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EBook | 19 minute read

Guide to Composable Commerce

The world has changed, and gone are the days where traditional website only experiences are enticing for consumers. At the same time, modern digital brands want to find their unique advantage and bring it to market fast while IT leaders are looking for ways they can advance the business in step with the consumer demands, disruptive trends, and emerging opportunities.

To truly capitalize on your commerce strategy, you will need to ditch traditional commerce platforms and embrace an approach that will empower your team to take back control of your digital commerce strategy and execute at the speed of customer needs. That approach is Composable Commerce

According to analyst firm Gartner, becoming a “composable enterprise” is the innovation strategy of leading digital business organizations. This involves decomposing traditional monolithic systems by leveraging decoupled, packaged business capabilities (PBCs) to uniquely compose application experiences.

Traditional legacy solutions consist of rigid and opinionated architectures that prevent brands from having the control they desire to implement custom backend logic changes to satisfy their complex business requirements.

A Composable Commerce approach advocates moving away from full-stack eCommerce platforms, towards building a best-of-breed solution from smaller sized, “Lego block” components. Rarely does a full-stack, all-in-one application (whether home-grown or licensed from a vendor) fully satisfy the unique requirements of a business long-term, and therefore adopting a Composable Commerce approach ensures today’s solution can stay in-step with tomorrow’s demands.

There are three key tenets that define the composable approach:

In this guide, each tenet is dissected to provide a clear understanding of the importance of each one to the approach and the benefits associated. It is important to note that all four tenets working together cohesively is critical to receiving the full benefits that Composable Commerce has to offer. As we step into each tenet chapter, we will also provide best practices to consider and examples of how brands have already adopted and deployed the approach to elevate their digital strategy.

Chapter 1: Modular Architecture

Composable Commerce was designed to be fully modular, which means that each component is a self contained system that can be deployed independently. A modular architecture is key to supporting more agile delivery, faster time to market and improved customer experiences across all devices and touchpoints. Modularity has been difficult to achieve with traditional incumbent platforms due to its rigid architecture, but with the MACH, JAMStack, and solid extensibility frameworks, modularity is seamless. In order to ensure the modular architecture is easy to learn and use, Composable Commerce solutions will also include easy to consume documentation, education, developer dashboards and SDK’s. 

Benefits of a Modular Architecture

Flexible Architecture

Composable Commerce embraces modern architecture patterns for both the backend with MACH and the frontend with JAMstack.

MACH is an acronym that represents the technhology which stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless. Each technology grants flexibility in the backend to ensure you can design your custom business logic to fit your unique needs.

JAMStack: Javascript, APIs and Markup put the JAM in JAMstack. Like MACH for the back end, JAMstack is a modern architectural pattern for building front-end applications.

Together these technologies give brands the control to build for their unique requirements and meet needs to be able to rapidly update commerce experiences, faster than customer needs and competitive pressure.

Loosely Coupled Services

Unlike tightly coupled monolithic platforms where every service shares the same codebase, loosely coupled services can be independently updated.

For organizations developing services in house, this enables you to take advantage of DevOps and CI/CD (Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery). If you’re using third-party, vendor managed services, you don’t need to modify any backend code, and you benefit from your vendor’s own ability to leverage DevOps and CI/CD to deliver updates faster than monolithic vendors.

Another benefit of loose coupling is the ability to integrate services closer to the experience layer or “head” through APIs, rather than in the code itself. This supports faster time-to-delivery without adding technical debt to the platform. Innovation can be rolled out to new touchpoints and rolled back just as cleanly.

Extensible Framework

If out-of-the-box features don’t suit your unique business requirements, your solution must be customized. A solid extensibility framework including webhooks and data extensions allows developers to quickly add capabilities to your backend, enhance front-end experiences, and configure standard commerce capabilities. This is critical for keeping your technology up-to-date with ever-evolving customer demands and market opportunities (with less time and money).

Independently Deployable Components

Not only can independent components of a composable platform be swapped in and swapped out as needed, they can also be selectively applied to new experiences you build and and be consumed in multiple experiences.

With a monolith, a new touchpoint such as mobile self-checkout, curbside pickup  or voice-enabled chatbotmust be hardwired to the entire backend system. Theoretically, the approach is achievable, but in reality, encoding these features in the backend is difficult and more time consuming because of the decoupling of internal functions required. This eventually impacts performance of your system which is unfavorable. With modular applications, only the required services’ APIs and logic are involved.

