In September 2020, Piotr Karwatka and I launched the CTO-CTO Podcast, an audio experience for those looking to stay ahead and learn from the best in the sphere of technology in eCommerce. 

As of today, we have already had 18 experts share their stories with us, ranging from stories of struggle and doubt to inspiring tales of international success and impressive technological breakthroughs. We decided that the beginning of 2021 is a good time to start breaking down these conversations into specific themes they all have in common. We’ve also prepared a YouTube playlist so you can listen to these one by one. 

Although each guest is different, and each story is unique in its own way, there are some questions that we like to ask in each episode, and as Piotr says, he’s never heard the same answer twice. 

One of the questions we’d like to start with is a question about the current trends, and hot topics in eCommerce technology. Each of our 10 technology experts has given us their own perspective on what technology trend is over or underrated and where the industry is headed in 2021 and beyond.

1. Ulrike Mueller – eCommerce thought leader, former co-founder of Demandware

Ulrike Mueller gives us the perspective of today’s retailers and businesses in the modern world and emphasizes the difficulty of building your entire company’s digital experience full- stack placing her bet on headless commerce solutions.

“I think the obvious trend we see everywhere is headless. In the monolithic approach, as a retailer, you say: ‘I want to sell online and hire an agency and have them manage everything for me’. But that doesn’t work.

If you want to be a modern business and really tackle and leverage online channels you have to be a digital company and take ownership of the digital processes. And ownership of the digital processes is only possible if you have your own team. Your own team builds and creates these digital experiences.

But nobody can build it full-stack. It’s too much effort. So the model is that headless services provide the business logic, and your base and the internal teams are assembling experiences. That’s how I would describe it, and that’s where the future is going.”

2. Steffen Sandner – Digital Intelligence Director at Marc O’Polo

Steffen Sandner on the other hand thinks that there is no such thing as one specific trend in 2021. According to him, with so many industries moving into the online world, getting the marriage between business and technology right is where the trick lies.

“First of all, I think there’s not a technology trend exclusively for eCommerce anymore. Real-time decisions are the key to success in the future. I would involve the data science technologies as heavy topics we need to be in control of.

That is always followed by ethical discussions, so when the decisions are not made by humans anymore, and most mission-driven, we need to find a new purpose for the workforce. Even within a fashion company, I think that discussion needs to be led by people understanding both aspects of business and technology.

So we will need to create new rules within the companies as well, and technology is just in the driver’s seat right now and we need to be ready for the speed that will be created in the future.”

3. Matt Gorniak – CEO of Threekit

Matt Gorniak, the CEO of Threekit has been an Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality enthusiast for years now, even if the world is still catching up with those technologies. He explains why, out of those two, AR is the next big thing in terms of eCommerce.

We’re fans of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. With VR, Obviously, there’s a whole community around it. They’re doing amazing and crazy stuff. But from the perspective of a user like me, as a user out in the world, it’s a lot easier for me to use AR.

To currently take my phone, my iPad, and point it at the environment and get what I want out of it, rather than fully immerse myself in it. Thanks to AR, we’re gonna invite eCommerce into our house.

4. Peter Lepeska – CTO of Acceleration Research Technologies (ViaSat)

Peter Lepeska sees the microservices trend as not just pertaining to building eCommerce platforms, but also as a thought and design process trend that is affecting more industries and services, outside of online shopping.

“I think one of the exciting things happening out there is kind of taking the Internet of Things and the API’s on top of the infrastructure, so that machines can talk to machines so that, for instance, our infrastructure could be accessed by any arbitrary third party and thereby innovate and create a market for our resource.

I think that that kind of thought process has really transformed the way we build, even the kind of experimental ideas we have. With things like microservices, micro front-ends, we’re trying to focus on these kinds of durable, reusable building blocks. And I think this mindset is affecting not just ViaSat, but I think a lot of other companies as well.

5. Boris Lokschin – CEO and co-founder of Spryker

In a post-pandemic world, Boris Lokschin sees plenty of opportunities and unoccupied space for those industries that have not moved their transactions online just yet. This means an expansion of eCommerce beyond what we today consider as “retail-ish”, and highlights the new “transactional” category.

What is the next big thing for enterprise eCommerce software?

“We see it now moving beyond the commoditized verticals. When it comes to every vertical beyond the traditional “retail-ish” ones that we know, where it’s not about the typical category page, product, page, cart, checkout kind of user experience. I think they are just about to build and figure it out.

Be it for food and beverages, be it for marketplace type of businesses. Be it for subscription type of businesses for hardware manufacturers. Be it for sports clubs who try to monetize the fan, the 360 kind of way. Be it for the airline, airport transportation kind of businesses.

