As more people head online instead of into a store, forward-thinking retail software strategies no longer belong on a wish list, but on a to-do list. A critical piece of that strategy has emerged with progressive delivery of software — i.e., the ability to gradually roll out new features online or even in-store. Progressive delivery techniques are allowing leading retailers to stay ahead of the competition by enabling safe experimentation, granular control of new feature releases, and improving the shopping experience for customers.
Exponential Growth of E-Commerce
While brick-and-mortar stores are still going strong, their online counterparts are getting more and more digital traffic. The United States Census Bureau recently announced its e-commerce estimates from 2021. Online sales increased 9.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to the same quarter in 2020. Online sales accounted for 12.9 percent of total retail sales. Clearly a sound online strategy is key to retail success, specifically including software delivery that allows retailers the flexibility to make changes in sync with customers’ desires. As customers’ needs adjust, adopting progressive delivery techniques can help monitor and adapt software features to boost sales both online and in-store.
Reducing Risk; Increasing Options
Leading retailers have started successfully implementing progressive delivery to reduce risk and test more features using feature flags. Feature flags allow for the change in behavior of a feature in real time while it’s live with customers. Retailers can toggle new features on and off, and control who sees them and when. In contrast, most companies are releasing software in a “big bang” format, where all features are released to all customers in one fell swoop. By rolling out features gradually, retailers can better analyze how they're received by small groups of users. If there’s a problem with a feature post-rollout, companies can trigger a quick kill-switch before their whole user base experiences it.
The flexibility of feature flags allows for extensive testing of new features. Successful retailers are optimizing their web experience by rolling out new features, seeing which ones work best, and subsequently rolling them out to all users — all without stopping or rewriting existing code. Progressive delivery also allows for better customer feedback, since it comes a little at a time (much more manageable) and from a controlled audience. More testing and more feedback allows retailers to land on high-quality features and get them to their end users faster.
Additionally, the format of feature flags is meant to disrupt existing code as little as possible. Retailers can make quick changes like online pricing updates with minimal overhead. The flexibility and speed allows for greater collaboration and analytics across engineering, product teams and end customers.
Personalizing the Customer Experience
Every retailer knows that it’s not just about offering great products; it’s about providing a seamless and engaging shopping experience to customers. With progressive delivery, businesses can release features to different audience segments — at the same time or on a rolling basis. Retailers can personalize their pages for certain locations, languages or other demographics like age and gender, creating customized experiences for subsets of their customer base.
Feature flags also allow for a smoother and more efficient shopping experience. With the extensive testing enabled by progressive delivery, e-commerce sites don’t have to undergo code overhauls as frequently, or massive rollbacks should features fail. This keeps shoppers browsing smoothly and checkouts running seamlessly.
Testing at Scale
While A/B testing is certainly not the new kid on the block, testing at the enterprise scale just hasn’t been manageable for the average retailer without progressive delivery. With cutting-edge feature management technology, however, testing features is much more achievable as it puts less strain on product teams. Online retailers can finally optimize their sites efficiently and safely, informed by real-time customer feedback.
The bottom line is the online shopping game has changed and progressive delivery is quickly becoming the MVP. It’s time for retailers to adopt feature flags and start creating the more nimble, customized shopping experiences their customers want.
Nick Rendall is the senior product marketing manager at CloudBees, an enterprise software delivery company.
Nick Rendall is the senior product marketing manager at CloudBees, an enterprise software delivery company. Nick has worked on the Feature Management product team at CloudBees since 2020 and previously held roles focused around IT Operations at Micro Focus and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, but has concluded that DevOps is more fun. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two toddlers.