why innovation driven ecommerce is incompatible with monolithic platforms

Why innovation-driven eCommerce is incompatible with monolithic platforms

Manuela Tchoe
Manuela Tchoe
Senior Content Writer, commercetools
Published 29 June 2022

In today’s fast-moving eCommerce landscape, innovation should be constant, delivered fast and hassle-free. What’s preventing companies from innovating faster? Spoiler alert: monolithic commerce platforms.

why innovation driven ecommerce is incompatible with monolithic platforms

When eCommerce was born in the 1990s, the first generation of digital commerce delivered monolithic, all-in-one suites that became the paradigm of desktop-based eCommerce. Shopping was twofold: buy in-store or on the computer. 

How times have changed! Today’s consumers demand omnichannel shopping, lightning-fast website performance, Google-like search options and meaningful brand experiences. Businesses have never been so global, multi-brand and complex. In a nutshell, the stable, slow-moving era of desktop-only eCommerce is gone. 

Now, companies need to move faster than ever to meet consumers’ demands, expand to foreign markets and launch new products. Innovation is at the core of their success and growth. 

But if innovation is a prerequisite for a company’s success, why is it so difficult to get it done? Why do companies stick to immutable release cycles when they can deliver new ideas constantly? 

The answer is simple: most businesses still rely on legacy, monolithic systems built for desktop-only eCommerce.

The innovation black hole

Monolithic eCommerce platforms provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Essentially, it is a rigid, indivisible block of standardized software that must be retested and redeployed in its entirety every time a change or update is queued. 

Imagine a scenario of adding modern touchpoints to your commerce journeys, such as social commerce apps. You can finally provide omnichannel commerce; everyone in your company gets excited and C-Level management approves your plan. However, there’s a problem: how to implement it in your monolithic commerce system?

In short, your IT and DevOps teams must prepare the new feature integration months in advance. This carefully planned roadmap exists because every time a change is made to the monolithic platform, the entire application and its tightly coupled dependencies must be updated in one go — even when adding a small feature such as a social commerce app.

If something goes wrong during the new feature integration, it can wreak havoc on your IT infrastructure. Think service disruptions, platform downtime, vulnerable systems prone to malicious attack or, in the worst-case scenario, a complete crash.

We were heavily reliant on Shopify, and it was starting to hurt us. The business was starting to ask for features and functionality that were very difficult to build, if not impossible in Shopify.
Jay Jetley

Chief technical Architect, Trinny London (Modern Commerce Day 2021)

Considering how hard it is to get anything done on monolithic platforms, it’s clear why technical teams are wary of change and need to control every aspect of their roadmap. So, the vicious circle of innovation reluctance never stops: you get pushback when trying to add new functions to e-shops or scaling web capacity for a Black Friday campaign.

In the long run, this no-risk approach leads to technical debt and lackluster business performance — and all attempts at innovation fall flat.

It’s time to think anew

Let’s take the example of adding a social commerce app once again. Imagine it as a singular piece of software that could be plugged into your infrastructure without dependencies and therefore does not affect your application as a whole. This is what a microservice-based approach does: it breaks down functionalities into granular pieces, so they are nimbler and more reliable while delivering faster responses and can be deployed more frequently.

In addition, headless commerce, where you decouple the frontend (customer-facing presentation layer, like your webshop) and backend (data layer, where the product information is stored), makes sure whatever changes and updates on your frontend don’t affect the backend, and vice-versa. Better yet, using APIs (application programming interfaces) as the communication layer between your various frontends and centralized backend gives you extra flexibility and agility to innovate at your desired velocity.  

In contrast to monolithic solutions, microservices and headless architectures are better suited to handle complex business models, such as multi-country and multi-brand cases, and easily activate innovations.

In the long run, you can perform a wide range of innovations and gain a raft of benefits:

  • Expand your customer-facing frontends and touchpoints 

  • Launch promotions and scale web traffic 

  • Manage multiple catalogs across brands and countries

  • Create product variations, bundles and discounts with ease

  • Support various business models: B2C, B2B and D2C (direct-to-consumer)

  • Enhance your web search 

  • Increase website performance and boost mobile commerce 

While the ability to innovate fast brings business benefits, technical teams also get clear advantages, such as the possibility to develop, test, problem-solve, deploy and update services without the hindrance of monolithic platforms. All in all, tech and business teams work together to bring innovations to life; using a headless and microservice-based approach helps both sides to work holistically toward a common goal.

Flip eCommerce on its head to innovate more

To overcome monolithic paralysis, most businesses try to hack the system to bring innovation to production. This is not a sustainable model. Eventually, your monolithic platform becomes harder to maintain, update and troubleshoot. The logical step is to separate frontends and backends and break down functionalities into granular pieces, making innovation manageable and hassle-free.

The commercetools microservices, API-based, headless approach makes us faster. We went from releasing updates every 2 to 3 months to multiple releases a week. This helps us meet the needs of the business and keep up with market demands.
Brendan Gualdoni

VP of Enterprise Architecture, Commerce and Integration, Express

It’s time to flip commerce on its head. Instead of all-in-one suites, MACH architecture principles (Microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless commerce), help you avoid technical debt, reduce innovation time-to-market and drive revenue growth.

Get to know commercetools for Growth, the right solution to move towards a MACH-based architecture and drive innovation in your company. Also, have a look at MACH best practices shared by our customers and the top 10 transformation tips with MACH

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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