Michael Scholz, VP of Product & Customer Marketing at commercetools, recently hosted a session at CommerceNext titled "Headless & composable commerce: The who, what, when, where & why" to define headless and composable commerce, unpack the differences between modern commerce approaches and describe how businesses of different sizes and digital maturity can successfully modernize their stack (at their own pace). Michael was joined by Andrei Rebrov, Co-Founder & CTO at Scentbird, who shared valuable insights about his company's road to composable. Read on to discover the most important points from their discussion.
As retailers constantly seek new ways to enhance their online shopping experiences, two concepts that have gained significant attention lately are helping them achieve this mission: Headless and composable commerce. However, with the influx of buzzwords and competing definitions, it can be challenging to understand their true meaning and benefits.
Michael began the session by acknowledging the proliferation of buzzwords surrounding headless and composable commerce, prompting the need for clarity.
This rise of headless & composable commerce
Michael traced the evolution of commerce technology platforms, starting from the monolithic applications of the dot-com era to the emergence of headless architectures. He explained that headless commerce involves decoupling the frontend and backend functionalities, a paradigm that began gaining traction in the mid-2000s with the advent of the iPhone.
This decoupling enabled businesses to build consistent frontend experiences across multiple channels, which Michael confirmed as, "The pure definition of what headless really is."
With the rise of headless, the next eCommerce breakthrough was not far behind: Composable commerce.
Composable commerce takes the concept of decoupling a step further by breaking down the entire technology stack, including the commerce engine. Michael clarified that composable commerce involves curating a collection of best-of-breed vendors or modules to address specific business functions such as content, marketing, search and commerce.
You're no longer just decoupling the frontend and the backend. You're decoupling the entire stack and that includes the commerce engine. Previously, it was the commerce engine and then a marketing tool here and a visualization tool there and a personalization tool here. I think composable really means you're decoupling the entire stack and you're going toward a best-of-breed approach for all of these different modules.
VP of Product & Customer Marketing, commercetools
3 tenets of composability
To distinguish true composable commerce solutions from misleading claims, commercetools has established three key traits of composability: Cloud-native SaaS, independent components and tech-agnostic. Michael explained that being cloud-native goes beyond merely hosting a legacy solution on cloud infrastructure. A cloud-native solution is purpose-built for the cloud, leveraging the full potential of cloud ecosystems and offering seamless access to data and services.
The independence of components is another critical aspect. Composable commerce enables businesses to select and utilize individual modules independently, both commercially and technically. This flexibility empowers companies to adopt a modular approach, choosing the most suitable vendors for each business function, which enables retailers to go to market faster and adapt to changing needs seamlessly.
The notion is around unlimited flexibility. So, really, changing different components. And if you think one component or one module in this tech stack doesn't work for you any longer, you can replace it. Because everything is expendable in that stack.
VP of Product & Customer Marketing, commercetools
Lastly, tech agnosticism ensures businesses can leverage their existing investments in resources, teams and programming languages without being tied to a specific technology stack. Tech-agnostic software allows for interoperability and compatibility, ensuring a smooth integration of various components without the need for extensive retooling or redevelopment. Michael also explained that being tech-agnostic eliminates dependencies on proprietary software languages or technical debt. With the right software development kits, retailers can focus on leveraging existing investments and scaling their business without restrictions.
Benefiting from best-of-breed
Andrei from Scentbird shared his firsthand experience with composable commerce. He highlighted the agility and scalability that composable architecture offers, allowing businesses to adapt quickly to changing market dynamics and consumer demands. With a composable approach, retailers can easily swap out components or add new functionalities without disrupting the entire system, enabling faster time-to-market for innovations.
About going from a homegrown to a composable solution, Andrei says, "We decided to go with a homegrown solution because when you're a startup, you honestly have no idea what you need to build. You have a notion of the problem you want to solve, but you're not sure how exactly you want to solve it, so you want to be flexible. And, if the next day, you come up with a different idea, you want to rush into it and build it as soon as you can. And that's exactly what happened to us. We spent a year pursuing that business model before we were finally convinced that it doesn't work and isn't quick. That's why we changed to a subscription-based tech stack."
Andrei also emphasized the significance of innovation and experimentation. By leveraging the best-of-breed modules available in the market, retailers can tap into the expertise of specialized vendors and stay at the forefront of technological advancements. This level of flexibility and access to cutting-edge solutions drives innovation, empowers businesses to differentiate themselves,enhances the overall customer experience and facilitates a build-and-buy approach.
We quickly came to realize that we only need to build what makes us unique and what creates a unique experience for our customers. The rest should be dealt with by our partners. Because, as a business leader, you have to be smart about your money and team size.
Co-Founder & CTO, Scentbird
Considerations for implementing composable commerce
As the session progressed, Michael and Andrei discussed the practical considerations for implementing composable commerce. They emphasized the importance of selecting the right partners and vendors that align with the brand's goals and can provide reliable and scalable solutions. Additionally, they agreed that evaluating the integration capabilities and support offered by the chosen composable commerce platform is crucial.
Andrei mentioned that, being a startup, his company was forced to achieve quick wins with limited time, budget and resources. He said that he prefers to think in terms of a "minimal valuable project” instead of a "minimal viable product." That's because, in a short period of time, he needed to build something valuable and deliver it to customers. Andrei disclosed that when operating as a digital company, there is pressure to show a return on investment and generate revenue fast. He emphasized the importance of achieving early wins.
One thing that I really like about working with a composable stack is I am able to unlock new possibilities for other teams. They don't have to wait for a year until you deliver something. And as soon as you deliver something to them, they can actively use it. So there is an infinite feedback loop, not only from your end customers but also from other departments. You just become more and more creative and no one is stuck.
Co-Founder & CTO, Scentbird
Embracing the future of commerce
The interview concluded with Michael and Andrei emphasizing the transformative power of headless and composable commerce in shaping the future of retail. They highlighted the importance of staying customer-centric, continuously innovating, and embracing the agility and scalability offered by composable architecture.
They encouraged retailers to evaluate their current commerce strategies and consider the benefits of adopting a composable approach. By leveraging the flexibility, modularity and interoperability of composable commerce, businesses can create exceptional customer experiences, drive innovation and gain a competitive edge in the evolving digital landscape.
To learn even more about the most important terms you'll come across in modern commerce technology, read our blog post How do composable, headless and MACH compare? The key differences explained.