that will help scale ecommerce businesses in 2021?
Tim Stainthorpe: Year on year, we saw a 40% increase in traffic compared to previous seasons, which led to a 60% increase in online orders. And that’s through a period where, in the UK, some of the shops were still allowed to be open across the Christmas period. People still wanted to shop online for safety reasons or by choice, and merchants who performed load testing throughout the year were prepared for that rush. It’s crucial that merchants continue to invest in scaling to meet that demand, whenever it comes, while delivering seamless performance for the customer.
What are your impressions with regards to a merchant’s readiness to manage this additional traffic without negating the performance of the website?
Adrian Luna: When we talk about a merchant’s readiness to handle a surge, I think it should start with a hosting infrastructure conversation that, quite honestly, nobody really ever wants to talk about or if they do, the conversation is really late in the game in terms of getting online.
Your hosting environment is the foundation of your ecommerce storefront, and there’s nothing like a massive influx in traffic to highlight the importance of having a solidly built hosting architecture. Readiness starts with choosing to work with modern technologies. In my view, the traditional model of hosting a website doesn’t really translate well for ecommerce, as it can’t scale, can’t expand, and there’s little to no elasticity. So we are already seeing a trend in ecommerce workloads moving into a public cloud environment, which is really the natural home for storefronts. I think the return on investment is tremendous with getting into an environment that can be as elastic as you need it to be, when you need it to be.
What innovations do you see coming out of the Magento camp in 2021?
Ged ZALYS: We saw so many businesses come to life online in 2020, many of which pursued Magento solutions. Magento follows the headless approach so all of the standard functionality that ecommerce needs, like managing pricing or product catalogs, aren’t things you have to worry about. What you should worry about is the UX and UI, the components, that make you, you. And exactly that’s where headless comes in, allowing you to build the brand presentation the way you want it. So there is the front end and the back end, and then you can add other tiers into it, building a microservices architecture. The beauty of that is you can scale each of these independently. And if there is a traffic increase due to a promotion, then the promotions engine can scale instead of scaling the entire monolithic application. Magento has been really shining here. And with online shopping increasingly moving to mobile devices, a PWA also becomes valuable, which is also part of the Magento offering. With PWAs, you can quickly create mobile ready websites and scale them independently. Some amazing things have been happening in the Magento space, and all of these new companies are going towards it. I think that’s the right approach.
What is the ideal way to approach a PWA build in the Magento environment?
Ged ZALYS: Magento PWA Studio has a lot of this functionality built in, so if your developer follows best practices in the design of your application, you’ll have everything in place to be PWA-ready by the end of your project. I think the caveat here is that PWAs are brilliant when it comes to Google/Android devices, but it can get a little bit more challenging with iOS. But, if your development is done well, you can quickly turn a PWA application into a mobile app and host it on the App Store as well. So there are workarounds. It requires a little bit more work to host it on the App Store and convert the PWA application, but we have done it in the past, and it’s not that big of a hurdle.
Adrian Luna: We were doing decoupled architecture before it was cool. And we’ve always operated as a software-delivered model as a proxy out in front of the environment. So the emergence of PWA technologies and these different presentation-layer and front-end technologies is really nothing new for us. By using public cloud solutions as a utility within the entire ecosystem of what you’re doing, it’s easy to deploy these different segments of it, so they can operate independently. From a hosting perspective, it is important that we handle both the architecture design for PWA deployments as well as take on the management of the complex routing that comes with it. All while making sure the environment is secure from attacks on different layers.
What do you think were the key enablers that helped you succeed in 2020?
Tim Stainthorpe: The three key points I’d like to get across and share today is capacity planning, performance testing, and security.
- Capacity planning: Being on a scalable cloud architecture is absolutely vital, and it’s got to be a core part of your strategy. If you’re on the cloud already, fantastic. You’re making some great inroads into that already. But if you’re not, you should have it on your roadmap now. Otherwise, you’ll be left behind or not be able to adapt whereas your competitors will. So capacity planning is essential, and we’d already planned for 2020 Black Friday levels a lot earlier on in the year prior to the pandemic hitting us. Hence when overnight stores began to close and online became that single outlet for retail, traffic started to go crazy and we were just ready for it. We need to make sure that we architect the application to take advantage of the underlying cloud toolkit available to scale out in all directions, because doing that means we can offer a seamless experience to customers at all demand levels.
- Performance testing: This is where we test to make sure that we can deliver a consistent performance at those large volumes, and it will yield into highly converting customers. We always make sure that we test for more than we are asked to. We want to anticipate where the next bottlenecks are going to be, so we always test for much higher models than we’ve seen or we’ve been provided with. The reason behind that is we want to find out where the next areas of improvement are, both in our application backlog and also in our infrastructure backlog, and get those onto the roadmap as soon as possible.
- Security: This is one of the big things that we need to build into our testing, and we should never lose sight of it. Having a really high performing web application firewall (WAF) in place, consistently reviewing the code and architecture for security improvements, especially ones provided by third parties that we rely on to underpin some of the applications are critical. Nobody wants to be in the news for a breach, that’s disastrous to any brand.
Why is Webscale and Eclipse working together as one team important for your clients?
Adrian Luna: Simply put, we call it a “triangle of support.” We have responsibilities in hosting, site performance, security, creating a perimeter defence at the edge, and also managing the environment so it can scale to do the things that we talked about here. But none of that is really done completely without the help of a really solid ecommerce developer that delivers amazing quality as far as the development of code, the manipulation of code, the deployment, the changes that need to be made for the ever-changing requests. So we call it a “triangle of support.” It’s a hosting provider, cloud automation, security company at one point. It’s the agency that’s involved in the development and the brand experience at the other. And obviously, the client at the third tip. And I think if we treat it that way every time, there are successful launches and great experiences for the end-user, for the brand, and their customers.
Tim Stainthorpe: I love the “triangle of support.” It’s similar to what we call a one-team approach and it’s the only way we know how to work. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. And what that means to us is working hand-in-hand with our customers and partners, making sure that we are embedded into their businesses, how they work, how they operate, their true values. And we strive to be viewed as part of our customers’ integrity and we get a real kick out of it. It’s why we get out of bed in the morning. So really stick to what you’re great at. We’re a great digital experience organization. We want to find brilliant partners that can help us fill the gaps that we’re not brilliant at. And a partner like Webscale allows us to focus on the development and not have to worry too much around the scaling and the architecture and the infrastructure that goes behind it and all the things that we’ve talked about. We’re over here in the UK and the geographic reach and the ability for organizations like Webscale to give us those economies of scale make it a no-brainer for us.
What’s Webscale’s overall strategy when it comes to cloud hosting?
Adrian Luna: We look at the public cloud as a utility within the solution, not the solution itself. We’ve seen a lot of people move to the public cloud and recreate the same issues that exist in their current static or legacy hosting environment. The idea of moving a storefront’s hosting to the cloud as a sole remedy for performance or scaling inefficiencies is only part of the solution. Again, it goes back to the knowledge of cloud services themselves, the knowledge of the application that’s on it and how to best deploy an environment that is best for the project at hand. That’s just speaking about the design of the environment. Now you have to consider management, monitoring and alerting 24/7/365. What we’ve been able to do is take a software-delivered approach to automate all of that and reduce human error. This way, the team we have in support, that are located in different parts of the world, are really managing a very sophisticated tool to monitor health and performance. At the end of the day, whatever a merchant should be focused on growing their brand. The design and management of their cloud hosting and security should be left to experts that use modern technology that can accommodate your growth.