How complex and costly is composable commerce for B2B firms?

Table of Contents

Composable commerce for B2B 101, Part 2: How complex and costly is it really?

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools
Published 30 June 2023
Estimated reading time minutes

Does it seem to you that everyone is raving about composable commerce these days? We assure you, it’s for a good reason! After all, moving to composable has helped many B2B and B2C companies quickly adapt to ever-changing market conditions and customer expectations in the last few years. 

However, relevant questions remain: Is composable commerce too complex? Is composable only possible to be implemented by elite digitally mature companies powered by an army of developers? Can B2B companies, traditionally less digitally mature than their B2C counterparts, go composable? Read on to learn the simple truths to these complex questions in part 2 of our “Composable commerce for B2B 101” series. 

How complex and costly is composable commerce for B2B firms?

What are the main misconceptions when considering composable commerce for a B2B organization?

Some executives and tech professionals in the B2B realm have concerns about the perceived complexity and high cost of composable commerce. Much of this fear comes from the misperception that implementing best-of-breed solutions will become an unmanageable plethora of vendors, each with its own pricing, contracts and integration protocols. Many people also worry about systems compatibility and interoperability issues, which would directly impact costs and could translate into time-intensive projects. 

Another thing executives worry about is whether their organizations need an army of developers to go composable (in other words, additional personnel, recruitment and training costs). Some organizations have been so heavily burned in the past that just the prospect of yet another replatforming project is a big turn-off. Not only can a migration process be daunting and costly, but reaping the benefits of a new system can take a long time. 

These concerns and fears are common blockers that hinder organizations from modernizing their commerce infrastructures, putting their financial performance and future success at risk. 

So, are these concerns valid? Keep reading the next sections for more details on why these fears are unfounded, and how your business can positively benefit by adopting a composable approach.  

How does composable commerce reduce complexity and costs for B2Bs?

Despite concerns about complexity and high costs, composable commerce actually simplifies and modernizes your tech stack while reducing costs over time. Here’s how:

Implementing best-of-breed solutions is plug-and-play

The idea of “best-of-breed” is to integrate a solution that fits your specific business requirements, instead of getting all the commerce features from one platform that may not always fulfill those unique needs. While getting everything in one place may sound more convenient, ask yourself: Do these functionalities fulfill your business requirements? Are they priced according to your budget? Can you customize them to deliver what you expect them to? If the answer to these questions is No, No and, again, No, then buying an all-in-one solution doesn’t make sense. 

A best-of-breed approach may indeed require additional effort to find the right solutions. You must research vendors, find out what they offer and manage various relationships. But integrating these solutions, especially if they share the principles of MACH®, is something you shouldn’t worry about; they’re plug-and-play and interoperable with any API-capable system. 

Composable is a cloud-native SaaS, so you also benefit from lower maintenance costs and higher scalability. Cloud-native infrastructure is designed to be resilient, self-healing and fault-tolerant, therefore you can optimize performance for online applications. 

Developer resources

Companies don’t need an army of developers to implement a composable infrastructure. In fact, many B2Bs have done so with less than 10 developers. B2B players like Loomstate accomplished it with a team of five people in-house, without a system integrator, and managed a full deployment within two months. 

Several factors are at play for B2Bs to increase developer productivity (up to 75%) with composability. First, developers aren’t stuck doing maintenance work and bug fixing. Second, they’re releasing new features, optimizing the system, experimenting and innovating faster. And third, developers have the complete freedom to select, code, integrate, monitor and manage applications without requiring specific languages, certifications, frameworks or proprietary technology. Companies can leverage their existing pool of talented developers to extend their tech stack, which reduces the complexity and cost of hiring and training.   

The last replatforming, ever

Many technology professionals fear that a migration project may take years and cost millions of dollars. And this does hold true for the traditional replatforming process from a legacy platform to yet another legacy platform using the “big bang” (also known as greenfield) approach. However, the picture is entirely different with a composable commerce platform, as B2Bs can move components incrementally (aka, the strangler pattern). 

An overview of the strangler pattern

This paradigm shift from a large replatforming project to an incremental approach means businesses have more flexibility to create an MVP based on customer needs and experiment with different components, which drives better and faster results. Plus, you don’t have to put your faith in big-bang projects and cross your fingers that you've got everything (or anything) right for your customers. 

