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Before you rethink your technology, rethink your customer relationships

Innovation doesn’t happen in straight lines and all too often, brands are slow to recognize the opportunities new technologies offer. Brands tend to innovate based on what customers say they want. But your customers don't always know what's possible, and relying on their stated desires alone can be limiting, stymying growth and locking in improvements to a subsection of the customer experience.

It brings to mind the somewhat cliched, possibly apocryphal, but ultimately prescient words of Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." We’ve seen, time and again, brands get stuck building faster horses, when they could (and should) be building cars.

Part of the reason for this is because much of the focus for retail innovation is spent on the attraction-through-purchase phases of the customer journey, where brands get the most direct input from the consumer. But branded experiences don’t just happen at checkout, they happen every time a customer uses your product or engages with your services. These unscripted moments are important to the customer relationship. So how can brands capture these moments in their customer experiences?

Several years ago, New Balance had a revelation: their product wasn't shoes, it was running. That shift in product focus changed the way they thought about their customer relationships. Away from the noise of a cash register, New Balance could now build a coaching and running community relationship with their customers.

They introduced a wearable and companion app to strengthen that relationship, taking advantage of the new technologies sweeping the market, and placed themselves in the heart of their customers' running journeys. With these elements in place, individuals could track runs, join a community, and receive coaching— all moments taking place within the New Balance branded experience, connecting their customers to their brand in the moments that mattered most.

Similarly, Petco realized its product wasn't necessarily pet food or grooming services— it was pet health and well-being. This paradigm shift opened new doors for them, as they could now expand the customer relationship beyond the walls of their stores: at the vet, in the park, and out on walks. Petco found ways of integrating commercial, branded experiences in the health and wellness journey of pets beyond the checkout by introducing veterinary services, a wearable, and companion app to track pet health. Petco, like New Balance, looked at the technologies on the market and instead of trying to simply sell more leashes and dog food, they re-examined how their brand could connect with customers at meaningful moments, strengthening their customer relationships and brand identity in the process.

When modern brands want to make the most of innovation opportunities the latest technology can offer—which is to say, they want to build cars instead of faster horses—they turn to MACH technologies (Modular, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless). Building with a MACH approach allows brands to separate the different parts of their digital domains into individual services, letting them select the best tools for each job. This in turn means those brands can connect with and be accessible to consumers across devices, touchpoints, and all the moments of interaction that go beyond the moment of purchase.

One final example: leading menswear retailer Harry Rosen knew their product wasn’t just what was available at the checkout. Their product was the modern gentleman. Their brand experience had always been strong in person, but in order to effectively reach their customers outside of the point of purchase, they needed a multi-program approach to replacing their legacy technologies. At the time, Harry Rosen had a monolithic architecture with deep roots through their entire business. Introducing innovative customer interactions meant big—but careful—changes to their technology stack.

Through a phased, program approach, Harry Rosen transformed their digital practice into a sophisticated customer experience engine. They started with a clienteling application, which introduced new commerce opportunities for their sales associates. Over time, they replaced various parts of their commerce technologies to create a completely curated, composable suite. This meant they could start experimenting with new customer experiences at a much faster pace. They were able to introduce an entirely new digital brand—a retail outlet—in a matter of weeks. Pulling out the roots of the monolith meant giving internal teams more power with better tools to do their job.

Harry Rosen was able to take their in-store excellence and translate it to a full-spectrum experience that goes beyond the moment of purchase, and they have experienced exceptional growth ever since.

It’s not one commerce endpoint, it’s ten, and that’s often why our customers are going down this path [of curated architectures].

Jason Cotrell

CEO, Myplanet

For many brands, a one-size-fits-all, or monolithic, approach works just fine. Most monoliths have APIs that allow them to perform simple tasks. But when brands reach a certain level of complexity or demand more nuance in their experiences, a monolith can become too difficult to work around. Executing on multiple endpoints becomes unmanageable within the confines of a monolith.

To learn more about how composable commerce and MACH technologies can benefit your business, listen to Jason Cottrell (CEO at Myplanet) and Jay Myers (Co-founder at Bold Commerce) speak about the state of commerce, and what the future holds for brands and builders embracing the MACH ecosystem on the Own Your Commerce podcast.

Author Image

Sarah Ruiter

Senior Retail Technology Analyst, Myplanet

With an educational background in retail management and a career entirely in tech, I combine my two passions to help retailers navigate the complexity of digital transformations. I learn about the business challenges facing retail leaders, diving deep on the expertise and perspectives their experiences offer, to bring the latest information on the evolving world of retail to you.

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