Sustainable ecommerce growth has a complexity problem

At Shopify’s early Unite conferences, Tobi had a strong mission-statement that underpinned everything Shopify was doing at the time: helping aspiring business owners to “flatten the curve”.

This referred to the fact that starting, launching, and scaling a business required an exponential level of effort (a curve when charted over time). Shopify’s core mission was to change that.

I find myself 5 or so years later reflecting on that mission and I dare say we are not much farther along. In fact, in many ways, I would say it’s even harder and the curve is steeper than ever.

Shopify has done an excellent job of making it easier for people to start and launch an online store; but, acquiring your first, 10th, 100th, 1,000th customer, and beyond, is increasingly difficult.

You are competing with ever-more brands for people’s eyeballs, attention, wallets, and loyalty.

As more tools and platforms come onto the market, the barrage of things merchants can try to do to grow has becoming increasingly complex.

There are so many moving parts, it is harder than ever to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t—or, when things trend down, what the cause might be.

We have a plethora of data at our fingertips but are not much closer to having real clarity or actionable steps from that data. The reports and dashboards and widgets are interesting but rarely particularly useful—unless you have a dedicated person to focus on this.

Merchants have a bandwidth problem, which leads to juggling more and more balls and delegating ever-growing lists of things to a wider group of internal and external individuals and teams.

Because of the mounting complexity, having a clear plan is increasingly difficult as things move quickly and everything is constantly evolving—more often than not due to external triggers just beyond our control.

So, where does this leave us? How can we change the process?

We need to get back to basics. We need to have a relentless focus on simplicity—on foundational best-practices. We need to eliminate as many of the moving parts as possible to make it easier to diagnose problems and easier to identify the squeaky wheel or where to apply the grease.

The more moving parts—across ever-evolving teams, services, and platforms—the more complexity there is, which absolutely slows us down and hinders progress.

We need to adopt a “low-code”, “first-principles” mindset and shy away from strong opinions or personal preferences that require custom solutions to problems we don’t yet fully understand. We need to start simple and add complexity slowly—based on metrics and data and feedback.

Commerce is actually pretty simple: identify and create something that enough people need or want, produce and distribute it for less than people are prepared to pay for it, find and connect with those people, and make it easy for them to come back for more, buy for others, and/or tell their friends.

It’s not super complicated and we have all the tools we need to succeed.

But, for lots valid of reasons, we too quickly pile on increasing layers of complexity to the point where we are blocked from growing—because it becomes too hard to make meaningful changes and/or it’s unclear what needs to change.

Rather than thinking about and trying to understand the complexity, maybe, instead, step back and try to reflect on where you can simplify—and get back to fundamental basics.

Then, move forward from there with a renewed sense of clarity and focus.

Need help distilling clarity from all the noise? I would love to chat.

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