How Serverless Computing Empowers Retailers to Focus on Competitive Differentiation

A recent Forrester State of DX research report noted that digital experience professionals are looking to move more front-end development in-house, while moving both operations and tech infrastructure/support to outsourced solutions. 

This is in line with what Amazon CTO Werner Vogels separates as the activities “that are part of a company’s secret sauce” and activities we refer to as “undifferentiated heavy lifting, which are tasks that must get done but don’t provide competitive advantage.” 

Having a strong grasp of this separation is the key to innovating in a highly competitive retail environment. Resources and time spent on undifferentiated activities should be highly scrutinized. The latest technology trend in line with this philosophy is the shift to serverless.

What is the Serverless?

Serverless computing is a model where digital organizations shift their responsibility and ownership of hidden activities that go along with programming to another party, for the sake of minimizing complexity.

When you think of software development, the actual activity that typically comes to mind is the programming – where a talented team of software engineers are furiously coding at their laptops. However, there are a lot of hidden complexities beyond the visible programming activities. In serverless computing, the complexities that are being hidden are the need to manage actual servers (as the name implies!). 

Managing servers adds the overhead of updating operating systems and application servers, managing networking, configuring load balancing, and figuring out how to make this all work when traffic demands fluctuate. Serverless computing removes the need to think about these additional complexities.

The Evolution of Retail’s Operational Responsibility Model

Operational responsibility models in commerce have evolved over the years, and each evolution has enabled those organizations that adapt to go faster and optimize outputs from their technical team (or partner). Keeping up with these evolutions is imperative to surviving. With each transition, we see the death of businesses who weren’t able to move quickly enough to keep up.




We see a clear progression of how retailers and brands are moving more of the responsibility model outside of their domain, while doubling down on owning the core customer-facing applications, such as the front-end, as a way to control their destiny in driving efficiency and scale. 

Rather than focusing on things like scalability and security, which are the same across every retailer, teams can spend their time on projects that enhance the brand experience. For example, quickly creating pop-up microsites for limited edition products, better enabling regional or brand teams to own and improve their unique localized experiences, experimenting with the impact of emerging front-end technologies like AMP and visual search, running more multi-variate tests and experiments, reworking how rich content is displayed and how content workflows are operationalized, or doubling down on front-end performance optimizations. 

In this serverless world, you can see how your team would be more focused by removing a large set of responsibilities and distractions.

Where Retail Will Fall on the Serverless Adoption Curve

In Google Cloud and DORA’s recent State of DevOps 2019 Report, the researchers highlighted that retail was the only industry that had a notable impact on the speed and stability of software delivery in the last year – unlike other verticals like Financial Services, Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals or Media/Entertainment. 

They noted that “when we consider the crushing competitive environment of the retail industry – termed the retail apocalypse following a decade of steady closures – this should come as no surprise”. To stay alive and competitive, retailers and brands were naturally driven to “excel at delivering profitability, productivity, and customer satisfaction”.

This natural drive in retail will result in brands in this space embracing the latest technology trends and competitive advantages ahead of other verticals. Retail was a strong early adopter of the lift and shift to move on-premise systems to containers and public cloud, as well as an early adopter of moving to SaaS ecommerce solutions and the multitude of marketing technologies. This helped mitigate the barriers to success around hiring highly skilled operational staff, and fighting to appropriately budget for their ongoing expenses at a lower economy of scale. 

The result of embracing such changes was higher agility and better time to market. So we can expect that retailers who adopt the emerging popularity of a serverless will continue to lead the pack. 

Own Your Customer Experience, Offload the Rest 

If you want to see how serverless could be applied to owning your front-end, Mobify’s Front-end Platform as a Service embraces this model for empowering enterprise businesses. With a dedicated front-end platform, your team only has to worry about a lean front-end codebase, instead of scaling the entire operational stack. A full production-grade environment that includes content delivery networks, auto-scaling infrastructure, secure networking and up to the minute monitoring is available to your team with the click of a button, so you can get to focusing on the differentiating customer experience.

Get in touch to learn more. 

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