Direct-to-consumer furniture brand Burrow skyrocketed in popularity after solving one of the furniture industry’s biggest modern challenges — how do you buy furniture that will “fit this home and the next one?”
“We’ve long struggled with couches that are either too cheap and flimsy or heavy and expensive,” Burrow’s website states. “They require a team to move, are complicated to put together, and inevitably won’t fit into your next space. That’s why we’re building clever, comfortable furniture for your life and living room.”
Consider monolithic ecommerce platforms as that clunky old couch, stuck forever in the corner or relegated to the basement. Today’s enterprises need modular commerce solutions — solutions that align with the elastic, constantly evolving nature of modern business.
Composable commerce, coined by Gartnerin June 2020, refers to a modular digital commerce approach based on composable architecture. Composable ecommerce solutions provide a “box of Legos” — best-in-breed solutions for every business need, which can then be assembled into a customizable and agile tech stack.
Your business, customers and products are unique. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be as successful as you are. Assemble bespoke digital experiences — based on customer needs and research — with a composable commerce solution.
Your shopping cart technology, customer relationship management and analytics — each component of your composable commerce system can be deployed and interchanged independently.
Seamlessly integrate all your applications with no vendor lock-in. Your open, composable system is custom-made for you.
Create unique commerce experiences tailored to your clientele. As your business and audience grow, your ecommerce system will scale and adapt.
React swiftly to evolving business requirements. Customizable systems make more things possible with less friction — fewer intended consequences, lower costs and increased innovation.
Until recently, enterprise and mid-market businesses built their ecommerce platforms on a monolith architecture by default. Using this monolith framework, all of the necessary pieces of the platform are locked together.
Customers interact with a frontend interface, while the backend controls everything behind the scenes.
Composable commerce is the latest in a series of steps away from the traditional, all-in-one software monolith. While monolithic platforms can be rich in features and functionality, they are not nimble — they tend to slow business innovation rather than enable it.
Monolithic systems can be like playing a game of Jenga — one wrong move can impact the whole system. It may seem that an all-in-one platform would be easier to use. But many find that, as they grow, the challenges of working within a monolith grow, too.
Monoliths feature tightly-coupled front-end and back-end systems. Customizations become more complex as the business fails — reducing business agility.
Composable commerce provides the building blocks for a complete, customized ecommerce solution. Alongside composable commerce, the popularity of headless commerce has grown.
Headless commerce refers to the decoupling of the frontend presentation layer from the backend ecommerce engine — in other words, treating frontend and backend systems as separate building blocks.
Connect a content management system, digital experience platform, Progressive Web App or even an Internet of Things (IoT) device to your headless ecommerce portal. Make changes to your frontend without impacting essential back-end components, such as checkout and payment security.
Headless commerce is easier to scale, faster, and more flexible. Multiple frontends improve reach, user experience and agility, while a single back-end maintains core systems.
With headless, some of the parts of the system are decoupled — but in a true microservices architecture, the platform and service-oriented architecture are fully decoupled. Microservices enable businesses to combine the best individual services to suit their business.
In 2020, a community of developers formed the MACH Alliance to help enterprises navigate the modern technology landscape, advocating for open technology ecosystems.
Their community perspective on building these open environments has four key elements:
Microservices: Microservices are the building blocks. A microservices architecture offers a decentralized, decoupled approach to meeting individual business requirements.
API-first: An API-first approach is what enables an integrated, best-in-breed solution. This provides the flexibility to assemble a tech stack based on your exact business requirements without needing to fully rely on standardized, pre-built plugins.
Cloud: Cloud-native architecture scales automatically based on your needs and assure speed, performance, and security, providing fast, reliable experiences to your customers.
Headless: Enable a wide range of customer touch points and ensure a seamless cross-channel customer experience through headless architecture, a decoupling of the presentation layer from back-end management.
In mid-2020, Gartner published a report further defining its perspective on this modularized approach and coined it “composable commerce.”
Their perspective aligns closely with the microservices approach, with one — perhaps merely semantic — difference: emphasizing packaged business capabilities (PBCs) over microservices.
