The build-and-buy approach with composable commerce

Homegrown vs. Composable Commerce: Why build-and-buy is the right approach for businesses to GROW

Manuela Tchoe
Manuela Tchoe
Senior Content Writer, commercetools
Published 24 May 2023
Estimated reading time minutes

For a long time, building commerce applications in-house was the only way to own a differentiated tech stack to customize and adapt customer experiences. This approach may have worked for a while — until your company started to outgrow its homegrown platform. Has your fully custom-built DIY platform now become a liability? If so, it’s time to build AND buy with composable commerce.

The build-and-buy approach with composable commerce

We’ve often seen how businesses struggle to make a deceptively simple choice: Should they build an in-house commerce solution or buy it? While many companies chose to purchase a license from the likes of Salesforce, SAP or Oracle to access an all-in-one solution, a big chunk of businesses weren’t exactly happy with this option. This is because they saw early on that such systems are too inflexible to accommodate their business needs. The result? They decided to build their own commerce platform. 

For many, this decision made sense at the time: They could create a solution as they pleased, have complete control over it, and even boost employee morale. And most importantly, they could pave the way for Amazon-like growth. After all, Amazon created its commerce powerhouse internally. If they could do it, anyone could. Right? 

Well, this hasn’t turned up to be the case for most companies with a DIY platform. After a honeymoon period, they started to see the inevitable issues: The company’s requirements started to outgrow what the homegrown platform could deliver. People who knew the platform’s ins and outs left the company, leaving a bowl of spaghetti code with patches and hacks for other folks to deal with. Low performance, hard-to-integrate systems, growing costs, slow time-to-market, technical debt and security risks are all issues their tech teams have to keep an eye on every single day. The pitfalls and misconceptions of an exclusively homegrown platform are many. 

If you’re experiencing these issues, you may be tempted to buy an all-in-one platform and access the classic commerce features from the get-go. But, just as in the past, these solutions remain a rigid block of software that prevents your business from performing customizations and updates that are crucial to staying ahead of your competition and customer expectations today. 

So, if neither building nor buying fully meets the needs of the modern enterprise, what’s the alternative? Build AND buy with composable commerce is the way forward. 

What’s build and buy? And how does composable commerce fit in?

Build and buy is a modern approach to your technology stack. Instead of choosing between entirely building your platform or buying an all-in-one commerce platform, you can decide what you buy (outsource more “standard” functionalities to best-of-breed vendors) and what you build (so you only spend resources on what matters and differentiates your business).

A build-and-buy strategy requires a flexible, agile and scalable solution, that provides an open, agnostic foundation, allowing you to mix and match the best-fit components according to your needs. This is exactly what composable commerce helps businesses achieve. 

In short, composable commerce is a modular development approach that breaks down a commerce platform into components (often referred to as PBCs, packaged business capabilities, or building blocks), such as search, cart, or checkout. All these components can be customized, extended and combined in various ways to create custom solutions to power all sorts of experiences across any channel.  Because each building block is interchangeable, they can easily be added, changed, replaced or even dropped.

How to migrate from a homegrown system to composable commerce

To compose your unique commerce tech stack, you can combine components from commercetools and other best-of-breed vendors with features you've built. You can expand, contract or swap any of these components entirely for other solutions without affecting other parts of your platform or being locked in with a particular vendor.

Composing your commerce with commercetools

Hundreds of B2C and B2B businesses have already customized their commerce stacks to deliver unique customer experiences with commercetools Composable Commerce. With a best-of-breed approach and an industry-first portfolio strategy, commercetools provides building blocks like cart, order, product catalog and promotions independently from one another as APIs for maximum flexibility and agility. To further support businesses in the composable journey, commercetools acquired a best-in-class headless frontend solution, Frontastic, now known as commercetools Frontend.

Today, commercetools enables companies of any size to access commerce technology — previously available only to Amazon and co. — without having to build all these functionalities by themselves; the core of a build-and-buy approach with commercetools Composable Commerce and Frontend

We give our customers access to the commerce platform technology you’d find at, or Zalando at a fraction of the price you’d pay to build it yourself.
Dirk Hoerig

CEO and Co-Founder, commercetools

Below you can explore examples of businesses that made the move from homegrown to composable, investing in a build-and-buy approach pioneered by commercetools Composable Commerce. 

Why Mars, and Promod made the move from homegrown to composable commerce

Mars, the mastermind behind the iconic M&M’s, has invested in in-house capabilities to enhance its D2C (direct-to-consumer) channels, such as a website that enables customers to personalize and order M&M’s online via a configurator. Because no off-the-shelf solutions could cater to such specific needs, this service is powered by homegrown applications. However, instead of building everything from scratch, Mars chose a composable approach with a modular commerce engine offered by commercetools as the foundation to build their own bespoke experience on top. This approach also allows Mars to accelerate development while staying agile and scalable. 

