Monolithic, all-in-one ecommerce platforms try to play jack-of-all-trades and as a result often struggle in at least one area. Maybe there’s no native subscription engine, for example, or the CMS is painfully slow. No matter the problem, there’s a clear business impact: middling performance that stunts innovation and drives customers away.
Enter composable commerce.
Composable is a modular site-building approach that’s “composed” of individual services that each focus on specific functions, rather than one monolithic platform that tries to do everything. Each service uses interoperable APIs that connect to each other to form the site’s architecture. This way you have more freedom to build the site you want.
Going composable can be a more personalized alternative to all-in-one solutions, but many leaders are scarred by previous replatforming experiences and hesitant to make another big change.
The good news? Today, advancements in ecommerce technology make going composable both useful and a lot easier than your last replatform. Here, I’ll debunk five of the most common myths about going composable and show brands how to make the leap.
Replatforming is often considered a painful experience, and for good reason. Ecommerce monoliths — like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Adobe Commerce or SAP Commerce Cloud — are packaged as all-in-one solutions. If you want to switch to another monolith, you have to adopt that monolith in full, and that means migrating your whole site all at once. But composable is different.
With an API-based architecture, it’s easy to progressively decouple services from your site’s front and back ends at your own pace. Don’t want to migrate everything at once? Start with a single service, like your checkout or your site search. Then, once you’ve tested and tweaked as needed, you can further build your stack.
There’s no single way to go composable. Brands have the freedom to phase out parts of their platform according to their needs. To start, here’s what I recommend:
- Identify your biggest pain points. Look for inefficiencies that are causing headaches across teams or pushing customers away.
- Triage the services to decouple. Ask yourself: “What’s the business impact of decoupling this service? And how hard is it to implement?” For instance, if your brand has a high cart abandonment rate, you might adopt an easy-to-use transactional engine. The impact: faster checkout page load times that can dramatically boost conversions with no change to your site’s front end.
Brands pay a lot for all-in-one platforms, even if they’re not using the whole stack. But going composable often means managing multiple vendor fees and many brands worry that the total cost might approach — or even exceed — their current expenses.
The good news: going composable allows brands to shop around for the best stack at the most affordable price. Put differently, brands can individually select “best of need” solutions (e.g. a CMS, transactional engine and search) to sustainably optimize their website at a sensible price point.
For example, an athleisure brand could partner with the industry’s best composable search vendor. But if money’s tight, it may make more sense to start with a lower-cost provider that can still improve on a legacy platform’s offering. This way, the brand can satisfy its customers and upgrade to a best-of-breed solution at the right time for the business.
With all-in-one platforms, replatforming is a complicated process — especially for the developers (devs) seeing it through. What’s more, it takes devs away from maintaining digital infrastructure and attending to other core business needs.
Going composable does take time and effort. But today’s technology makes replatforming far simpler than it was 10 years ago. Devs have access to API-first technology with a suite of resources and documentation. With an API-first ecosystem, devs can easily implement a service and test its impact without affecting the core business. And if it no longer seems relevant or viable, it’s painless to pull the plug.
It’s worth noting, though, that not every API-based system is “API-first.” Think about it this way: you might use a 4K-compatible HDMI cord to connect your A/V receiver to your 1080p TV. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get a 4K picture. Even with a state-of-the-art HDMI connector, you’re still limited by your TV’s video resolution and your receiver’s compatibility.
The same logic applies to API-based systems. A legacy monolith may have API endpoints (think the ports on your TV), but they’re built to support archaic code that renders them clunky and inflexible. The effect: more tedious site optimization that might still result in buggy performance.
But with API-first technology, usability isn’t an afterthought. The right vendor will provide intuitive data models, operations and documentation. These tools are purpose-built for devs, saving time and effort throughout the implementation process.
The takeaway? An API-first ecosystem makes it easy to go composable. And with dev-friendly features, teams can build a more sustainable stack that’s up to date with the latest technology.
When it comes to going composable, leaders often worry that there won’t be enough companywide buy-in. That’s because replatforming impacts the full employee experience by replacing people’s familiar, everyday tools.
If a content team has spent 10 years using WordPress, they’ll be hard-pressed to learn a new CMS. And when the whole company is used to Salesforce, folks might be hesitant to adopt five or six new tools.
But compared with its monolithic counterparts, a composable, API-first ecosystem has a much lower barrier to entry. Vendors understand their customers’ pain points with legacy platforms. And with plain-language onboarding guides and support channels, they’re invested in making their product simple to learn.
For brands going composable, it’s important to communicate this experiential boost to internal teams. When employees see the ease and value of each service, they’ll wonder why it took so long to adopt.
Leaders are (understandably) wary of investing tons of time, money and effort in replatforming only to wind up with a similar ecommerce experience. But with composable, that concern couldn’t be further from the truth.
Compared with legacy all-in-one platforms, a composable ecommerce architecture enables:
- More customization — brands can build a personalized tech stack that better fits their current needs, as opposed to using (and only partially leveraging) large pieces of software;
- Faster global expansion — with ecommerce monoliths, expanding into new markets can mean a whole development cycle. API-first services allow brands to develop new channels, separate price lists and more in a matter of days;
- More business innovation — composable stacks can more easily handle and scale custom logic or third-party services. This way you can innovate in any business area, from B2B selling to subscriptions;
- Greater localization — brands can build a more scalable online store that supports multiple languages and currencies without spinning up multiple online stores. They can also choose payment gateways local to each market so customers can pay however they prefer; and
- More creativity — having an independent front end enables brands to break out of paint-by-numbers store templates and build truly immersive and impactful customer experiences for their online stores.
For forward-thinking brands, a composable architecture is key. It gives brands the freedom to continually optimize existing services and experiment with new ones. And with a progressive decoupling approach, brands can build the highest-impact stack for their needs.
All-in-one platforms promise convenience. But when you factor in the inconsistent performance, rigid capabilities and costly fees, many just simply aren’t worth the cost.
But brands don’t have to hop between monolithic solutions forever. When brands go composable, they can grow and scale in ways a monolith can’t build a use case for. The benefit: a site architecture with solid footing for whatever need comes next.
Daniel Oh is Director of Product Marketing at Commerce Layer. Commerce Layer helps companies sell their merchandise through any digital channel (web, app, voice, IoT, etc.) by using the Commerce Layer API. With an API-first solution and an entire suite of developer tools, Commerce Layer customers can scale their businesses into multiple markets with ease.