Skip to Main Content

Sep 5, 2023 | 3 minute read

When the Biggest Competitor is Inertia

written by Bryan House

For many companies, the biggest competitor is inertia. That’s particularly true in a tough or uncertain economy, where customers’ new technology investments are perceived as a risk. Many startups underestimate “doing nothing” as a competitive factor and position against other companies vs. the status quo. In effect, they underestimate the pain vs. gain formula buyers consider when making a software purchase. In no industry is this more true than commerce.

However, some of the most important tech companies have succeeded by upending old ways of doing things that were no longer as efficient or effective as they once were. There are hundreds of companies who have thought: “There’s got to be a better way” — from Twilio taking on communications platforms, to Stripe streamlining payment processing, to OTT streaming television apps shaking up media consumption, to serving independent bookstores vs. taking on Amazon directly.

In digital commerce circles, this issue is more pronounced than most. Inertia is pervasive. Tolerance for risk is nil. Many companies adopt big, established commerce systems tightly interconnected with other business-critical systems (think OMS, ERP, etc.). In the classic platform approach, no one gets fired for buying [insert big software company name here]. These systems may be “good enough” in many functional areas, but still leave companies restricted in their ability to innovate or respond quickly to changing market dynamics. When the tide is rising, good enough may suffice. But when customer acquisition costs increase and competition stiffens, winners innovate and good enough gets left behind.

As a result of years of effort from commerce vendors, prospective buyers often think replatforming is the only option — and only pursue replatforming when forced. Replatforming events are often a result of industry consolidation (such as Oracle ATG’s end of life). Commerce software users coping with consolidation spend an inordinate amount of time lagging innovation simply waiting for others to go out of business. However, replatforming is no longer the only option with composable, microservices-based architectures.

Unplatform™: busting the replatforming myth in commerce

Composable commerce allows for a more gradual approach to technology change. A few months back, I wrote a piece covering various approaches to breaking up with your commerce monolith. The best approaches I’ve seen involve solving one problem at a time with technology, or addressing a need with a smaller brand to test the capabilities of composable commerce- we call this Unplatforming. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to replace one component of a platform at a time, without disrupting the entire commerce ecosystem.

Consider the alternative of doing nothing, which can leave you more exposed than change itself. Missed opportunities result from sticking with a commerce platform that is already holding you back from jumping on consumer trends (e.g. brand collaborations) or merchandising in new channels outside of your own. Not to mention the lost revenue that happens when a buyer’s risk vs. reward calculations of adopting new technology are off. It may seem counterintuitive, but a tough economy can be a perfect time to invest in technology that propels your business forward. Even if the change seems small vs. a seismic shift, opportunity awaits for those who are fearless in tough times.

Now that the zero-interest-rate party is over, there are some simple steps you can take to act on incremental value delivery when the economy doesn’t do it for you. A few ideas include:

  • Commerce-enabling your content site
  • Turning on a classic publisher-affiliate model
  • Deploying shoppable landing pages
  • Starting with catalog, replacing a single, inefficient component in your commerce platform and phasing it out
  • Identifying a new skunkworks project and experimenting / learning before applying to the “core” business
  • Choosing a specific business goal and aligning a business capability to work on it (e.g. Maximizing conversions by applying dynamic bundling).

Rather than assuming the risk of replatforming, using an Unplatform approach, you can test, measure, adjust, and repeat what works. Focus on the business benefit, not the technology, and you’ll be best positioned to win — whether that’s against the competition or the status quo.

Gartner: 20 Tips for Increasing Revenue

Get actionable tips for increasing AOV and conversion rates, minimizing return and shipping costs, and improving operational efficiency.

Loading Form...