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Evolving e-commerce: from traditional systems to composable commerce

September 13, 2023 / 3 min read

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From the simple days of adding carts to websites, to the rise of all-in-one platforms, and now to today's composable solutions, e-commerce has really evolved. Dive into the journey with Gosia Radkiewicz.

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When one size doesn't fit all

Traditional e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento, provided the foundational bricks for the burgeoning online retail environment. Designed as comprehensive solutions, they catered to a range of needs, from product listings to payment processing, intricate order management, and customer relationship tools. While being a boon in terms of providing a unified system, their all-in-one design is often a bane when it comes to flexibility. Customizations can be tedious; scalability usually means revisiting and tweaking large system parts.

For small businesses, these traditional systems are often more than enough. They provide a relatively low entry barrier to the online marketplace, allowing for easy setup without the need for deep technical expertise.

Larger merchants can find them beneficial, too, but as they grow and sales models diversify, the constraints will present themselves, especially when the business is aiming for unique brand expression.

Enterprises that grew before e-commerce became a must-have and underwent digital transformation tend to have complex needs, vast product lines, and larger customer bases that demand more tailored solutions. Traditional monolithic platforms struggle to deliver these efficiently, having all components coupled very tightly, and a change in one of them often requires updates in others, too.

Changing the approach

As the digital landscape evolved, including new touchpoints such as mobile apps, wearables, and even smart appliances, the traditional e-commerce framework started showing its constraints. Headless commerce emerged as a solution to this evolving challenge. Separating the front-end presentation layer from the back-end logic and infrastructure granted businesses the agility to design bespoke customer interfaces for each touchpoint without overhauling the underlying systems.

The microservices revolution

In this transition, some elements of e-commerce platforms were frequently replaced with microservices before others, recognizing the demand for greater modularity and scalability.

Payment processing, inventory management, and user authentication were among the first to undergo this transition. These elements, being critical to e-commerce operations, required high scalability, especially during sales or peak shopping seasons, and benefited immensely from the agility and independent scaling offered by microservices.

The product recommendation engine and customer reviews are other segments where microservices found early adoption, mainly due to the varying algorithms and data sources they utilized.

This new paradigm enabled a brand to maintain a consistent backend while offering a tailored frontend experience, irrespective of where or how the consumer interacted.

Going MACH

In a bid to propel the industry towards a future-ready stance, the MACH Alliance emerged, emphasizing a foundational shift in e-commerce technology:
Microservices: Rather than a sprawling, monolithic application, microservices decompose functions into discrete, manageable units. Each unit handles a specific task, facilitating easy updates, quick scaling, and better fault isolation.

API-first: By prioritizing the API as the primary interaction layer, businesses can ensure various software components converse seamlessly, enabling swift integrations and consistent data flow.

Cloud-native: Beyond just operating in the cloud, cloud-native solutions are built specifically for cloud environments, reaping full benefits in terms of scalability, resilience, and operational efficiency.

Headless: Beyond the decoupling of frontend and backend, the headless approach represents a commitment to flexibility, enabling brands to innovate without being hamstrung by backend constraints.

Headless in the MACH Architecture

Composable commerce takes customization a notch higher, advocating a truly modular approach to e-commerce. Imagine crafting an e-commerce system with distinct, interchangeable modules, each best in its class. This is the essence of composable commerce – selecting best-of-breed components and stitching them together to curate an e-commerce solution tailor-made for a business's unique requirements. The era of being restricted by a vendor's vision or capabilities is over; enterprises now have the reins to their digital destiny.

Is composable commerce for everyone?

The allure of composable commerce is undeniable, but it's not a universal fit. Predominantly, medium to large enterprises stand to gain the most, given their complex operational needs and resources. Industries where customization is paramount – be it the high demands of luxury goods retailing, the multifaceted realm of B2B commerce, or niche sectors aiming for a standout digital presence – will find composable e-commerce a game-changer, too.

Not every e-commerce venture needs the granularity of composable commerce. Start-ups, smaller enterprises, or businesses with relatively straightforward e-commerce needs might find the investment in finances, time, and expertise disproportionate to the benefits. For them, the well-trodden paths of traditional or headless systems might offer better ROI.

If your organization decides to adopt the composable architecture of its online sales, here is what should be on your checklist:

  1. A crystal-clear roadmap, as ambiguity can lead to inefficiencies; hence, businesses must pinpoint their specific needs. It helps to start with a pre-implementation analysis that focuses on specific business model–related needs of your company.
  2. A robust technical team or agency partnership to ensure handling and seamless integration of components.
  3. A forward-thinking ethos since this approach is dynamic, requiring businesses to be on their toes, adapting and innovating consistently.

Wrapping up

While promising, the journey to composable e-commerce may involve potential pitfalls. Over-customization can lead to convoluted systems that are hard to manage or update. Ineffective integration can erode the user experience, and without a well-informed technical strategy, businesses might end up with a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't quite fit.

The following article will examine examples of both successful and failed attempts at composable architecture implementation in e-commerce. Stay tuned.

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e-Commerce Strategist at NoA Ignite

Małgorzata Radkiewicz

e-Commerce Strategist

Małgorzata’s 15 years of experience have seen her delivering effective solutions to ecommerce brands of all shapes and sizes across the EU and UK. Małgorzata is experienced in brand positioning, traffic and ecommerce sales analytics and leading ecommerce teams and projects for B2B and D2C businesses.

+44 7930 140 293


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