As Gartner wrote in their report: “Today, these modular capabilities are often called ‘microservices,’ but while this usage is common in the market, it does not align to the technical definition of microservices. The market usage is more closely aligned to the idea of packaged business capabilities (PBCs) that has arisen out of Garner’s future of applications research.”
Build your business as it grows. Packaged Business Capabilities (PCBs) provide simplified, agile solutions to business problems — on demand. Swiftly integrate new capabilities, maintain holistic analytics and improve cross-functional collaboration.
PBCs are software components that represent a defined business capability. They are meant to be functionally complete and can be used as building blocks for applications and custom-assembled application experiences.
While microservices and PBCs are both component-based, PBCs aren’t constrained by size. A PBC may be a large aggregation of microservices into a single PBC unit.
Each discrete system within your ecommerce solution is now self-contained, portable and easily integrated. The modular nature of PBCs makes it easy to manage even highly complex systems to scale.
Consolidate reporting across the entirety of your systems. PCBs integrate into a seamless technology stack, with integrated data generating insightful and actionable data points across your entire ecosystem.
Drive impactful business benefits through company-wide innovation. Greater levels of agility let teams pivot swiftly — when teams have new ideas, they can be implemented fast without the potential for widespread disruption.
Build with technologies optimized for performance. Add features to maintain your competitive advantage — and manage and monitor your back-end separately, increasing stability and scalability.
As technology continues to evolve and retail finds new ways to innovate, businesses must be poised to react quickly to — and even anticipate — changing customer expectations.
Digital commerce competition increases every day. Customer acquisition is a constant challenge and, often, a growing expense.
Composable commerce’s modular approach offers businesses the agility needed to deliver best-in-class experiences at speed and scale — differentiating themselves from a growing number of competitors.
Customer journey touch points have expanded from “in-store” and “online” to social channels, marketplaces, IoT devices and more. Shoppers are interacting with brands in contexts and mediums never seen before.
“A few years back, almost all ecommerce shopping experiences started in search,” Jimmy Duvall, Chief Product Officer at BigCommerce, said. “Today, they're happening from social; they're happening from direct; they're happening from content, and less and less people are starting from search.”
Building a user experience with these factors in mind requires a level of flexibility not necessary or feasible through a monolithic system. Composable commerce can help.
Take advantage of opportunities within a constantly changing marketplace without time-consuming development cycles. Composable commerce increases ecommerce agility by meeting specific business needs through discrete, easily deployed packages.
Under a monolithic system, any change to functionality can be complex. A modular, best-in-breed approach lets you address only the functionality that you need to grow — without the risk of impacting other business capabilities within your ecosystem.
Increasingly saturated advertising channels and changing consumer perceptions of advertising are two factors contributing to a rise in customer acquisition costs.
A modular approach to an organization’s technology stack allows for agile integration with the technologies needed to build customer relationships and engagement.
Monolithic software vendors reduce their clients’ flexibility. Discover a better product from a different company? You’ll have to wait until your contract expires — or be on the hook for a potentially expensive migration.
With a modular build, you can swap components in and out when it makes sense for your business.
Obviously, we believe in a composable commerce approach — especially for enterprise-scale businesses.
However, there are some potential challenges to composable commerce, especially when tackling a full microservices approach rather than a headless ecommerce platform.
There’s one advantage you can give to the monolith: you only have to deal with one vendor.
Negotiating terms of enterprise subscriptions, reviewing terms and conditions, integrating with the software — it takes much longer to do this when you’re talking about upwards of 40 to 50 vendors versus just a few. But use an OpenSaaS composable ecosystem, and you can streamline your vendor management.
“Think of microservices like Lego blocks without an instruction manual to piece them together to build that creation you had perfectly envisioned,” said Jimmy Duvall.
Composable commerce is a complex model that requires a digitally mature organization and deep, cross-functional collaboration among sophisticated developers.
Switching to a microservices architecture might change the infrastructure and tools you need to monitor those different microservices.
