eCommerce Technical Debt: Good vs. Bad
Quick Summary Technical debt is a decision to make tradeoffs within the code in order to ship features that meet business needs on time. It isn't necessarily a bad thing .. prudent technical debt is good debt. Reckless debt isn’t.
With tech layoffs and inflation-driven recession taking over the headlines in 2022, companies across different industries unfold 2023 on somewhat shaky grounds. When it comes to eCommerce, this brings us to talk about resourcing and technical debt - one of the most important topics to visit moving into the new year.
What is Technical debt?
Simply put, technical debt refers to the “cost of rework” that businesses need to pay for miscalculated decisions in the development and deployment processes that were made to deliver the end digital solution quicker. It basically happens as a result of prioritizing speedy delivery over code quality.
Think of it as any other kind of debt, a financial loan for example; taking out a loan will allow you to make significant investments such as buying a property quicker but it has to be paid down the line at some point. If you fail to do so, the interest will continue to accrue.
Having said that, technical debt is a decision to make tradeoffs within the code in order to ship features that meet business needs on time. This is very common in software launches and eCommerce development where, thanks to the landscape that is becoming more competitive by the day, delivery is often thought of as a marathon and not a sprint. However, having too much technical debt makes it more challenging to deliver new features in the long run; businesses will often hit a technological wall where maintenance of the existing (unoptimized) code takes a daunting amount of effort and time from your team.
All in all, technical debt is not necessarily a bad thing! Prudent technical debt is good debt. Reckless debt isn’t.
When is eCommerce technical debt a good debt?
eCommerce technical debt, just like the loan example mentioned above, does not have to be a negative phenomenon. Without it, many projects would never have come to life.
A carefully outlined eCommerce technical debt empowers online businesses to test the waters, hit some of their business goals quicker and at a relatively reduced cost, and understand the market and consumer persona they are dealing with at an earlier stage.
Building a Minimal Viable Product (MVP): Developing an MVP for your newfangled eCommerce business idea will play an important role in verifying your idea, optimizing development resources, testing your chosen eCommerce platform and its ability to meet your goals, attracting your first customers, and getting the word out about your offerings promptly. In such a case, you can accumulate technical debt until you’re in a solid position to spend and pay it back.
Conscious risk-taking when introducing new features: If you already have an established eCommerce presence, introducing new features such as product drops releases, AI and raffles might be perceived as risky until you get a sense of adoption from your customers. Knowing that you can change things later, technical debt allows decision-makers to take the plunge to test new features that can then be further worked on once proven beneficial to the business.
Time-efficient resourcing: Deciding to move forward with technical debt, allows your project managers to flexibly allocate the development resources efficiently to focus mainly on the timely delivery of digital solutions. With the right agency and product managers on your side, a clear roadmap for testing, monitoring, and creating an agile plan for initial and post-launch deployment is crucial. The goal is to ensure the eCommerce technical debt is revisited and assessed often.
Faster return on investment: In a good scenario, quicker time-to-market reaps quicker return; just like with the mentioned financial loan example. Effective management of eCommerce technical debt involves paying it off with the ROI it generates.
When is eCommerce technical debt a bad debt?
Achieving technical debt freedom is not always going to be possible. In fact, in fast-paced industries like eCommerce, having little to no eCommerce technical debt might signal that you are not moving quickly enough. The question that decision-makers often have to answer is: How can you mitigate the risk of technical debt for your eCommerce business?
The inability to fully assess the technical debt: Before incurring technical debt, it is important to examine its size, impact on your business, and associated risks. The more technical debt you take on, the harder it is to keep track of it and pay it off.
Decreased Brand Image: Launching an MVP for the storefront or a new feature might be a good temporary strategy to test the waters, but the question is is it good “enough” for today’s rising eCommerce standards and consumer expectations?”.
Limits scalability: It is no doubt that a clean code helps make the next iteration and improvement easier to implement; taking the route of technical debt and producing unoptimized code for the sake of deliverability will constrain the introduction of new eCommerce features.
To avoid accumulating bad eCommerce technical debt, brands must evaluate their current eCommerce platforms. If your current platform isn’t innovating for you, then every new upgrade will cost you more. If you are on a platform that requires you to build every feature from the ground up, more debt will accrue. If it takes too long to launch a storefront, the same will happen. Therefore, it’s not very surprising for forward-looking brands to prefer platforms like Shopify Plus over other enterprise platforms that can take over 24 months to have a storefront up and running whereas it could be done in under 12 months with Shopify Plus - and at less than half the cost.
Now that we are approaching the end of the year, many online merchants tend to revisit the performance of their digital storefront and their eCommerce platform as a whole. In a lot of cases, Avex gets approached by eCommerce merchants who are facing technological and system limitation that is ceasing their profitability and their ability to scale. In cases like those, a clear assessment of technical debt should be performed; oftentimes, one must ask: “Is it worth continuing to invest in a solution burdened with technical debt, or is it better to abandon it and build it from scratch?” and that’s usually when conversation about investing in a new eCommerce platform arises.
Are you evaluating your technical debt and the performance of your eCommerce Platform?
At Avex, we specialize in the eCommerce migration of Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Magento storefronts to Shopify Plus, seamlessly and securely. Our high-growth clients leverage the power of the world's most scalable e-commerce platform to grow their businesses. Unlimited bandwidth, 99.98% uptime, PCI compliance, and an intuitive backend system allows you to focus on your brand, not on the tech.