Can Your Business Benefit from Composable Commerce?

Customizable commerce solutions could take you to the next level.

January 25, 2022
6 Minute Read
Timery Crawford
Senior Manager, Content Marketing

What is composable commerce?

Composable commerce is a term that was first introduced by Gartner in a report from June 2020. It’s a way for businesses to build a unique ecommerce experience by combining the technologies that most perfectly align with their organizational mission and goals. In other words, brands can cherry-pick their technology of choice to create a memorable online experience for customers.
Some might say composable commerce is a bit like building a home. When you first start the process, one of the options is to use an out-of-the-box home design from a developer. That will certainly make things simpler and faster, but will result in a one-size-fits-all solution that likely won’t be tailored to your specific needs.
Alternatively, you could build a completely custom dream home. Starting from scratch is more complex, of course, but it guarantees a design that suits your distinct needs and achieves your goals. For example, if you love to cook, you can build a state-of-the-art kitchen with a giant island. If you have kids and work from home, you can add a separate office and playroom.
When organizations select and assemble composable commerce capabilities to satisfy exact business requirements instead of trying to force-fit standard out-of-the-box ecommerce functionality, that’s composable commerce.
As technologies have advanced, it’s rare to find a full-stack, all-in-one application (whether built in-house or licensed from a vendor) that fully satisfies the distinct requirements of a business long term. Thankfully, rigid architectures that prevent businesses from customizing capabilities to meet their needs are a thing of the past. Savvy organizations can now leverage modern technologies and approaches like microservices, APIs, cloud native, and headless to adapt to rapidly changing market dynamics. Adopting a composable commerce approach ensures today’s solution can stay in step with tomorrow’s demands.
Indeed, composable commerce is much like your dream home in that it is:

1. Designed to be modular.

Each component is a self-contained system that can be deployed independently.

2. Based on open standards.

You might customize a dishwasher with a cabinet door panel in your kitchen. For commerce, open standards, integration patterns, and extensibility models also encourage customization. But in this case, it’s the customization of third-party and proprietary API services. These services can be designed by technology vendors, the business themselves, or their solution and integration partners.

3. Flexible.

Modern, flexible technologies and approaches are leveraged for agility. For composable commerce, these include microservices, APIs, cloud, headless, and Jamstack (JavaScript, APIs, and markup language) architectures.

4. Business-centric (or you-centric, for our house example).

Composable commerce and dream homes both include all the necessary capabilities for teams (or you, personally) to have full control to "compose" independent services into an end-to-end solution that addresses complex and dynamic requirements, enables iteration, and lowers the cost and risk of innovation.

Why should I care about composable commerce?

With composable commerce, you get the flexibility to mix and match composable capabilities to achieve your specific business goals. For example, if your goal is to unlock new revenue channels, you can add Live Video Shopping on top of your APIs. If your goal is to improve search to increase average order value (AOV), you can introduce an AI-powered search solution. And if your goal is to grow your company from one distribution center to multiple centers across geographies with a bigger product catalog, you can seamlessly scale your operations with an API-first order management system (OMS).
Analysts believe that composable commerce is here to stay. Early adoption of a composable stack that includes a range of best-in-class services covering capabilities like fulfillment, content or search services, commerce, and a payment gateway will give companies a clear advantage.
Gartner reports that by 2023, organizations that have adopted a composable commerce approach will outpace the competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation.

What’s the difference between composable commerce and headless commerce?

Simply put, headless commerce is the first step toward composable commerce. Organizations that have adopted a headless approach may be on their way to becoming a composable enterprise. Headless commerce is when a platform’s front end and back end operate independently via APIs, and changes on one end do not affect the other. Composable commerce takes the emphasis on modularity a step further and decouples services that solve business problems, like search, payments, or personalization.
Every component is pluggable, scalable, replaceable, and can be continuously improved. The combination of these packaged business capabilities (PBCs) — whether purchased or developed in-house — allows for maximum organizational agility. The creation, curation, and dynamic assembly and reassembly of these PBCs is not a “new architecture.” Rather, it is an ongoing evolution of architecture practices.
Both approaches connect best-in-class technologies to allow more flexibility to meet organizational needs, and both are a result of organizations needing to adapt and quickly respond to the accelerating pace of business change.

