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What is composable commerce, and why does it matter?

The competitive frontier in ecommerce is steadily moving towards flexibility and scalability. New composable platforms are gaining the lead because they better support the needs of modern ecommerce stores with global ambitions.

Michal Wlosik

12 minutes

The legacy monolithic systems no longer fit the bill of brands — they are inflexible, and expensive to develop. 

The explosive growth of composable commerce architecture in recent years is a response to the growing push for flexibility and agility. What is composable architecture, and what made it the leading development paradigm in ecommerce? What are the advantages of building a best-of-breed technology stack? Jump right in to find out.

Composable commerce takes the lead

Composable commerce is booming. As competition in ecommerce grows fiercer, brands and retailers are looking for new ways to offer a better experience to their users. Modern shoppers want faster sites, custom-designed shopping experiences, and payment and delivery options they know and love. Stores are expected to offer seamless omnichannel shopping journeys that span multiple devices and customer touch points.

The growth of omnichannel and the very specific needs of international ecommerce stores are encouraging integration and solution partners to push the envelope and innovate. For many of them, composable architecture is just a more efficient way to handle a myriad of integrations. It enables the development of pixel-perfect, on-brand ecommerce stores that sell products to customers globally.

What are the main drivers of composable commerce?

In a nutshell, a composable architecture is one in which every individual component of the stack is easily replaceable and can be developed without affecting the other parts of the system. The idea behind composable commerce is to enable brands (and their developers) to select and assemble a customized solution that best fits their needs. This unlocks the flexibility to adapt to technological and behavioral changes and future-proofs the store.

The necessity of supporting the fast growth of ecommerce and meeting the expectations of modern shoppers is one of the key drivers of the API-first approach to ecommerce platform architecture and using best-in-class solutions to build amazing shopping experiences. 

With a composable approach to ecommerce, brands can combine different tools and services freely. APIs are the interfaces used to connect the different tools and services into a custom-designed shopping experience. By moving to a composable architecture, brands can plug in and out different solutions rapidly, as needs develop over time. This is a radically different, and faster approach to online business development than other, more monolithic architectures, offer.

Composable commerce drives the growth of omnichannel commerce. Visitors, clients, customers and ambassadors expect the same amazing shopping experience everywhere, across many devices and customer touch points. A legacy, monolithic commerce suite can never satisfy this need, but a flexible, best-of-breed ecommerce platform can.

The rise of the direct-to-consumer ecommerce model is another factor impacting the boom for composable architecture. Modern brands are no longer dependent on retailers selling their products. Instead, they use their digital channels to reach and sell directly to consumers all over the world. A growing number of ecommerce websites today are selling globally with local currencies, languages and delivery options streamlined to every customer, wherever they are. This creates an urgent need for supporting technologies.

How does the composable approach work?

Some of the most common integrations in ecommerce stores are checkouts, PSPs (e.g., Adyen, Klarna, PayPal) and headless content management systems.

Traditional vs headless ecommerceWhen it comes to composable ecommerce integrations, the sky is the limit. The idea is to build a solution with best-of-breed components that best serve a store’s needs, whether it is a CMS, analytics, front-end framework, CRM or marketing automation. These microservices do not have to be built specifically for your ecommerce platform. Unlike apps on the Shopify App Store, these services expose APIs. The ecommerce platform then connects to them to string it all neatly together.

Composable commerce allows brands to use core ecommerce technology combined with best-of-breed partner integrations to compose and optimize unique commerce solutions. 

What are Jamstack, composable architecture, API-first and MACH?

To understand the inner workings of composable architecture, you need to know the concepts such as API-first and headless. Composable commerce involves using Jamstack (JavaScript, APIs and Markup) and MACH technologies. MACH is a portmanteau of Microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless. 

Microservices 
Microservices address a specific business functionality, making it easy to adapt to different and changing business needs. While the notion of a microservice as used in the ecommerce context, despite the name, has grown to include fairly large and sophisticated software components. A definition that still holds is that a microservice stores and manages its own data.

API-first
API-first systems expose the microservices, managing the underlying data, functionality and connectivity between different ones. In a composable approach, APIs enable internal product and marketing teams to iterate and test new sales strategies and omnichannel ecommerce experiences. With a headless architecture, companies can customize their tech stack and select the best API components for their unique use cases without compromising on anything due to dependencies or platform complexity.

Cloud-native SaaS
Cloud-native SaaS is built using microservices hosted in the cloud. 

