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Piruze Sabuncu

Developers: Singapore retailers' secret weapon for the holiday season

BY PIRUZE SABUNCU

As savvy shoppers look to the internet for their deals, the last quarter of the year is increasingly a crucial period for online retailers in Singapore. A runway of shopping festivals -- beginning in September with 9/9 followed by Singles Day in November, and then 12/12 -- is eclipsing the traditional Christmas shopping season.

In 2017, Lazada and Shopee reported record sales for their 24-hour shopping event, 9/9. This year, Alibaba reported spending of USD 30.8 billion in 24 hours, breaking e-commerce records worldwide. Singles Day has also gained enormous traction in Singapore, with one survey citing 935% growth in sales in Singapore. As these sales numbers make exciting headlines, a secret force driving retailers’ success - developers - are hidden from the spotlight.

From the social media ad that catches a customer’s eye to the final checkout experience on mobile or web, developers have an enormous impact on the path to purchase. According to research, a majority of Singaporeans (65%) will abandon a website if it takes too long to enter their payment information at checkout. This adds up to thousands if not millions of lost collective retail sales. Developers are best equipped to build smooth checkouts and prevent abandoned carts.

Unfortunately, retailers increasingly misdirect their engineering resources. Developers waste an inordinate amount of time addressing “technical debt” -- everything from refactoring to maintaining legacy systems. In fact, the report found that software engineers in Singapore spend an average of sixteen hours a week rewriting bad code, adding up to nearly $1.6 billion in lost productivity annually for the Singaporean economy.

To avoid this loss, retail leadership must take stock of where developers currently focus their time, and then assess whether these projects will add definitive business value, or eat away at limited resources. After all, developers are currently in short supply. Singapore will be short of one million skilled workers by 2030 - and most of these will be in the technology sector. In the face of this deficit, it’s mission critical that businesses effectively manage the engineering teams they already have.

Retailers face a unique challenge: not only are developers hard to come by, but they’re also responsible for building frictionless digital shopping experiences. Chris Halim, co-founder and CEO at Style Theory, an online clothing rental company, explains, ‘We offer designer clothing rental so clients naturally expect a premium service when they use our website or app. Every member of the tech team understands that having a stable infrastructure to serve customers, from browsing through to subscription and delivery is but a basic requirement.’

To help developers exceed customer expectations, retailers should outsource engineering tasks when possible. Retail developers don’t need to create their own identity management, communications, or payments systems from scratch. API-based services can tackle these infrastructural tasks for them. This would free developers up to spend more time on higher-impact projects, such as building creative loyalty programs or finding new ways to engage customers online.

Finally, in addition to buying instead of building when possible, retailers should involve developers in technology and business strategy conversations. When empowered to focus on revenue-driving initiatives, developers are force-multipliers. Halim stresses, ‘The real magic happens when we harness technology to enable a hyper personalised experience for our customers. Every day for our developers is an opportunity to create a truly pivotal platform for customers to discover fashion in a way that fits them best!’

By increasing the multiplying power of developers — the developer coefficient, if you will — retailers can make better use of their limited resources and focus their energies on exceeding even the most ambitious sales goals this holiday season. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Piruze Sabuncu

Piruze Sabuncu

Piruze Sabuncu is the Head of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong at Stripe.

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