Navigating the future of ecommerce in 2024
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Why composable commerce is key to thriving in an uncertain economy

Why composable commerce is key to thriving in an uncertain economy

Composable commerce keeps you in tune with your customers, no matter where they want to go. When executed well, composability gives merchants the flexibility to bounce back during downturns and build on their strengths when the economy booms.

Sounds great, right? But let’s get real: Composability also is the latest in a long line of bright, shiny buzzwords. How do you separate the marketing pitches from the practical value of composable commerce?

The principle here is that you should compose your business the way creators compose works of art.

Imagine somebody telling the composer of your favorite piece of music, “sorry, you can’t use any drums. Our technology won’t allow it.” Something like this happens every day to merchants whose software locks them out of tools they need to keep customers happy and outflank competitors.

Pros and cons of composable commerce

The pros: Composability delivers speed and flexibility. Merchants can have great ideas for personalizing their offers and optimizing their buying processes, but inflexible software often stands in their way. Creating a custom solution can take months at considerable cost — if it’s even possible.

Composable solutions can accelerate time-to-value and enable merchants to fine-tune their commerce processes and customize offers for distinct market segments, typically in a fraction of the time imposed by legacy software platforms. Because time is money, speed can be especially helpful in a market downturn.

The cons: While composable commerce is fast, it’s not necessarily a quick fix. Composability can get complex because you’re orchestrating multiple technologies from a range of vendors. Success requires smart strategy, robust software and trustworthy technology partners.

If you have a simple business with predictable products, customers and spending habits, then you may not need the speed and agility of composable commerce. Then again, if your competitors go composable and start winning over your customers, you’ll be obliged to do the same.

Why composability is tailor-made for today’s merchants

You’ll hear terms like “headless commerce,” “API-first architecture” and “best-of-breed solutions” in conversations about composable commerce. Indeed, these are among the building blocks of composability.

But there’s more to this story because your customers are buying on all sorts of platforms. They’re not just coming to your web store on desktop PCs. They’re using phones, tablets and smartwatches.

“Merchants have to stop seeing their store as only an online store and switch to the concept of it being one channel where they sell stuff.”

- Niklas Dzösch, developer evangelist at Shopware.

Composable commerce acknowledges that people buy and sell on Instagram, Amazon and countless other venues. “It's about being where the customer is, so to speak,” Dzösch adds.

How composable commerce delivers flexibility in an uncertain economy

High inflation, supply chain disruptions, and economic uncertainties have a lot of merchants worried — and rightly so. But it helps to remember the economy doesn’t always have the final say. Businesses can crash during booms and thrive during busts. The best merchants figure out how to take advantage of the inevitable ups and downs of markets.

Historically, ecommerce software suites helped merchants do a few things well but tied their hands when they needed to change things. Those days are rapidly fading into history thanks to the modernization of ecommerce technologies.

Composable commerce has the advantage for certain merchants to be very independent from preconfigured solutions, but you still have the benefit of not having to build stuff yourself,” Dzösch says.

This flexibility helps merchants change course quickly, which is critical during market downturns. Merchants can avoid spending five years planning and three years implementing a technology, then discovering their solution was current three years ago.

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What composable commerce looks like in action

How do the nimblest merchants take advantage of composability? Shopware’s ecommerce platform offers a practical example.

Shopware’s core commerce solution uses APIs (application programming interfaces) that let apps share data and functionality. This API-first architecture helps Shopware users connect to frontend user interfaces and backend systems for functions like CRM (customer relationship management) and ERP (enterprise resource planning). Shopware also has vast extensibility, enabling merchants to plug in specific solutions that best serve their markets.

These capabilities help merchants get composable in three ways:

No-code automation

Shopware’s platform has built-in no-code automation, allowing merchants to quickly tweak some commerce options even if they have no software programming training. Store staff can create customized offers on their own, avoiding intermediaries like an IT department or a development partner that imposes weeks or months of delays. (Bonus: The merchant doesn’t have to pay expensive experts to do this work). Two Shopware tools (called Rule Builder and Flow Builder) use a no-code interface and simple, intuitive logic to customize a shopping experience. Rule Builder creates categories of customers, transactions, currencies and other variables. “It asks if something is true or false, like whether the customer is from Switzerland or the sale price is over 1,000 euros,” Dzösch says.

Flow Builder offers a deeper level of logic, pulling together a series of rules to provide sophisticated personalized transactions. For instance, a flow could grant free shipping to Swiss customers whose orders exceeds 1,000 euros.

Cloud

Shopware provides a cloud-hosted, software-as-a-service (SaaS) version of its ecommerce platform. Dzösch notes that this version has less functionality than the full Shopware platform because it’s difficult to make cloud software extensible enough to suit every customer.

But merchants don’t have to commit to the entire SaaS solution. They can use an API to access a specific component of Shopware (like the online storefront) and plug it into their overall ecommerce ecosystem if that helps them succeed in the marketplace.

