In a massively uncertain retail world, it makes sense to de-risk

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: In a massively uncertain retail world, it makes sense to de-risk.

By Finlay Mure, VP Sales & Marketing, BetterCommerce.

Business thinkers used to tell us we lived in times of VUCA—that we had to operate under more or less permanent conditions of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

Now, the world has become so unpredictable that they’ve decided it’s even worse, and instead, you now live in the BANI era, where business life is Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, and Incomprehensible!

No retailer needs to know that times are tough right now. We’ve gone straight from Brexit into COVID and now the tragedy of Ukraine; global supply chains are still in chaos, with on-going Chinese pandemic restrictions not exactly helping; now, we seem to be all set for a UK summer of poor industrial relations and double-digit inflation that is putting a big squeeze on our customers’ disposable income.

What I am finding the retailers and brands I speak to doing about BANI, though, is reassuringly pragmatic. That’s because they are not throwing their hands up in despair at the risk and uncertainty, but instead, they are looking for smart use of technology to lower that risk as much as possible. 

And what’s emerging as their main tactic for doing that is ensuring they have the space and flexibility to de-risk via trying to always do their ecommerce in as composable a way as they can.

Composable: why it makes sense

Yes, I know—more jargon. But this term makes perfect sense, when you think about it. Composable is really just shorthand, after all, for ‘me being able to pick and choose to develop my architecture the way that makes the most sense for us as a business right now – today’.

With composable ecommerce retail thinking, you can seamlessly stitch together what you want. So, your front end online shopping experience can be whatever you like, or you could improve things by a tactical hit on it by a dedicated team. And again, with composable, they can work independently of the back end and so really focus on the customer experience--while behind the scenes you could work with your developers and infrastructure teams to set the company up for scale with maybe a whole new cloud-based back end. 

How does this minimise your BANI-ness, I hear you ask? Simple: by doing things via APIs, application programmable interfaces, as much as you like, you never get totally committed to one vendor or marketplace supplier’s worldview and contract.

And to be honest; the industry is starting to see more and more demand for this. We are working with omni-channel retailers who want us to suggest elements they could start with, but where they very soon want to pick and choose to start where they need to innovate (think, optimising supply chain, forecasting, conversions, all of these, some or more--whatever it might be).

I think that’s just so much better than the other legacy ecommerce option, you know, the one where you are battling a 20-year old tech stack that someone else bought in the first flush of ecommerce enthusiasm, and which probably did fine for a while but is now a mess of IT spaghetti that’s no longer fit for purpose and costing you around £200,000 a year just to support. 

If that’s your scenario, I sympathise as it can be difficult to move forward. But it’s even more difficult if you are trying to decide on porting over to a whole new tech stack from someone else, so how do you decide? It just ends up never happening, and the people who try to make change happen like you end up giving up a couple of years then quietly moving on.

‘The brand has successfully transitioned from a potentially dead business to being a very profitable, scaling, B2C one instead’

I’ve been in meetings with retailers like this. And, it’s great to see the reaction when you talk about this new way of handling the VUCA and the BANI--a composable, lego-based approach based on you having complete freedom to choose the modules, applications and features and functionality you want, and when you want them, enabling you to never have to commit to more than what you need. Even better, you can then work on everything from your checkout process to your PIM to your order management to your barcoding to memberships to build the system that will help you deal with business growth, 2022-style.

We certainly saw this with our great early fashion sector customer, Forever Unique. Prior to COVID, they were a 100% B2B business, and as you probably don’t want to be reminded, one day in 2020 everyone stopped trading. Total BANI, in other words.

However, the company was immediately able, due to having decided to go composable pre-pandemic, to instead start realistically thinking about a B2C proposition. For sure, that was easy to say but hard to do: the website, the customer experience, what features we want to offer, how do you present our products, the images, the social aspect, how the seller marketplace would work: this was a very new world that Forever Unique wanted to take on.

But in under 12 months, we helped that client get there through composable’s flexibility—and the brand has successfully transitioned from a potentially dead business to being a very profitable, scaling, B2C one instead.

Experiences like that tell me that if you are a retailer genuinely worried about how to get through to 2023 in one piece, now is the right time to start thinking about a new foundation for your business—where instead of relying and carrying one system that's plugged into everything, consider a bunch of smaller modules so you can easily pull one out and put one back in if there’s pressure without everything falling down. 

And maybe you might end up, not in VUCA or BANI times, but LRCTs: Less Risky, Composable Times?

Maybe not the greatest acronym. But I bet you’d still prefer to live there than where you are now.

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