Considering choosing the homegrown approach? Here are four questions to ask your tech team first.

Four questions to ask your tech team before committing to building your own commerce stack

Anita Temple headshot
Anita Temple
Corporate Journalist, commercetools
Published 15 February 2023

After experiencing years and years of frustration and expense dealing with antiquated monolithic platforms — maintaining, updating and working around their limitations —  many brands have finally recognized it’s time to transform their digital commerce experience. However, despite the emergence of best-in-class composable commerce vendors recognized by Gartner®, Forrester® and other analyst firms, leadership at some major brands have already made the bold decision to build their own in-house commerce solution from the ground up.

Considering choosing the homegrown approach? Here are four questions to ask your tech team first.

Before you commit to a homegrown approach, it’s important to first identify if there are clear differentiating benefits to embarking on this challenging journey. After all, unless you are Amazon or Walmart with thousands of IT employees, taking on such an incredibly difficult, time-consuming and expensive task comes with significant risk, with little to no benefit to your business. To determine whether DIY makes sense, we propose posing the questions below to your tech team:

1. Why do you think we need to build our own commerce solution?

The response you’ll probably get from your tech team is that your business needs are so unique that building your own solution is well…the only solution. The truth is, taking the homegrown approach is not the best strategy to choose if you want to showcase what makes your brand unique — especially if you want to do it quickly and continually refine it over time. By its very nature, the homegrown approach requires lots of developers, lots of testing, and lots of maintenance. Your tech team isn’t going to be able to dispute these facts.

However, they will have another argument on standby. They’ll tell you to have total control over your commerce solution, you have to build it in-house. OK, sure, it gives you more control, but at the same time, it makes it difficult to engage external sources when and if you need additional support. 

Ultimately, your internal team becomes the only group with a clear understanding of the solution they built, thus they are critical to perfecting and/or “hardening” your solution. For the first year or two after launch, they’re going to be the ones who are stuck testing, monitoring and fixing bugs rather than delivering innovation. Even though they may act committed to your commerce journey, statistics show IT professionals are not terribly loyal — with notoriously low employee retention rates of about 3 years. Plus, they abandon a project leaving little or no documentation.  In the long run, all these factors ultimately handicap your business.

Today, in a world powered by modern MACH™-based (Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, Headless) architecture, there’s no reason you can’t have total control while side-stepping the fundamental build process. Large enterprises, like John Lewis & Partners, Bang & Olufsen, Express and Academy Sports have discovered they don’t have to choose between building from scratch or buying a monolith solution. Instead, they’ve embraced a composable commerce approach, integrating the best of both worlds.

What these brands have found — and what you’ll realize as well— is buying core components like cart, checkout and payments doesn’t hinder the ability to control your commerce experience. On the contrary, it gives you more freedom. First off, you don’t really have to "buy" anything because all the components are SaaS-based —  so you can unplug and swap out any or all of them at any time without risk. And, because the composable environment is MACH-based and therefore agnostic by design, you can make modifications and updates, add custom features and experiment with new capabilities at any time — again with minimal risk. 

2. Is building our solution in-house going to save us money?

Of course, your tech leaders are not trained financial experts. Even so, they will offer up arguments as to why choosing a composable commerce solution is more expensive. 

First, they’ll point to the fact that you’ll have to partner with multiple vendors and argue that more vendors equal higher costs. This is simply not true. Composable commerce vendors are built on MACH architecture and operate on a SaaS business model. This means you only pay for the services you actually use. It also means you can leverage the benefits of the cloud, including auto-scaling and automatic updates. No longer will you need to buy more servers to ramp up for holidays and special events, nor will you have to dedicate resources and budget specifically to deal with never-ending updates and upgrades.

Next, your team may use the logic that it’s more cost-efficient to build in-house than to “rent” core components from SaaS vendors. It isn’t — not in the short or long term. The reality is, while you probably have enough resources to run day-to-day operations and handle maintenance and upgrades for your existing tech stack, you’re going to have to hire additional talent that can dedicate the seemingly endless number of hours required to build a new commerce stack. 

Take the time to consider the true costs of doing it yourself:

  • Do you have the budget to recruit the people you need? 

  • If you do have the funds to spend on additional talent, wouldn’t you rather they focus on developing features that differentiate your brand experience?

  • Is your organization's culture such that it has successfully undertaken projects of this size outside of its core competency?

By partnering with best-in-class systems integrators (SIs) and software vendors (SVs), you can migrate off your old system and implement your new composable commerce solution much more quickly. Instead of having to deal with the usual corporate silos, budget freezes and bottlenecks — you get to embrace the joy of recognizing tangible ROI much faster.

