App developers work to keep up with surging e-commerce demand across sectors

As co-owner of web and mobile application developer Grand Apps Development LLC, Tyler Kutt and his staff have spent substantial time over the last two years working with clients on launching or refining e-commerce solutions.

“We had a lot of them coming to us asking, ‘What do I do? What’s the best thing to do?’” said Kutt, who owns the Grand Rapids-based company with Brandon Ross. “If it made sense for the business, e-commerce was something we suggested.”

From left to right: Mark Johnson, Tyler Kutt

The COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns and restrictions had many businesses rethinking their approach to selling products and services at a distance. Kutt noticed that companies that had yet to embrace e-commerce started to dip a toe in the water while those with an already established e-commerce presence were in the market to beef up their online offerings.

Over the last two years, Kutt estimated that his team has focused on e-commerce with around 50 to 60 percent of Grand Apps clients. These projects included selling through social media platforms, getting set up on existing e-commerce platforms, or building one from the ground up.

“It really just depends on the client as well as their infrastructure — some of them finally pulled the trigger on developing their own app and had e-commerce functionality within that,” Kutt said. “It depended on what the client had at their disposal.”

Grand Apps works with small businesses in a broad range of industries. Some, like retail, were a natural fit for e-commerce. However, Kutt also worked with companies in industries that didn’t necessarily have a history of using e-commerce in their operations.

The finance industry was one sector Kutt highlighted, noticing that investment and financial services companies started to embrace e-commerce as a way of selling their services. 

“In that industry, it takes forever for a decision to be made and it finally did and it was good to see,” said Kutt. “And it’s helped. The numbers don’t lie.”

Longtime Grand Apps client Plummers Disposal was another example of a business embracing e-commerce. The Wayland-based Plummers rents dumpsters, portable restrooms and hand washing sinks. During the pandemic, Plummers worked with Grand Apps to create an e-commerce solution that would allow clients to reserve these products online.

“Even that industry moved into some form of e-commerce platform and solutions,” Kutt said. “And it made sense (during the pandemic) because of all the distance restrictions and things like that.”

And while the pandemic might have pushed businesses forward in their e-commerce innovations, Kutt sees no signs that companies will back off from their investments in that area.

“No one has backed off it,” Kutt said. “Maybe they only listed a few products because they didn’t know what they didn’t know. But now that they’ve figured it out — the process and all that sort of stuff — they typically want to add more.”

Intelligent e-commerce

Mark Johnson, co-founder and managing partner of Ada-based custom software firm MichiganLabs, saw a similar spike in demand for its services. While the firm, which works with Fortune 500 companies, doesn’t necessarily focus narrowly on individual solutions like e-commerce, MichiganLabs works to modernize technology for its clients to unlock efficiencies.

“I think Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said it right when he said that we saw two years of innovation in two months,” Johnson said. “That’s certainly going on, and we’re seeing more demand for our services.”

Johnson and his team at MichiganLabs have placed an emphasis on artificial intelligence within operations, which also can be woven into e-commerce.

“I was talking to a company yesterday and they’re really trying to think about it in terms of customer experience and having a unified company user experience, where they know what you’re doing on their site and figuring out how these experiences can all work together” Johnson said. 

“Now we’re moving beyond (traditional e-commerce) — what if it offered you recommendations on products?” Johnson added. “Companies have to start thinking about A.I.”

The manufacturing sector is one area in which Johnson has seen A.I. and e-commerce come together. Manufacturers that provide customized products for their clients can invest in a product configurator, which provides clients the tools and ability to virtually customize a product and receive a quote on it.

“Manufacturing companies are like, ‘Hey, we’re going to create a product configurator and won’t need a bunch of sales people and do estimates — you can get the estimate right on the website,’” Johnson said. “There has been a bit more demand for those tools.”

Still, for the typical small or mid-sized business, those fairly elaborate solutions might still be out of reach.

“A.I. is great, but it’s not cheap,” Kutt said. “It’s one of those ‘let’s walk before we run’ type deals. But there is no doubt about it — it’s coming, it’s going to happen.”