Zappos's Website Frozen for Two Years as it Integrates with Amazon

Here's an interesting nugget from a wonderfully written and deeply interesting article by Roger Hodge in the New Republic: A radical experiment at Zappos to end the office workplace as we know it:

Zappos's customer-facing web site has been basically frozen for the last few years while the company migrates its backend systems to Amazon's platforms, a multiyear project known as Supercloud.

It's a testament to Zappos that they still sell well with a frozen website while most of the rest of the world has adopted a model of continuous deployment and constant evolution across multiple platforms.

Amazon is requiring the move, otherwise a company like Zappos would probably be sensitive to the Conway's law implication of such a deep integration. Keep in mind Facebook is reportedly keeping WhatsApp and Instagram independent. This stop the world plan must mean something, unfortunately I don't have the strategic insight to understand why this might be. Any thoughts?

The article has more tantalizing details about what's going on with the move:

MEANWHILE, THE MIGRATION of Zappos's entire IT infrastructure to Amazon—which means figuring out a way to move an extraordinarily complex set of custom software programs that power a billion-dollar-a-year e-commerce site over to an entirely new environment—continues. The difficulty of this effort is almost unfathomable. Imagine taking a million square pegs and attempting to insert them into a million round holes, except you don't even know if all the holes exist, or where the holes might be located, and you have to negotiate access to the holes with dozens of different teams of hostile software engineers. The project has consumed Zappos's tech department for more than two years, and during that time, the Zappos site has been almost completely static. That means no improvements or innovations and only minimal bug fixes.

Barry Van Beek, the project's program manager, told me he thought Supercloud was the single largest e-commerce replatforming in history. “No one has ever attempted this before, on this scale.” Van Beek, who has been at Zappos for eight years, said Supercloud has about 20 different teams, with 250 to 350 people, including contractors, working with more than 100 different Amazon teams. When they began, they had no idea what they were getting into. It took months to figure out what was available on the Amazon side, and for well over a year, Van Beek wasn't even sure the migration was technically possible. But, he said, Supercloud is an Amazon-mandated goal, and they didn't have any choice. So they figured it out. “The level of effort,” he said, “was almost incomprehensible.”

Van Beek told me he is confident Supercloud can be completed, but he worries the disruptions caused by the offer, as well as unforeseeable delays on the Amazon side, will slow their progress. When Zappos does complete the migration, he hopes the tech department will be able to turn its attention to innovating in the e-commerce space, tackling challenges such as the size and fit problem. If customers are more likely to arrive at a good fit before they order, eliminating returns and the associated restocking and shipping costs will improve margins.