Be aware of what changes will be required and factor them into the total cost of ownership — and develop relationships with partners who can support your growing needs.
A pure microservices or completely headless experience requires merchants to build a cohesive user interface on top of other components. Because everything lives in different systems, tasks made simple by a more out-of-the-box platform become much more difficult to manage.
BigCommerce integrates with frontend technology such as Stencil, Gatsby and Next.js.
BigCommerce’s Open SaaS combines the best of both open source and SaaS through a modular approach to ecommerce. Open SaaS is built via an approach that aligns with the philosophy and perspective of the MACH Alliance around open and connected enterprise technology.
“The MACH Alliance mission is a perfect reflection of our own strategy to offer merchants an open, flexible and best-of-breed platform ecosystem that can help future-proof their ecommerce business,” Jimmy Duvall said.
BigCommerce’s philosophy of openness means that you can build integrations into nearly any other application that you wish for near-limitless customizability. That includes giving merchants the choice of whether or not to take a headless commerce approach to build an ecommerce solution.
Because over 90% of the platform is exposed to APIs, BigCommerce merchants can take a best-in-breed approach to their vendor selection. APIs enable merchants to connect third-party integrations, mobile applications, or a frontend CMS or DXP to create a headless storefront.
Burrow, the modular furniture brand we mentioned in the introduction, found that a modular approach worked best for their ecommerce technology, too.
In fact, after launching their site with BigCommerce, Burrow reported a 50% increase in site speed and performance.
“We really wanted to create a super customizable shopping experience. What we didn't want to manage was creating an entire new ecommerce platform and creating a new order management system, all of the sort of technical backend things, because literally there were three people in the company. What enabled us to do that was to take a headless approach to ecommerce,” Kabeer Chopra, co-founder and CPO of Burrow, said.
“The other platforms we spoke to didn’t invest nearly as much time into coming up with a framework or solution that would work for our business but instead tried to fit our business into their framework. Truly, the flexibility that BigCommerce has offered in terms of guidance, support and solutioning has been immense,” Chopra said.
Alex Kubo, vice president of ecommerce and digital marketing for the brand, added: “Having an open API backend allowed us to create a really unique and tailored front-end experience, but have all of the kind of turnkey integrations and tools that we needed on the backend to make sure that all of this cool customization that we wanted to do on the front-end would actually function.”
Consumers are experiencing products and interacting with brands in more ways than ever before. Social media channels have become sales channels, marketing channels and customer service channels. We buy on marketplaces, at pop-up events, on our mobile devices, and sometimes even through smart speakers or game systems. Commerce is omnichannel.
“There are five generations who are buying things online, and never before have merchants or brands been tasked with marketing and selling to five different generations who have incredibly different expectations. You have to be able to innovate all the time and meet consumers where they are,” BigCommerce Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Eggerton said.
Delivering personalized commerce experiences at scale requires flexibility. That’s why Burrow chose a headless architecture to maximize their ability to customize without taking on the extra work of maintaining a backend platform.
Out-of-the-box business components are integrated to create a complete application stack — that’s composable architecture. Composable solutions consist of small, independent services, providing flexibility and scalability to developers.
While the terms “composable” and “microservices” are closely related, microservices architecture involves smaller, discrete subsystems — whereas composable architecture emphasizes the connectivity of Packaged Business Capabilities (PCBs).
The distributed nature of composable commerce lets merchants leverage a wide breadth of commercial platforms, channels and connected devices.
Composable commerce is customizable to any business needs, including point-of-sale devices, payment systems and other hardware merchandising.
Legacy systems are another building block that can be used in composable commerce. By building with small, independent services, developers can quickly integrate applications with their legacy systems through their APIs.
Composable commerce is a powerful method of deploying an omnichannel presence, as different systems can be deployed to integrate directly with third-party software and services.
Today’s customers, whether B2B or B2C, expect consistent digital commerce experiences across all platforms and channels. Today’s commerce architecture must deliver these ecommerce experiences without increasing development complexity.