Composable Commerce 101: Building for the future


March 6, 2023

The era of composable commerce is here. But what does it mean for you, your business, and your customers?

The era of composable commerce is here. But what does it mean for you, your business, and your customers?

In the last few years, you’ve probably noticed ‘composable commerce’ has become the latest buzzword related to IT architecture and ecosystems. It’s causing such a stir that Gartner predicts non-composable SaaS applications could be “legacy” tech by the end of 2024.  

But don’t start worrying you’re going to be left out of touch and out of date. This introductory guide to composable commerce answers some of the key questions you should be asking. What exactly is composable commerce? How does it differ from traditional e-commerce platforms? And, most importantly, what does all this mean for you, your business, and your customers?

> What is a commerce platform?
> The problem with traditional commerce platforms
> What is composable commerce?
> The four basic principles of composable architecture 
> The advantages of composable architecture in commerce
> Leveraging a composable and integrated ecosystem 

Want the analysts view on PIM?

Read the latest Gartner Market Guide for Product Information Management Solutions now.

What is a commerce platform? 

Gartner defines commerce platforms as tools that allow businesses to “build systems that sell, service, market and buy products to customers and businesses through the Web and channel partners”. For many years, the default option has been a monolithic, full-stack system. This type of system is self-contained and offers a range of front-end and back-end services.  

Traditional commerce platforms range from DIY e-commerce platforms geared towards small retailers to sophisticated ecosystems designed for multinational corporations. By offering lots of services wrapped up in one platform, they appeal to businesses that lack the budget or technical understanding for something more complex.  

However, while these monolithic systems have led the charge of the e-commerce boom over the last few decades, they’re quickly becoming outdated. Demands on commerce are growing by the day. More and more users are finding that traditional commerce platforms just can’t cut it anymore. 

The problem with traditional commerce platforms 

Whether it’s the pandemic, global conflict, or even a blocked shipping channel, there have been several unexpected yet highly significant disruptions to supply chains in recent years, affecting product, material, and process availability. These issues have laid bare the shortcomings of these traditional, monolithic commerce platforms. 

The often tightly coupled nature of these platforms’ back and frontends has made it unnecessarily hard to make changes to reflect product availability without disrupting the customer experience. These platforms are also not typically cloud-native, meaning it’s harder to scale your services or products in line with demand. 

Additionally, shopping habits have irreversibly changed. Research from McKinsey found that customers engage with an average of three to five channels at every stage of their purchase journey. Companies that can offer a consistent and frictionless omnichannel experience are more likely to convert interest into income. Working habits are also different now. For your teams, siloed monolithic systems that rely on physical servers may no longer be fit for a hybrid or remote workforce.  

These issues have paved the way for a new composable approach to commerce. One that allows everything from CMS systems to data management tools to integrate into one interconnected ecosystem that can better meet the demands of modern commerce.  

visualization of composable commerce with hexagonal blocks

What is composable commerce? 

Gartner first coined the term composable commerce back in 2020. Put simply, it’s a term for composable technology architecture solutions that are custom-built for an organization’s unique needs. Using APIs, these solutions combine commerce components and functions into one integrated, interlinked system.  

This flexible new approach to commerce platforms enables companies to create bespoke architecture. This architecture does exactly what they need it to, making it easier for them to meet their customers’ needs and their organizational goals. Composable commerce allows them to mix and match microservices—independent components, often from third-party vendors—that run individual services, to design a completely custom tech stack perfectly suited to their needs. 

Headless commerce is also a pivotal part of this composable approach, meaning the user interface (front-end) is separate from the backend. This means the user interface (front-end) is separate from the backend. This allows for ongoing improvements behind the scenes without any impact on the customer experience through front-end downtime. Many composable solutions can also be equipped with packaged business capabilities (PBCs). These are combined or composed microservices that give a system new capabilities, such as data modeling and supplier data management. This builds greater flexibility and adaptability into a company’s architecture. 

