Don’t replatform, modernize – a pragmatic approach to the adoption of composable architecture for SAP Commerce

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Headless Commerce

Don’t replatform, modernize – a pragmatic approach to the adoption of composable architecture for SAP Commerce

When we released Alokai to the world in late 2017, "headless" was just gaining ground in the ecommerce world. We rode the wave of this trend, witnessing its rapid adoption. And let me tell you, there's good reason for the buzz! 

This innovative approach, championed by tech giants like Google and a myriad of vendors, painted a revolutionary way to build ecommerce applications, promising solutions to all struggles regarding performance, flexibility, and scalability. Everyone caught up in the excitement and jumped on the hype train without fully assessing where "headless" truly shines or, for that matter, what potential drawbacks it may present.

Years later, while thousands of companies have embraced headless architecture , not all of them should have. Many faced more challenges than solutions after investing heavily in this new paradigm. They were seduced by flashy marketing, only to face a harsh reality. 

Looking at what is happening on the market, I'm afraid we're witnessing a déjà vu with composable architecture. Let’s look at the path to composable architecture from a pragmatic perspective.

When your aging stack undermines your business growth: The call for replatforming

Software tends to gradually lose some of its qualities over time to the point where it is no longer relevant. If you're reading this article, you already know this. 

After many years of building and extending your ecommerce application every change takes much more time than it used to. Your business's ability to innovate and adapt to the new trends has significantly decreased. Time to innovation, on the other hand, has most probably grown exponentially and now comes with additional costs which makes it harder for you to stay relevant on the market and compete with younger contenders adopting more modern and lean solutions. It feels like everything they can do in a day takes a month for you (and it's often the reality!)

Your ecommerce system is old and slow which ruins your application performance that is so crucial for a great customer experience. 

The lack of flexibility, combined with the templating constraints of your old platform, makes it impossible to experiment with new design ideas and bring them to life quickly.

At some point, the accumulation of the above factors overwhelms you and becomes an everyday struggle. You're tempted by bold marketing statements promising flexibility, agility, and limitless ability to innovate. At some point you start dreaming about a clean start that will finally allow you to do everything you ever wanted, faster than ever, cheaper than ever, using best-of-breed tools and the latest, cutting-edge technology.

Why replatforming isn't the silver bullet it claims to be

It is in the best interest of modern ecommerce vendors and agencies to frame replatforming as the best solution. Even though, clearly, it is not the only one. With this article, I want to put bold marketing claims aside and look at the problem from a pragmatic perspective that takes into account risks and downsides associated with replatforming. The truth is always in the middle.

There are no universal solutions, yet you will often hear that adopting one of the modern approaches will solve all of your problems. They often offer the answer without even hearing the question!

Don't misunderstand me – MACH and composable architecture are undoubtedly tailored for most large-scale ecommerce businesses, but the path to adoption varies based on numerous factors.

Replatforming: A risky proposition

When you decide to completely remove your old system and start over, you're starting a huge project that contains multiple individual pieces that need to be done right and also fit well together. All of that in a completely new world you don't know and don't understand well yet – new technology, new vendors, new ways of working.

Because most replatforming projects are large and complex, it is impossible to properly assess what needs to be done, how it should be done, and when it will be ready. You split projects into multiple phases and discover new challenges and obstacles as you go. 

While such an agile approach is fitting for greenfield projects, it spells potential disaster when replacing a system built to last for over a decade. Such systems have many custom features that often need years to be built again.

I've seen many replatforming projects that were supposed to take 6-8 months and were still not done after 3 years because the further they got, the more new challenges and requirements were unveiled. In that case. you often end up having to maintain and evolve two systems simultaneously which doubles your costs and effort instead of reducing it. 

Replatforming: The risk of fixing what isn't broken

Another downside of replatforming is that instead of identifying key problems and finding the most efficient way of solving them one by one, you decide to just start from scratch hoping that this would solve all of them at once. Every technology has drawbacks and if you go all-in you may soon realize that all your efforts toward solving existing problems just resulted in a bunch of new ones.

While a clean slate may seem appealing, it may not always be the wisest course. Indeed, many replatforming projects fail to deliver on their initial promises. Often, identifying precise issues in your current setup enables faster, cheaper, and lower-risk solutions.

Modernize what needs to evolve instead of starting from scratch

By now, I hope you’re convinced that taking a more practical approach to updating old, all-in-one platforms is a good idea, avoiding the risks of switching entirely. Let's explore this further!

Back in the old days, ecommerce platforms were the kings, doing everything from managing customer interactions to handling orders. But in today's modern setups, we split things up. The part customers see (the frontend) is separate from the backend, which is then broken down into specialized services. 

This approach, called best-of-breed, gives us incredible flexibility and allows for more innovation. 

Putting customer experience first

The exceptional customer experience (CX) is the cornerstone of any ecommerce store. After all, it's your customers who drive your revenue. Therefore, the part of the stack responsible for defining it should be your focus. A stellar CX hinges on 4 key elements:

  1. Intuitive and visually appealing user interface An intuitive design ensures seamless navigation, allowing users to effortlessly find what they seek. Visually, it's about striking the right balance – captivating enough to engage users, yet clean and uncluttered for easy comprehension. 

  2. Personalized content and search results Personalized content goes beyond addressing customers by name; it's about delivering relevant recommendations, promotions, and product suggestions based on their browsing history, purchase behavior, and demographics. Similarly, search results should prioritize items aligned with the user's interests, employing algorithms that learn and adapt to user behavior over time, enhancing relevance with each interaction.

  3. Seamless performance and responsiveness In digital commerce, every millisecond counts. Your application's performance can make or break the user experience – a sluggish site risks losing impatient users to competitors. One second is enough for most visitors to switch to another task. From lightning-fast page loads to seamless transitions between pages, responsiveness is paramount.

  4. Robustness Your platform must stand strong even amidst the most demanding scenarios, such as Black Friday rushes or unexpected traffic spikes. Robustness means more than staying online; it's about thriving under pressure without compromising user experience or security.

With the new, composable approach, the customer experience layer is separated from the back office, which makes it clear where your focus should be. Luckily, you can separate the customer experience layer from the underlying services and excel in all of those 4 points without replatforming.

Frontend-first approach to modernizing ecommerce systems

According to the study we conducted on more than 200 SAP merchants, 72% of them treat user experience as a key factor to optimize in 2024. Decoupling the frontend from the backend allows you to take full control of your customer experience and build it exactly as you’d like to.

You will no longer be limited by the design constraints of your ecommerce platform and can deliver tailored designs that will amaze your customers and increase conversion rates.

Taking an API-first approach lets you use the best available tools on the market to improve the customer experience without needing to replatform. For instance, advanced, AI-fueled search capabilities from Coveo help users find what they want easily, and modern content management systems like Contentful make it simple and efficient for your marketing team to handle website content and structure. 

Headless frontend not only gives you unlimited flexibility and full control over customer experience but also delivers great performance. Now, you can focus solely on making your website stand out from your competition.




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