Special Episode: Scaling Businesses During a Pandemic


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Greg Nokes is a Master Technical Architect at Heroku, and he's interviewing a returning guest, Ryan Townsend, the CTO of SHIFT Commerce. SHIFT Commerce is an e-commerce PaaS that provides an online space for businesses to host their websites and sell their goods. Their customers aren't exclusively virtual; some of them have brick-and-mortar shops which have had to shut down due to COIVD. As the volume of online ordering increased, some of these businesses noticed that their distribution centers couldn't keep up with the orders. This was due both to pent up demand as well as social distancing guidelines slowing the pace of operations.

Working with these retailers, SHIFT Commerce came up with a rather simple solution: when an online order was placed, the platform would check to see whether a store closer to the customer already had the item they bought. If it did, then the customer would get their item shipped locally, rather than from the distribution center. This had several benefits: it saved the business money; it reduce emissions from vehicles driving all around the country; and it preserved the retail employees' jobs, as their tasks shifted from ringing up customers to selecting and packing shipments.

Implementing the technical algorithm to perform this logic took just about a week; after that proof of concept, it took another four to six weeks to build a full fledged microservices that's completely API driven. The components used to design this were technologies that SHIFT Commerce had already invested in: Postgres, Redis, Apache Kafka, and so on. Ryan suggests that software companies always be prepared for unexpected changes, such as a new competitor entering the market. Having the flexibility to make decisions with agility helped SHIFT Commerce pivot and respond quickly to external changes, such as COVID.

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