The paradox of increasingly “powerful” ecommerce tools and realizing ultimate potential

I can’t help feeling somewhat frustrated on behalf of the merchants I work with.

Most successful direct-to-consumer brands are started by a visionary—with an idea for a product that will help their customers and, perhaps, hopefully, make the world a better place.

Most visionaries have a dream of where they could take their business—but not a clear roadmap of how to get there.

In 2023, it’s easier than ever to develop an idea, build a brand, launch a store, and acquire customers.

Anyone can sell something to someone once or twice or even a handful of times.

The tools to create and launch a business are better than ever—but as most of these tools mature, complexity grows, too.

Getting started is easy. However, once you gain traction, the pressure mounts rapidly to upgrade to more “powerful” tools and platforms to turn that traction into momentum.

And the complexity of the more “powerful” tools tends to grow more rapidly than the benefits.

This is where the paradox comes in. I’ve been referring to “power” in quotes because it’s only powerful if you can realize it.

As tools become more “powerful”, few merchants can realize the benefits of these tools because they’re too specialized and too complex without the deep knowledge and expertise to maximize that power.

There is some irony in the rapid growth of AI to augment and enhance the tools we are using—to help us understand and use them more fully without deep knowledge or expertise.

It’s ironic because if the tools were simpler and more focused—better designed to serve their end-users with a fundamental first-principals approach—we arguably might not need AI augmentation. Or, we certainly wouldn’t need it to solve the fundamental problems—because they would be intuitive and clear.

One of the risks AI augmentation will bring to software tools is that it will encourage scrappiness and lack of focus from product leaders and designers—because it will matter less how intuitive or complex a platform is if we can integrate AI chatbots to guide our users through the twists and turns and poor design of our increasingly complex systems.

What would it look like if platforms took a more modular approach, focusing more on the fundamental best practices for every aspect of the system—so brand leaders can layer on the complexity as they require it?

Instead of merchants using 10% of the “best”, most “powerful” platforms for ecommerce, what would it look like if they utilized 90% of the power of the tools that are best for them at their stage of growth?

Using 10% of a tech stack is wasteful in so many ways: it likely costs more than it needs to; the headspace cost is likely higher than it needs to be; and the bandwidth and resources required to configure and maintain it probably don’t make good sense.

Layering AI on top of all this might be helpful—but not if merchants don’t know what questions to ask in the first place.

What tech platforms need to be doing instead is to understand their users deeply—and their users’ customers—to build more niche, modular, focused systems that integrate to create larger, more complex systems as their users’ needs and knowledge grow.

Power is useless if you are unable to utilize it.

The true power in the context of ecommerce tools comes from building simple, elegant, pragmatic systems that combined enable outcomes that are greater than the sum of the parts.

To do this, we need more standardized frameworks, APIs, and building blocks—that are simple at the start and become exponentially more powerful as they’re connected and combined and built upon.

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