PostsExpert Article

Choosing the Right Commerce Platform Approach

2023-04-24 Tobias Felbecker
image showing different components of a commerce tech stack

The retail industry is evolving at a rapid pace, with the significance of omnichannel commerce continues to grow. To stay competitive, retailers need to choose the right tech stack that meets their unique needs. However, with a wealth of buzzwords and biased opinions, it can be challenging to see through the noise and make informed decisions. This article aims to provide an unbiased and comprehensive perspective on selecting the ideal omnichannel tech stack for your business. 

A retail commerce tech stack consists of various essential building blocks, each designed to address specific tasks. These components can include the online shop frontend, the product catalogue, the search engine, and many more. The importance of each component varies, based on the retailer's needs and customer requirements. To gain a comprehensive understanding of these components, we recommend exploring our Omnichannel Retail Framework.

However, when it comes to procuring, assembling, and hosting the building blocks of a commerce stack, retailers have multiple approaches to consider. They can opt for a single vendor to provide all components or select and integrate components from different vendors to create a tailored solution for each aspect. In this article, we will discuss the most common approaches and offer valuable insights on what to consider when choosing the right approach for your retail commerce tech stack.

Best of Breed vs. Best of Suite

There are a few tech buzzwords circulating to describe slightly different approaches in the commerce tech stack landscape. However, I still appreciate the straightforward differentiation between a Best of Breed and a Best of Suite approach.

image comparing a best of breed and a best of suite approach

Best of Breed

Best of Breed is a term commonly used in the technology and software industry to describe the selection and integration of the best individual software or tools for each component, such as the online shop frontend, product catalogue, search engine, payment processing, and more. The idea behind the Best of Breed approach is to leverage the strengths of specialised solutions, which often outperform all-in-one or monolithic systems in terms of functionality, customisation, and innovation. By integrating the best available tools for each aspect of your commerce tech stack, you can create a more powerful and efficient system tailored to your unique needs.

What to consider:

  • Is your organisation prepared to manage multiple software vendors and integration partners?

  • Is your architecture equipped to handle APIs, integrations, data formats and varying architectures?

  • Is your IT team ready to manage separate updates, patches, and support for each component?

Best of Suite

Best of Suite refers to an approach in technology and software selection where a single vendor offers an all-in-one package that includes the various components of an online shop. It simplifies the process of implementing, managing and maintaining a commerce tech stack by consolidating multiple components under one umbrella. Since the components are developed by the same provider, they are designed to work seamlessly together, resulting in smoother data flow and fewer compatibility issues.

What to consider:

  • Since you will be dependent on a single vendor's product roadmap, can you influence that roadmap to align with your business needs?

  • Do you have unique e-commerce requirements, as single-vendor solutions may not always offer the same level of customisation and flexibility compared to Best of Breed solutions?

  • Is the vendor's solution truly a Best of Suite approach, or is it a collection of acquired tools? If so, will the integration of these acquired tools potentially influence the vendor's product roadmap in the future?

  • If the solution is not a SaaS model, how dependent will you be on product updates and new releases? Will you need to perform regular updates, and what are the consequences if you don't?

Headless components and decoupled frontends

The first time I heard the term "headless" was in 2012 while exploring e-commerce software vendor, commercetools. I was initially confused by the term headless since it suggests that something important as the head is missing. Nevertheless, I realised that the idea behind headless commerce – decoupling the frontend and backend – makes complete sense.

image showing a headless components with decoupled frontends

The frontend is the customer-facing aspect of a commerce stack, and its requirements tend to change more frequently than those of the backend system. Factors such as design updates, mobile frontend developments, and evolving customer preferences drive these changes. In a headless commerce approach, the frontend and backend are separated, allowing businesses to innovate and adapt the frontend without touching the backend system.

It's worth noting that the distinction between headless and traditional monolithic systems has become less clear, as many monolithic software vendors now also market themselves as headless by decoupling their frontend and backend. Simultaneously, headless vendors offer decoupled frontend components to expedite the MVP development process. This blurring of lines makes it seem like both types of systems are providing similar solutions.

What to consider:

  • Do you have more than one frontends such as mobile, web, and in-store and do you plan to invest in the development of custom frontend experiences?

  • How often do you update your frontend? Does your organisation require the flexibility to adapt and innovate the frontend independently of the backend system?

  • Is your IT team prepared to manage the integration and maintenance of various APIs and data formats between the decoupled frontend and backend systems?

Choose your Infrastructure: On-Premise, Cloud and SaaS

Each component within your commerce tech stack might have distinct infrastructure requirements based on the specific needs, size, and scale of your e-commerce business. For instance, a large product catalogue may demand substantial memory for efficient query processing, while your media asset solution may necessitate a considerable amount of storage capacity. Furthermore, your frontend should operate on a scalable infrastructure to handle traffic peaks on a Black Friday promotion effectively.

The debate between on-premises, cloud, and SaaS hosting solutions has been extensively discussed, but it's still essential to make the right choice for your business. Selecting the appropriate hosting solution for your commerce tech stack is a crucial decision that can impact your commerce scalability, flexibility, and overall performance.

image comparing infrastructure approaches such as on premise cloud an hybrid

There might be a few valid reasons for hosting your commerce stack on-premises, such as the need for connectivity with your existing on-premise ERP or CRM systems or the need for enhanced control over your infrastructure.

