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Clearing the Fog About Composable Commerce Architecture: Elements, Benefits, and Key Considerations

May 5, 2022 | Oro Team

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The composable approach to eCommerce was first proposed by Gartner in 2020 as a way to bring together best-of-breed eCommerce solutions to meet fast-changing business needs.

Today, composable eCommerce represents an appealing and relevant alternative to an all-in-one, off-the-shelf product. But when it comes to technology, compartmentalization and modularity are hardly new. Developers regularly use the features from other solutions to build, extend, and enhance eCommerce. Unfortunately, composable has become such a buzzword that many eCommerce leaders don’t truly understand the benefits of this approach and how it can improve their online marketing and sales while smoothing back office operations. 

With this post, we’ll clear the fog of confusion surrounding composable eCommerce. We’ll review composable as an eCommerce architecture option, look at how it is implemented, and give you tips on picking a great foundation upon which to build your composable eCommerce experience.

Why Use Composable eCommerce Architecture?

For the longest time, developers and business owners relied on monolithic software sold as a package to perform business functions tasks. As business needs rapidly change due to advances in technology and rising customer expectations, relying on a single software solution can become a weakness, not a strength. 

As traditional monolithic software grows, it becomes more complex and becomes more limited in adaptability. Development teams get bogged down with complex code and dependencies. Updates launches require software redeployment and the entire process requires more work. Costs go up, productivity goes down, and opportunities are missed.

What About Headless Architecture?

Headless architecture, also referred to as MACH architecture (Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless), enables freedom and flexibility by removing the link between the front-end and back-end. Customers and site visitors see the front-end while the back-end is where customer data lives, orders are managed, transactions occur, and payments are collected. 

With headless eCommerce architecture, commerce brands can create unique, flexible, and channel-specific experiences – such as multilingual sites, mobile, and device experiences. But headless commerce architecture only decouples the front-end from the back-end. With composable eCommerce architecture, back-end elements are also separate.

What Are the Components of Composable eCommerce?

A composable commerce solution consists of multiple packaged business capabilities (PBCs). Each PBC is a software component that represents a well-defined business capability. The essence of the composable approach is to utilize a diverse set of solutions that excel at their particular function. 

components of composable ecommerce

Source

Keep in mind that aside from PBCs, your eCommerce architecture will still require infrastructure-related elements. These include the front-end frameworks – the pre-written app structure consisting of files and directories, as well as the front-end deployment and hosting platform itself.

Here are examples of PBCs that you could include in your composable commerce platform:

Product catalog

The product catalog is the heart of the eCommerce system, and one of the main building blocks of a composable eCommerce system. A product catalog manages the products you offer, what customers see, and how they see it, ensuring accurate order fulfillment.

B2B buyer support

Some B2B buyers have complex corporate structures and purchasing processes. Many will need quick ordering and bulk ordering functionality. Good eCommerce systems should offer account management, self-service features, and order tracking capabilities.

Order management system

An order management system allows you to create, analyze, and track all elements of an order. While modern commerce systems should offer this function natively, specialized systems may be needed to manage complex configure-price-quote, quote-to-cash, approvals, returns, or refunds.

Inventory management system

Inventory management tools update, track, and manage your inventory. It helps manage inventory levels and product availability by location, set stock levels, and allocate resources. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions can also be used for this purpose.

Content management system (CMS)

The CMS allows you to manage website elements such as menus, navigation, pages, and page layouts. Many eCommerce platforms offer pre integrated solutions for CMS, but you may opt for a standalone solution if you have unique content needs.

Digital asset management (DAM)

As a business grows, managing a large number of digital assets gets challenging. Some eCommerce brands opt to centralize their digital assets and media with the help of a DAM system.

Product information management (PIM)

A PIM solution helps you better manage your product data across all channels – both offline and online. It’s particularly beneficial for brands with large order catalogs and complex product relationships.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

With a CRM solution, you can more easily manage your customer activity, keep track of order history, communicate, and personalize messaging to buyers.

Shopping cart and checkout

A shopping cart and checkout system allows eCommerce brands to manage shopping carts from various channels. Cart systems may offer guest checkouts, wishlists, and more.

