E-commerce has come a long way from the days of simple online shopping carts. As businesses grew more complex, so, too, did the platforms they use to sell their products and services online. One of the most significant developments in recent years is the rise of composable commerce, an approach that emphasizes the use of modular, independent components to create customized e-commerce solutions. While composable commerce has compelling benefits, it also has caveats and drawbacks.
Digital commerce has revolutionized the way people shop and do business, opening a world of opportunities to reach customers across the globe. The digital world continues to evolve at a rapid pace, however, and traditional monolithic e-commerce platforms are no longer able to keep up with the demand for greater flexibility, agility, and scalability.
This is where composable commerce comes in. Composable commerce is an emerging approach to e-commerce architecture that offers businesses the ability to create flexible and adaptable digital experiences using modular, API-driven microservices. These microservices can be combined and configured in different ways to create unique and customized e-commerce experiences that meet the specific needs of businesses and customers.
Composable commerce enables businesses to create a distinctive and engaging online store that sets them apart from competitors. Case in point: 95% of e-commerce experts consider composable commerce to be the future of their business. Furthermore, organizations that adopt this approach are anticipated to outperform their rivals by 80% this year in terms of the pace of feature implementation.
Composable commerce vs. headless commerce
Composable commerce is often compared to headless commerce, as both approaches rely on API-driven microservices to create more flexible and customizable e-commerce experiences. However, they have some key differences.
Headless commerce typically involves decoupling the front-end presentation layer from the back-end e-commerce platform, allowing for greater flexibility in designing and delivering digital experiences. Composable commerce takes this a step further by breaking down the back end of the e-commerce platform into modular, API-driven microservices that can be combined and configured in different ways to create customized e-commerce experiences. Essentially, composable commerce is a network where every element — not just the front end — functions independently from one another.
While headless commerce could be a good fit for businesses looking to create more flexible front-end experiences, composable commerce offers a more comprehensive approach to e-commerce architecture that can provide greater flexibility and adaptability throughout the entire e-commerce stack.
A visualized comparison of architecture between traditional e-commerce (top) and composable commerce (bottom)
How a composable commerce works
In a composable commerce architecture, the traditional monolithic e-commerce platform is broken down into separate, modular microservices that perform specific functions such as catalog management, payment processing, and shipping logistics. These microservices are connected through APIs, enabling them to communicate with each other seamlessly.
At the front end, the presentation layer is decoupled from the back end of the e-commerce platform, allowing businesses to use different front-end technologies to create a customized customer experience across multiple channels. This is enabled by using headless technology, which separates the front-end presentation layer from the underlying e-commerce platform.
The entire composable commerce system is deployed on a cloud-native infrastructure, which enables businesses to easily scale the system as needed.
Let's say a traditional e-commerce business is experiencing some challenges with its existing monolithic platform, which is proving inflexible and challenging to adapt to changing customer demands. The company is struggling to provide a seamless omnichannel experience, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the platform, as each change or update has a cascading effect on the entire system.
To overcome these challenges, the business decides to switch to a composable commerce approach:
The first step is to break down the monolithic platform into separate microservices, such as product catalog, checkout, payment, and shipping.
The company next adopts headless technology, which allows them to decouple the front-end presentation layer from the back end.
The company selects best-of-breed software vendors for each microservice and integrates them using APIs. For example, they could choose a payment gateway provider that specializes in fraud prevention and separate a shipping provider that offers real-time tracking and customizable shipping options.
Finally, the company deploys the new composable commerce system on a cloud-native infrastructure, which allows them to easily scale and adapt the system as business needs change.
Benefits of composable commerce
There are several benefits for investing in composable commerce:
Best-of-breed approach: Composable commerce allows businesses to choose the most suitable components for each aspect of their e-commerce solution. This smaller scope of functionalities enables better implementation that fits their unique needs.
Parallel teamwork: Composable commerce enables multiple teams to work simultaneously on different components of the e-commerce solution with limited dependencies on each other’s work. This allows new features to be developed and delivered faster.
Independent team scaling: Businesses can independently hire and adjust the size of their teams, which helps prevent potential bottlenecks and minimize the risk of delays.
Policy flexibility: Each component of the e-commerce solution can have different internal policies, such as deployment and security, depending on its criticality. This allows for a more lightweight process for noncritical components.
Easy solution delivery: Composable commerce allows new solutions to be delivered based on an existing set of services, making it easier and faster to develop and deploy new features.
No limitation on tech stack: Any technology can be used for each component as long as the API layers meet agreed-upon standards. This allows for greater flexibility and innovation.
Resilience: Noncritical components can fail without impacting crucial ones. This reduces the risk of downtime and ensures a better customer experience.
Drawbacks of composable commerce
For some businesses, these disadvantages might outweigh the benefits of composable commerce:
Complexity: Composable commerce brings with it a degree of complexity related to multiple integrations and parallel processing. The more microservices that are added to the architecture, the more challenging it can be to manage and orchestrate them effectively. This can lead to difficulties with security, debugging, orchestration, and resource management.
Maintenance: A broad and open technology stack might be difficult to sustain in terms of resourcing and maintenance. As businesses add more microservices to their composable commerce architecture, they would need to bring in additional resources or expertise to manage and maintain the different technologies involved.
Hype: The hype around headless approaches can cause organizations to lose focus on their actual requirements. While composable commerce offers many benefits, businesses must carefully consider their specific needs and goals before embarking on a composable commerce initiative.
Digital maturity: Composable commerce requires a high level of digital maturity as multiple interdependent initiatives must be run in parallel. Businesses must have the necessary infrastructure, processes, and skills in place to effectively manage a complex composable commerce architecture.
Time to market: Composable commerce can take longer to implement than a well-suited monolith package. Businesses would need to invest time and resources in building or acquiring the necessary microservices to create a customized e-commerce experience that meets their specific requirements. This can slow down time to market, especially for businesses with limited resources or tight deadlines.
Implementing a composable commerce approach
Composable commerce is a relatively new approach to e-commerce that emphasizes modularity and flexibility in building digital commerce systems. It enables businesses to break down their e-commerce systems into smaller, reusable components, which can be independently developed, deployed, and scaled. These microservices can be combined and orchestrated to create customized e-commerce solutions that meet specific business needs and provide a competitive advantage.
While this approach offers many benefits, it is not a silver bullet that automatically delivers value. Businesses must carefully plan, execute, and optimize their approach. They must identify the right components to use and ensure that they are properly integrated and orchestrated in a way that aligns with their overall business strategy and objectives.
Composable commerce requires ongoing attention and investment to deliver value over time. This means that businesses need to clearly understand their goals and priorities, know the various components available to them, and learn how they can be integrated. Composable commerce also requires ongoing monitoring and optimization to ensure that the system continues to perform well and meets the changing needs of the business.
Lingaro Group’s digital commerce practice works with enterprises and global brands in designing, developing, and deploying e-commerce systems and digital marketplaces enabled by data and analytics. Our end-to-end solutions cover the entire journey in digital commerce — from strategic consulting, e-commerce strategy, IT architecture design, UI/UX prototyping and e-commerce development to D2C, B2C, and B2B platforms.