How retailers can move at the speed of innovation with microservices
Photo by iStock.com
By Jamus Driscoll, CEO, Moltin
In retail, moving at the speed of consumer innovation is a constant challenge. New, consumer-grade technologies hit the market every day, enabling a wide range of new devices, channels and experiences. Consumers are now finding products they love on social media, or in an interactive display. It was simple enough for retailers to engage these consumers in store or on a website, but these new, innovative experiences are largely "off menu."
The problem isn't a lack of creativity; it's a mounting technical challenge. Traditional commerce platforms do an excellent job at tried-and-true, browser-based commerce, but are not extensible enough to enable commerce in new channels of consumer engagement.
Keeping pace with innovation requires more speed and flexibility. Today's retailers must be able to test new commerce experiences without the traditional risk or cost. Whether it's a microsite or a new voice assistant app, they need to get to market faster — and that requires a new approach.
Extend your commerce platform
Retailers with an agenda of speed and innovation should consider augmenting their commerce platform with microservices. Just as it sounds, microservices are independent utilities that each serve a particular business function. They break up the platform monoliths — like a traditional commerce platform — into individual parts, like order, checkout, shopping carts and inventory, so that they can be used in any customer experience and assembled in a way that serves the retailer's specific objective.
Often, microservices are paired with the acronym "API." APIs, or Application Program Interfaces, are protocols that allow pieces of software to "talk" to one another. APIs provide access to microservices, connecting them to one another, to an existing platform, or to new devices, like a Google Home Mini or Amazon Alexa speaker.
Historically, vendors have built their platforms, hardwired from the user experience through to underlying code, and then appended an API against it for integration purposes. Conversely, an "API-first" approach means flipping this on its head, building the offering with the API as the main objective. Vendors who build API first are making a primary architectural decision to build their product primarily for flexibility and inclusion. It's more developer-friendly, and enables unique applications and experiences to be added on top of it (be it an application for social commerce or voice assistants).
API-first and microservices are absolutely essential for moving at the speed of innovation. Let's explore a few examples.
Microservices in action
Say you, the retailer, want to light up a new channel: mobile self checkout. You're inspired by cashierless Amazon Go stores, and want your shoppers to be able to scan a product in store, pay on their phone and show their receipt "Costco style" when they leave. This will allow shoppers to purchase your product at the moment they fall in love with it, instead of going to a traditional cash register.
Another example, say you want to make your dressing room mirrors shoppable. You want your shoppers to be able to access product information, call a store associate for a different-sized garment, or checkout directly from the mirror. Again, this engages shoppers at the moment of inspiration and creates a new revenue stream for you.
In both cases, your traditional commerce platform may already have very sophisticated order and payment functionality -- but it would take months to extend this to a browser-based smartphone application or a smart mirror. Here, you would add microservices to take orders from the new devices, and plug them into your existing commerce application for processing.
With microservices you can extend your existing commerce infrastructure quickly and easily to the next new use case. Retail marketing teams often come up with game-changing ideas for their brands, only to face steep costs and timelines on the technical side. Microservices break that cycle by giving both sides of the house flexible tools and speed to market.
Rapid change doesn't have to be hard. Traditional commerce platforms are powerful, but simply won't cut it when it comes to speed. With the right microservices architecture in place, retailers can enjoy life at the innovation curve — instead of behind it.