Composable Commerce, Headless Commerce or MACH? / Decomposing the Monolith

Composable Commerce, Headless Commerce and MACH are the three terms that encapsulate the modern approach to building e-commerce systems. In this article, we explain the differences between these concepts and compare them with the idea of a monolith. 

Monolithic Structure of the E-commerce System

Let’s start from the last point: a short description of the “monolith”, which is at the far side of the approach to creating e-commerce. In this way, by contrast, it will also be easier to grasp the meaning of headless or Composable Commerce. The monolithic approach to e-commerce refers to the traditional architecture in which applications are built as a homogeneous whole. This means that both the frontend and backend are coupled and implemented as an “all-in-one” system.

There is a single codebase that integrates all e-commerce components, including payment systems, order processing, warehouse management, data analysis, CMS, etc. Consequently, any changes in a selected component interfere with the operation of the entire system.

The limitations of monolithic e-commerce systems include:

  • High complexity – “monoliths” are often highly heterogeneous. All applications within the system are closely interconnected, which makes it hard to introduce any changes or add new functionalities. This would not only involve modifying the system, but would also require knowledge about the whole application, which might easily lead to vendor lock-in.
  • Lack of flexibility – the uniform structure of monolithic e-commerce applications makes it difficult to scale individual components. If your website traffic spikes temporarily, for example during sales periods or shopping events such as Black Friday, it may be necessary to scale the entire application, even if many of the parts are not put to work during such times.
  • Difficult to maintain – due to the high complexity and tight links between components, maintaining a monolithic application can be hard and expensive. If you alter one component, this may affect other parts of the application, which calls for thorough testing before any implementation.
  • Limited innovation – monolithic e-commerce applications have long been considered stable and trustworthy, but they cannot keep up with technological progress or emerging opportunities. Limitations on the rapid deployment of new functionalities and innovations may cause the company to have difficulties adapting to customer expectations.

Headless Commerce

Since monoliths ceased to be fit for purpose, the time has come to decompose them. Headless e-commerce is an approach that has reversed the previous order of things and allowed systems to be developed in which the frontend (or “head”) layer is decoupled from the backend. This allows for the use of many different frontend technologies that are connected to the e-commerce system via APIs.

In this way, changes can be implemented faster, without fear of disrupting the backend. Another important aspect that characterizes headless technology is the ability to support multiple sales channels, which is particularly important for companies that want to develop the omnichannel model in their organization. A single e-commerce platform can support a website, mobile application and an in-store sales system, thus providing customers with a seamless shopping experience across devices and channels.

The standard e-commerce structure consists of three elements:

  • Frontend layer – what the end customer sees, a user interface for browsing products, placing orders and making payments.
  • Backend layer – in other words, the bac-end; it retrieves, processes and transfers information from the database;
  • Database – a warehouse with all information, such as product descriptions, prices, photos, etc.

In the headless architecture approach, these elements are separated within the e-commerce platform.

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Composable Commerce

Composable Commerce is an approach to building an e-commerce architecture that involves combining independent components and services (microservices) to create a comprehensive commerce solution in the MACH approach, using Jamstack good practices. In Composable Commerce, the system consists of a number of independent components that can be combined in any configuration to adapt to individual business needs and requirements.

In the Composable Commerce, headless and MACH approach, each of the modules described below is an independent, easily scalable component that can be integrated with other modules to create a coherent solution. In this way, Composable Commerce ensures greater flexibility, speed and innovation in building e-commerce platforms, which translates into both a faster time-to-market and an ability to adapt inline with evolving market and customer needs.

Composable Commerce may include, for example, the following components, modules and frameworks: 

  • e-commerce frontend
  • headless e-commerce platforms
  • headless CMS
  • search and recommendation engines
  • payment systems
  • shipping handling systems
  • promotional tools and loyalty tools
  • PIM systems for product information management
  • order management systems
  • marketplaces
  • data analysis tools
  • cloud solutions
  • inventory management system.

What does MACH mean?

The term MACH no longer refers to the approach to the e-commerce system from the architecture perspective – now it refers to a set of good practices that provide for greater efficiency and scalability. MACH is an acronym that stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-Native and Headless. A brief reminder of what these terms mean:

M \ Microservices – systems consist of many microservices that work independently of each other. Each microservice is responsible for a specific set of features and can be developed, scaled and maintained on a standalone basis. This approach allows for the faster implementation of changes and better resource management.

A \ API-first – API interfaces facilitate communication between individual system components (e.g. CRM, ERP, warehouse management) and their easy integration.

C \ Cloud-native – cloud-based infrastructure can be freely scalable, both up and down, as needed. Cloud services also ensure high availability and security.

H \ Headless – decoupling the frontend from the backend enables companies to customize the user interface to customer needs and for the use of various tools to display content.

Now that we have briefly explained the key concepts related to modern e-commerce systems, it’s time to focus on their distinguishing features. Regarding headless commerce, this approach puts particular emphasis on separating the frontend user experience from the backend logic.  This is the first step towards decomposing the monolith. However, some platforms may be partially headless with a monolithic backend that is not based on microservices.

The next step in the evolution of the systems is the Composable Commerce concept, which allows specialized applications to be created based on the selection of the best-of-breed components. It draws on both headless technology and MACH assumptions, unlocking all the possibilities of modern e-commerce systems.

Composable Commerce, Headless Commerce Solution and MACH – A Summary

There are several factors to consider when looking for the best solution for your business. Assessing the organization’s business goals is extremely important. It’s worth looking as such aspects as key functionalities for the e-commerce platform, scalability, system flexibility, ability to integrate and speed to market, and check how important they are in relation to the company’s growth plans. It’s also essential to analyze the organization’s resources and check how a specified solution and its expected impact will fit into long-term business goals.

It’s not original to say that the choice of the right solution depends on the organization’s current position and its development plans. We would not hesitate to recommend everyone ditching the monolith and going for the headless architecture, that the Composable Commerce solution, based on the MACH principles, is already a notch higher. It will certainly work well for organizations that put a high premium on freedom, flexibility, the ability to quickly respond to market trends and evolving customer expectations.

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