Your ecommerce store is a lot like a complex machine. Just like the different parts of a car serve different functions, your online store has several distinct functionalities (such as cart management, inventory management, a recommendation system, a site search engine and payment processing) that are handled by different bits of code behind the scenes.
Now, most ecommerce store owners build their stores on an existing platform like Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce. With these platforms, you get a ready-made chassis (to continue the car analogy) on top of which you can add the frame that you want, paint it the color you want, and so on. However, what if you wanted a radically different design for the chassis itself? Or what if the chassis was fine overall, but you wanted to replace a few of its parts with parts of your choosing?
In other words, what if you wanted complete control over effectively every aspect of your ecommerce store?
Well, in that case, you’d mostly be out of luck: if you’re building your ecommerce store with one of the platforms mentioned above, then the chassis has to be accepted as-is.
But what if you were adamant on having complete control over your store without having to build it from scratch? In that case, you’d have to turn to an idea called composable commerce. Let’s understand what this idea is all about, and how it helps online business owners.
What is composable commerce?
Simply put, ‘composable commerce’ refers to an approach to building online stores that involves combining, or ‘composing’, various software components, each of which carries out one particular function. These components are referred to as ‘Packaged Business Capabilities’ (PBCs), and they communicate with each other through APIs to form a full-fledged custom application that is fine-tuned for the requirements of a particular business.
These PBCs are typically third-party components that are developed and maintained by dedicated vendors. Thus, each component is typically extremely feature-rich as far as the single functionality it deals with is concerned.
By opting for such a composable approach, online store owners can, in a nutshell, make sure that:
- They only pay for the features they need
- They can differentiate themselves from their competitors more easily
- They prevent getting locked into a single, inflexible platform
Once such an advanced level of customization is available in the market, it’s typically only a matter of time before most players adopt it. That’s why pivoting to such an approach in the near future might be crucial for modern ecommerce businesses looking to gain or keep an edge.
How is composable commerce different from traditional / headless ecommerce?
Traditional ecommerce platforms are designed to have an architecture said to be ‘monolithic’. What this means is that all of their features and functionalities are integrated so closely with each other that each platform as a whole is effectively a big block of code, at least as seen from the perspective of an online store owner. Of course, you can tap into a platform’s features individually through APIs, but basically, when you pay to use such a platform, you get an all-or-nothing package.
In contrast, a store built using composable commerce will consist of a reasonably large number of interlocking components hand-picked to provide the functionality a given business needs. You pay only for the features you need, and you can decide which third-party component you want to use to implement a given feature.
Composable commerce can also be contrasted with another approach to building ecommerce stores, known as headless ecommerce. In this style of application architecture, the ‘frontend’, or “head” (i.e. what store visitors see and interact with) is fully decoupled from the ‘backend’ (i.e. the business logic, databases, etc.). Instead, the backend can be coupled with any head, such as a website, a mobile app, a vending machine, etc.
So why do you need composable commerce?
There are several reasons why adopting a composable-commerce approach makes a lot of sense for a large number of ecommerce businesses. At its core, such an approach boasts the following advantageous features:
- Modularity: Each PBC functions like an independent Lego® brick that can be swapped out for a different one or removed entirely, depending on a business’s requirements at a given time. This also makes it possible to avoid the tight coupling of functionalities that is usually inevitable in monolithic systems.
- Ease of integration: Given that each PBC needs to be able to work with a wide range of other PBCs, vendors typically develop PBCs with open standards in mind so as to ensure that they can work with existing tech ecosystems with minimal hassle.
- Flexibility: Composable commerce brings agility and nimbleness to ecommerce businesses by letting them add or subtract features quickly based on market requirements, without business owners having to worry about compatibility issues or problems in the rest of the tech stack.
- Business-centricity: Individual PBCs are typically extremely affordable, and usually come with various tools and capabilities that allow development teams to further innovate on them. Moreover, the risk and cost associated with trying out a PBC is far lower than those for trying out a monolithic platform.
These core features underlie the various concrete business benefits of composable commerce, which include:
Better customer experiences
Customer journeys today can take on a much wider range of forms than before: earlier, search was usually where the customer journey began, but now, many customer journeys begin with social media, content or even a physical QR code.
The flexibility of composable commerce means that you can provide a smooth, cohesive customer experience regardless of their starting point, by simply integrating the appropriate modules into your tech ecosystem.
A high degree of customization
The default functionality that comes out of the box with several common ecommerce platforms is often overkill for small businesses just starting out, and often not powerful enough for rapidly growing businesses. By picking and choosing the PBCs you want, you can build a unique, tailored solution that is perfectly suited to your business, rather than struggling to make a one-size-fits-all platform work for you.
For instance, you might require a powerful, AI-based site search engine to make it easier for your store visitors to find what they want. If you’re using a monolithic ecommerce platform, and the standard search engine that comes with it isn’t good enough for you, then you might have to add a new search engine on top of the old one, which would lead to unnecessary bloat. However, with a composable commerce approach, you could simply get rid of your existing search engine and replace it with a new one.
Scalability is a critical factor for any ecommerce business; with composable commerce, if you need to augment an existing functionality, you can easily do so by integrating new components into your systems, without being held back by inflexible platforms.
Moreover, by building your ecommerce tech ecosystem in a modular manner, you can easily switch out vendors whenever you need to, which means that no single vendor will be a bottleneck to your scaling plans.
Go ahead, compose a masterpiece!
Composable commerce is the key to building a scalable, successful ecommerce operation in the modern market. With it, you can provide the seamless, personalized experience that today's online shoppers demand, while still retaining the flexibility to adapt and grow as your business evolves. Don't get left behind: embrace composable commerce, and watch your business thrive.
And when it’s time for you to pick a robust, AI-powered search engine for your store, you’d probably be best-off going with Zevi. Zevi is an NLP-based search engine that understands search intent, provides highly relevant and personalized results and also assists online store owners with their marketing and merchandising efforts. Try out our Shopify App, or get in touch with us for a free demo.