ZipfCommerce: Our Platform Strategy

At ZipfWorks, our mission is to enable the next generation of social, mobile and interactive commerce applications that help people find the products they'll love. We see this happening in three key phases:

  • Build our own innovative, world-class shopping applications for users
  • Build out a platform to support these apps
  • Support external developers, enabling them to build and monetize their own shopping apps using our platform

Why build our own apps? Why not simply focus on developing our platform? Well, first off, the apps are the fun part :) I suspect that we (ZipfWorks) will always build our own consumer-facing apps, since its the most natural and fun type of development. Building user-facing apps also keeps us in touch with users, who are ultimately the end customers of our platform.

However, building a truly useful shopping application is actually quite a bit harder than, say, building a great iPad app. Why is this? Let's look at some of the foundational elements you need before you go about building your shopping app's end user experience:

  • Comprehensive catalog of products. Whether your app targets fashion, electronics, travel bookings or concert ticket listings - you need access to all the products and listings your customer might want.
  • Up-to-date pricing information. Customers want the latest prices for the items they're interested in. They also want to compare prices across different websites.
  • Differentiated pricing. Coupons and promotions are a requirement in e-commerce these days. Your app must provide the latest deals and discounts as a pricing component to provide a satisfactory shopping experience.
  • Discovery tools. Customers want to search, compare, filter and browse products. Your app must go beyond aggregation of product information, it must make that information searchable and discoverable.
  • Monetization. Of course, it's nice when the apps we build generate revenues. In e-commerce, outside of selling your own products, the best way to drive revenues is through affiliate relationships and referral commissions.

ZipfCommerce is designed to provide these foundational pieces, for our own applications and down the line for external developers. We're designing ZipfCommerce as a service layer, so that our applications can consume data from it in a transparent way. In effect, we're being our own first customers - the success of our apps like StyleSpotter hinges on the successful design of our platform, since they will be built on top of it.

In the future, our vision is to open up ZipfCommerce so that any startup or developer who wants to build a shopping application can plug into our platform to get access to our rich data set and, importantly, monetize their app. To prepare for this future, we've been focused on scalability and flexibility, building ZipfCommerce on the latest, most scalable technologies (for you techies, our tech stack includes Scala, MongoDB, Solr, Python and Ember.js). Not to mention we've been hiring a crack squad of seriously awesome engineers to be the architects behind this platform, lead by Brian Stanback, our technical lead. Our developers will be posting technical discussions on the ZipfWorks Engineering blog, which will also be launching soon.

Stay tuned to this blog for more in-depth updates on our strategy and development. You can also connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.