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Guide Ecommerce Tech

4 steps to adapting and thriving with composable tech

By Daren Fitzgerald | Senior vice-president, strategic growth



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November 28, 2022 | 8 min read

Daren Fitzgerald of digital consultancy Appnovation reveals how retailers can employ sophisticated tech to level up during the 'shadow' period of the pandemic.

Man using laptop

Going composable requires on overhaul of the tech you already have / Greg Rosenke via Unsplash

If the challenging climate retailers currently find themselves in has a solution, it lies in supersized agility. In the shadow of Covid-19 and a looming recession, brands competing in a fierce digital landscape must deploy world-class speed and adaptability.

In this context, embracing composable tech is an increasingly smart move. Sometimes referred to as MACH (microservices, API-first, cloud-native, headless architecture), retailers that adopt this approach can replace clunky, monolithic networks with a series of modular components purpose-built to address a single function. Those single functions can range from tailored messaging to headless content management systems (CMS).

This might sound like the promised land of retail. Leading names like Puma and Lego have already arrived, reaping significant impact in speed-to-market, yet the shift is not always easy. Here are four key steps for brands seeking to make composable ambitions a reality.

1. Find your A-team and dissect existing tech

To deliver a successful composable project, retailers need to assemble teams reflecting a diverse range of perspectives. This means including individuals at different levels of the organization, selected from different brands, verticals, regions and departments. Consider creating dedicated task forces for specific areas, such as tech audit or governance.

This is a good point at which to communicate realistic expectations and align your team around the overriding end-benefit of embracing composable.

Next up comes a tech audit. It's worth staying open-minded at this stage, with a focus on solutions that deliver the fastest time-to-value. It’s worth examining the last time your brand did a replatforming, and what has changed since then. What is your brand trying to accomplish? Think about how your audience interacts with your current platform (what's working; what's not) and where your brand wants to be in one or five years’ time.

2. Choose, migrate and connect your new components

It's time to decide on your tech stack. Consider functionality (whether that's personalization, an agile CMS or product information management) and flexibility. With a composable stack, each component has a very specific purpose and can be easily customized or swapped out.

For example, Danish electronics brand Bang & Olufsen was looking for the flexibility to integrate sales channels into a single omnichannel strategy, allowing the exchange of data between its point-of-sale (POS) systems and e-commerce site while making the online front-end available in physical stores. The resulting ecosystem, built with headless commerce software Commercetools, increased conversion rates by 60%.

A robust tech stack comes from a blend of built and bought applications, with the customer placed firmly center-stage. Migration is key; how will you handle the implementation process?

The beauty of composable is that the migration process isn’t one-size-fits-all. An incremental approach which delivers small but measurable impacts in a short time frame might be a better fit for your organization than a massive transformation project.

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3. Make sure everyone can adopt and use your composable tech stack

Becoming composable is about more than just tech. It's a mindset shift. Training and early engagement are key so that people across your company feel empowered to use the new system and understand why it’s necessary.

For example, when direct-to-consumer online clothing brand Everlane used to create an API-based CMS, it allowed marketing staff to build their own seamlessly integrated content to sit alongside the shopping experience. This enabled faster site updates and product launches, with a positive knock-on effect that carried through to the bottom line.

Likewise, ease of use was a key consideration in Costa Coffee's work with Contentful. With the right templates and models in place, the brand's marketers can be more responsive, with the means to adjust confidently and at speed.

4. Evolve your toolkit: try, test, and repeat

Remember that a great composable tech strategy is a work in progress rooted in continual improvements and openness to rapid change. Because composable decouples teams from the need to do massive roll-outs, it’s possible to make small, quick improvements to specific parts of the system in a way that’s manageable while still creating meaningful change.

Costa Coffee, for example, chose Contentful’s API-first, headless solution to support the brand's ambitions in American and Japanese markets and customize its web content in pre-established locations across Europe, the Middle East, and APAC. The goal was a flexible tech stack capable of growing hand-in-hand with Costa Coffee's own expansion targets.

Composable architecture is the rockstar of the post-Covid age. Retailers can create a unique ecosystem that can be reinvented over time according to evolving opportunities and challenges. Even better, barriers such as cost and difficulties in adoption can be overcome by undertaking this process in an iterative way for a cycle of small, fast changes that deliver what users truly need.

Guide Ecommerce Tech

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Appnovation is a global full-service digital consultancy. We seamlessly integrate strategy, user experience, development, deployment, training and support, allowing clients to continuously innovate their digital services and touchpoints.

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