14 August 2023

On the road to composable – The monolith

Road to composable

A movement is taking place in the field of eCommerce. Something that we at Product League call “the road to composable”. While running, building and scaling your digital business, you might not even have known you were on this road. You might think that all the problems that arise with every new eCommerce opportunity are yours and yours alone. Rest assured - we are all on this road together.

This will be the first of three blogs where we discover the different stages of composable commerce. Let’s explore the background of the eCommerce landscape and its direction, to see what this road consists of and how to navigate its stops, pitfalls, and vistas.

Today’s topic: the monolith

Read the next article in the series: On the road to composable – Going Headless

Your customers are digital entities 
Next time you’re in the supermarket (or really any retail store), pay attention to your fellow shoppers. Unless they’re already hauling three crying toddlers through the aisles, you’ll notice most customers with one hand on a cart and the other on their phone. Checking the latest deals, receiving the latest coupons, checking prices of competitors … And looking back up just in time to swerve around you, if you’re lucky! They are having digital shopping experiences. And the experiences continue at home, on the couch, in the metro, at the gym. E-Commerce is now the norm, not the exception. Which is probably why year over year eCommerce revenue is still growing twice as fast as brick-and-mortar retail revenue, even after Covid. Your customers are now digital entities, and you better believe that their perception of your brand is digital too. 

Your eCommerce channel has trouble keeping up 
Digital experience is the way to your customer’s heart and wallet. Research by Baymard shows that 75% of customers will reward a good digital experience by ordering more, while 50% of the time customers punish a bad experience by switching to a competitor! Not surprising, since moving to the competitor is as easy as opening a new tab in your browser, or simply switching apps. 

The need for flawless, tailored digital experiences is rising. So, what does this look like behind the scenes? Most likely you’re spending more on content, to showcase all the goods that your brand offers and attract customers to your site and app. Perhaps your product data has trouble keeping up, with specific pricing and timebound promotions rules that your customers are waiting for, but which are destroying your site load times on calculation. Or is it customer loyalty that’s lacking? Either way, that should have been solved by that digital savings app that was too expensive to release, or the membership program that’s been lagging behind the competition since its launch. 

Demands? Your backlog is probably full of them. Your current systems are most likely stretched to their limits, racking up technical debt with every new business feature you add. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of all these complex processes and the people operating them is eating all your margin, if not more. This is causing you to delay innovation, falling further behind, in a downward spiral. I Honestly hope this is not starting to sound too familiar! 

Composable puzzle

The road to composable commerce
You know your customers and you know your changing (digital) business. Your company has built up the eCommerce channel over the past years. Maybe as a digital native, delivering your goods out of your garage at first and scaling to multiple warehouses. Maybe as a retailer that became successful with brick-and-mortar shops, knowing the opportunities that were being missed online. This may have set your foot on the road to composable. The road to composable consists of the digital solutions your business has found to the problems of serving your customers in this new channel. There were never right or wrong answers, which is why it is a journey, not a destination. The best solutions to digital problems have evolved over time, both with the growing technical capabilities out there, and with your scaling business.

Phase 1; the Monolith
Traditionally, eCommerce was solved with one-stop-shop applications, the so-called monoliths. The business needed a digital channel, so they bought or built a platform that promised to deliver most of the functionalities that were needed. The customization that was unique to your business added some sauce on top and you were good to go. This approach works relatively well for small businesses: Since spending is limited, customization and performance are not the highest priority. If you’re a corner shop bakery and you want to start a digital channel, a relatively cheap off-the-shelf option like Shopify is still your best choice.

Even large companies such as Amazon (Cadabra), Adidas and Nike (Demandware / Salesforce) started out with large monolithic systems. In fact, most companies start out with such a shop (the Magento-, SAP Hybris-, Intershop customers of this world). It is only when the eCommerce channels start growing and scaling, you see the first growth pains appear.

What tends to happen is that the customizations that are layered on top of the system turn into spaghetti code, upgrades of the platform are no longer compatible with your code, release cycles are getting slower, time to market of new features is slowing down and performance worsens. Good news! Your eCommerce business is growing. Bad news! You're outgrowing your legacy setup.

If you are operating your business at scale, you need the best performance and great flexibility to react to customer demand. Luckily, the move towards headless is also what enables a business to scale even further towards composability.

This is where it all comes down to scaling. How do you offer the same performance to user 10 million, as you did to user 1000? How do you keep relevant content coming to attract customers to your offers? And how do you reliably offer the experiences that make your business unique, to all your customers equally? The place to look would be to stay on the road to composable. Over the next blogs of this series, we’ll dive into the following checkpoints on the road: going Headless and going Composable. These stops will offer solutions to expand outwards and upwards, bringing higher scalability, performance and speed to market. But be warned, they come with their own pitfalls and disadvantages.

Dirk Kerpel 1440x1440

Dirk Kerpel is an eCommerce leader with years of experience in transforming digital businesses. Through his deep product knowledge acquired at large retailers like Staples Europe and Adidas, he is now helping to reinvent composable commerce with Low code, as Head of eCommerce at Product League.

Head of eCommerce

Product League helps you assess your now, your future, and the road there, using the power of our multi-disciplinary teams, ​state-of-the-art technology, and our extensive knowledge of the world of eCommerce. When you have established the vision, we can accomplish it together. We are an Outsystems low-code powerhouse, enhanced through partnerships with Commercetools and Contentful. Together with your business, we can achieve anything: from made-to-measure solutions to full SaaS implementations. Helping you to reach your customers and your goals.

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