Search system

You may wish to utilize an external search system to go through your eCommerce catalog and website contents if the search functionality provided by the eCommerce platform is insufficient for your needs.

Pricing, promotions, discounts

What customers pay remains a deciding factor in purchase decisions. Pricing, promotions, and discount solutions help you manage complex pricing rules while offering promotions and discounts to meet your marketing needs.

Payment systems

While many eCommerce platforms offer out-of-the-box payment eCommerce integrations, not all payment gateways are supported. Furthermore, you may want to integrate with a custom-built system. 

Reporting

You may want to integrate with analytics systems and dashboards to get a comprehensive view of your eCommerce business.

Where and How Do Composable eCommerce Architecture Components Connect?

The composable approach allows immense flexibility to craft experiences and customize integration using an API-first approach that allows companies to build a tech stack unique to their needs with the components specific to their use case.

A key to composable architecture is understanding where and how PBCs come together. To determine how to compose, you must know where your data is located and understand how it must flow through your systems. Composing happens inside or outside of the eCommerce solution and requires a modular eCommerce solution such as OroCommerce. 

Outside of the eCommerce application

When you compose outside the eCommerce application, you retrieve data from other systems in your tech stack. At some point, this data will travel to your eCommerce application.

For example, you can use the ERP as a single source of truth, where inventory and pricing data resides. Product data can be managed in PIM, but subsequently exported to your eCommerce application’s checkout system.

Inside the eCommerce application

When you compose inside the application, your eCommerce application distributes data to other systems. Essentially, the eCommerce application acts as a single source of truth.

For example, you can retrieve products from PIM and pricing data from accounting software. All this data is brought together and processed in your eCommerce application.

Benefits of Composable eCommerce for B2B?

Composable introduces more flexibility in choosing solution providers for a potential eCommerce task. Think of it as putting together Legos to build B2B eCommerce. You can add on new pieces as needed or add new elements to cover the shortcomings of existing solutions.  

For example, if you’re using an eCommerce system to manage your product catalog, but need the power of a PIM eCommerce solution to manage product information across channels, you can simply integrate the two solutions. The end result is a solution that is scalable, flexible, and able to meet your current needs and future demands.

Here are the major benefits of composable digital commerce.

Greater flexibility

In a world of constant change and evolution, businesses demand increased flexibility and control of their systems, their business logic, and the data that travels between them. With a composable setup, businesses design for their company needs, rather than adapting their company to their tech stack.

Time-to-market

Agility is a necessity. With composable, it’s easier to pivot your offerings and change the direction of your business without the constraints of technology. Respond to market trends as they happen and speed up the time to market.

Increased efficiency

While critics of composable architecture claim this approach requires more resources to maintain the disparate technologies, the opposite is true. Making a change doesn’t require reconfiguring the entire system. That allows for more effective customizations and greater cost optimization.

Vendor agnostic

Since you’re not tied to one solution, there is no need to migrate an entire system due to a major upgrade or a re-platforming. Instead, you can focus on planning and building desired experiences and capabilities without restrictions.

Scalability

Don’t let technology be an obstacle to growth. Whether it’s a traffic boost due to seasonal spikes or changes in customer expectations, a composable solution enables you to upgrade and change components to remain cutting-edge.

Is Composable Architecture Right for Your Company?

From the challenges of COVID-19 to supply chain shortages, successful B2B companies value flexibility and quick time to market. Composable eCommerce architecture provides both flexibility and speedy time to market, but that doesn’t mean this approach is right for every business. 

How do you know if composable eCommerce is a viable option for your business? 

Strong digital maturity

Many businesses have been selling online for some time and have the digital knowledge, resources, and readiness to be eCommerce leaders in their industries. If you’re confident about your goals and have a team of engineers and developers who can help you get there, then the composable eCommerce approach may be right for you.

Need for a unique experience

Today’s selling environments are competitive and brands must differentiate themselves. Many organizations manage complex product offerings or organizational structures and disparate customer experiences. A composable solution offers the flexibility and customization potential needed to scale complex eCommerce projects.

