While attending New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology, Ryan Gellis accepted an internship coding e-commerce software. It wasn’t long after that he became one of the top-ranked Magento certified PLUS developers in the United States. His entrepreneurial streak soon took hold, and with partner Mike Caruso he began building Robofirm into a world-class e-commerce development company. From his office in New York City, Ryan discussed digital commerce and the value of creating an omni-channel business using customer-centric data.

What e-commerce trends have you seen emerge recently?

Actually, two major trends have started to converge and are driving a different type of e-commerce experience.

It starts with mobile responsive. E-mail and search are pushing people to websites that need to function across multiple screens. Mobile responsive technology is the new architecture that allows people to shop from their phones, computers or even in the store, and have an experience designed specifically for that environment.

Which brings me to the second point, omni-channel. By that I mean, customers having an integrated brand experience across all devices and shopping locations. So a customer can get a coupon on their phone, use it at the website or in the store itself. Or if a purchase is made online, they can pick it up at the closest location. Or maybe they want to buy something that has gone out of stock at a store location but can be offered the option to order it online right in the store.

These two customer-centric trends are working hand-in-hand and allow technology to support a company’s infrastructure.

What e-commerce tools do you use to support these customer-centric trends?

First of all, Magento. Bigger (e-commerce) platforms like Oracle ATG, Hybris or Demandware provide the building blocks but ultimately require companies to make everything from scratch. There are no out-of-box versions or standardization. That’s what is so powerful about Magento. It’s a flexible base technology that can be easily extended, and turned it into something better, without a team of 40 developers.

I also like a search technology suite called Nextopia. 20% of customers convert on catalog search. Nextopia has built-in algorithms that learn what your customers are searching for and then optimizes the results. It doesn’t require a lot of baby-sitting and is great for mid-level companies.

Aside from building and maintaining e-commerce platforms, what other concerns are your clients looking to address?

One big concern is how to scale without spending dramatic amounts of money on new hardware. We have set solutions for that and it’s an easy question to answer depending on the client’s needs.

But the biggest concern for everyone is, “how do I make more money?” What our clients need to make more money is always different, of course, but the concern is the same.

For us, as developers and business intelligence consultants, it starts with data. I am always surprised when companies that contact us have not answered some basic questions:

– What are the KPIs (key performance indicators)?

– What has been happening year over year?

– Where has the budget been focused and what are the results?

Understanding our client’s data is the top priority. Then we can help create the most relevant experience for their customers.

What tips can you provide to e-commerce managers who want to improve their platforms and customer experiences?

Ask yourself these questions: who’s on my site, and how are they shopping? Address just those two things, and you don’t have to think much more about how to organize your day-to-day — those two principals will guide it. Think customer-centric rather than order-centric. I am surprised that the technology around these principals is still so weak. It’s ludicrous that e-commerce managers have to rely on 3rd party systems to collect robust customer data. At this point it should be built right into the platform. It’s one of the problems we are solving for at Robofirm.

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