Independence also supports efficient reuse across touchpoints. For example, the same Catalog service can power multiple storefronts within your organization or partner network. This means:

  • Cart and checkout can be embedded into a wide range of content, apps and experiences.
  • Inventory can be extended to back office systems and dedicated apps for sales reps and dealers.
  • Data and logic can be shared and consistently maintained across touchpoints and channels, or configured with precision to unique requirements.

Independently Scalable

Modular applications are individually deployed to a public cloud, which means they can scale independently -- indefinitely. This presents a critical advantage over monolithic applications which can only scale up or down as a whole. With a composable application, a spike in demand for one component won’t slow or take down the entire app. Not only does this enhance uptime and customer experience, it keeps hosting costs under control.

For example, if you roll out a new mobile self-checkout solution to 100 physical stores, demand for the feature’s related services can surge, while other pieces of your composable commerce platform remain steady. Or, if you suddenly add one million new SKUs to your catalog with new attribute fields, complex pricing and discounting rules, Catalog and Pricing can scale accordingly, without having to scale Search, Cart, Checkout and Accounts.

How Paro Leverages a Modular Architecture 

With the adage “fail fast, learn quickly”, Paro initially sought to launch a portal for their freelance experts to self-serve transactions surrounding placement and financial services.

Paro successfully launched the portal in five months and leveraged Elastic Path technology partners, Algolia for search functionality and Stripe for payment processing.

Their biggest criteria when evaluating a commerce platform was the ease of use given the limited resources of their Engineering team. Paro sought out a solution and partner who could give time back to both technical and business teams to focus on scaling the business (i.e. development opps and client building respectively).

Startups move quickly and pivot as needed with sometimes little to no runway. Paro points to the API-first, headless architecture as crucial to the flexibility and agility demanded of Paro’s eCommerce portal, second to ease of implementation and the ability to scale at speed.

Considerations for Evaluating Modular Architectures

The key benefit of modularity is convenience. 

Well designed application architectures all contain a level of modularity to support future growth and flexibility as needs change. Great examples include traditional eCommerce applications such as search, order management, point of sale, kiosks, product information management etc. In these applications you have the choice to change from search provider A to provider B or introduce sophisticated product information management to feed your eCommerce applications to product taxonomies.

Some questions you can use as a guide to evaluate how modular your solution is include: 

  • How quickly can I switch A for B?
  • Can I reuse components multiple times and across multiple touchpoints?
  • Can I leverage the application in multiple channels with limited to no work?
  • What is the impact of my change?
  • How much regression testing will I need?

A modular eCommerce architecture has well defined strategic foundation building blocks to support broader enterprise needs. For example, a Product Information Management application can rapidly provide taxonomies for print, mail, marketing and eCommerce catalogs. Composable Commerce takes the modular approach and applies it to the heart of the eCommerce platform, demanding a decomposition of the platform to the sum of its part. While you can benefit from this component independently, it is still just a small piece in a bigger puzzle.

Chapter 2: Open Ecosystem

Now that you have a better grasp on using modular components to build your composable solution, the next question is - “How nicely do the components play together?”

Composable Commerce was designed as an open ecosystem. Open commerce technology enables interoperability between services for seamless integration (and removal) of components while also preventing vendor lock in. This eliminates the need to extend your platform through plug-ins, modify monolithic backend code or build siloed experiences

This will be ideal for teams who want to pick and choose from the best vendors that have spent time to perfect their individual integration offering, rather relying on your platforms suggested proprietary vendors.

While Composable Commerce enables the assembly of best-of-breed components, it does more than just support a library of assets. It also offers an easy to leverage framework for integration, guides that reduce the time to compose, and support so that when you run into a challenge, there is always someone there to help.

Benefits of an open ecosystem

Agile Integration Framework

Composable Commerce enables assembly of best-of-breed components around your core commerce service, including point solutions like Search, Tax, PIM and Order Management -- just to name a few. It also allows you to add proprietary solutions or apps developed by your technology partners and systems integrators.

Not all of these applications will have pre-built connectors to your backend systems, including your ERP, CRM and BI tools. For example, your ERP may not integrate with your Tax solution without workarounds. Your B2B instance many need to connect to its own Tax service. Or, your Tax application may not work well with subscriptions within your Payments service out-of-the-box.

