Composable commerce - a new approach to building e-commerce systems

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Published:
18.10.2021
T

he term composable commerce has been heard more and more lately. Is it just another buzzword that we will all forget about in a moment? Definitely not. This approach is currently being used in practice. It is a change that we have been observing on the market for some time, but now it has become a priority for many companies. Therefore, a natural stage of development was to create a separate definition, which would specify this approach to creating e-commerce systems. 

In this article, we'll trace the origins of the concept of composable commerce - all to better understand the approach and its benefits for business. 

The road to composable commerce

Before we go on to explain what composable commerce is, it is worth looking at the development of online commerce. The origins of online sales date back to the late ’90s when Amazon was launched. Back then, selling was limited to putting products online. Considering how we sell online today (omnichannel) - selling back then was a relatively simple process.  

Then, e-commerce started to develop. Along with the growth, the first platforms appeared on the market, comprehensively taking over the management of all sales processes online. New solutions were created, and open-source platforms were of particular interest. With relatively low costs, they allowed to quickly test the capabilities of a given solution in terms of functions, performance, and stability. In a short time, leaders in this sector emerged - such as Magento (today Adobe Commerce), PrestaShop, or WooCommerce. 

For years, companies involved in online sales - especially medium and large entrepreneurs - built their systems based on a single e-commerce solution. These were so-called monolithic applications designed to handle multiple interrelated tasks. 

It might seem that an all-in-one platform is the best solution. However, over the years and the tremendous growth of online commerce, many companies have noticed problems with working on a monolith. A monolith at some point can grow to larger and larger sizes, and as a result, its complexity increases. This led to a situation where it became increasingly common to separate individual components from the e-commerce system responsible for specific activities. This was the first step towards the concept of composable commerce. 

Microservices, headless & composable commerce

In the world of e-commerce, in addition to the term composable commerce, terms such as headless or microservices have been in the news for several years. The multitude of these terms causes chaos and many people may wonder if they make sense. Understanding their meanings will make it much easier to navigate the modern world of e-commerce. 

Headless is a technology that allows separating the backend (i.e. the entire technical background responsible for the operation of the application) from the frontend (i.e. everything that the recipient sees). Why is this separation beneficial? Because it allows for better optimization of the website, adjusting it to the user's expectations, or experimenting on the frontend without "touching" the backend. 

Microservices - microservices architecture is used in modern systems and consists of a combination of both internal and external services connected via their APIs. In such a model, each service is self-sufficient and pursues a specific business goal. Unlike monolithic architecture, which was based on one common engine, when we want to make a change in a particular service, we work on a specific microservice rather than building a system from scratch. 

Both microservices and headless are technical terms. 

composable commerce


Let's take a look at the chart above, which illustrates exactly what microservices and headless are:

  • On the first level from the top, we have the frontend. Particular elements of the frontend are created independently for different types of devices. Thanks to this, if the business has many contact points and customer contact channels, the shop can have many "frontends" connected to one backend.
  • On the 3rd level from the bottom, we have the backend. It is divided into microservices, which are independent pieces of code. Each of them works with its own separate database. For example, there may be individual microservices for the store catalog, search, shopping cart, checkout, payment, CMS, or customer service. 
  • On the first level from the bottom, we have the database. These collect and organize information about the online shop.

The backend provides data for the first level from the top (aka head) using various API formats such as JSON, GraphQL, etc. 

MACH

Speaking of these two terms, we can't forget another concept that's been popular in the industry for a while - we mean MACH. In 2020, a community of developers called the MACH Alliance was formed to help enterprises navigate the modern technology landscape by advocating for open technology ecosystems. The group coined the term MACH, which stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and Headless. MACH - as opposed to headless and microservices - can be considered as a marketing term. 

Composable commerce - definition 

Thus, we are approaching the concept of composable commerce.

Composable commerce is the approach that binds all the previously mentioned terms together.  It is premised on composable commerce being forward-thinking and focused on experimentation, agility, rapidly bringing new e-commerce features to market, and creating a better experience across all points of purchase. It leverages modern technologies such as microservices, APIs, headless to adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of the e-commerce market. 

Where did the term composable commerce come from? 

This notion emerged in a report by consulting firm Gartner, which notes that e-commerce platforms are experiencing continued modularization in today's world, where omnichannel shopping experiences are dominant. 

Today, we are on the threshold of another fundamental shift in the world of commerce. The most innovative retailers have realized that they need to deliver a great shopping experience wherever the consumer is - whether it's on a website, mobile app, social channel, marketplace, live video shopping (social selling), email, in-store, or even text message. It's not just about implementing a website, mobile app, or responsive version. The sheer number of channels in which a consumer can make a purchase decision has grown significantly and continues to grow. 

Therefore, building a monolith that is responsible for everything has simply become outdated and inefficient in many cases. Gartner believes that those organizations that want to keep up with the changes must prepare for a "composite" approach (Packaged Business Capabilities) in building e-commerce systems. 

Advantages of composable commerce

As opposed to creating a monolith - the composable commerce approach allows you to select best-in-class solutions to perfectly match your business goals. In practice, it resembles building with Lego bricks - we can attach or detach elements that are responsible for particular functions and come from other providers, e.g. checkout, frontend, content management. 

Benefits:

  • Quick adaptation to business needs and ability to respond quickly to changing business requirements.
  • Faster business scalability. 
  • Delivering a positive shopping experience at every customer touchpoint
  • Reduce risk associated with the provider of a given service - ability to replace components more quickly as needed.
  • Utilize modern technology standards to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies.

The future of composable commerce 

Gartner predicts that by 2023, organizations that have adopted a composable commerce approach will be 80% ahead of the competition in terms of the speed with which they implement new features (Gartner.com).

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