Last updated: Holiday code freeze: Why it’s time to shelve this retail tradition

Holiday code freeze: Why it’s time to shelve this retail tradition


Heading into the holiday season, retailers traditionally implement a holiday code freeze in their e-commerce environment. Since even the smallest amount of downtime can sink the ship during a high-traffic period, they lock down their systems.

No changes. No additions. You don’t touch anything.

But here’s the thing: Most retailers implement “peak freeze” not because they want to, but because it’s their only option. Their rigid systems can’t handle quick changes without the risk of something breaking.

While this approach is a long-standing tradition, entering freeze mode brings its own set of risks.

3 reasons to reconsider the holiday code freeze

Retailers usually implement a code freeze a month or two before the peak holiday shopping season. They want to make sure their websites and applications run smoothly through the ultra-critical Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days and through the end of the holiday shopping season.

However, if you think shuttering innovation is simply status quo, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

Here are three reasons why retailers should reconsider the capability freeze:

  1. Consumer demands keep changing
  2. The pace of innovation has sped up
  3. The freeze is falling out of favor, widening the gap between innovators and laggards

Let’s take a closer look at these trends that are making retailers rethink the freeze.

Keeping up with buyer needs and wants

Flexible payment options, rapid delivery, total convenience, tons of product details, a personal experience — consumers want it all.

And with so much influencing consumer behavior (inflation, lingering pandemic fears, social media, etc.), retailers must track and respond to their evolving desires. How can you keep up with these fast-changing behaviors during a holiday code freeze?

In particular, digital natives like the up-and-coming Gen Z, have no patience for technology that falls short of their expectations. They rely on their smartphones for shopping and are inclined to make purchases on social media sites. They’ll quickly move onto another brand if their digital experience falls short of expectation.

Technology is changing faster than ever before

Remember how the pandemic accelerated e-commerce by five years? Consumers are still riding that wave. And they expect retailers to keep up the rapid pace of digital transformation.

The “big bang” model of tech implementation has made this pace difficult to manage. But that’s changing, too.

More retailers are opting into a Commerce-as-a-Service (CaaS) model where they can add innovation incrementally. A CaaS model helps retailers respond quickly to consumer needs, without draining their budget in one shot.

Learn more about what’s ahead for commerce HERE.

Holiday code freeze is getting phased out

Historically, all major retailers entered the same capability freeze.  Now, some retailers have evolved their approach, widening the gap between those who innovate fast and those who can’t.

For example, one major fashion retailer recently launched functionality well past the standard freeze period. Even as October crept in, they added new ways to serve the holiday shopper. They rolled out five new functionalities for their channels, including:

  • Adding an installment payment option
  • Launching BOPIS across their entire chain of stores
  • Expanding product detail pages
  • Rebranding and restructuring their loyalty program (including how it appears on their site)
  • Adding Style It capabilities to recommend a complete outfit when looking at an individual piece of clothing

Now that’s a holiday wish list!

Taking a composable approach to commerce 

In the case of the fashion retailer, they gained months of innovation during a time when other companies were frozen. So, what did they do differently?

In the years prior, they implemented a composable commerce approach. According to the retailer’s CTO, their “increased pace of innovation” is one of the greatest benefits of making the switch.

The strategy of plugging in individual functionality is widely known. Modern, niche commerce solutions—such as payment providers, search engines, and recommendation engines—have long existed, many of which leverage MACH principles (microservice based, API-first, cloud-native and headless).

But in many cases, companies still plug the individual tool into the “box,” i.e., their monolithic platform. The functionality may be isolated, but lengthy testing (and much of the risk) still applies. Because everything is still interconnected, changing one area could break another.

Wish list in sight

Composable commerce goes beyond headless to separate the frontend stack from the backend stack and isolate each functionality.

Retailers can select their desired (best-of-breed) tooling for each need. They can test and add new capabilities without affecting any other part of the commerce ecosystem.

The speed and stability of composable commerce gives you the agility to innovate, even as your competitors hit freeze during peak holiday periods.

Think about what’s on your wish list. Could composable commerce be a game-changer for you? Now’s the time to find out.

Innovate e-commerce at lighting speed HERE.


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