Last but not least, you can easily replace components within a composable architecture, but you don’t need to replace an entire platform. So, you don’t ever have to replatform again, which is a massive benefit!

This is how composable commerce reduces complexity and costs for B2Bs:  

  • Simplify your commerce architecture with modular and interchangeable components.

  • Integrate new, cutting-edge solutions, such as search and AI tools, faster and more efficiently without additional integration costs. 

  • Technical debt is no longer an issue because a composable system is always updated and maintained in real-time. Version upgrades become a relic of the past. 

  • With a cloud-native SaaS, you don’t have to maintain your servers or increase capacity on your own. With infinite scale, you can handle a large number of SKUs or increased online traffic.  

  • Hiring an army of developers or investing in certifications is unnecessary. Your developers become more productive and innovate more, which translates into your company’s ability to launch new features, expand to new business models, etc., at a quicker pace. 

  • You have the freedom to update and upgrade your tech stack component by component. This makes your infrastructure more agile and adaptable and, therefore, more cost-efficient and easier to maintain in the long run. 

  • Composable commerce vendors like commercetools provide a vast network of partners and accelerators to simplify implementation timelines and enable B2Bs to leverage best practices.  

Does composable work only for digitally mature B2B firms? 

While many digitally mature companies have composable architectures, it doesn’t mean that only elite companies like Amazon can implement composable. You can turn this way of thinking on its head: Composable architecture can actually enable companies to achieve digital maturity faster than legacy commerce platforms.  

Let’s take the example of new-to-digital companies, which are still a reality in B2B. Usually, they lack eCommerce capabilities entirely or have a rudimentary e-shop with a limited (or worse, outdated!) product selection. Also, digital tools, like pricing transparency and order status, are non-existent. Sales and customer engagement are on a person-to-person basis. Is it possible to pull off a composable architecture in such an analog scenario? 

Absolutely! Normet, a B2B provider for underground mining and tunneling projects, is a great example. The company has nurtured decades-long customer relationships, relying on phone calls and emails for taking orders. Customers had no visibility on inventory for spare parts and Normet’s team was plagued with manual (and hence inefficient) ordering processes. 

Instead of buying a legacy platform to access all commerce features from one place, Normet tackled digitization with a composable approach. The company digitized its spare parts catalog of over 65,000 products as a starting point and automated the purchasing phase with best-of-breed solutions. The new digital team at Normet focused on its main customer pain points as part of its composable journey, aiming to incrementally improve and digitize the customer experience in the best way possible. Normet pulled it off in only four months. 

Many B2B firms have a similar journey to Normet: They need to build their digital commerce footprint from scratch and don’t have years to go through an extensive digital transformation process. Some might choose a legacy solution because it’s more convenient, but they soon learn that the vanilla features of an all-in-one platform aren’t customizable, updating the platform is complicated, costly and time-consuming, and they become less adaptable. While plugging in a legacy commerce platform may provide a shortcut to digital maturity, many B2Bs realize that they are unable to evolve their digital maturity over time. 

Composable commerce tackles digital maturity from your main pain points and lets you evolve and adapt as time goes by. Imagine plugging in advanced search capabilities or AI into your commerce platform: In a legacy environment, connecting AI tools would take months of meticulous planning, translating into higher costs and a longer implementation time. In contrast, a composable approach enables you to seamlessly plug (or unplug) new features, experiment, see what works and what doesn’t, and adapt your strategy. 

In short, your business can become more digitally mature, adaptable and resilient with composable. 

Download: The Composable Commerce Migration Guide for B2B

How does composable commerce reduce risks for B2B businesses?

Composable commerce enables businesses to reduce risk by embracing change as a tool instead of a threat. Leading analyst Gartner® states that embracing composability is when “everything is designed to change, and change is considered often, to achieve large and small outcomes, eyeing both growth and resilience.” In short, composable commerce helps you reduce risk in 6 ways:

1. Modular and decoupled: When your commerce infrastructure breaks free from a tightly coupled approach, you worry less about single points of failure or full application failure with long resolution times. With composable, your infrastructure is more distributed, making it easier to contain, fix and maintain a seamless customer experience in case of issues. 

For example, the industrial equipment supplier relies on an ERP system that holds all the account information, but that system goes down occasionally. At one point, the ERP suffered an outage which may have jeopardized the customer experience, but it didn’t. While the ERP was down, the commerce experience kept running smoothly: The problem was successfully contained through Zoro's modular and headless environment.