I would think two or three times before I took the decision to build everything from scratch. I wouldn't recommend building a commerce engine or content management system on your own, unless you're truly bringing a lot of differentiating factors to that solution. Then you also have to think about the roadmap and managing the technical debt for each of those services. I don't think you'll be able to really compete with some of the bigger capabilities that are out there externally.
Kyle Barz

Director of Global Retail and D2C Technology, Mars, a leading online purveyor of nuts, dried fruits and chocolates in North America, built a homegrown PHP site from scratch in 2000. Initially, the webshop worked well but, as the years went by, it became a liability for the company’s growth plans. The DIY platform was inflexible and accumulated tons of technical debt over time, hindering the company from providing outstanding customer experiences. decided to migrate to a composable architecture, so they could maintain a high degree of control and integrate in-house built applications while taking advantage of best-of-breed services for less differentiated parts of the customer experience.

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. They’re not really rocket science, they’re plug and play.
Alex Shiferman


Last but not least, the French prêt-à-porter fashion brand Promod also chose the made-to-measure approach of composable commerce. The company relied on an internal solution that not only became outdated over the years but hindered showcasing the brand’s uniqueness across channels. The composable approach delivered the build-and-buy edge Promod was looking for: Now, the fashion retailer can easily combine commercially available software with in-house developments. 

With its modular structure, commercetools fits very well into our best-of-breed strategy. In fact, we were not looking for a monolith, but for a solution that would allow us to integrate existing modules developed in-house.
Claire Thelliez

CIO, Promod

9 benefits of adopting composable commerce

Here are the top benefits for brands that moved from a homegrown platform to composable commerce by commercetools. 

Benefit #1 — Deliver exactly what the business needs to grow 

With composable commerce, you can create any commerce experience your customers expect without internal friction. This flexibility and agility enable businesses to quickly adapt to changes in the market or customer demands and build solutions tailored to their specific needs. 

Benefit #2 — Iterate, experiment and innovate at a fast pace 

The inherent modularity of composable commerce unlocks the true power of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). Business and tech teams can boost incremental innovation while reducing time-to-market and eliminating tech debt. 

Benefit #3 — Create hyper-tailored customer experiences 

In contrast to all-in-one platforms, you can use customizable functions to craft one-of-a-kind, omnichannel and seamless customer experiences

Benefit #4 — Have a best-of-breed stack unique to your business needs

Combine in-house-built and third-party solutions to leverage your company’s uniqueness with a best-of-breed tech stack. 

Benefit #5 — De-risk and have worry-free peak sales seasons 

Perform during sales surges with the cart & checkout functionality proven to scale. In addition, cloud-native infrastructure enables you to auto-scale online capacity without pre-provisioning or meticulous planning months in advance. Your team is free from the stress and worry during Black Friday or any other seasonal event relevant to your business. 

Benefit #6 — Developer-friendly environment that attracts and retains talent

Enable your tech team to work with the most modern and open technologies to develop their careers. No certifications are required and developers can code in their preferred language. 

Benefit #7 — Have the capacity to scale and expand 

Test and launch new business models, try new channels, test emerging technology, expand in new geographies and more.

Benefit #8 — Reduce TCO (total costs of ownership) 

When considering the cost of hiring and retaining developers, customizations and integrations, hosting, tech debt management, etc., it’s clear that homegrown systems aren’t an economical choice. Composable commerce helps reduce TCO in three main ways: First, you can select components according to your budget and performance needs. Second, leveraging cloud-native infrastructure enables you to cut down on hosting and internal management costs. And finally, you can eliminate technical debt and upgrade loops with multitenant and versionless infrastructure. 

Benefit #9 — Increase business resiliency and security

Making (and keeping) a homegrown stack secure is a challenge. Instead, pivoting to commercetools Composable Commerce helps you to remove the burden and risk of enterprise operations and security inherent with on-premises and cloud-hosted systems, facilities and software. Composable architecture is, by default, cloud-native, so you can reduce the inventory of infrastructure software to manage and protect, plus avoid the risk of securing servers as hosts by utilizing Kubernetes in the cloud.

How to migrate from homegrown to composable

Composable commerce paves the way for your business to put energy and resources into features that differentiate your company from competitors. To move away from a homegrown solution to composable, you can choose a phased migration process, also known as the strangler pattern, which replaces single components incrementally. 

The benefits of this approach, especially when compared to the “big bang” method, give you complete control over every step of the migration process while minimizing disruptions and downtime. Also, you can deliver business value and achieve ROI faster, as essentially, you don’t have to wait months or years for a complete infrastructure switchover. In a nutshell, replatforming from a homegrown platform to commercetools Composable Commerce is easier and faster than you may think.   

Has your business outgrown its homegrown platform? If so, discover how to move to commercetools Composable Commerce with our migration guide for developers and quickstart guide. If you want to learn more about how composable commerce can help, start a conversation now

Manuela Tchoe
Manuela Tchoe
Senior Content Writer, commercetools

Manuela Marques Tchoe is a Content Writer at commercetools. She was a Content and Product Marketing Director at conversational commerce provider tyntec. She has written content in partnership with Facebook, Rakuten Viber and other social media platforms.

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