Headless
Headless architecture advocates a separation of the front-end interface from the back-end logic. For example, a headless CMS uses an API to attach to the front end. Various microservices allow engineers to update the UI or microservices without impacting other components of the stack. 

Jamstack 
Jamstack (JavaScript, APIs & Markup) is an architectural approach enabling headless architecture in which the web experience layer is decoupled from data and business logic, improving flexibility, scalability and store performance.

What are the benefits of composable commerce?

Headless architecture allows more freedom and flexibility by removing the link between the front and back end. Content and design can be updated independently of the back end. This approach brings many benefits. 

First, composable commerce stores are built with an API-first approach, allowing easier integration with other tools and existing company systems. As a result, it's easier to extend the platform's capabilities and proactively respond to customers' growing needs and the push for omnichannel ecommerce. 

Next, stores leveraging composable commerce architecture are easier to scale and enable more flexibility to deliver differentiated experiences across different countries and endpoints. This allows brands to sell internationally with localized content, local currencies and preferred payment options.

Also, because the development process in composable commerce integrations is characterized by a separation of concerns, the teams working on the project gain independence. Front-end developers can focus on the UX, and back-end developers can focus on the back end. A composable ecommerce platform is thus easier to upgrade, and the different parts of the system are much easier to scale.

Who is composable architecture for?

If a brand wants to build amazing, on-brand digital experiences, composable architecture is likely the best way forward. It vastly reduces dependence on the roadmaps of third-party providers. For example, various packaged business capabilities (PBCs) can be purchased as services and integrated within the SaaS platform, while the missing functionalities can still be built from scratch in-house.

The traditional approach to ecommerce platform development assumes a rigid, all-in-one set of functionalities that are cumbersome and expensive to customize to unique business requirements. Composable commerce, on the other hand, empowers brands with the flexibility to integrate whatever microservice they need and design beautiful on-brand sites that outpace the competition. In summary, composable commerce enables:

  • Brand-centric shopping experiences built according to brands’ specific requirements. No more cookie-cutter templates and/or generic out-of-the-box functionalities that don’t match the store's design.

  • Reduced time-to-market – by not having to worry about maintaining and updating technology, brands launch new features faster and independently of the ecommerce platform’s capabilities. As a result, they can focus on their core business, expanding to new markets and streamlining their operations.

  • Best-of-breed approach, allowing brands to build ecommerce stores using technologies that best suit their needs.

  • Future-proofing of the technology stack – with a composable commerce setup, you can freely replace integrations when needed to better adapt to current trends and requirements. No more hacky integrations and excessive development to make the store work as expected.

Who is composable architecture not for?

The benefits of composable architecture are plenty, but it may not be the best way forward for every store. Choosing the frameworks and composable components and deploying an ecommerce store is a nuanced process. Launching on a headless, composable platform would be overkill if you are running a small store with just a few products, don’t need advanced integrations, or are not planning to scale globally anytime soon. 

Most small-scale retailers may not fully benefit from composable commerce due to the high cost of the initial build of the stack. In such situations, a monolithic SaaS ecommerce platform like Shopify Plus would be more than enough to serve their needs. 

Composable commerce entails working with integrations from multiple technology vendors, and potentially the brand’s own microservices, implementing brand-specific business logic. This means you still need an agency or an in-house team to deploy and orchestrate all the integrations, a cost that not every small business can afford.

A very large enterprise brand might find it valuable to put in place an architecture that orchestrates a very large amount of small microservices, including home-built microservices, for complete flexibility and control over every detail (with a very large integration architecture to maintain as the result). Most midsize and large brands rather look for an architecture with fewer microservices or PBCs, favoring pre-built SaaS solutions that are well-suited for their needs, to balance business value, with IT expenditure and time-to-market.

What are the key components of composable commerce?

The defining goal of the composable approach to ecommerce architecture is to connect, or compose, the tech stack using best-of-breed components. It’s a bit like using the best parts to assemble a robot that serves a very specific purpose. Buying a big, expensive and clunky machine that does everything would cost you an arm and a leg and may still not even get the job done well. But stripping down the functionalities to just those you need will save you a lot of money and effort and possibly better serve the purpose.

A composable stack's components are sometimes referred toknown as PBCs (Packaged Business Capabilities). A PBC is usually a set of microservices that are pre-combined to solve a problem. Composable commerce stacks are built using best-of-breed PBCs, allowing for flexibility and connectivity to serve specific store functions such as checkout or search. 