2. APIs and data modeling: With a super flexible infrastructure, you’re in charge of how your workflows and data behave — not your vendor. You can model data, as well as extend and customize APIs to respond how you want them to. For instance, uses Custom Objects, which allows companies to design anything they want with commercetools, allowing their Net-30 customers to look at their invoices and pay them without hassle. Even though this was not an out-of-the-box functionality of commercetools at the time, the Zoro team was able to create this feature because of the extensibility of the commercetools platform. 

3. Operational efficiency with automation: In B2B, it’s typical that many processes, including order processing, are done manually. With the inherently modular approach of composable commerce, it’s easy for B2Bs to automate processes like quote generation, orders, inventory management and fulfillment, customer-specific pricing and promotions. This also enables your business to reduce manual administrative operations, such as order processing significantly, while also reducing the risk of human error during manual tasks. 

4. Streamlined integrations: A lean tech stack is crucial. Not only can you easily swap integrations in and out without issues, but you can also experiment more freely with a lower upfront investment. Best-of-breed reduces the risk of relying on a single vendor or solution provider for the entire system. If one vendor's performance or support falls short, businesses can easily replace that specific component while keeping the rest of the system intact. 

5. Faster iterations and testing: B2B businesses can make incremental changes to individual components, test them in isolation and gather feedback before deploying them in production. This iterative approach minimizes the risk of major failures or costly mistakes, as businesses can identify and rectify issues early in development.

6. Reduced implementation costs: By adopting a composable approach, B2B businesses can reduce the risk of large-scale, high-cost implementations. They can start with smaller, focused components and gradually expand their commerce capabilities based on business needs and budget availability. This phased implementation approach lowers the financial risk of upfront investments in complex and comprehensive systems.

How does a flexible data model reduce complexity in B2B commerce?

Digital commerce is heavily dependent on data, no matter the business you’re in. According to Gartner, 40% of businesses fail to meet their objectives because of missing, inaccurate or incomplete data. Particularly in B2B, data management is a massive problem, so much so that 60% of B2B buyers’ biggest frustration about online buying is around insufficient or inaccurate product information. With so many B2Bs relying on legacy platforms that lack modern data management capabilities, they struggle with data silos, inefficient and slow data processing, and fail to leverage core commerce data throughout the customer experience. 

Today's omnichannel and ultra-fast world calls for a more flexible and scalable data model that only composable commerce can provide. A flexible data model enables companies to determine and customize the data structure over time. In contrast, the data model in legacy platforms is static, so it’s nearly impossible for companies to customize and extend the data structure. With a flexible data model, B2Bs (and B2Cs) can adapt and scale data according to new tech, market conditions and/or customer expectations. 

Before going composable, businesses first need to take a step back: Spend some time assessing your data and consider how to clean and enrich it, as well as create strategies to leverage it. This process will help you shape the customer experience, as it is inherently connected to the data management that you apply. After all, as stated by the experts at Master B2B, “Continued maturity in eCommerce will only occur after the company makes a significant and ongoing investment in data cleanliness.” 

After the migration, you should ensure that data remains up-to-date. commercetools allows you to change the data model in real-time using its business tooling, the Merchant Center, or directly on the API level. For instance, the B2B apparel manufacturer Loomstate developed a custom script leveraging the commercetools API to ensure seamless data transfer after their migration from legacy architecture. 

How can composable commerce facilitate B2B omnichannel strategies?

According to McKinsey, two-thirds of B2B buyers opted for remote human interactions or digital self-service at the ordering and reordering stages in 2022. Plus, B2B companies that provide the best omnichannel experiences are improving their market share by at least 10% annually. It’s clear that omnichannel is a crucial area for B2Bs to focus on, enabling buyers to find the products they need and engage with suppliers on their terms, which may include a mix of the manufacturer’s own website, online distributors, various marketplaces and in-person sales. 

A composable architecture, combined with flexible data models, enables B2Bs to excel in omnichannel strategies by:

  • Introducing new features and channels without constraints, and responding faster to customer expectations. For instance, many B2Bs have built one-to-one relationships with their customers, which they can use as a foundation to create systems and touchpoints that address their customers’ needs.