Building custom connectors puts additional onus on your technical teams (or requires a systems integrator to build for you), delaying time-to-market and consuming budget that could be applied to innovation and delivery.

Open standards make integration easier and support technical agility, both in making connections and maintaining them as your ultimate composition evolves. For this reason, look for point solutions that are natively designed with open standards and MACH principles.

Open accelerators

Once you’ve heavily customized your backend systems such as ERP, CRM, DOM, PIM and BI tools, you want them to sync with your commerce technology. And maintaining point-to-point connections across your entire systems architecture can be a massive effort!

Prevent vendor lock in

If it’s easy to hook up, it’s easy to swap out. Openness keeps data and connectors clean, and ready to plug into the next application should you decide to swap in or out any backend system, large or small.

How Pella Leveraged Open Standards

Pella is a window and door manufacturing company that was focused on bringing a more seamless commerce experience to their customers for their highly customized products. Before utilizing Composable Commerce-as-a-Service, they had chosen to embark on their commerce journey with a legacy platform . After a year of implementation they recognized that the solution couldn't be configured to fit their needs.

With a solid extensibility framework from Composable Commerce, not only were they able to build a custom configurator to solve their problem of complex product catalogs, but they were also able to launch three customer journeys across B2B and B2C channels with a single digital experience.

Pella’s overall goal is to rapidly and continuously adapt to keep up with evolving customer needs and outmaneuver competitors. Open standards grant the creative freedom for their team to try things and customize it to their needs with little to no risk.

Considerations for Evaluating Open Standards

The key benefit of open standards is the option to choose what you want, when you want it. You shouldn’t be boxed in by your vendor’s idea of how your commerce solution should function. Coupled with choice, open standards also provide a high degree of confidence in the your sustainability of your system. Changes are easily consumed and therefore you will never have worry about a change breaking your entire ecosystem.

Composable solutions move the needle on open standards adoption, putting flexibility forefront in every design decision.

To evaluate openness you should think about the things below which only scratch the surface on the topic:

  • Can I rapidly get my new Order Management System taking orders from eCommerce and reporting order history back to make customers in their account pages in matter of days or weeks?
    • If not, then the openness of your solution is questionable, the interfaces are tightly coupled and the message formats that have been used are not open enough to be reused. Meaning we now have to design new mappings, write functions, translate and test extensively.
    • A composable solution using design first principles starts with considering the common formats, standards, integration methods that will supporting you changing more rapidly without being hamstrung by complex custom logic.
  • Can I add new internal features without massive disruption?
    • Monolithic architectures need significant code deployment and rigorous regression. Which costs time and money.
    • An open API first approach allows you to change / extend and add components at all levels to the solution quickly without massive disruption to more positively impact end clients.

Open standards will be a key ingredient in your eCommerce strategy if you are committed to continuously iterating and optimizing your unique experiences for customers. 

Chapter 3: Business Centric Solutions

To close the gap of Composable Commerce, we need business centric solutions to allow the technical and business teams to collaborate on large projects and digital transformation, while also leveraging composable technology to support business users’ day-to-day activities.

What’s more, monoliths have difficulty extending beyond desktop and mobile experiences to serve today’s multi-touchpoint customer journeys including in-store digital, voice, AR/VR, IoT and chatbots, and modern backoffice experiences like dedicated sales apps, reporting dashboards, customer service consoles and business user tooling.

Beyond the application itself, how can composable components give business leaders end-to-end control over new experiences? By Providing business user tooling, supporting evolving business models and fostering Business-IT collaboration.

What is Business Centric Mean?

Business centricity refers to the enablement of the business users, i.e the marketers to make changes in the flows of their digital strategy without heavy reliance on IT. Business user tooling and business IT collaboration through Composable Commerce grants marketer the right amount of control over the work flow to engage with customers and respond to their competitive market place at the speed.

Benefits of a Business Centric Soltuion

Business user tooling

Business agility is supported by delivery options that provide business user control over configurable logic and rules. A Composable Commerce approach provides the flexibility for you to leverage the business tools that your team relies on to successfully complete their day to day activities and evaluate performance on your eCommerce strategy. This includes tasks like adjusting search and merchandising, configuring promotions and managing content, as well as presentation.