What are the benefits of composable commerce?

Before composable commerce, monolithic software applications were among the most prominent. With a monolithic software application, the user interface and data access code are combined into a single program from a single platform. It is single-tiered, self-contained, and independent from other applications. This means that any new touchpoint added to a monolith — a voice-enabled chatbot, a mobile self-checkout, curbside pickup — has to be hardwired to the entire back-end system. While this can be done, encoding all the different features in the back end is often difficult and time-consuming because of the decoupling of all the internal functions that are needed. Eventually, the piecemeal approach will impact system performance.
In contrast to the monolith, composable commerce offers the ability to mix and match different capabilities to achieve specific business goals. With modular applications, only the required services’ APIs and logic are involved. Not only can independent components of a composable platform be swapped in and out as needed, but they can also be selectively applied to new experiences you build or be consumed in multiple experiences.
This flexibility gives businesses an advantage to help them stay ahead of consumer expectations and outmaneuver the competition. It also allows organizations to deliver highly differentiated and personalized commerce experiences on any touchpoint. It opens up a commerce ecosystem where your business can connect with partners, vendors, and other solutions, so you can easily build and adjust your offerings on the fly.
Additionally, composable commerce includes the ability to increase operational efficiencies for faster development cycles and less interdependence across teams. Businesses can maintain complete design and process freedom, and scale systems independently while responding to changes. Ultimately, composable commerce unifies business priorities and initiatives.

How to get started with composable commerce

Before you even consider a composable commerce approach, make sure your IT team is top-tier. They will need to be able to:

  • Work with modern developer technologies like React and Jamstack
  • Integrate components on the back end with an API-first approach
  • Ensure that the design and UX are uniform across the board, aligning all services
Once you are confident in your IT team’s capabilities, you’re ready to commence with composable commerce. To avoid the all-at-once cost of replacing a legacy architecture with composable capabilities, it’s best to start with an incremental approach. Identify the immediate business goals that will make the biggest impact in your organization and start there.
If, for example, your goal is to improve your customers’ experience and boost engagement, start by rolling out an API-driven progressive web app on your top-of-funnel web pages (homepage to cart). Once those efforts have been successfully rolled out, you can tackle the checkout.
Alternatively, if your immediate goal is to improve uptime and availability, you could start with commerce services from a trusted and scalable platform. Starting small allows you to see quick results.

How to choose the right composable commerce platform

Just like choosing a builder or floor plan for your home, when it’s time to choose a composable commerce platform, there are multiple factors to consider. You’ll want a platform that is composable and connected. The key benefit of modularity, after all, should be convenience, and over-granularity can add complexity without adding value.
Microservices for microservices’ sake don’t necessarily add value. What are you trying to achieve? Bring it back to the business problem you’re trying to solve. That’s why composable commerce is focused on packaged business capabilities (PBCs) and not just microservices. Be sure the platform you pick provides the flexibility to mix and match PBCs that are connected by a common foundational layer that gives you scale, security, and a single source of truth.
Additionally, you’ll want to look for a platform that has an ecosystem of partners to easily integrate and build with, as well as one that provides tools for both developers and business users. Lastly, you should consider your organization’s digital awareness. Select a technology vendor that matches the technical capabilities of your team, system integrators, or the agency you hire.

Is “going composable” right for your organization?

The argument against change is that often it can be expensive and time-consuming. But you must also consider the cost of not changing. Composable commerce offers the best of both worlds with the opportunity for businesses to change incrementally. To discover if composable commerce is a good fit for your business in stages, or all at once, consider these questions.

  • Is your business part of a rapidly changing and competitive market that requires person-centric innovative experiences that can be deployed quickly?
  • Does your business run on a complex set of applications that takes months to change?
  • Does your growing business have an ecosystem of open source and simple integrations that you may want to change somewhere down the road?

If you answered yes to any of these, it’s time to consider composable commerce.


Everything You Need to Know About Headless Commerce


The Commerce Checkout


More Resources

The Future of Commerce – Connected Data, Headless, and More
Going Headless Is Hard – These 6 Tips Make It Easier

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