Composable Commerce Trends: A Q&A with Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert and commercetools CPO Kelly Goetsch
In January, Acquia announced the launch of its new Acquia Digital Commerce solution, developed in partnership with commercetools and Lucidworks. Acquia Digital Commerce helps deliver a much improved shopping experience across every channel the customer is using – whether that’s a website, a mobile app, an in-store point-of-sale (POS) system, a call center, or otherwise. This is important because it helps increase sales.
Acquia Digital Commerce is a “composable commerce” solution, which brings together best-of-breed components within an open architecture to meet a customer’s specific needs. To learn more about composable commerce, we sat down with Acquia’s co-founder and CTO Dries Buytaert and commercetools CPO Kelly Goetsch.
Q: First, what is composable commerce? Why is it a significant technology trend?
Kelly: Before the composable movement, customer experience (CX) technology consisted of all-in-one, monolithic suites. If you wanted to reach your customer online, you used the content management system (CMS) that came along with your commerce platform. You had to use the whole commerce suite from top to bottom. There’s a big problem with this approach: The notion that one vendor has the best of everything is a pipedream.
Now, you can pick and choose solutions from different vendors and snap them together like LEGO bricks. You can choose best-of-breed vendors like commercetools that do one thing really well (in our case, commerce functionality). The goal is to assemble a catalog of APIs that developers can consume to build the best possible solution for their organization.
You see this happening, not only in commerce, but also across industries like finance, telecommunications and travel. The API Economy is here, and more developers are focused on building open, interoperable systems. These systems are adaptable to change and can be easily customized based on business requirements. According to one survey, API adoption increased during the pandemic, and nearly three-quarters of developers plan to use even more APIs this year. The success of companies like Twilio and Stripe are evidence of API demand.
Dries: Composable is a trend I’ve had an eye on for a while. In 2013, I wrote a blog post about “The Assembled Web,” where you could snap together various parts of the digital experience with little to no coding. This trend has been accelerated by open source and is now a core part of our business at Acquia.
Composable isn’t a dramatic “rip and replace” event. Solutions can be adopted incrementally into an organization, much like open source. In open source, all it takes is a developer setting it up. There’s no long enterprise sales cycle or procurement process. It spreads virally within the organization. There’s an element of this easy adoption with composable. Organizations can start small and simple, and grow their footprint over time.
Q: What does composable mean for customers or shoppers?
Dries: The goal is to deliver the best possible shopping experience. Being able to pick and choose the best technology components for your specific industry or profile of shoppers can make their experience more personal and relevant.
Kelly: For example, Apple is rumored to be introducing an augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) headset in the near future. With composable commerce, a company could be among the first to deliver a shopping app to their customers when these new wearables get released. This type of first-mover advantage can help companies increase both loyalty and revenue.
Q: What’s in it for merchants and marketers?
Dries: The difference is significant. Commerce platforms tend to have complex integrations with many different systems including ERP, POS, CRM, warehousing, payments, product information and more. Because of the complexity and what is at stake, these systems tend to evolve slowly.
This is a big contrast with the shopping experience. Marketers and merchants might want to make regular changes and optimizations to the shopping experience. Many of them want to experiment daily.
When you decouple your commerce platform from your CMS, they can operate independently, and they can innovate at their own pace. With a monolith, you can’t release new things at whim – instead you do it carefully and slowly in planned release cycles.
Kelly: In the composable commerce model, the commerce platform is managed entirely by IT, with marketers controlling the frontend. Before, there was a split or hybrid model, which required marketers to submit IT tickets for every change. This process slows down innovation and can limit experimentation.
Q: How does composable make developers’ lives easier?
Kelly: Composable makes the speed of feature implementation much faster. In a monolithic architecture, you had one big codebase, and everyone would check-in code changes there. When you were done making changes, you had to test the entire codebase.
With composable architectures, smaller, individual teams can iterate in parallel. The API is the interface. That way, you can test new features easily and in an automated way. Development teams can iterate and release new features to production whenever they want to. They’re no longer stuck waiting for a massive quality assurance (QA) cycle to complete.
Q: Why is composable the best strategy for future-proofing the business?
Kelly: If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that change is constant – whether that’s political change, pandemic-related change or shifts in consumer tech preferences. Businesses need to be able to pivot quickly. The way you do that is through a composable architecture.
Dries: Last year, we saw some customers pivot to digital commerce after never using it all. Even if you already use digital commerce, you still want a lot of flexibility. Curbside pickups became a big thing in 2020, and required some changes to many commerce sites. The big lesson is don’t rest on your laurels; you may still need to pivot.
Q: How does a CDP help with omnichannel commerce?
Dries: Just like a commerce monolith often has limited CMS capabilities, it also has limited user profile management capabilities. So it's very worthwhile to integrate a CDP into your commerce stack.
A CDP is built to ingest data from every possible data source. These sources could be POS transactions, CRM or marketing automation platform data, support ticketing systems data, data from custom legacy databases, or otherwise. All of this data is integrated and used to build the ultimate customer profile. With a CDP, you can do smart merging of that data using machine learning to match different identifiers (multiple emails addresses, phone numbers, etc.). From there, the data is cleansed and deduplicated, so you can build more accurate customer profiles for personalization and targeted selling.
Kelly: This data helps the retailer better understand the customer, regardless of which channel they’re using – from in-store, to online, to any number of emerging devices.
Q: One more question for our Drupal readers. How is commercetools different from Drupal Commerce?
Dries: Drupal Commerce is used by 60,000 organizations. Most of these are smaller organizations compared to the average commercetools customer. I'd say the average Drupal Commerce customer does around $50,000 to $100,000 in transactions per year.
Kelly: I agree that the biggest differences are in the size of the customer. Our typical customers are large retailers that process anywhere from $500 million to $3 billion in transactions per year across many different channels.
Dries: You can probably mix and match parts of Drupal Commerce with commercetools. That’s the point of a composable architecture – you can use the commerce components that work best for your organization and use case.
Learn more about Acquia Digital Commerce – and our partnership with commercetools and Lucidworks – in this blog post.