&Open CTO: ‘There’s a move towards headless e-commerce’

28 Jan 2022

Ross Shannon. Image: &Open

Ross Shannon of &Open discusses growing trends in the e-commerce space and how gifting has become the new ‘touchpoint’ for customer loyalty.

Dublin-based start-up &Open has gone from strength to strength since it was founded in 2017.

The company, which created an online gifting platform for companies to reward customer loyalty or boost employee engagement, raised $7.2m in May 2021. In December, it announced plans to create more than 100 new jobs over the next year, aiming to have a total headcount of 160 by the end of 2022.

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The company’s platform can be used to send gifts individually or in wider gifting campaigns, as well as being integrated into a company’s CRM system. The start-up, which has provided services to companies such as Airbnb, WeWork and Turo, also has a centralised stock-checking, order-tracking and reporting platform.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com in 2020, co-founder Jonathan Legge said the platform handles “every touchpoint along the journey, from the initial invitation that goes out to a gift recipient by email, to the recipient’s digital experience where they choose their gift and tell us where they want it sent, to passing the order through our warehouse clusters for fulfilment.”

Ross Shannon is &Open’s chief technology officer, overseeing the engineering and product sides of the business.

This means ensuring the software is built in such a way that it can treat the many different integrated systems it interacts with equally. Shannon also said user experience is extremely important for the platform, so using sophisticated UX techniques, design and animation is also key.

‘We’re working on a major expansion of our gifting capability to go live early this year’

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

It’s still very much under wraps, but we’re working on a major expansion of our gifting capability to go live early this year, which will allow us to tap into lots of smaller vendors and match them with big brands who want to build meaningful long-term relationships with their customers and employees.

How big is your team?

Currently we have 20 people on our combined engineering and product teams. We’ve outsourced to a small degree but we find that, because of the highly integrated nature of our product, it’s better for our teams to be in-house.

We have ambitious plans to hire more than 100 people across the business in 2022 – more than 20pc of which will be across the product and engineering teams, to add to the 10 open roles we currently have on the team.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation within your industry?

As a company with a SaaS product, we’re obviously digital-first in terms of what we sell to clients. But conversely, what we aim to do is to bring the often intangible customer-brand relationship into the real world, through meaningful gifts that people will value.

The past two years have wrought a lot of changes – customer loyalty is now even harder to maintain. There’s more competition as more businesses have moved to online selling and lots of companies have lost their physical interactions with the people who buy from them, so gifting has become this new touchpoint that allows you to build a relationship powered by care, consideration and personalisation.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

There’s an ongoing move towards ‘composable’ or ‘headless’ e-commerce, where the e-commerce systems that used to operate almost entirely standalone, like a Shopify store for example, can now be chained together and API-driven.

So orders can be created in one system and then passed to and fulfilled by another. We see this as a key driver in our ecosystem of gift vendors and gift senders and we’re developing our platform to be able to sit centrally to enable opportunities for both sides.

What are your thoughts on the security challenges currently facing your industry?

We take security very seriously and have a number of people dedicated to infrastructure and data security. A key benefit of using the &Open platform is that we can handle customer address and contact information to enable gift deliveries and the related GDPR protections required.

Like any business in the e-commerce space, we handle a lot of postal addresses so it comes down to having very responsible policies around anonymisation and transfer of data in place, and having the right people on the team to implement and oversee them.

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