How AWS is helping OneCart evolve its platform

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With the launch of Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) local data centres looming large on the horizon, it looks like more local businesses are turning to the firm and its suite of cloud solutions to evolve their organisations.

A South African company currently in the midst of such an evolution is OneCart, which is a specialised online platform where consumers can order their groceries in a quick and convenient manner.

To gain a bit more insight into how OneCart is performing on the local ecommerce market, as well as the role that AWS is playing, we recently caught up with their CTO, Tay Zombulovich (pictured above).

Hypertext: Your service has been available to the public for almost 18 months now. What have you learned in that time?

Tay Zombulovich: One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned so far, and are still learning, is how to provide a world-class service to our customers and being able to do this on a tight budget.

We have also learned a lot about customer expectations and how to deal with them. Our Customer Happiness team is always keeping our customers informed on every step of their journey on OneCart. This usually ensures that we are constantly offering the absolute best possible experience.

Hypertext: There have no doubt been some hurdles along the way. Can you mention a couple and how you overcame them?

TZ: Most of the hurdles that we have faced revolve around managing teams of remote workers. We manage Concierge Shoppers and Drivers that are spread across the country and on the developer side sometimes abroad.

We’ve taken a blended approach to how we tackle and overcome these hurdles, which include hiring diligent staff to manage and monitor things whilst using and assisting them with all kinds of homegrown and Amazon Web Services cloud technology.

Providing a highly efficient service at scale is also a hurdle that we continue to work on daily, and are constantly improving our methods and technology to keep on meeting the goal of being the best platform of our kind in South Africa.

Hypertext: Now as you enter the development of OneCart 2.0, you’re using Amazon Web Services. What made you decide to go with them?

TZ: OneCart 2.0 is a complete rebuild of our platform, from the ground up, encompassing everything that we have learned over the last 18 months. OneCart 2.0 is built for scale and a highly scalable platform needs highly scalable infrastructure and the Amazon Web Services gives us exactly what we require – a managed solution that scales as we scale.

This, and the ambition to scale OneCart into other markets in the future, are core to us deciding to use AWS as our cloud infrastructure partner

Hypertext: Scalability is often a benefit we hear from AWS customers. Has that been your experience?

TZ: Following on from testing a multitude of services on AWS, we decided on our infrastructure requirements for the foreseeable future and started provisioning our development and production platforms.

We ensured the services we deploy are specifically designed for scale.

The key benefit of the services we have chosen is that they are managed and scale automatically as needed.

Hypertext: During the development process, have there been any specific AWS solutions you’ve encountered to tackle unique problems?

TZ: We will use AWS Lambda for a few scripts that we plan on running periodically. AWS Lambda allows you to deploy and run code in a serverless environment, i.e. without the need for provisioning and managing servers.

You can set these snippets of code to be executed based on events that occur in your services, or based on a schedule.

Essentially these instances are only active when executing the script during that event or schedule thus allowing you to also save money as you only pay for the compute time you consume.

Hypertext: Much has been made of AWS bringing a data centre presence to South Africa. What value does it potentially offer OneCart and its customers?

TZ: The key benefits are specifically around latency and local expertise. Better latency makes our services faster to our local customers, which is definitely a huge benefit.

Additionally, we will also be able to store our customer data in South Africa with the assurance that our content will not move unless we move it. It therefore makes AWS a safe storage option for OneCart.

Hypertext: As you’re in the midst of developing OneCart 2.0, are you able to tell us when you plan to have it up and running, and ready for the public. Also any new features or improvements that you can tell us you’re working on?

TZ: We are currently in the final stages of development of our new platform and plan to release to a pre-selected group of around 50 people for beta testing this month. Thereafter, all going well, we will begin rolling out to the rest of our customer base.

Obviously there will be a huge improvement in performance across the board as we move from an MVP built on WordPress to a micro services architecture platform built from the ground up.

These improvements will also come with a whole new user experience which we’ve spent months planning, refining and executing. With our new onboarding process we plan to be far more customer centric by learning about our their needs and desires and then tailoring the experience each and every one of our customers have when using the new platform.

Other features which will be rolled out slowly over the course of the next couple of months will include digital couponing, which is a first for the ecommerce space in South Africa, and the ability to create virtual shopping lists for all occasions and uses.

We’re also integrating the ability to add these to your cart with the click of a button or even turn them into subscriptions that will arrive at your door the same time every week or month, and a whole lot more coming soon that will make us one of the most unique shopping platforms in South Africa

Hypertext: Looking to the next 18 months, what are some of the goals that OneCart has in mind, and if possible, can AWS help you get there?

TZ: Once the new platform launches the ultimate goal for OneCart over the coming months is rapid scale.

We also have some new ambitions for our business expansion into new markets and industries.

AWS will certainly be pivotal in our future plans going forward as we become further engrained in the platform and every decision we make technologically will involve what services we will use in order to execute in the most effective, efficient and affordable way.

We also have a big desire to start to analyse all of the data we have gathered up until now. The next step will therefore be to add intelligence to our platform and we will be exploring AWS’ machine learning to do this.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.