Buy or build? Securing competitive edge for ecommerce businesses

October 10th 2022

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For online retailers, making smart investments in technology is essential both for competitive gain and for customer retention. But as they develop their strategies, success depends on choosing whether to purchase off-the-shelf tech or build it themselves


The explosion of choice for online shoppers means businesses are under immense pressure to keep ahead of the competition. Building and retaining competitive advantage is ever harder, as smart competitors continue to emerge by the week. Firms need to consistently attract more customers and keep them spending money, but this requires enormous investment in the right areas.

“Loyalty is hard to win, and is dependent upon the ability to predict customer needs and expectations and meet them effectively,” says Mark Fisher, chief commercial officer at Ciklum.

"It is essential to harness data in order to understand your consumers and create relevant, frictionless journeys

Online retailers succeeding in this environment include the biggest household names offering frictionless experiences, which reflect what customers want at any given moment. Such businesses make buying enjoyable and easy, with “a set-up that is absolutely tailored to customer needs,” explains Fisher. “This is the only way to delight customers, create amazing shopping experiences and grow loyalty.”

In sharp contrast, some rivals are stuck with a complex buying process, confusing customer journeys and poor service, which results in customers not coming back. “Any firms not getting this right can be sure their main competitors will,” Fisher adds.

Achieving personalisation

Companies yield 40% more revenue, according to McKinsey, when personalisation is at the heart of their customer journey. Consumers presented with content and products relevant to them are continually more likely to spend with that brand. For companies, the ongoing development of their platform and applications is now absolutely necessary in matching these needs.

In today’s multifaceted, multi-platform world, however, achieving consistently relevant personalisation is becoming particularly complex, given the many personas and their very varied ways of researching or buying products. And when presented with extensive choice, people change their minds more frequently than ever before. Personalisation, therefore, has to be at the cutting edge if it is to work.

To compete well with a personalised offering, brands need to understand consumer behaviour and need to continuously add new features as customer demands and expectations change. “It is essential to harness data in order to understand your consumers and create relevant, frictionless journeys,” Fisher says.

Ensuring agility

Businesses may be tempted by off-the-shelf products and solutions in a bid to solve these challenges quickly. However, integrating and customising them can be far from straightforward. “That approach is highly problematic, as platforms are unlikely to be responsive to real-time, changing needs,” Fisher explains. “Keeping ahead of competition requires continuous platform innovation. This is hard to achieve with off-the-shelf vendors that have their own release timelines and priorities around new functionality.”

This need for greater agility is resulting in the uptake of bespoke platform development, Fisher argues. “When you go onto a great platform or application, that sets the bar for every other one you use. This sheer pace at which consumer expectations are evolving is tipping the scales towards building rather than buying.”

Nevertheless, when businesses attempt to build their platforms, going it alone in-house tends to be slow and costly, and requires a wealth of extra expertise. Increasingly, successful companies are tackling this by bringing in outside help from the start. “Choosing to build, with the right support from experts, is key to doing this well and efficiently,” Fisher notes. “Harnessing the knowledge and expertise of those who have done this before is an obvious choice.”

Success in practice

Successful design and implementation of the build process means companies require the right mix of technology, methodologies and people. Many are turning to Ciklum, an industry-
recognised leader in custom platform development. Ciklum deliver industry-redefining platforms through agile development and the application of future-proof delivery methodologies.

“A key part of our work is integrating teams into our clients’ operations to foster agility and ensure effective collaboration,” says Fisher. Ciklum’s consultants work closely with the client and their end customers to design and build a tailored product roadmap. This is underpinned by multiple data points to ensure that platform development is driven by what their consumers want.

"Companies increasingly recognise they are wise to step away from off-the-shelf platforms that can’t keep up with customers’ changing expectations

Companies working with Ciklum to achieve such targeted, rapid development include the online food ordering giant Just Eat, which currently partners with over 580,000 restaurants worldwide. Ciklum has helped Just Eat scale effectively and evolve their core product over the past decade. During this time they have helped to make changes such as post-acquisition system migrations, application improvements, the creation of self-service tools for partner restaurants, and simplified restaurant on-boarding. Ciklum also works closely with companies across a range of sectors, including consumer, gaming and banking to help them differentiate their experience.

The vast increase in competition and customer expectations means now is the time for companies to advance rapidly with dedicated technology. To establish and maintain success, online offerings must be able to appeal to customers’ specific needs and guide them without friction through entire engagement journeys.

“Companies increasingly recognise they are wise to step away from off-the-shelf platforms that can’t keep up with customers’ changing expectations,” Fisher concludes. “They know it’s time to focus on unlocking agility and bringing in the right expertise to build platforms that engage and delight consumers. Doing so builds powerful loyalty and reliable, sustainable success.”

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