How composable commerce is giving brands the freedom & flexibility to differentiate themselves from the competition

Say goodbye to build vs buy: Welcome to the brave new world of composable commerce

Anita Temple headshot
Anita Temple
Corporate Journalist, commercetools
Published 10 August 2023
Estimated reading time minutes

eCommerce has evolved a great deal since the early days when the desktop was the sole shopping channel, products were presented on a grid and credit cards were the only accepted form of payment. For a long time, if a brand wanted in on the eCommerce game, they either had to buy an all-in-one commerce suite or build their own technology stack. Today, MACH®-driven composable commerce is providing a better option —  allowing brands to buy the core components they need so that they can focus on building features that will deliver unique experiences to their customers.

How composable commerce is giving brands the freedom & flexibility to differentiate themselves from the competition

While there’s currently an incredible amount of buzz around composable commerce, many business leaders have difficulty wrapping their heads around this fairly recent, innovative approach to building eCommerce systems. Not only are they unfamiliar with the MACH technology that serves as the foundation for composable systems, but many also have concerns about migrating from their legacy monolithic (in their minds, “safe”) platform to a new solution that involves integrating multiple vendors. 

However, since coining the term composable commerce in June 2020, Gartner®, one of the most respected technological research and consulting firms in the world, has released a plethora of reports that prove the power composable commerce delivers to organizations. And, we at commercetools, along with our vast ecosystem of partners, are dedicated to helping brands leverage this power, thus, we collaborate frequently to support businesses as they navigate the switch to composable architecture.

In February, commercetools, teamed up with Publicis Sapient and Contentstack to publish “Say goodbye to build vs buy…to deliver modern customer experiences, the right choice is composable commerce,” a white paper specifically designed to help business leaders understand why they no longer have to choose between building their own “homegrown” system or buying a monolithic platform. This white paper inspired the group to organize a webinar aptly titled, “Composable Unveiled: Unlocking the Future of Commerce,” 

Brian Lange, co-founder and CRO of Future Commerce, moderated the discussion which featured Kelly Goetsch, Chief Strategy Officer of commercetools, Jon Panella, Group Vice President of Publicis Sapient and Preseetha Pettigrew, VP, Global Partnerships at Contentstack. Since all three technology vendors agree that the benefits of composable are far too powerful for any commerce-driven organization to ignore, the goal was to help leaders get past the fear of change by providing deep insight into how composable commerce works, the capabilities it offers and the benefits it delivers. 

From rigid to flexible: The difference between composable commerce and legacy platforms

Jon kicked off the conversation by pointing out that on average, enterprises change their commerce vendor every 8.3 years. Based on how commerce has evolved since it was introduced, that means many companies currently running on monolith legacy platforms are at an inflection point. He says right now, these companies are experiencing so many difficulties with making changes and rolling out new functionalities that their platform has become, “an inhibitor to their business instead of helping their business move forward.”

Preseetha reinforced Jon’s observation, citing a 2022 Incisiv study that found more than 50% of retailers believe their current platforms can’t support their business needs over the next year. She explained the main reason they feel this way is because the architecture of their legacy platform is so rigid and inflexible that it can’t be adapted to support the commerce experiences customers expect today. “What this ultimately means is you have to make some compromises — but what retailers really need now is technology that enables them to meet their customers where they are.”

And this is what composable commerce really offers. According to Preseetha: “It gives you the ability to take best-of-breed technologies and connect them together to deliver the solution that suits your particular business.” 

To expand on her point, Jon added that its flexible, open architecture truly puts you in control. “Composability gives you the ability to plug in a search engine, plug in a promotions engine, bring in the right content solution and the right experience that makes sure you are differentiating, relating to your customers and providing them the hyper-personalized experience that they're expecting. And, even more importantly, a composable solution enables you to easily and quickly substitute pieces in and out, so you can experiment to find the right places to differentiate.”

With eCommerce now an integral part of consumers’ day-to-day lives, in many cases digital technology is how you power your business — this is why differentiation has increased in importance today. Basically, if you are able to deliver a site that truly engages customers in unique ways that enhance your brand, the impact on sales can be significant.  As Kelly commented, “Point of sale systems, kiosks, tablets — these are the primary ways you take in money. So, commerce isn’t just something you can outsource anymore to some vendor who gives you an in-the-box solution. That’s not what you do anymore. Organizations need to understand digital and make sure that they're making proactive changes to better support it.”