For many organizations, the first step towards achieving this was through out-of-the-box legacy tools. However, with a Composable Commerce approach, you can continue to administer, manage and measure your business actions through the preferred business user tooling and analytics solutions you choose to build or plugin.

Rather than a suite of solutions with separate logins and UI, a unified experience supports faster on-boarding and administration to allow for rapid iteration to respond to changing business requirements over time.

Evolving business models

Composable architecture not only future-proofs your platform, but enables you to leverage reusable services across multiple business channels such as wholesale and distributor portals, and to customize your logic to support B2B/B2C, B2B2C, B2C2C and more.

For example, should your new models require updated or parallel order management, PIM or payment gateways, they can be integrated with core capabilities like catalog, inventory and search. Custom business logic for pricing, tax, account management and more can be configured through APIs, led by business requirements.

Empowerment through Business-IT collaboration

Business leaders tasked with digital transformation usually require strong IT support, while IT requires the technical agility to align its projects to business drivers.

Gartner asserts that “future digital commerce experiences will be constructed by collaborative business-IT “fusion” teams using packaged business capabilities. The technical and business agility Composable Commerce fosters across the organization enables business units to explore new business models, greenfield projects, expansion to new markets and the evolution of customer experience.

Adopting composable applications democratizes technology so business units can shape their own solutions within the organization. This will be critical for teams to quickly adjust to changing customer needs, competitive pressure or executive requirements without the risk of complexity and no lost revenue.

Quickstarts fast paced solutions

Quick starts are assets that can be used to help brands get up and running with their Composable Commerce solution faster, eliminating the risk and complexity of piecing together MACH technology. These assets include reference applications and precomposed solutions. Reference applications are omnichannel reference architectures that provide a framework for how customers can launch specific experiences such as: web, mobile, kiosk, POS, smart mirror, IOT, etc. Pre-Composed Solutions are business-ready solutions pre-composed from commerce capabilities, 3rd party integrations, and customizations that brands can use to quickly deploy a commerce solution. For example: a ready to go mobile self checkout commerce experience that you can leverage to get your store up and running in a matter of days.

How City Row Leveraged a Business Centric Solution

City Row is a boutique fitness studio that specializes in helping busy people stay in shape with high intensity, low impact workouts using a water based rowing machine. The offer in studio classes or at home assistance with their CITYROW GO Rower.

When the COVID-19 pandemic fell upon us, CITY row saw the need to update their eCommerce strategy to support the combination of CITYROW GO rower product and their subscription purchases into one commerce experience. As many people invested in working out from home, they also wanted to ensure the solution could scale to support new geographies, promotions, and bundling.

With the use of a Composable Commerce approach, they were able to quickly get live with an MVP eCommerce website to facilitate their business needs. In addition, the approach facilitated the future proofing of their eCommerce strategy by allowing them to scale at the rate of consumer needs as they rolled out new geographies and accessory bundles incrementally.

The marketing team specifically benefited from business user tooling as they were granted full control to extend data across both website and email. This was important during COVID-19 because they were able to quickly create extensions that enabled dynamic lead times for rowers to be embedded across email and their site.

The brand has since grown exponentially as it provided more convenience to customers in a time where they thought the service was unattainable.

Is “Going Composable” Right For Your Organization?

Change comes at a cost in time / effort & money. And the larger the change, each of those factors are increased. Combining these factors with clear business needs and drivers, go a significant way to helping answer the “going composable” question without extensive analysis.

So if we:

  • Have a rapidly changing/competitive market that needs innovative experiences which can be designed in a persona centric way, deployed quickly anyway and use a few common features to help sell (Product). Composable Commerce is a must.
  • Are a growing business who today have an ecosystem of open source and simple integrations as we like to control our ecosystem and in the future may change a piece, but must have a cart and payment to sell. Composable Commerce is a must.
  • Run our business on a complex set of applications that takes months to change, simply to provide product & inventory updated to our sales reps / buyers and dealers in different experiences quickly. Then it’s time to look at Composable Commerce.

A Composable Commerce application allows an organization to be more flexible and adapt to business change rapidly with less friction, and less risk introduced into the backend environment. Because “Lego bricks” can be swapped in and swapped out for best-of-breed, a composable enterprise can stay perpetually modern without having to endure a rip-and-replace re-platforming or full-stack upgrade ever again. To learn more from one of our internal experts book a meeting with us today.