Digital Commerce: How To Ride The Next Wave Without Splashing Out
As customers, we want websites that recognise our mission, allowing a quick and easy shop. As retailers, platforms should be nimble, enabling quick changes, adapting to market forces, experimenting with new features at low-cost. Equally, there should be minimal impact on reversing those features that don’t work for our customers.
Many retailers have excellent sites, but use technologies established over twenty years ago. These monoliths of the early period of eCommerce limit the agility needed today.
Modern user experience requires the ability to adapt to how our customers want to shop. As important are the APIs to allow extension and use newer technologies as they become available - see our previous article on the rise of the API. Many of these older monoliths have limited capabilities in these critical areas.
The current situation is further exacerbated by significant players winding down or selling their eCommerce platforms such as Oracle and IBM, creating uncertainty or forcing a re-platform.
More recently, we’ve seen the trend of headless commerce, decoupling the UX layer from the commerce platform to increase agility. We are now seeing the emergence of Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless (MACH) and Composable Commerce; individual components developed using modern technology stacks in the Cloud with a decoupled UX layer.
The complementary benefits of a Composable Commerce approach are the ability to create layers in the technology architecture that lend themselves to organisational design. Slower-moving technologies are improved in isolation of the digital commerce platform or the separated UX layer. In recent clients, we’ve enabled brand new Digital teams to be created around the UX layer, allowing them to innovate at a pace currently unheard. They also have the complete freedom to implement new ideas without the need to make changes to the slower moving lower layers of the architecture.
Plenty of vendors are starting to appear claiming to be part of the Composable Commerce ecosystem, but what are the key considerations when choosing which vendor is right for you?
Let’s focus on the key considerations when selecting your core Digital Commerce vendor.
How mature is your engineering function? What’s your aspiration for an engineering team to support and develop your commerce ecosystem? If your answer is “we don’t have an engineering function, and can’t afford one right now”, then it makes sense to go with a platform providing a turn-key solution with an open architecture and APIs that will not preclude later integrating within a broader ecosystem. This will give a rapid route to market and not constraining expansion as your business matures. Alternatively, should the answer be “yes, we’re pretty mature, we have great DevOps, a decent engineering function and we’re on our way to, or already have decoupled our UX”, then an API-only/Microservices solution is more applicable. Even if you’ve not decoupled your UX, but committed to building your own experience layer, or ensuring you’re ready for whatever’s next, then an API-only with the ability to license the microservices you need will be more for you.
How much innovation, customisation, extensibility do you need? Do you have a different proposition from most other digital commerce businesses? Are you looking to do something truly innovative, but still need a core commerce platform? There’s always been a sticking point when you’ve got into the detail of your requirements versus what’s available in current digital commerce platforms. In need of something highly customisable and extensible? A highly composable commerce platform is likely required, one that is microservice-based, API-first and has plenty of extension points to enhance the core logic, containing pre- and post- webhook points to build your business logic.
How fast do you need to get to market? During the pandemic, we have seen many small retailers move online rapidly, in some more public instances, some have refused to. If the need is to move online quickly and in a cost-effective manner, or test a new market, a platform that provides an existing, easily customisable UI and tooling to load and manage your catalogue is essential. Addressing such a use-case, use a turn-key solution, or not too far behind would be an API-first solution using a modern storefront framework, such as NextJS, VueJS or similar.
How steep is the learning curve? How attractive are the technologies? Have an existing in-house team? What upskilling will be required? How long will it take them to become proficient, are the technologies involved attractive? When considering a move from a legacy monolith platform skillset towards a modern lightweight framework, it’s vital to consider this.
At AND Digital, our progressive re-platforming approach decoupling the UX layer from the legacy monolith, allowing us to decompose the priority capabilities behind that UX.
This approach reduces the risks associated with a big bang delivery, generally driven by a monolithic solution. Instead, we identify the key capabilities and gradually build those out and migrate across from the incumbent solution. These capabilities might be custom-built, part of a procured API-first/microservices solution, or separate best of breed SaaS components (e.g. Search).
Whilst the gradual approach to replacing the monolithic solution occurs, you will achieve benefits through enhancing the user experience. As individual new services arrive, they are exposed to the UX layer and an experience designed to maximise benefits.
If your organisation wants to get future fit and understand how to drive profitable growth, then take a look at this recording. We recently held an event where five remarkable brands talked about how they tackled unprecedented challenges in these uncertain times. They shared how they pivoted their business operations quickly and effectively, using best-of-breed applications, modern architecture and Agile ways of working.
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