Ecosystem

Shopware’s core commerce platform is an open-source web store built by a global community of developers. Third-party developers also build extensions to the system and sell them on Shopware’s web store.

With access to an immense catalog of third-party apps and extensions, Shopware ecosystem users can enjoy all the fruits of composable commerce. They can choose the search engine, payments processor, customer-facing frontend, and perhaps dozens more options to find the optimum technology mix for their needs.

All this flexibility frees merchants to sprint toward solutions to economic ups and downs. Of course, freedom isn’t free, as the adage goes. You pay a cost in complexity.

Dzösch notes, for example, that merchants often plug in a specific search engine for their online store. The search app looks great at first, but soon the honeymoon is over. Flaws pile up, so the merchant tries a new search provider. The new app has to work while reconciling all the problems of its predecessor.

Multiply this across a dozen apps or system extensions and you can imagine the potential of your tidy commerce ecosystem morphing into a shantytown. Sound planning is the best way to manage this kind of complexity.

Keys to a winning composable commerce strategy

Composability never reaches a destination. It’s always iterating for an evolving market landscape. You may want to add composability for a certain market segment while keeping some legacy apps that are too difficult or costly to replace.

“Very few projects go all-in on the composable commerce approach," explains Dzösch. After all, composable commerce might weave together 20 software solutions, each with distinct configuration quirks, update cycles, and security requirements.

Ideally, composability gives merchants “best-of-breed” tools for specific challenges in their markets. But the ground truth is tricky: “You can have the best tool for every possible problem, but now you have a new problem: making them all sync up,” Dzösch adds.

Thus, merchants need to strike a delicate balance that keeps all their apps playing nice with each other. You may end up choosing a preconfigured tool that’s not the “best” one for your needs, but it’s the right choice because it dovetails best with other applications.

A winning composable commerce strategy to address these kinds of challenges includes:

Goals and priorities

Start by identifying the outcomes you hope to achieve. The next step is to establish priorities for what must be done as soon as possible and what can be pushed into the future.

Every software solution has a default configuration that can be customized for your unique needs. High-priority items should make the wisest use of these custom settings, while low-priority items can stick with defaults; you can customize later if needed.

Trustworthy partners

Most merchants don’t have the in-house talent to build an ecosystem on their own, so they team up with development agencies, system integrators, or solution providers. You need partners with a deep track record who understand the nuances of your market and customers.

Cost considerations

In addition to hiring development talent, you’ll be purchasing licenses for applications, plugins, and extensions either up-front or by a recurring subscription. Make sure you’ve accounted for everything that generates fees — including support activities of your developers and software providers.

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Top pitfalls for merchants to anticipate and avoid

With so many options, it’s easy to stray from the path to successful composable commerce. These tips should keep you on track:

  • Don’t underestimate complexity: Software vendors and developers might not be able to give you the full story on the complexity of their solutions. Seek out people who have deep familiarity with the solution but aren’t paid by the vendor: they’re more likely to know where problems crop up and willing to talk about them.

  • Avoid lock-in: Make sure your partners can provide the flexibility you need. “It might look perfect, but if you can never change anything without going through three months of meetings, then it's a bad solution,” Dzösch cautions.

  • Don’t overdo it: Start out with easy wins like no-code automations. When you work the bugs out of these solutions, use what you’ve learned on more ambitious projects.

Must-have qualities of composable commerce technologies

The strongest composable commerce tools:

  • Support openness and standards: Open-source software using common programming languages and accepted best practices usually provide the most flexibility for composable commerce. Shopware, for instance, makes all of its code available, while its developer community keeps working on updates and bug fixes.

  • Evolve with future needs: Dzösch encourages looking for platforms that do not require highly specific skills that might be obsolete in a few years. “The more generic the skills you need for this kind of tool, the better, because you can adapt it to other systems in the future.”

  • Help automate manual tasks: Every time you hand off repetitive, manual tasks to software, you give your people more time for your customers and your business.

  • Keep you moving forward: No matter what the marketplace does, you cannot expect it to stand in place. “The worst shop is the one that is not changing,” Dzösch says. Everything about your composable commerce ecosystem should support your ability to not just keep pace with your customers, but to get out ahead of them.

FAQ

What is composable commerce?

Composable commerce is a business strategy that puts the business and customer first: You first identify the needs of your market and your company, and then you compose the best technology solution to meet these needs. This helps you avoid getting locked into technologies that limit your freedom to serve your market.

How does composable commerce help companies thrive amid economic uncertainty?

Merchants can keep the parts of their technology ecosystem that still work while plugging in agile solutions to specific market challenges. This holds costs down at a time when staying cashflow-positive is essential and frees merchants to adapt quickly to changing market conditions.

What must merchants do to ensure success with composable commerce?

Start with a strong strategy based on a thorough understanding of your markets across the short, medium and long terms. Partner with trusted experts to help implement a flexible technology solution. Avoid lock-in that will limit your freedom when markets pivot and customer habits evolve.

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