Quite often, success in business is attributed to good management. Having the right stock at the right time, finding a gap in the market, or earning customer loyalty through years of good service and reliably pairing supply with demand. The technology that enables this success - whether it’s the invention of the wheel to move stone, or the invention of an e-commerce platform to help businesses move goods online - has always played an important role.
Today, the role of technology is more important than ever. Instead of ideas driving technological innovation, we’re now living in an era where technology itself is the driver, presenting businesses with seemingly endless opportunities for growth. In fact, the link between having a “tech-first” mindset and establishing a successful digital commerce operation is so pronounced, your business might be more of a tech-led operation than you realize.
At some point, a clothes retailer that has a thriving online ecosystem, live chat support for customers, automated stock and warehouse operations, and a fulfillment system that requires little, if any, human effort, has to wonder if it really is a clothes retailer or a technology business that just happens to sell clothes. Increasingly, the latter is true. Businesses are becoming technology-led first, and commercial entities second. In other words, they’re letting technology do the driving.
Putting technology in the driving seat
Over the years, businesses that have taken a tech-first approach to their development have gone on to thrive, often raising the bar and paving the way for other businesses. That’s because being tech-first means you’re always at the cusp of what’s possible, pushing boundaries and creating better experiences for customers.
When Mercedes launched the Mercedes Me service, an augmented reality app that let users track their vehicle, check its fuel level and read more about its features, it wasn’t responding to a need in the market - it was creating one.
It didn’t take long before other car manufacturers followed in its footsteps, such as Ford with its FordPass app, but by that point, Mercedes was already seen as a pioneer. Customers, of course, are the ones who ultimately benefit when businesses compete to innovate.
The risk of becoming a buggy whip maker
Buggy whips, which were commonly used to prod the horses harnessed to wagons and carriages, became obsolete when automobiles started to make an appearance in the late 19th century. Since then, any business failing to innovate and falling into obsolescence is likely to attract the moniker “buggy whip maker”. But were makers of the buggy whip really destined to fail, or were they guilty - like so many businesses - of seeing technology as a facilitator rather than a driver?
In his 1960 book, ‘Marketing Myopia’, Harvard Business School Professor, Theodore Levitt, proposed that buggy whip makers could have not only survived but thrived in the automotive era if only they had taken a technology-first approach.
He said it was a simple case of a business trying to meet the needs of its customers by understanding that those needs aren’t static and are likely to change. “If only buggy whip makers had thought of themselves as being in the personal transportation business as opposed to the buggy whip business,” he wrote, “they might have survived into the automotive era.”
In a similar fashion, a retailer in 2022 that thinks of itself as a tech company rather than a seller of goods is far more likely to stay relevant for longer.
Is Nike just a footwear merchant, or is it a pioneer in the fusion of e-commerce technology and high street retail? Its House of Innovation, which allows customers to order shoes on their smartphone and then find them in a personally allocated locker in-store to try them on, would suggest the latter. Likewise, its investment in D2C commerce is now firmly led by technology and innovation.
Similarly, is Whole Foods just a grocer, or is it redefining what a supermarket can do for its customers? The company recently created a chatbot that helps customers find new recipes, allowing them to ask questions and even use emojis to get recommendations as they shop, which is definitely a technology-first initiative. Whole Foods wasn’t responding to a need, it was trying to create one by experimenting with what technology can do.
These are all examples of businesses that most certainly aren’t buggy whip makers. If you’re more interested in what technology can do for your business and your customers, instead of seeing technology as something to keep you ticking along, you’re not a buggy whip maker either.
Once you’ve established that, it’s time to start thinking about how to embrace being a competitive, tech-first company. Then you’ll find the road to success in digital commerce far easier to travel.
At Emporix, we’re dedicated to helping companies with a tech-first mindset get the most out of e-commerce. To find out more about composable commerce and our digital commerce platform, get in touch today.