  • Fostering an internal culture that comprehends the symbiotic relationship between digital and non-digital channels in driving revenue growth, powered by modern data management that enables accurate product, pricing, inventory, shipping and customer data points across every touchpoint. 

  • Enabling a 360-degree view of the customer, allowing salespeople to visualize the products their customers are ordering across various channels. 

B2B companies are reorganizing their vast information pools to upsell and cross-sell effectively with composable commerce, so they can break data silos and access the data when needed. According to MasterB2B, 77% of companies said they’re investing in data cleanup in 2023, which will accelerate omnichannel strategies in the sector.  

How easy is it for B2Bs to complete and manage their tech stack with best-of-breed?

After migrating the data and the first applications to a composable architecture, businesses can start completing their best-of-breed ecosystem.

A vital step you should take is to define and prioritize all custom extensions you need to build or buy to create a cohesive commerce infrastructure. This may include (but is not limited to) an ERP system, order management, sales tax, payments, marketing automation, personalization, CMS, content delivery network (CDN), search and merchandising.

With a microservices-based and API-first approach, you can integrate the components you need, whether they’re built in-house, sourced from best-of-breed vendors, or a mix of both. This approach, known as build-and-buy, enables you to build what makes your business unique and buy the components that don’t make sense to build from scratch, like catalog or cart (and even extend and customize those “commodity” features with bespoke parameters).

The easiest way to find best-in-class tools is to plug in vendors that share the MACH philosophy. Whenever you need to integrate third-party services, tap into commercetools partner ecosystem for a plug-and-play integration. When it comes to the migration process, you can leverage system integrator partners for a faster and best practices-based implementation.  

Another point is how to connect with the ERP system. For many B2Bs, ERP is where commerce-relevant data is stored to manage all orders and fulfillment, so syncing to digital commerce is essential. Because most ERPs are legacy systems, you may think connecting with composable is a mission-impossible task. However, that’s not the case: You can extend an API to your backend ERP integration without affecting the rest of your infrastructure.

There are different ways to connect ERP with a composable architecture, from using your ERP’s integration middleware to third-party middleware via iPaaS solutions and cloud services. No matter the connection method, you can get the composable commerce platform seamlessly syncing information with the ERP, even if it’s a legacy application. 

What are the key features that help B2Bs streamline digital commerce?

When thinking about features in B2B, the first thing to consider is that much of the core commerce functionality is similar to that used by B2C and D2C businesses, such as search, checkout, promotions, and other common functionalities that you experience in everyday online shopping. The beauty of composable commerce is that those core commerce functions are easily customizable and extensible, so B2B players can leverage the same components, like product catalogs, checkout, etc., and make them their own. For example: 

  • Create a cart and place an order on behalf of a business

  • Purchase order support

  • Define standalone pricing for company-specific catalogs

  • Cart freezes to retain pricing throughout complex approval scenarios

  • Specify multiple shipping methods and addresses on the line item and SKU level

Despite the similarities, B2C and B2B share core differences that set the tone for each strategy — and this is where B2B-specific functionality plays a major role. For instance, B2B firms usually operate with a higher value and volume per order than B2C, prices are typically influenced by volumes ordered and pre-negotiated contracts, and the decision-making process is multi-layered, involving several people across the organization. 

The B2B buying journey is usually more complicated, too: According to Gartner, 77% of B2B buyers found their latest purchase complex. These factors call for B2B-driven features that simplify the buying journey, which composable commerce can seamlessly deliver: 

  • Companies & company structure management (Business Units): When many people are involved in purchasing, it’s critical to map your business customers and divisions into the data model to align with sales operations and customer organizational structures. With commercetools, you can set granular roles and permissions to reflect the buying process, enabling order placement by business associates for Business Units within our business tooling, the Merchant Center. 

  • Business Unit-specific pricing, product catalogs and promotions: Optimize customer operations and simplify data modeling with unlimited flexibility by utilizing stores and channels to create company-specific catalogs, pricing and discounts. By linking stores to Business Units, you can define specific pricing and discounts through channels and specific catalogs through product selections. 

  • Buyer Approval Flows: Approval on orders is a widespread use case across the broad range of business customers that manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors serve, from SMBs to large enterprises. To comply with internal accounting and procurement processes, businesses can set up approval rules for their buyers based on their roles and permissions, ensuring that all orders are authorized and in compliance.  

