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How agencies can protect retailers from technical debt

Scarlett Reeves

Technical debt is a silent killer, but it’s a killer all the same. It has potentially serious consequences for ecommerce agencies and retailers if they aren’t careful about the platforms they choose.

It also highlights how hugely important software support and future-proofing are in helping to create ecommerce enterprises that are viable in the long-term.

What is technical debt?

Technical debt is something you accumulate when you cut corners to bring your software to market. Essentially, it comes from the trade-off between the benefits of rapid delivery and the long-term value of the thing you’re delivering.

If a technical team is working on a project that has a looming deadline, then they may take on technical debt to meet this deadline. If you add the highly competitive market pressures of software development into this equation, then you can see how technical debt occurs. 

Technical debt will, ultimately, have consequences within the codebase of a given system design, software architecture or development, when that codebase becomes outdated.

And, like other forms of debt, if it’s allowed to accumulate, then the problems will multiply.

But there is one critical difference here. While the developer might accumulate technical debt in the first place, it is the ecommerce agent or retailer who gets landed with the consequences. 

The impact of technical debt on ecommerce

What if the ecommerce platform you’re using is accumulating technical debt that you’re not aware of? For example, it could have a defect that has slipped through testing and is causing your site to slow down. A slower site will have an impact on your conversion rate. 

But shouldn’t someone be doing something about this?

Imagine this scenario: a software platform requires an update on its codebase, but due to time pressures, developers do not take this opportunity to make other required changes at the same time. The changes they leave out mean that technical debt builds.

 Eventually, the platform becomes cumbersome and overburdened. But it’s too far gone for the developers to address these issues. Instead, they bring out a whole new version of the platform.

But the existing users of the old platform are stuck with the technical debt, and no easy path to an upgrade, without wholesale migration.

Sound familiar?

Technical debt has the potential to lead to all sorts of headaches for ecommerce sites, from bugs to security issues. And it builds up behind the scenes, out of sight, but waiting in the wings to hamper and disrupt ecommerce sites. 

Passing the buck

What, of course, should happen, is that software developers and engineers put their houses in order and get to grips with technical debt.

Yes, a fix might not seem appropriate at a given time, but not going back to address it eventually means that you’re effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul.

But the same commercial pressures and impulses that drive the accumulation of technical debt in the first place can also lead to buck-passing. Because the mess is too big, or expensive, for developers to go back and sort out, they shift the burden of the problem onto agencies and retailers. 

And the only option they’re left with is to re-platform.

What should agencies do to protect their retailers?

It’s about choosing the right platform in the first place. Some cloud-based ecommerce platforms, such as Shopify, can minimise potential technical debt issues, but this comes with costs of a different kind.

It depends on how much control of their online store the retailer wants to retain, and how dependent they wish to be on the platform they’re using.

On the other hand, finding the right hosted solution, one that offers the right degree of support, can offer ecommerce traders greater autonomy, but without any hidden technical debt issues.

An agency checklist for just such a platform should include:

  • Access to source codes
  • Constantly maintained and improved software tools
  • A lean and efficient operating core

That’s exactly the kind of platform we’re offering at Aero. We’ve designed it to minimise the effects of technical debt, and provide a future-proof platform for our partner agencies.

For more insight into making ecommerce better for everyone, follow Aero on LinkedIn.

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