However, if you have a decoupled frontend and backend stack as mentioned above, it might be a good idea to consider a hybrid approach and host at least your frontend in a scalable cloud environment. This approach can offer enhanced flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing workloads and customer demands.

Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions deliver your commerce stack as a fully managed service, reducing the need for managing infrastructure, updates, and maintenance. SaaS can be an attractive option for businesses seeking a hands-off approach to their tech stack management.

When it comes to commerce tech stacks, the question often isn't whether you should be in the cloud, but rather which cloud provider best suits your needs. Options include Azure, AWS, GCP, or even adopting a multi-cloud approach.

What to consider:

  • Are infrastructure management and software updates part of your organisation's core capabilities, or would you prefer to delegate these tasks to a cloud or SaaS provider?

  • Are there any regulatory or internal requirements regarding the hosting and storage of data, such as customer information, that might influence your decision on the most appropriate hosting solution?

  • Evaluate the TCO for on-premises, cloud, and SaaS options, considering initial setup costs, ongoing maintenance, and potential future scaling requirements.

Microservices Architecture

Microservices have become a popular architectural approach in recent years, particularly in the commerce tech stack landscape. This approach involves breaking down an application into smaller, loosely coupled and independently deployable components that work together to provide a complete solution. Individual components can be developed, updated, or replaced independently without affecting the entire system. A Microservice architecture offers the flexibility to choose best-of-breed solutions when necessary.

image explaining the concepts of a microservice

However, it's important to note that adopting a Microservices architecture can come with its own challenges, such as increased complexity in system management and coordination, as well as potential issues related to data consistency and security.

What to consider:

  1. Does your organisation have the necessary expertise and resources to manage a microservices architecture, and handle versioned APIs, continuous integration and deployments or integration testing?

  2. Are you organised in several teams that take over the full responsibility for one or several microservices?

  3. Can your IT team effectively address potential challenges related to data consistency, security, and communication between different microservices?

Composable Commerce

Composable business, a concept introduced by Gartner, aims to create adaptable and flexible organisations. At the core of this approach are four fundamental principles: More speed through discovery, greater agility through modularity, better leadership through orchestration and, resilience through autonomy. Since these somewhat vague definitions may not always provide complete clarity on whether an architecture is truly composable.

However, a Best-of-Breed approach for commerce solutions is often referred to as Composable Commerce. This concept focuses on assembling a commerce solution using modular, interchangeable components, often leveraging microservices, APIs and a headless architecture.

Some Composable Commerce evangelists use the metaphor of Lego blocks to describe an easy plug-and-play approach for the composable components. However, this comparison may create unrealistic expectations for retailers, as implementing a Composable Commerce approach can come with its own challenges. These include increased complexity in system management, potential integration hurdles, and the need for a skilled development team to ensure seamless functioning.

What to consider:

  1. Does your organisation possess the necessary expertise and resources to manage a Composable Commerce tech stack, including handling potential complexities and integration challenges?

  2. Are you prepared to invest in a skilled development team to effectively implement and maintain a Composable Commerce solution?

  3. Are you willing to embrace a continuous innovation mindset and actively optimise your tech stack using Composable Commerce principles?

All together - MACH

Although the definition of composable architectures are be rather ambiguous, the technical principles of a MACH architecture are well-defined. MACH unites the key principles of modern commerce tech stacks, combining the benefits of microservices, API-first development, cloud-native architecture, and headless commerce.

In the context of commerce tech stacks, MACH facilitates the implementation of modular, interconnected components, allowing businesses to select best-of-breed solutions and create a truly customised experience for their customers. By embracing MACH principles, organisations can benefit from increased agility, faster innovation cycles, and the ability to pivot quickly in response to evolving customer needs and market demands.

Adopting a MACH architecture can also promote seamless integration with third-party tools and services, ensuring a cohesive ecosystem that can be continually optimised to deliver the best possible customer experience.

However, it is important to note that implementing a MACH-based tech stack may come with certain challenges, such as managing the increased complexity of a modular system, addressing potential integration issues, and ensuring a skilled development team is in place to maintain seamless functioning.

What to consider:

  1. Are you willing to embrace continuous innovation and actively optimise your tech stack using MACH principles?

  2. Does your organisation have the expertise and resources to manage a MACH-based tech stack, including handling the increased complexity, system management, and potential integration challenges?

  3. Are you prepared to invest in a skilled development and operations team to effectively implement and maintain a MACH-based commerce solution?

The conclusion

In conclusion, selecting the right approach to building your commerce tech stack is critical for your business's success in today's fast-paced and competitive e-commerce landscape. Understanding the various components of a commerce tech stack and evaluating different approaches, such as Best of Breed vs. Best of Suite, Headless, Microservices, and Composable Commerce, will help you make informed decisions that align with your organisation's unique needs and objectives.

Get in touch

At foryouandyourcustomers, we understand that every organisation is unique, and your position in your digital journey may necessitate a different approach. As a vendor-agnostic consultancy, we're dedicated to helping our clients find the most suitable solutions for their needs. Allow us to guide you in selecting the right approach and the best-fitting components for your e-commerce stack. Reach out to our experts today!

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