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Personalised gift marketplace Not On The High Street on overcoming legacy

Think legacy IT and images of clunky mainframes at large banks and the public sector comes to mind. But old technology can also be a problem in the much newer world of eCommerce.

That is something Richard Zubrik, who joined online marketplace Not On The High Street as chief technology officer earlier this year, knows about first hand. Both in his current role, where he is developing and scaling the marketplace’s platform, and in his previous position as technology director at online fashion giant Asos for three years.

“I joined Asos at a time when we were looking to do a similar transformation,” he tells Essential Retail. Zubrik led the team which architected, developed and deployed new microservices to replace Asos’ legacy systems, and moved its hosting to Microsoft Azure.

The architecture at Not On The High Street is similar to that of ASOS, in the sense both platforms were built in-house.

“We’ve built the new platform in Java and it will be hosted in a modern AWS, serverless, environment,” he says.  By building it themselves it’s been able to tailor the platform to its 5,000 partners selling around 220,000 products on the site at any time.

And off-the-shelf packages would be too generic for its bespoke needs, he says.

However, this isn’t a ‘big bang’ IT project. “What we are looking at now is replacing it with a new set of services.. taking each bit of functionality at a time.”

It’s already rolled out a new content management system with better navigation, a new search functionality it is testing with customers, and an app for the Google Play store and is working on a new check-out, which should be ready next year. Meanwhile, the whole site is being built with a ‘mobile first’ development approach. “That is where most of our customers are now,” he says.

Relationship management

The other side of the platform overhaul is improving the way it integrates and communicates with its partners – which range from small sellers fulfilling just a few orders a day to its 12 largest, turning over £1 million per year.

It is rolling out a range of tools to help partners: from an app to make selling easier for the smaller providers, to a set of API for the larger sellers to provide better integration. 

By doing so customers should also get a clearer view of the products and availability. He says ensuring “the data quality is up to scratch and keeping customers informed” about up-to-date stock is one of the biggest challenges in managing so many relationships.

For Zubrik, the key to staying ahead of the latest technology is being selective about how you choose to innovate. “Unless you are Google or Facebook, it’s not feasible to make large bets on [everything].”

Intelligent use of algorithms is one area he believes can be hugely beneficial. “There’s a lot of machine learning going on out there that is useful for eCommerce businesses.” For example they are using it to improve the company’s own search functionality – providing a more tailored response for customers.

Overall, he remains optimistic that there is still huge growth potential for innovative eCommerce. “As long as you have a proposition better than anyone else’s, there is no reason why you should be slowing down.”

Richard Zubrik spoke to Essential Retail ahead of the digital commerce and technology event, Tech. Festival 2019, held at London’s Printworks.