The four basic principles of composable architecture 

Composable architecture, also referred to as MACH architecture, has four elements that set it apart from monolithic systems.  

The advantages of composable architecture in commerce

Monolithic full-stack applications are rarely ideal for individual businesses. They can be a recipe for siloed workflows, lost data, and a disjointed customer experience. Composable commerce, meanwhile, offers almost endless customization possibilities.  

Composable systems give companies the option to build a system using third-party software components that meet their exact specifications. Your business could introduce anything from a more intuitive digital cart and checkout user experience to a comprehensive product information management system.  

It’s hardly surprising, then, that businesses are embracing composable commerce. By 2025, Gartner predicts that ‘composability’ will be a main objective in over 50% of digital spending decisions. Industry body MACH Alliance has even called composable systems “recession-resilient IT”. This is because they allow businesses to quickly scale operations up or back to meet market demand. 

“By 2026, Gartner predicts that the speed of digital innovation will improve by 60%, relative to 2022, for businesses that have established mechanisms to reuse composable digital commerce modules.” 

Leveraging a composable and integrated ecosystem 

The beauty of composable commerce is that the capabilities that make it a true technology powerhouse also improve business operations. By avoiding vendor lock-in, companies can focus their investment on the services needed to compete without wasting money on any unwanted applications.  

With composable commerce, brands can purchase stand-alone capabilities and scale on demand, lowering the overall cost of doing business. Gartner estimates these architectures could halve the cost of managing SaaS operations by 2024. 

Composable commerce also helps companies meet their customers where they are. The headless nature of composable commerce systems allows for continuous experimentation to better optimize the buying experience for customers. And with retailers increasingly concerned about rising customer acquisition costs, it’s more important than ever to deliver a consistently excellent customer experience throughout the entire journey.  

Want to know more about composability? Read Gartner’s latest report on Composable PIM today, or book a demo with an inriver expert to discover the difference a composable PIM solution could make to your business. 

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frequently asked questions

what are the first steps a business should take to transition to composable commerce?

Begin with assessing your current IT architecture, identifying components that can be modularized, and prioritizing areas that will benefit most from flexibility and scalability

how does composable commerce integrate with existing legacy systems?

Composable commerce integrates with legacy systems through APIs that facilitate communication and data exchange, enabling a gradual transition without disrupting ongoing operations.

what are the core principles of Composable Commerce architecture?

The Composable Commerce architecture is grounded in four key principles: Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless Commerce. These principles ensure that your commerce platform is flexible, scalable, and capable of evolving with your business needs without being tied to a single vendor or technology stack.  

how does Composable Commerce differ from traditional e-commerce platforms?

Unlike traditional ecommerce platforms which are monolithic and inflexible due to their tightly coupled front-end and back-end, Composable Commerce utilizes a flexible, API-first approach. This enables businesses to easily customize and integrate various components as needed, ensuring seamless updates and enhancements without disrupting the customer experience.

can Composable Commerce be applied to B2B models in the same way it does to B2C?

Composable commerce is equally applicable to B2B models, offering flexibility and customization options that can cater to complex B2B transactions and relationships. However, B2B businesses must consider the integration of advanced features such as bulk ordering, customized pricing, and extended payment terms. Additionally, implementing a PIM system that can handle the intricate product information and relationships typical of B2B commerce is crucial for delivering a seamless customer experience.

Getting started with PIM

Commerce is evolving and placing more demands than ever on your product information. Unlocking the value of this data with product information management software, or PIM, is essential to drive growth ambitions. Across sales, marketing, e-commerce, compliance, and IT, PIM provides a single source of truth that adds value at every stage of the product journey.

  • Lisa Quinn

    Director of Product Marketing

    As our product marketing director, Lisa is a product evangelist for all things inriver. From launching new products and services to managing our analyst relationships, she is talented in cultivating key stakeholder relationships and product stories that matter. She has been working in the European market for over 15 years.

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