Dec 12 2012

ShopRunner’s CIO: The Cloud Won’t Run Itself

Speed, flexibility and scale fuel CIO Jonathan Pearl’s cloud computing agenda, but he knows it takes serious resources to make it all work.

If you want to be the best, you have to use the best. That’s why, even though ShopRunner is a competitor to the Amazon Prime online shopping program, which provides free shipping to customers for an annual fee, CIO Jonathan Pearl is not concerned about using Amazon’s public cloud to run part of his infrastructure.

There was internal debate at ShopRunner initially about using Amazon Web Services, Pearl says, but ultimately they decided that there was a sufficient wall between AWS and Amazon’s e-commerce retail business. Besides, ShopRunner needed to use the best infrastructure out there to provide the best service to its customers, he reasoned.

During his session at the Cloud World Forum North America in New York City, Pearl spoke at length about the need for companies to “own the cloud.” That wasn’t a bid to turn exclusively to private clouds, but rather a call to recognize that just because a third party is hosting a business’s infrastructure, it doesn’t mean this third party will do the work to make sure the cloud meets business objectives.

“This is still your responsibility,” Pearl said.

It’s a lesson Pearl learned firsthand. ShopRunner operates a growing cloud-based environment on AWS and Salesforce’s Force.com platforms. The company’s membership application was built on the Salesforce cloud, but Pearl ultimately found out that there were limits to the cloud platform that he wasn’t aware of until he was up and running.

“We built our core membership app on the Force.com platform, which is built on Salesforce,” Pearl said. “What I didn't know is that they had a limit on everything. They had a limit on API calls, the number of threads you could call. The reason: multi-tenancy. You can't hurt your neighbor, you can't be the person who brings your house down.”

Cultivating the Best Online Shopping Experience

While the cloud environment Pearl and his team have built fuels ShopRunner’s growth on the back end, the company’s customer-facing mission to create the best online shopping experience for consumers is no less ambitious.

The company, which launched to consumers in October 2010, strives to provide the best value for consumers while delivering a return on investment for its retailers. “ShopRunner customers spend more on average, and their order size is higher,” Pearl said.

Although generating customer loyalty is a key goal of ShopRunner’s business model, don’t compare them with customer loyalty startups like Belly.

“We’ve built tangible, commerce-based products,” Pearl said. He points to PayRunner, a two-click express checkout solution that allows retailers to hook in to the ShopRunner ecosystem with a simple, straightforward online payment process.

The company also launched its “Pickup Points” program, which frees customers from having to race home to catch the delivery man; instead, they can opt to pick up their purchases at popular local destinations, such as 7-11 and Toys R Us stores.

So far the company has opened 100 Pickup Points in the Philadelphia area, according to a report from Internet Retailer.