What Is Composable Commerce?

Karl Hughes

Tech advocate and writer @ fabric. Previously CTO @ Graide Network.

March 26, 2022
Summary
  • Composable commerce, or modular commerce, is about using the best tools for different business problems without vendor lock-ins.

  • Communication between the various tools is made by API calls. This makes each module less vulnerable to outages in other modules.

  • Composable commerce platforms like fabric give businesses scalable, modular, flexible, extensible, and agile solutions that can be implemented easily.

Composable Commerce Definition

Composable commerce, otherwise known as modular commerce, is the concept of combining top-tier or high-performing tools or products from various sources to create a custom end product. This final product is often a solution to a very specific use case that requires this custom build.

Overview of Composable Commerce

For example, Aston Martins are one of the most sought-after supercars in the automobile industry. The gorgeous looks, sheer performance, and endorsement from James Bond contribute to the luster. The hypercar Valkyrie from Aston stables uses the following suppliers:

  • Engine from Cosworth
  • Transmission from Ricardo
  • Tires from Michelin
  • Brakes from Brembo
  • Throttle body and engine ECU from Bosch
  • Audio from Bang & Olufsen
  • HEV battery module from Rimac
  • And tens of other suppliers providing specialized components

The role of Aston Martin is to design how the different components work in a car, source the best components according to required specifications, and then put them all together to make it work. The same thing can be done for e-commerce applications, too.

Composable commerce at its core is analogous to Aston Martin: it’s all about putting together the best components to deliver a superior experience. This article will take you through the elements of the e-commerce experience and explore composable commerce: what it is, its use cases, and how it can help developers and e-commerce managers.

The e-commerce experience

E-commerce was one of the industries that experienced a huge upswing since 2020 due to government-mandated lockdowns. As a result, many retail businesses are building up e-commerce platforms in addition to their physical presence. Three different elements play a part in the e-commerce experience for a customer. They include:

  • Technology stack: This is the technology used to build the e-commerce solution. This comprises server solutions, as well as the architecture, backend, database, and frontend technologies used.
  • Customer journey: This describes the different phases that a customer goes through while making a purchase. This starts from customer acquisition and extends to post-sale service, necessitating a truly service-oriented commerce solution.
  • Capabilities: This represents the functionalities required to support the various phases of the customer journey, stretching from the technology stack to the logistics required.

These three elements play a critical role in delivering a superior e-commerce experience for customers. When contrasting with e-commerce and physical retailing, the technology stack is the newer element. Customer journey and capabilities are required for physical retail stores, too. Thus, the technology stack is the key differentiator for e-commerce applications.

The evolution of the e-commerce technology stack

Once, businesses were responsible for building their own e-commerce solution from scratch. This was a tedious process with huge capital expenditure for the business, and the resulting solution often had a subpar quality that hindered the customer experience. Later, monolith solutions became popular. A business could purchase an e-commerce suite from a vendor and implement a standard solution. While there was minimal customization possible, the technology was solid and usable for customers.

The next evolutionary step was headless systems, which separate the presentation layer of the e-commerce platform from the rest of the technology used. The presentation layer interacts with the headless systems via API calls, which helps to build the user experience aspects without concern for the impact on the rest of the systems. This allowed businesses to develop native user experience channels like websites, iOS apps, Android apps, etc., without worrying about affecting the underlying systems.

Headless services, along with the prevalence of microservices architecture and the increasing popularity of APIs, gave way to MACH, which stands for Microservices API-first Cloud Headless.

This framework can make use of multiple vendors since the technical stack is separated from the presentation layer and accessed with API calls. Core commerce could be from one vendor, CMS from another vendor, a shopping cart from another vendor, and so on. MACH is focused on improving microservices-based commerce with a superior technology stack.

The next step of MACH is composable commerce.

How Composable Commerce Works

Composable commerce scales the idea of MACH for the technology stack for the whole business. It’s about bringing together flexible and modular assets that are best suited for achieving different business objectives.