3. How long will it take us to get up and running with a viable MVP if we build it ourselves?

Of course, your tech team will say they can give you a realistic timeline. However, any business leader who has gone through the journey will tell you it will take longer than you think. The complexity of migration, coupled with the amount of testing and the risks involved makes for an unpredictable experience. Then, in tandem with meeting project milestones, the team is still charged with keeping day-to-day operations moving — which in the current economic environment involves dealing with shifting business priorities and budgets — until it’s time to “flip the switch.” 

To get a clear picture of what’s involved, take the time to read Zoro’s composable commerce transformation story. In 2019, the pure-play online retailer decided to tackle an issue with their guest checkout by implementing a MACH solution. While they were proud of their success, Timothy Daneliuk, Senior Director and Chief Architect told The MACH Alliance they were not going to attempt to do the rest of the transformation themselves. “We are going to buy a product, partner with a vendor, and enable the full eCommerce buying experience with our own customer master and headless implementation.”

4. What commerce capabilities do we need to meet our strategic business objectives?

And, more importantly, if we can leverage them as prepackaged, best-in-class capabilities, why on Earth do you want us to build our own shopping cart?

At this point in the conversation, it should be pretty clear building your own tech stack isn’t the only option, nor is it going to give you more control or save you money. 

But, your tech team still may not be on board with choosing the composable commerce approach, hence the need to ask this two-part question. Their response to the first part should be that the core components needed to set up an eCommerce shop include catalog, search, cart and payments. All of these, by the way, are available as packaged business capabilities (PBCs), which Gartner has called the building blocks of composable commerce.

The final question becomes the real eye-opener. Your tech team isn’t going to be able to give you a good solid reason to build your own cart. If they try to tell you your cart will be different, your immediate follow-up needs to be, “How?”  The chances they can make a cart better than what’s already out there on the market are slim to none. If they tell you otherwise, well, you’ve got a completely different problem.

That answer should be your final a-ha moment. The logical conclusion is it just doesn’t make any sense to spend your valuable time and resources building something that already exists, is available and is established as best-in-class. Wouldn’t you and your tech team rather focus on developing features that will delight your customers and give your brand a competitive edge? As Alex Schiferman, Chief Technology Officer at, said at Modern Commerce Day 2022, it’s not that he doesn’t have great technologists working for him, it’s more he feels he’s wasting their talents if he asks them to build something that already exists.

The only reason to build is for differentiation. You shouldn’t be building to build to the standard, you should only be building and modifying your code to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Jon Panella

Group Vice President, Publicis Sapient

Composable commerce: The best choice for your business future

The true power behind the composable commerce approach is it enables you to build a commerce solution based on exactly what your business needs and your customers want. Even more importantly, it offers the flexibility to allow you to make changes whenever you need to adapt to new trends, evolving needs or technological advances.

With composable commerce, you can keep a razor focus on why customers shop with you — whether it’s loyalty, custom kitting, bulk pricing discounts, fitment guides, virtual try-ons — it doesn’t matter. As long as your team can build the features you envision, you can deploy them quickly and easily. Plus, deliver newness to customers to reinforce the uniqueness of your brand by continually fine-tuning and refreshing existing proven features and removing unsuccessful features. 

We felt like the composable, MACH, headless model gave us the right amount of flexibility while still giving us a stable core of things that need to work — like cart and checkout — that just need to work. They’re not really rocket science, they’re plug and play.
Alex Shiferman

Chief Technology Officer,

Once your tech team starts exploring the composable commerce approach, they’ll discover that it solve many existing challenges and eliminates many mundane maintenance tasks associated with legacy systems. As a result, they have the time  to innovate and experiment.

No longer will they have to worry about compatibility, glitches, errors or crashes. Instead, they can extend, swap out and add features and functionality quickly and without risk. Each component plugs into the others, fitting together effortlessly like LEGO® blocks, using MACH principles to deliver all the functionality. 

Spoiler alert: once you implement a composable commerce solution, they never have to replatform again!

Yes, the homegrown approach was viable when there wasn’t any other option. Today, there’s composable commerce — and it truly gives you the power to make your commerce solution your own.

To learn more about transforming your business through composable commerce, download our white paper, How to compose your commerce in 2023.

Anita Temple headshot
Anita Temple
Corporate Journalist, commercetools

Anita J. Temple is the Corporate Journalist at commercetools. She was a fashion editor at Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) and W Magazine before launching a career as a freelance writer and creative producer. She has written content and worked on a wide range of marketing projects for companies including Dreamworks, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Verizon, and Adidas.

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