A family-owned company that prides itself on providing the highest quality nuts, dried fruits and chocolates to consumers and businesses, Nuts.com was on the lookout to match product quality with outstanding shopping experiences. The main barrier? A homegrown commerce platform built in the year 2000 with tons of technical debt that stifled innovation. Learn how the premier purveyor went nuts over composable commerce and MACH™ — and never looked back.
Started as a mom-and-pop store in New Jersey in 1929, Nuts.com has since grown into a leading online purveyor of nuts, dried fruits and chocolates with warehouses in the U.S. and Canada — and customers all over the globe. The company remains a family business but has grown tremendously in recent years; today, Nuts.com has over 3,000 products in its catalog (without counting product variants) and serves consumers as well as businesses like breweries, bakeries and restaurants that need ingredients in bulk.
With a philosophy of enabling outstanding experiences that match supreme products customers love, the company’s focus on digital started at the turn of the millennium with a homegrown PHP site built from scratch in 2000. At first, the webshop worked well; as years passed, it became a liability that was getting in the way of growth.
According to Alex Shiferman, CTO at Nuts.com, “A transition is really less about right now and more about where we’re going to get to.” With a 20-year-old monolithic platform in size and complexity that couldn’t be improved quickly enough, the tech team struggled with rigid architecture, technical debt, rules and patches. Over time, the system became slower and harder to work with.
There were many other reasons why the tech team decided to move away from this DIY platform: In addition to achieving the outstanding experiences the company envisioned, Nuts.com wanted to be able to pursue new opportunities, enable rapid iterations and faster time-to-value, try new things out and “fail fast” without breaking the system, as well as future-proof the business. After all, who knows what will happen in the next couple of years?
With the decision to move away from its homegrown solution, the question of whether the company would build an eCommerce platform from the ground up resurfaced. Should they build it — or should they buy it?
Nuts over build AND buy
The “build vs. buy” all-or-nothing approach has been a technology dilemma for a long time. The fact is, none of these two choices match 100% what most companies need. When building a solution from scratch, a business must put tremendous energy and money into developing, maintaining and improving the system over time. On the other hand, buying means a company has to compromise; a ready-made (usually legacy) solution meets basic needs, but attempts at more advanced capabilities usually fall flat or come with a hefty price tag.
What Nuts.com found out is that businesses don’t have to choose one or the other; they can (and should!) build AND buy. From the start, the company decided to pivot from the legacy monolithic platform to a microservices-based architecture, providing Nuts.com with standard commerce capabilities like checkout and cart while enabling the company to build the components that differentiate the customer experience.
How did Nuts.com decide on what to build and what to buy? The first step in this journey was identifying the company’s “secret sauce” as guidance on what to keep in-house. Then, it was a no-brainer to pinpoint the “commodity” elements they could get from best-of-breed specialists instead of spending time and money recreating a DIY version.
The technology under the hood: Composable commerce and MACH
Having the flexibility to decide what to build and what to buy is only possible with a composable architecture. In essence, it enables companies to select best-of-breed technologies and compose them according to their needs. Because composable commerce consists of microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native and headless components (MACH for short), it’s flexible, scalable and agile to plug-and-play functionalities without hassle.
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.
The build-and-buy mix is critical for a company that relies on technology to thrive but is not a technology company itself, Alex explained, as “We are an eCommerce business, but I don’t look at us as a technology company. It’s not to say we don’t have great technologists but I’d rather deploy them elsewhere.”
That said, it makes no sense for a company like Nuts.com to reinvent the wheel and create an eCommerce platform by itself. Instead, the company integrates best-of-breed technology solutions as “most likely [you] won't be able to find one platform that can solve everything as best in class solution.”
Is migration to composable commerce a tough nut to crack? Not really.
Because a composable architecture consists of microservices exposed as APIs, migrating off a legacy platform is a relatively straightforward process with the strangler pattern. In short, this migration strategy enables companies to break down the monolithic functionalities into smaller components, like product catalog or cart, and replace those with a new, API-first service. The old element is “strangled” and decommissioned over time. Then the company can move on with another functionality like checkout and follow the same process.
Once the team at Nuts.com identified the most urgent components to be migrated, the company started moving its commerce platform piece-by-piece, starting with product catalog and, later, checkout, powered by Cart & Order APIs. Because commercetools Composable Commerce provides those separate pieces that work well together but can be used independently, Nuts.com was able to transition incrementally instead of a high-risk cutover all at once.
Doing these incremental changes during COVID-19 was an exercise in coordination, team management, stakeholder management — and bringing everybody along for the ride. Ultimately, “it's not like this type of implementation is only the technology aspect, it's a company-wide investment and you really want to make sure your partners across the business are fully bought into it.”
Another thing Alex pointed out is that while composable commerce brings a lot of possibilities, it’s also a challenge; after all, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
I come from an older world —the monolithic eCommerce platform world — where essentially most of the decisions are made for you. In a composable world, you have a ton of autonomy at a very granular level. And, so that could be exciting, but it's also challenging because you can make a lot of right decisions and you can make a lot of wrong decisions. So, with great power comes great responsibility — this is a perfect example. You have a lot of control, but if you try something and it works, great. And, if it doesn’t, you’ve got to learn some from your mistakes.
The best part of compatible commerce and MACH is that, even as you make mistakes, you can change, update, replace or customize components without limits. And this is important to enable technology teams to iterate, experiment, innovate and bring new releases to market faster.
While there are many reasons why Nuts.com chose commercetools to enable this digital transformation, it boils down to the philosophy of building software that is high-quality, stable, and maintainable, as well as developer-friendly.
If you wanna retain your team and make them happy and make them excited to come to work every day, find a platform that’s developer-friendly. It's not often talked about but I think it's pretty critical
Performance has been one of the key results for Nuts.com, with almost half the response time from a server-side perspective. But what comes to mind in terms of benefits is that engineers don’t have to worry about legacy codes anymore, as they can tap into components that are essentially fast to integrate and customize, accelerating development and innovation. Now, that’s something to be nuts about!
If you're interested in getting started with a strangler approach to your homegrown migration, our guide can get you there. We've broken down all the important details and provided actionable steps so that you can take the plunge with confidence. Make sure to check out our guide today to get started!