The conversation started along the lines of a request for help. There was surplus inventory, food that is going bad, restaurants were closed, fine dining had all but disappeared. The surplus inventory was sitting in a warehouse, manufacturers were still churning out more and more goods, but no one was buying. It had to go somewhere, and it couldn’t be the trash.
This sounds like the start of a post-apocalyptic novel, but unfortunately it is part of the harsh reality we lived through during the first 6 months of this year. Even as businesses start to reopen and states kick the economy back into high gear, the reality of things, is that we may be faced with the same scenario yet again, likely before the year is over.
The food had to be sent somewhere, someone was likely to buy it, after all, who would want to see a beautiful tuna steak or marbled cheesecake go to waste? Enter the idea – how can perishable gourmet food be connected with those who want to continue experiencing fine dining quality meals at home?
It needed to be sold online, to a different audience than the manufacturers usually sold to.
A B2B bulk sales distributor had to find a way to get smaller quantities of the products to a consumer crowd – and fast. B2B sales done offline now had to be transformed into B2C sales done online.
Halfway across the Atlantic, a similar situation was playing out: local grocery stores which relied heavily on foot traffic were now closed, with tens of thousands of pounds of food which would go to waste within days if they weren’t consumed. Somehow, grocery items had to get to the consumers. People were forced to stay indoors. Surely, there had to be a way to distribute this food to the crowd somehow. Large grocery chains forced to close their doors were being faced with a looming challenge: start selling online or face losing money on wasted goods. The option? Find a way let local consumers place orders online and engage drivers to deliver the goods door to door. Fast.
Back in America, a cleaning supplies shop and small distributor was facing yet another, albeit similar challenge.
Amazon had banned the 3rd party sale of sanitizing products to prevent price gouging and the brick and mortar location was closed.
Consumers were desperately looking for these products, there was inventory to be distributed to these consumers, but there was no channel for distribution.
Again and again, businesses have faced a similar challenge over the past months, if they wanted to reopen their doors once the health crisis settled, business had to continue one way or another. The need to sell their goods and the consumer’s need to purchase the goods didn’t dissipate through closures, people were, and still are, looking to buy things they need. The shift from brick and mortar to online channels was already gaining traction, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic only sped up the inevitable: Businesses had to get online, start selling online and retain their customer base to prevent future financial damage – and fast.
There was only one small problem: most people were not prepared to pivot to online sales in the blink of an eye and worst yet, it was unlikely they could find a developer who could deploy an online store in less than a few weeks at best.
Sometime between late 2019 and early 2020, before the pandemic was on anyone’s radar, a few people across multiple teams had an idea to start developing some solution which could shave time off custom eCommerce application development, some Accelerator program.
Having mainly worked with Magento as a platform, teams were no strangers to complicated deployment scripts and commands creation.
By design, every new environment required some configuration file creation, some set of commands for data, code, configuration, theme, design, graphics and static content installation. DevOps engineers could spend anywhere from 3-4 days per environment up to 17, yes, 17. For anyone keeping track, that is nearly a full month of work for one environment. Now, if an application had multiple collaborators, multiple testing environments to support multiple stakeholder changes and version stacking, creating any type of automation was not even remotely possible. A normal project on Magento could take a minimum of 3-4 months at best to get to production and quite likely, upwards of $50,000 or more, often times reaching 6-digit figures for MVP was, well, normal.
Enter the crazy idea to bring some time savings to the environment creation. There was no sponsor, this had to be done internally and internally financed. When everyone is an indispensable resource, finding time for innovation outside of customer projects’ work is never easy. Eventually, little by little, the DevOps engineering team was coming together with some few hours here and there to get a less-than-ready-to-pilot solution.
All of a sudden, it was March 8th, 2020 and our CEO was visiting our office in the US, planning meetings throughout the week with customers Stateside. On the morning news all that was being said was how Italy was about to close their borders and fear eventually set in, he may not be able to return home to Poland if Europe announced border closures. In less than 7 days half of the many eCommerce stores our company was supporting in Development or Service Level Maintenance lifecycles halted the projects. New businesses were screaming for help, phones off the hooks in the US and Europe.
Was the Accelerator ready? Could it actually be possible to use in a real scenario for a billable project? We were about to find out.
The food distributor with surplus inventory was begging for help. It had to be fast, it had to be cheap and it had to sell. From a Friday call to a Monday Customer agreement signed with a Work Order in place, by Tuesday there was a store which only needed a catalog, images and to connect payment gateways to collect money for good sold.
The grocery store with local delivery was able to collect the first order within 2 weeks including a legal battle to prevent impact to potential competitors. Somehow, miraculously, within a short time, even custom logic for no payment collection and sending messages to drivers for order pickup was developed. And it worked.
A sanitizing products company was able to bypass Amazon’s restrictions. A day to deploy, a few hours to add some images, get a catalog up. Another day for testing. It was done. Less than a week.
The Accelerator worked. It was a solid foundation.
Built on Azure with a containerized setup and deployed through with Docker Image, it was proving to have way more value than saving 17 days off of an environment deployment script. It was a new way of working, it proved that there was a way to help customers not only get online fast but save valuable dollars when it mattered the most.
Remember those 3-4 months? Now it was less than 2 weeks. Those $50,000 to more than $100,000? Now it was less than $20,000 in the worst-case scenario. Business owners had to worry about not letting their employees go and how to make the next payroll, not about paying a steep development bill as part of their Digitization Program. With a global pandemic ravaging every corner of the world with no end in sight, digitization was inevitable. At least it doesn’t have to be as expensive and time consuming as it has been believed to be, and it is no longer only for the big guys. We have to get used to living in our new normal, we don’t know what this will be, but one thing is for sure, eCommerce is here to stay whether business owners are ready for it or not.
If you would like to more about projects such as this – please contact us at [email protected] (no “m” at the end 😊). ORBA has been featured as one of the top Near Shore Development Agencies of 2020, for additional ranking details visit Design Rush’s post here.