That’s why we like the “transactional” term so much because it doesn’t imply necessarily that it is this eCommerce type of experience, it just implies that you have a certain set of capabilities that you provide that could be the engine for whatever happens behind it. Personally, I know I’m very excited about the potential within the IoT space (Internet of Things).

I think smart devices, where, e.g. as a hardware manufacturer, you have the ability to get rid of all the in-between companies, e.g. between you selling the printer and the customer or you selling the drilling machine and the customer. I think this is very, very exciting and I see it coming a lot.”

6. Carsten Thoma – co-founder of Hybris (SAP CX)

Carsten’s opinion follows the same train of thought, but from a more financial perspective. He sees the potential to move even more transactions online looking globally and sees the scalability of this reality as both an issue and opportunity for technology in eCommerce that will need to be solved in the next 10 years.

“In the end, the equation might be fairly simple. We still have a very small percentage of the transactional volume that is going through commerce platforms. And I think the assumption is that at one point it looks inverse, right? That at one point 85% go through online and 15% are not within a commerce platform.

This is probably the reality 10 more years down the road, maybe sooner, maybe later. I don’t know. But if you make that assumption, there’s a long, long phase coming where you have to solve the issues coming from the increase in complexity, mass data, process optimization.

These are all elements that for now are still underrepresented in commerce platforms and there’s a lot of markets that are still completely underserved. And even the markets that you would consider mature are not mature, because the numbers are still small compared to what they could be.”

7. Adam Sturrock – co-founder of Motlin

Adam Sturrock is always on the lookout for the next big thing, and according to him, microservices needs to give way to the new, much more precise term #composable commerce.

Which technology trends are over and which are under hyped?

“I feel like microservices or in other words the concept of “size of a service” is a bit of a hype. It helps to have a conversation between the difference between a monolith and a micro service, but each product and service is of a different size.

If you look at commercetools it’s a suite of services, for example. Yes, they could be microservices, but you could also think of commercetools as a whole entity that is kind of like a macroservice, in that it has lots of microservices together.

They’re not necessarily as a full monolith, but they’re kind of some quasi in between. And as products mature and get bigger, they get more features and more services added. So that’s why you’re seeing the rise of the term composable commerce.”

8. Eli Finkelstein- founder and CEO at Constructor.io

Eli Finkelsteyn, being a search engine expert gives a very specific perspective on the future of search engine technology, with an emphasis on #vector search and the continuous improvement of multilingual search accuracy.

What is the next big thing for Search in eCommerce?

“That’s a really good question. I think there’s a lot of really interesting things happening in the realms of vector search. One of the big problems in eCommerce search is if you’re doing traditional keyword matching, you’re matching on keywords that happened to exist in a term but aren’t really relevant to that product.

This is like somebody searching for an iPhone and getting an iPhone case. Like, does it have that word iPhone? Sure, it does. But, you’ve got this other piece that adds a different meaning to it. It’s that “case” word. With vector search you’re basically learning about the words that are neighboring each individual word, giving it context.

As you start doing that, you start solving that problem of those irrelevant results that are coming back just based on keyword matching in a very automated way. To me, that’s where things are headed in the future.”

9. Tim Neutkens – Next.js lead and co-author

From the perspective of Tim the future is looking bright, especially if you’re a developer. Serverless API’s and Web Apps are the movement of the future according to this young tech expert.

I feel like we’re in a good spot right now. There’s a lot of different frameworks being built. You have a lot to choose from as a developer currently. You can build applications in different ways and also deploy them in different ways. But I think we’re going to see increasingly serverless application frameworks.”

10. Sasha Vidiborskiy – Principal at Atomico 

We’ve also included a Venture Capital investor perspective here, for all you looking to have your tech startup succeed in the near future. According to Sasha, it’s not really about how revolutionary the technology you bring is, but how well you are able to execute the idea that matters in today’s world.

Is there any ideal startup, team, product, or technology you are looking for at the moment? 

I think that at the early stage, at series A there is nothing ideal. Because if you find something ideal, you probably missed something and that’s just the way it works. And I think that’s the biggest thing that one has to learn to become a VC is how to be okay with things that are not perfect.

So from that perspective, I think what I’ve refined for myself is that I want to be damn sure in the team and in their capabilities everything else might not be as good as the team, but the team and their vision should be as good as possible.

Ideas change, markets change, times change many things really, from timing to a particular product. And if the team is a plus, um, type they will figure it out. Because obviously there are so many cases where everything was right, but the team was not able to deliver on that.

Agata Solecka

Audio and podcast producer with 4+ years experience. She is the co-host and producer of the CTO-CTO Podcast, a series of interviews with leading technology experts. She is passionate about audio production, sustainable business and loves Asian cuisine.

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