As you have seen, this modular commerce is extremely customizable. CRM solutions can be bought as a single module, marketing automation can be another module, and there can be multiple supply chain modules. Composable commerce allows these different solutions to work together, tied together with API calls.

In addition to these benefits, composable commerce has a variety of specific uses and features that make it an important consideration. Take a look at a few of them:

Best solutions without vendor lock-in

With composable commerce, each component asset that a firm uses will be the best solution for a small business problem. This allows businesses to opt for the perfect solution for each individual problem without any fear of vendor lock-ins.

When a business has to use a solution from a single vendor, it might not be the best tool for all the issues a business faces. Furthermore, in this scenario, your business is essentially at the mercy of that single vendor; you have little if any say in the technical decisions or the financial changes the vendor makes. Switching vendors if the need arises is a technically challenging and time-consuming process. Modular commerce presents a paradigm shift to that problem.

Agility and flexibility

The events of recent years related to COVID-19 brought awareness to the problem of having a rigid monolithic architecture. Monolithic architecture reduced the flexibility and agility of businesses, making it difficult for them to maneuver the constant changes they had to undergo to adjust to a rapidly changing world. Modular commerce allows businesses to construct their digital ecosystem with a high level of resilience and agility built into it.

Supports innovation

The modular architecture in composable commerce also helps support fast-paced innovation. Innovation, by definition, involves failures before achieving any semblance of success. Composable commerce gives businesses the ability to innovate without affecting the core business processes. If a particular innovation is found to be unsatisfactory, it can be easily removed without any disruption to the rest of the business.

Extensibility

Modular commerce is all about making solutions extensible. The various assets from different vendors can be modified by a business to make them tailor-fit for the problem at hand. Earlier, businesses had to choose between buying or building a solution, but with composable commerce, businesses can buy the best tool and extend its usefulness by building additional features.

Example of Composable Commerce

There are many solutions and tools that are part of composable commerce. Take fabric for example; their headless solution helps businesses make content and commerce work together seamlessly. Fabric offers components like product information manager (PIM) and order management system (OMS), as well as features like Ssubscriptions and Member to help you build the commerce solution of your dreams.

Furthermore, the flexible, extensible, and seamless platform works with API calls, which means that businesses do not require any migration to use modern tools required for business outcomes. Tools like fabric give developers and management the flexibility to use the best business solutions in a hassle-free manner. This is why they need to embrace composable commerce, as digital transformation couldn’t be easier.

Composable Commerce FAQs

1. Composable commerce sounds great, but wouldn’t moving from the current monolith architecture to a new, modular model be disruptive to my company?

Not necessarily. Moving from an existing monolith architecture to modular commerce can be disruptive if done overnight, but one of the advantages of composable commerce is that the switch to the modular model is not drastic. First, a modular tool can be implemented for just one function, and later, another one.

This slow and evolutionary extension of composable commerce solutions ensures that business processes do not suffer huge disruptions.

2. Does composable commerce have any downsides?

While composable commerce has plenty more advantages than disadvantages, it is not without any downsides. Some of the problems firms might face with composable commerce include:

  • The increasing complexity of engineering. Managing and maintaining a large number of smaller applications can become tedious. It can put a huge strain on the DevOps team of the firm and it is possible that management and IT teams can lose track of different modular solutions.
  • The possibility of increasing technology expenditure. When you pick and choose the best solutions for each business aspect, you end up paying a higher rate for each solution, which quickly compounds with a large number of small applications. All things considered, it is certainly possible that the business will have to pay more than what would have been the cost for a monolith solution.

3. Why choose composable commerce over traditional monolithic solutions?

As we’ve discussed, there are a host of great reasons to choose a composable commerce model. Some of these include:

  • Avoiding vendor lock-ins.
  • Achieving the best solution for each business need.
  • Supporting innovation.
  • Ease of swapping components and technologies as needed.
  • No cost of migration for moving between technologies.
  • Improved flexibility and agility for the firm.
Karl Hughes author Tech advocate and writer @ fabric. Previously CTO @ Graide Network.

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