Unique integration needs

Many monolithic eCommerce solutions integrate with common business solutions such as ERP, PIM, and CRM systems. However, this may still not meet your needs. If you find yourself increasingly relying on integrations – particularly if you have or thinking about developing systems in-house, it’s better to start with composable solutions.

Key Elements for A Strong Composable Foundation

The weakest link in any composable eCommerce architecture is the eCommerce platform itself. Thus, it’s critical to analyze your platform solutions carefully to ensure they don’t limit your freedom to choose and compose solutions best for your business. Look for  these key elements when selecting your digital commerce technology:

True separation

The very essence of composable architecture is separation. At the very least, the system should separate back-end from front-end components in a headless fashion. Platforms lacking this ability cannot be composable in principle.

Unlimited composable services

A truly composable eCommerce platform should allow you to compose native elements as “modules” but also support other components without limitations. Look for solutions with open and robust APIs exposed for external use.

Easy to set up and scale

Composability is synonymous with speed and efficiency. Pay special attention to solutions that allow you to compose elements quickly with minimal investment, and consider flexible deployment options such as cloud-based deployments.

Strong ecosystem

A successful composable project requires an eCommerce vendor’s support of the composable idea and a strong eCommerce tech ecosystem. Look for vendors with demonstrable experience delivering projects with partners. Open source solutions should be supported by a robust user community as well.

How Do You Implement Composable eCommerce?

Implementing a new architecture blends a new way of thinking with a traditional way of handling technology. You’ll still be working with components, extensions, and add-ons – it’s just at an entirely new level. 

Start with composable thinking

Not every organization is ready to embrace the thought patterns and principles of composable architecture. Overcome traditional thinking about technology – namely with respect to features and capabilities that can only be used and scaled as a whole.

Focus on specific business needs

Build and organize for flexibility and resilience, not to preserve and maintain existing structures and processes for their own sake. Think widely in terms of the whole ecosystem and select technology that aligns with that vision.

Let strategy drive problem-solving

A composable strategy will lead you to technology that makes composable possible. Your eCommerce platform should allow you to take a feature and isolate it, making it composable. However, getting there means selecting the right platform from the outset.

Select a solution designed to be composable

When evaluating eCommerce solutions, look for composable elements out of the box. Having a great feature list is not enough – you should be able to turn features on and off at will. The Orocommerce B2B eCommerce platform offers:

  • Composable Commerce APIs: Flexible APIs in eCommerce extend and integrate with off-the-shelf or custom-built solutions your business already utilizes.
  • Developer documentation: Access extensive support and developer documentation to rapidly build out your eCommerce presence.
  • Strong partner network: Rely on a strong and diverse partner ecosystem with a track record of realizing complex composable eCommerce projects.

Build Your Composable eCommerce On the Right Foundation

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the vast eCommerce software market. You want a solution that offers ample design freedom and the ability to quickly adapt to changing market conditions. 

Many eCommerce platforms claim to be composable but they don’t offer the ecosystem and expertise, the separation of elements, the flexible APIs, or the flexible and scalable architecture true to composable philosophy. 

Avoid software limitations down the road and being held hostage to vendor lock-in by opting for the platform built to be composable from the start.

Questions and Answers

What is composable commerce definition?

Composable commerce meaning: It allows eCommerce teams to gather best-of-breed solutions and integrate them to reach business goals. This is in stark contrast to using a single solution with natively included functionality.

Why is composable eCommerce important?

As customer expectations rise and markets are constantly disrupted, there’s pressure to innovate and evolve offerings rapidly. This belief is reinforced that no single solution can offer the capabilities to deliver eCommerce experiences modern customers demand.

What makes composable eCommerce?

Composable eCommerce consists of a presentation layer (the elements that the customers see), separated from the business layer (where the business logic takes place). The business layer is further divided into functionalities that can be offered as standalone applications. Collectively known as packaged business capabilities (PBCs), these are the building blocks of composable systems.

What are the benefits of composable eCommerce?

Composable eCommerce architecture offers brands and leaders numerous benefits. For example, businesses can:

  • Design their own customer experiences and differentiate them from competitors
  • Pick and choose optimal solutions to reach their goals
  • Save costs, and increase time to market
  • Adjust, scale, and optimize as you grow
  • No vendor lock-in for any one vendor
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