The market for these services is growing, as is the number of vendors offering them. This directly results from the popularity of composable commerce. 

PBCs can be partner/vendor-built, custom-built or native to the ecommerce platform. We’re currently seeing a growing number of PBC vendors on the market. Different specialized vendors offer capabilities for functions like: 

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Core ecommerce capabilitiesAdditional capabilities
Product catalog Loyalty programs
Shopping cartID management
PromotionsAnalytics
TranslationsReviews and ratings
Tax handlingSearch and browse capabilities: advanced search, refinement, personalized results, voice search, geosearch, recommendations and search merchandising capabilities
CheckoutProduct recommendation engine

The list of available services and vendors offering them keeps growing, fueled by the popularity of composable commerce. We’re also seeing an increasing number of headless ecommerce solutions that solve the problems of particular industry niches.

Headless ecommerce platforms

Some composable platforms cater to specific industries — Centra's headless ecommerce platform is geared specifically towards mid-enterprise fashion and lifestyle brands. Compared to legacy monolithic platforms like Magento or its generic headless competitors, Centra comes with many native functionalities that fashion brands need, saving them from developing functionalities from scratch or paying for third-party plugins. There is no reinventing the wheel. For fashion brands, it also means a less expensive initial build of the site and faster time to market.

Centra’s backend – great handling of fashion products

Composable ecommerce integrations

In addition to limiting flexibility and business development pace, scalability and complexity are becoming the biggest challenges for stores built using traditional monolithic ecommerce architecture. As an ecommerce store grows, legacy platforms become difficult for engineering teams to manage. They require a proper understanding of the various dependencies and integrations, impacting the ability to move quickly.

Maintaining apps or add-ons and making sure they work to your specific needs ultimately leads to a less efficient workflow, an inability to iterate fast, and the need to redeploy the entire application after each update.

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Examples
Ecommerce front ends• Vue Storefront • NextJS commerce • Shopify Hydrogen • ScandiPWA
Frameworks• Vue.js • React • Gatsby
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Examples
Composable ecommerce platforms• CommerceTools • Centra
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Vendors
CMS• Storyblok • Contentful • Contentstack • Ghost
Search and recommendation services• Algolia • Syte • Constructor.io • Findify
Payment services• Klarna • Checkout.com • Payone • Adyen • Stripe • Paypal
Shipping services• Shipstation • ShipperHQ • Ingrid • nShift
Promotions and loyalty services• Voyado • Yotpo
Order management systems• Fluentcommerce
Helpdesk• Zendesk
Reviews• Yotpo
PIM systems• Spryker • Binder
Tax management services• Avalara • Vertex
Marketplaces• Channable
Transactional emails• Sendgrid • Klaviyo • Rule • Mailchimp
Inventory management systems (IMSs)• ShipBob • ShipHero • Shopventory • Stocky • Katana • Orderhive • NetSuiteERP
Enterprise resource management systems (ERPs)• Microsoft Dynamics • Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central • Oracle Netsuite • SAP
Returns management systems• ReBOUND • nShift • Reclaimit • Turnr • Easycom

Composable commerce examples

The choice of the ecommerce platform may be instrumental in building an amazing composable ecommerce tech stack. Let’s now look at two examples of composable commerce architecture: Chimi Eyewear and Maya Dolorez.

Chimi Eyewear

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CheckoutKlarna Checkout
Transactional emailsMandrill (powered by Mailchimp)
Personalized emailsExactTarget (Salesforce Marketing Cloud)
Ecommerce platformCentra
Storefront frameworkNext.js
CMSStoryblok

Chimi Eyewear is an independent eyewear brand based in Stockholm. Their high quality men’s and women’s sunglasses have conquered the world with astonishing speed. Sunglasses collections are inspired by iconic, classic silhouettes, handcrafted from premium Italian acetate. All sunglasses have a 100% UVA and UVB protection.

Chimi Eyewear sells their products globally through their own webshop and physical store located in Stockholm, Sweden. 

CMS

Chimi Eyewear wanted to move away from the monolithic suite and launch on Storyblok. This meant migrating to a modern API-based CMS that would give their developers the flexibility they needed while empowering content managers and business users to easily create customized content.

Storyblok streamlined their omnichannel publishing, have exceptional localization capabilities, offer intuitive ways to utilize content governance and collaboration, and take considerably less effort and time to run the operations.

Headless ecommerce platform

Chimi Eyewear’s ecommerce is powered by Centra, which gives it all the native core capabilities like Order Management System, PIM (Product Information Management), Payment, WMS and Promotions.