The time to embrace composable commerce is now

The fact is a lot of companies have postponed making the necessary changes to adapt, however, with so many new, digitally native companies emerging, disrupting traditional business models and creating new competition, most established brands are realizing modernization is unavoidable. Kelly acknowledged that monolithic platforms made sense 20 years ago, but they simply don’t anymore. “We have cloud technologies, we have REST APIs, we have more mature retailers and technical teams, so we’re very firmly in the era of best-of-breed for specific use cases, and it’s fantastic.” 

Both he and Jon called out a few best practices you should consider before fully launching your composable commerce journey. 

1. Make sure the vendors you chose provide MACH-driven solutions 

As per Kelly, the only way to fully benefit from composability is by working in a truly microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native and headless environment. “MACH makes APIs independently consumable and easier to consume, which enables you to incrementally adopt your new solution.” He also pointed out that it enables vendors to constantly publish new updates and release them independently in a way that's backward compatible. “There's no concept anymore of a monthly or quarterly release from a vendor standpoint. Instead, updates just happen throughout the day, naturally.”

2. Gain an understanding of your company’s digital maturity level

Jon said this knowledge can be invaluable in helping navigate your composable journey. He urged leaders to take advantage of the MACH Maturity Assessment recently released by the MACH Alliance, a non-profit vendor-neutral organization that advocates for open and best-of-breed enterprise technology ecosystems. He explained that the assessment helps leaders recognize some of the most important factors contributing to their company’s digital maturity, such as the focus it puts on technology, the ability to collect and utilize data and the importance of innovation within its culture.

Brian, the webinar’s moderator summarized these recommendations, “So, it's not just having enough budget or having the right data or having the right technology or even the right tech expertise. It's about a mindset and understanding that you have to fail if you want to succeed.”

That old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is actually a very fast way to see your business fail.
Brian Lange

co-founder and CRO of Future Commerce

Be brave: Differentiate your brand and grow your business

Jon shared that he believes the key to getting buy-in to launch a composable journey requires that leaders start thinking about composable as an evolution rather than a revolution. He explained that with composable, you don’t turn one platform off and another one on while crossing your fingers and hoping it works. Instead, migrating to composable calls for taking a more evolutionary approach, where small changes are implemented over time. 

While this makes migrating to composable much less scary than the old big bang style, Preseetha said she understands it can still seem overwhelming because of the multiple pieces involved. “Ultimately though, if your current technology can’t meet your customers where they want to be, you either need to evolve or your customers are going to find someone else able to meet them in those places.”  

Kelly shared many other reasons composable is a much less scary option than building your own solution or buying a monolith. First, you’re able to buy individual best-in-class components that provide critical capabilities such as search, cart and checkout with the confidence that — because they are MACH-driven and composable — can support both your current and future needs. And second, because you don’t have to spend time building those components — you can put all your focus on building features that showcase what makes your brand special, creates differentiation and adds value.

This approach will put you at a huge advantage, said Preseetha, pointing out that this blending of building and buying offers the best of both worlds. “You don't need to compromise on the capabilities you feel are needed for your business. You’re able to buy them from best-in-class building blocks that meet all your specific business needs, but then build the tailored experiences you want, bringing them both together so you end up with the best possible solution for you.”

For leaders still at odds as to whether or not composable commerce is the right solution, Jon posed this question: “Do we really believe Amazon wouldn’t be differentiated if they didn’t do it themselves?” Jon responded to his own query, “Well, that’s certainly their point of view.” However, he added, “There are several thousand retailers out there doing nearly a billion dollars online annually and they don’t have the means, nor the skill nor the people to do a custom build.” What they do have though, is the ability to take advantage of composability.

The bottom line is that by leveraging composable commerce, you can truly differentiate yourself — and that will be key to ensuring your future success. As Jon made crystal clear, “Differentiating is where you can make your business lead the way.”

To learn more about how adopting composable commerce will better equip you to thrive in the rapidly evolving world of commerce, as well as gain insights into how to debunk the myths surrounding MACH and composable, download the white paper, Say goodbye to build vs buy…to deliver modern customer experiences, the right choice is composable commerce.

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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