Imagine walking into a bank to close your account only for the representative to tell you apologetically, “Your money is already in the system. We can’t transfer it out.”
No business owner would stand for this. But too many SaaS providers trap customers in their suboptimal products by locking their data in proprietary systems or formats. Sure, you can ditch your project management tool, but your projects and productivity analytics won’t port over to the new one. You can cancel your subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, but good luck editing those .indd files. Likewise, changing ecommerce service means saying goodbye to the valuable customer data you’ve collected.
This difficult landscape gave rise to composable commerce — which is a philosophy, not a tool. Composable commerce helps merchants move away from being locked into one platform by allowing them to maintain ownership of their data and assets rather than uploading everything to another company’s servers.
It’s great to regain control over your operations, but you’ll also be the person controlling whether your storefront and backend work the way they need to. Your composable commerce tech stack determines both your internal workflows and your customer experience. You, therefore, need to select tools that align with your company’s values and goals. Here’s what you should be looking for as you evaluate your options.
Composable commerce is a technology strategy wherein a company assembles its own ecommerce sales platform by choosing and integrating various microservices and packaged business capabilities (PBCs) to meet its needs. More simply, it means moving away from a singular ecommerce sales platform and building your own out of the existing tools on the marketplace.
The principles of composable commerce espouse some of its benefits: It’s more agile and thus future-proof. It allows you more control over your systems, so you can optimize both employees’ and customers’ experiences. It may even reduce costs because you only pay for what you need.
But, like all approaches to ecommerce sales, it comes with tradeoffs. Companies that switch to composable commerce find themselves managing many more vendors and service providers. They often must build up their web infrastructure so they can create and host their own ecommerce platform. They need knowledgeable and skilled developers and tech support teams to create and maintain their ecommerce experience. You’ll be able to pare down your reliance on singular companies, platforms and tools but only by increasing your reliance on your own team.
Your composable commerce tech stack needs to include microservices or PBCs that cover every function an ecommerce business needs. Each company’s tech stack will look a little different depending on its org structure, customer base and industry/product type. However, here’s an example of the services ecommerce merchants may need in their tech stack.
Once you’ve decided which type of microservices and PBCs to look for first, you’ll need to evaluate each option that’s on the market. As we said before, you should only integrate tools that will move your company closer to its goals. Here are the features to look for in each prospective tool.
Composable commerce is run on APIs because users are free to mix and match different brands and service providers. Most microservices and PBCs you’ll see in the composable commerce marketplace fulfill this requirement by definition. However, beware of the commitment PBCs require; choosing a “checkout” PBC means opting into the entire suite of microservices, even if some of the options aren’t the best choice for your company.
Look for: API-based rather than platform-based services. Even platforms that can be integrated into your site aren’t enough, as they may turn certain data or features into a proprietary asset.
Creating a composable commerce architecture takes enough time and resources, so you need your system to be able to grow with your company. Max capacity is an important consideration here, as are functionalities made to help teams that handle high-volume sales.
Look for: Volume-based or tiered pricing that allows you to upgrade your usage of a specific tool. Though expanded functionality may be less of a concern with microservices (as you can just add in a new microservice), look for productivity boosters like automation capabilities. Scrutinize PBC feature lists to make sure they remain comprehensive for operations larger than yours.
Using multiple tools means paying multiple subscription or access fees. These costs can balloon beyond what you’d spend on an all-in-one ecommerce platform if you’re not careful.
Look for: Hidden costs, including additional fees for higher usage or more support. Also, consider the internal cost to implement, maintain and troubleshoot a tool.
The point of composable commerce is making a solution that’s a good fit for your business and customers. Microservices and PBCs that advertise themselves as turnkey solutions may not have the flexibility you need.
Look for: Tools that give you the ability to tailor your installation, including turning certain features on and off. Ask yourself whether your current setup has any niche functions you can’t lose; those should be present in your tool of choice.
Working with an API requires a deep understanding of how a service functions. Make sure your developers can find the information they need to install and troubleshoot each tool in your tech stack.
Look for: Basic online documentation is a must. User-generated content that comes in the form of knowledge hub contributions or online communities provides a good fallback for issues that aren’t covered in the official docs.
When something does go wrong, it’s important that you can get someone on the phone to help you fix it.
Look for: Services with live support options like human-operated chat (not chatbots) or a customer service line. Make sure the company’s operating hours overlap with your team’s working hours.
Not every company is in the right place to think about composable commerce, and some may not ever be. Small, lean ecommerce merchants may have more to lose by taking on the hard work of building and maintaining their own platform.
The composable commerce approach is a better fit for organizations that already have a tenured tech team and a good web architecture foundation. Large, mature ecommerce organizations are likely in a good spot to start their composable journey. SMBs can start building toward composable commerce by investing in their internal tech operations. Both groups will benefit from taking a thoughtful and deliberate approach to their composable commerce future.