Chimi Eyewear uses Centra mainly for its B2C commerce capabilities. The platform manages areas such as cataloging, inventory, returns and shipments. Centra’s approach has allowed the brand the flexibility they need to grow and scale globally. 

Other integrations

Apart from the headless ecommerce system being the heart of their tech stack, Chimi Eyewear uses a number of third-party integrations to add all the necessary capabilities to their store. The composable architecture allows them to freely customize their customers’ experience and enables flexibility to future-proof the store.

Klarna Checkout
Klarna Checkout is a complete payment solution where Klarna handles the store's entire checkout. This solution includes all of Klarna's payment methods: Pay now (card payments), Pay in 30 days (invoice), Pay in 3 instalments and Financing (instalment plans of 6, 12, 24 and 36 months with flexible payments).

Mandrill
Mandrill is a scalable and affordable email infrastructure service, with all the marketing-friendly analytics tools you've come to expect

Mandrill allows the store to send one-to-one transactional emails triggered by user actions, like requesting a password or placing an order. They're powerful touchpoints between the store and uts customers.

Paypal, Adyen, Klarna
With multiple payment service providers, Chimi Eyewear gives its customers the freedom to use the payment methods they love.

Ingrid
Ingrid provides end-to-end solutions, which Chimi Eyewear uses to offer their customers the best delivery experience possible – wherever they are.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly ExactTarget) 

Salesforce Marketing Cloud, formerly known as ExactTarget, is a global provider of on-demand email marketing and interactive marketing solutions. It’s a digital marketing suite that helps stores deliver personalized email experiences and nurture relationships with their customers. 

Maya Dolorez

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CMSWordpress Gutenberg
Ecommerce platformCentra
PaymentsAdyen Drop-in
CheckoutKlarna Checkout
Marketplace integrationGoogle Merchant
Emails & NewsletterKlaviyo & Rule
FrontendReact & Next.js
CMSWordPress
CDNCloudflare
End‑to‑end delivery solutionDHL

CMS

With WordPress deployed as their headless CMS, Maya Dolorez’s marketing team can conveniently manage their content – campaigns and landing and product pages in different languages – using the interface they are familiar with. WooCommerce Storefront is an intuitive and flexible, free WordPress theme offering deep integration with WooCommerce. This approach makes internationalization and localization much easier, allowing Maya Dolorez to manage the content from one place and distribute it quickly across different channels and countries.

Headless ecommerce platform

Maya Dolorez’s ecommerce store is powered by Centra, which gives them all the native core capabilities like Order Management System, PIM (Product Information Management), Payment, WMS and Promotions.

Maya Dolorez uses Centra mainly for its B2C commerce capabilities – covering areas such as cataloging, inventory, returns and shipments. Centra’s approach has allowed Maya Dolorez the flexibility they need to grow and scale globally. 

Other integrations

Through a number of third-party integrations, Maya Dolorez’s ecommerce setup allows them to freely customize their customers’ experience.

Adyen Drop-in
Drop-in is Adyen’s pre-built UI solution for accepting payments on your website. Drop-in shows all payment methods as a list, in the same block. Adding new payment methods usually doesn't require more development work. Drop-in supports cards, wallets, and most local payment methods.

Klarna Checkout
Klarna Checkout is a complete payment solution where Klarna handles the store's entire checkout. This solution includes all of Klarna's payment methods: Pay now (card payments), Pay in 30 days (invoice), Pay in 3 instalments and Financing (instalment plans of 6, 12, 24 and 36 months with flexible payments).

Google Merchant Center
Google Merchant Center is a free service that allows to display product information across different Google channels. You will be able to display rich product results on Google Images as well as rich results on Google Search.

Rule Mailer
With Rule Mailer, Maya Dolorez can offer each of their customers a personalized experience throughout the entire journey. Rule Mailer leverages valuable data and enables marketing automation, email marketing and SMS tools, allowing the brand to tailor their communication at each contact point.

Summary

Composable commerce drives the acceleration of digital ecommerce sites that people visit every day. The trend is growing as it allows stores to deliver the resilience and agility that today’s ecommerce demands. Composable architecture enables you to build your technology for better adaptability, and makes it future-proof.

Composable commerce enables business and tech teams to bring brands’ unique digital vision to life by launching and continuously optimizing digital commerce experiences and combining best-of-breed services into a complete, business-ready solution.