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Insights / 07 Dec 2022

Composable commerce, a new path for e-commerce

In the past few years, there has been a lot of buzz around “headless” web solutions. The expression originally comes from the CMS space and describes a technology which allows developers to exchange the “head” or presentation layer as desired. The glue between the head and back-end is one or several APIs or Application Programming Interfaces. It was only a question of time before this trend should spread to e-commerce, and it has. Cloud-based e-commerce “engines” are combined with a CMS for content and one or several presentation layers, custom-built for different digital devices or integrated with other platforms.

As headless has become increasingly popular we have seen a whole new industry emerge. These are niche companies that develop cloud-based “microservices”; specialising in content publishing, CRM, payment gateways, search engines etc. There are also new standards for APIs making it easy to put together a unique, custom solution. The expression “Composable Commerce” was used by Gartner in 2020 and actually goes a step further - it describes a whole new data-driven way of working with e-commerce, not only the tools that make it possible.

What do you need in an e-commerce solution?

Before delving into more details, let’s look at the different components and functionalities that are needed in a modern e-commerce solution. First, we need a product database, usually handled by a PIM or Product Information Management system. Product data is generally transferred from the ERP system, which is where master data such as SKUs, price lists and inventory is stored. A CMS for other content is an important part and most e-commerce setups include a CRM for communication with customers and prospects. Naturally, we also need a payment solution, a logistics system and a way to handle customer data and orders, also in sync with the ERP. The e-commerce interface needs a robust search engine, best-seller lists and reviews and the manager needs analytics. All in all, a very complex and business-critical setup that needs to be fast and responsive for both users and managers.

The monoliths are not keeping up

“Enterprise” or “monolith” solutions have dominated the market for large-scale e-commerce platforms. ERP companies such as SAP and giants such as Adobe, Oracle or Hybris have delivered “complete” systems with all the functionality you could possibly want. At least on paper. To actually build these systems you need many hours of development by programmers that are specialized in the particular enterprise platform that the solution is based on. The result can be great, but the time to market can be long and the client is in most cases locked into a technology which can be costly to develop as the demands of the market change. In most cases, enterprise systems need expensive licenses to run, with a cost of ownership that can be hard to predict.

The main drawback of these monoliths with their proprietary architecture is that the technology for the presentation layer has moved toward React Native and other frameworks that support PWA, Progressive Web Apps. This is a way of making web solutions more app-like and mobile-friendly, but requires that the presentation layer is decoupled from the underlying CMS or e-commerce engine. This is usually not possible in the older tech stacks.

Adaptable, personal and future-proof

The digital buyer journey is complex and individualised. E-shoppers are used to click-and-collect, fast deliveries and return in-store. They shop across country borders and many purchases are initiated on social media. A lot of this requires e-commerce solutions that are modular, built with “lego pieces” that are designed to interact with each other but also with POS systems in stores, social media and CRM solutions. These microservices take care of a range of PBC (Packaged Business Capabilities, Gartner’s acronym), are developed by different companies but build on open standards. Their licenses are usually subscription-based that can be cancelled at short notice. The dominating architecture follows principles that are usually referred to as MACH (Microservice, API first, Cloud native, Headless). “Composable” refers to the “compositions” that can be made to create a unique solution, both for the seller and also giving the best, personalised buying experience. User data from different systems can for instance be combined.

Cloud Nine and Composable Commerce

Several of our recent e-commerce projects are built on MACH principles and we are partners with a number of companies offering both headless e-commerce and PBC, such as payment solutions, search, reviews and much more. The results are very encouraging and we have been able to develop advanced personal e-commerce solutions.

Read more on our partner and case pages!

/ David Aler, Strategist

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