SaaS Customer Success Blog

Avoiding Tech Debt in eCommerce Businesses & Websites

technical debtI've consulted with dozens of ecommerce businesses to help them create more efficient sales and marketing funnels and drive revenue. These businesses range from public companies to small, single-person entrepreneurs selling hand-made sweaters. Frequently, the biggest challenge we come up against in trying to grow their business is that they have an insane amount of technology debt that they're simply unable to work against to move froward.

Two Very Different Examples of Very Nasty Tech Debt

1) At a big public travel company, they were unable to institute an effective cross-sell methodology in the checkout flow due to the silo'd people and technology organizational structure of the company. Cars never talked to Hotel never talked to Flight. They rolled up to one COO, but didn't functionally alight in their people or tech stacks.

This meant that when competitors started making bundles off bundles (sorry), this company was left out to dry and it took them about a year to rewrite sufficiently to do table-stakes level dynamic packaging. Meanwhile, competitors dusted them on cross-sell and in the public markets.

2) At a small, 8-person motorcycle parts company, the owners were unable to get their small 2-person tech team to revise their product database to grow their traffic to their parts pages. When they had first created the database, they simply imported manufacturer's descriptions and information, and didn't customize it to their own. Anyone who knows a lick about SEO knows this means big trouble for organic search volume; so they had to do a big content rewrite of their database.
For this small team, this was a ton of work, and about 16 months later, they're still at it. They're currently realizing gains from the work they've already done, but a 30k+ part catalog takes a long, long time to rewrite. They're also rewriting it themselves as opposed to outsourcing it, to make sure it was done right the second time around.

What Do Both Cases of eCommerce Tech Debt Have In Common?

In both cases, mistakes were made at early stage decisions that were actively costing both organizations money. At the time, they may not have realized these were in fact decisions, even. But in both cases, the problems were created by a lack of forward-looking vision and education; perhaps enough to simply recognize a decision was being made. In both cases, the common thread wasn't the nature of the business or the disposition of the leaders - it's just that people make mistakes like this unless they deliberately, knowingly avoid them.

With better planning and up-front education could both organizations have avoided the above problems? Maybe, maybe not. But because tech debt is so profoundly expensive for eCommerce businesses, I'm a big proponent of more planning in the initial stages, more learning about what risks the business could encounter, and more talking to experts. This is largely in an effort to reduce the technical debt a year or two down the road when someone realizes "oh crap", and you're a year deep in work to turn it around, instead of a week deep in learning prior to setting up the business.

Those of us watching and interacting with ecommerce over the past 20 years have become rightfully enamored with the ease of setting up an online storefront and making a quick buck. But once the business is at scale and you need to make two bucks from each of your current ones, a little bit more up front planning could really save you a lot of time and revenue loss to competitors.

Topics: ecommerce