  • Quote generation and renegotiation: Automate manual processes and provide transparent buying experiences. At commercetools, the Quotes API can automate the quoting process, no matter if the products and services sold by your business are complex, advanced or heavily customized. With the flexible and extensible Quotes API, you can model and reflect your existing sales and quoting processes, including quote generation, negotiation, management and acceptance. 

Overall, these B2B-specific features, combined with core commerce components, enable you to simplify the buying process, reducing complexity, saving time and profiting from efficiency gains. 

What additional B2B-specific features can simplify your commerce?

More than core commerce features and functionalities that simplify the B2B buying journey, B2B businesses usually need a range of features that can help them streamline and simplify their commerce operations. So, how do you decide what functionalities match your B2B company’s needs? 

First of all, “B2B” is an umbrella term encompassing manufacturing, wholesale and distribution businesses. Each sector has different needs and should prioritize features depending on how the company operates. Here’s an overview:

When you provide distribution and logistics services

  • Advanced inventory management, e.g., tracking inventory across multiple locations

  • Fulfillment capabilities, e.g., shipping to various warehouses

When you handle large and/or complex orders

  • Ability to handle large orders

  • Reordering and order scheduling

  • Bulk pricing

  • Customer-specific pricing and discounts

  • Complex order flows

  • Quote generation, negotiation and management

  • Support for standalone SKUs

  • Support for pricing at scale

When you sell to various businesses, such as retailers, resellers and wholesalers

  • Handle complex pricing and discount structures

  • Customer-specific product catalogs

  • Multiple payment and shipping options

When you sell across multiple channels

  • Support omnichannel strategies

  • Integration with ERP and CRM systems for seamless data sync

When you have an extensive product catalog

  • Complex product relationships and categorization

  • Support multiple product variations and configurations

  • Support for custom and complex products.

What should you consider when selecting a B2B commerce vendor?

If you’re convinced that composable commerce is the right fit for your business, the next step is to evaluate what vendors can help you modernize your infrastructure. Here are questions you can ask and factors to consider, from strategy down to features and implementation: 

Vision and strategy: 

  • What’s the vendor’s vision for a B2B digital commerce solution?

  • How clear and valuable is the vendor’s product roadmap? Does it serve the specific needs of B2B?

Costs and timing:

  • What’s the average setup and integration cost for composable commerce? 

  • How long, on average, does it take to implement a standard B2B solution?

Functionality, integrations and data: 

  • What are the B2B-specific features provided natively by the commerce vendor?  

  • Can the commerce vendor support sales in a company-owned or operated marketplace? 

  • How does the vendor’s solution enable non-technical business users? 

  • How does the vendor enable customization and extensibility? 

  • Can the vendor support MVPs and POCs? 

  • How flexible is the data model? 

  • Can the vendor create and modify workflows, e.g., quote management, for mission-critical processes?

Performance and scalability: 

  • What’s the largest number of daily sales transactions the vendor can process? 

  • How can the vendor scale traffic? 

  • How many SKUs can the vendor handle per second? 

Deployment models

  • What deployment models does the vendor offer for its B2B commerce solution? 

  • What is the vendor's strategy to support clients regarding upgrades and enhancements?

  • How frequent are new releases and upgrades offered?

Implementation partners and developer community:

  • How many implementation partners does the vendor have at your disposal? 

  • Are there partners specifically to serve the needs of B2B?

  • How complete and easy to understand is the technical documentation provided by the vendor? 

  • Does the vendor provide a marketplace for best-of-breed solutions? 

Why consider commercetools Composable Commerce for B2B? Our composable commerce platform helps B2Bs deliver outstanding buying experiences for their customers — no matter the business size or level of buying complexity. With an extensive ecosystem of modern service and integration partners to help with accelerating innovation and time-to-market, you get all the flexibility and extensibility of the 300+ API portfolio already used by 450+ enterprise businesses globally, as well as additional functionality designed explicitly for B2B use cases.

Are you ready to take advantage of commercetools Composable Commerce for B2B? Download The Composable Commerce Migration Guide for B2B

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools

Julia is a Senior B2B Product Expert at commercetools. With over a decade of experience across product and marketing teams in the tech world, she is an expert at creating innovative, customer-first strategies, and excelling in cross-functional growth & GTM initiatives.

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