Composable Commerce: Face the Future

composable commerce illustration feature

The future is an agile, MACH-based composable commerce stack (Image credit: Growtika on Unsplash)

Composable commerce is just another way of saying, simply how commerce is going to happen in a world of retail increasingly built on cloud native architecture and headless tech stacks with API plug-in microservices.

Brands and retailers are facing pressure to balance the need for innovation to create compelling buying experiences with the imperative to rationalize technology costs while increasing tech stack agility.

Addressing this issue is the essence of a significant announcement by Shopify at NRF 2023 last month in New York on the future of composable commerce.

The promise of this new, modular, headless commerce stack is that companies have the flexibility to work with their choice of best-of-breed vendors, while using Shopify Commerce Components for capabilities such as storefront, cart, checkout, data and compliance, shipping and logistics and point of sale (POS).

This gives retailers and brands the ability to integrate the same Shopify capabilities – which have powered over a half trillion dollars in global ecommerce – directly into their own IT systems. Equally important, Commerce Components gives them long-awaited agility while protecting existing IT investments.

Let’s take a deeper look at composable commerce.

What Is Composable Commerce?

Composable commerce software is hosted in the cloud and built on a microservices architecture so that each component of the technology stack is independent and isolated from all others. By design, capabilities of the platform can be consumed a la carte and integrated with existing or new third-party services.

An architecture like this is both commercially appealing — procuring exactly what you need — but also technically advantageous. It allows for the agile evolution of services and integrations without disruption or risk in other areas of the stack.

This kind of modularity means software developers can innovate quickly and work easily with complementary solutions built on the same principles. Organizations wanting to balance the pressures of innovation and efficiency are able to choose from a variety of services and providers, composing a tech stack with category leaders or vendors that best meet their specific use case requirements.

This model of a modular, composable, services-oriented stack is closely related to a number of key tech trends, including headless commerce, API-first architecture and microservices.

These trends all address the same core opportunity: building on more reusable and best-of-breed capabilities, without being tied into one monolithic architecture or vendor relationship.

Everyone benefits when you can compose a stack that is exactly optimal for your needs. It’s worth noting that these are exactly the same ideas behind the MACH Alliance (microservices-based, API first, cloud native, headless). It’s an exciting moment of technical advancement in ecommerce, which is clearly driving the next wave of innovation for brands, retailers and consumers alike.

Benefits for Enterprise Brands and Retailers

Choosing microservices, API-first, cloud-native technology can help address that “innovate or consolidate” debate happening within some large companies.

While composable commerce solutions enable you to take a best-of-breed approach without being tied to an on-premises solution, you still need some in-house development to implement, monitor and maintain the commerce stack you choose.

A significant portion of the market has already adopted the principles of composable commerce because of the benefits this approach brings.

Here are some other benefits of the agility that composable commerce affords:

Speed To address changing business needs: Microservices make it easy to test a new market strategy or localize within a region without excessive development.

Scale for your omnichannel ecommerce experiences: Headless technology means executing across multiple different touchpoints with lower cost and complexity.

Flexibility to select the best components: Without compromising what’s already built on your core backend platform, you can choose new components and add the customization and personalization you desire.

This Approach Still Requires Strategic Choices

While the benefits above are quite real, it’s important to also take a sober and rational approach to designing an advanced ecommerce architecture. A composable commerce approach isn’t a magic wand that allows you to mix and match components of your stack on a whim.

Integrating disparate services from separate providers, with their own specific domain models, API conventions, etc., takes real design and development to get right. The choices you make will influence what you can build in the future and how composable your stack remains.

A poorly considered combination of services, even built on solid principles of microservices and standards-based APIs, can end up inhibiting innovation and increasing costs. This is because of the integration costs of bridging impedance mismatches across platforms.

When done correctly, building composable commerce solutions that address the needs of both business and IT use has a number of unique benefits.

For example, you can:

  • Build the data model that best suits your organization and the channels you serve with a de-coupled data architecture
  • Centrally manage, automate and govern essential go-to-market tasks, all while streamlining operations to ensure data accuracy with integrated workflows
  • Maintain the ability to monitor and enforce the quality of your data before it gets published.

Uniting a single source of truth for product information with a flexible set of commerce solutions can help brands and retailers go to market with a winning product experience that resonates with consumers in innovative and meaningful ways. You can adopt it to stay agile, adapting to new changes faster than is traditional for large enterprises.

Adam Ferrari is executive vice president of engineering at Salsify