Why innovation-driven e-commerce is incompatible with monolithic platforms

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When e-commerce was born in the 1990s, this first generation delivered monolithic, all-in-one suites that became the paradigm of desktop-based e-commerce. Shopping was twofold: buy in-store or on the computer. 

How times have changed. Today’s consumers demand omnichannel shopping, lightning-fast website performance, Google-like search options and meaningful brand experiences. In a nutshell, the stable, slow-moving era of desktop-only e-commerce is gone. 

Now, companies need to move faster than ever to meet consumers’ demands, expand to foreign markets and launch new products. Innovation is at the core of their success and growth. 

But if innovation is a prerequisite for a company’s success, why is it so difficult to get it done? Why do companies stick to immutable release cycles when they can deliver new ideas constantly? 

The answer is simple: most businesses still rely on monolithic systems built for desktop-only e-commerce.

The innovation black hole

Monolithic e-commerce platforms provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Essentially, it is a rigid block of standardised software that must be retested and redeployed in its entirety every time a change or update is queued. 

Imagine a scenario of adding modern touchpoints to commerce journeys, such as social commerce apps. However, there’s a problem: how to implement it in your monolithic commerce system?

IT and DevOps teams must carefully plan this integration because every time a change is made to the monolithic platform, the entire application and its tightly coupled dependencies must be updated in one go, even when adding a small feature such as a social commerce app. If something goes wrong, it can wreak havoc on your IT infrastructure, from platform downtime to vulnerable systems prone to malicious attacks and even a complete crash. 

This is why the vicious circle of innovation reluctance never stops: you get pushback when trying to add new functions to e-shops or scaling web capacity for a Black Friday campaign. Over time, this no-risk approach leads to technical debt and lacklustre business performance – and all attempts at innovation fall flat.

Think anew with Mach

Taking the example of adding a social commerce app again, imagine it as a singular piece of software that could be plugged into your infrastructure without dependencies. This is what amicroservices-based approachdoes: it breaks down functionalities into granular pieces, delivering faster responses and frequent releases. 

Headless commerce, where you decouple the front end (customer-facing presentation layer) and back end (data layer, where the product information is stored), ensures whatever changes on your front end don’t affect the back end, and vice-versa. 

Better yet, using APIs (application programming interfaces) as the communication layer between your various frontends and centralised backend gives you the flexibility to innovate at your desired velocity. Combined with cloud-native applications, you can scale online traffic without the chains of traditional IT infrastructure. 

Together, microservices-based, API-first, headless and cloud-native compose Mach, a set of commerce architectural principles that help you perform a range of innovations:

  • Expand customer-facing frontends and touchpoints.
  • Manage multiple catalogues across brands and traffic.
  • Create product variations, bundles and discounts with ease.
  • Support various business models: B2C, B2B and D2C.
  • And more. 

Flip e-commerce on its head to innovate more

To overcome monolithic paralysis, most businesses hack the system to bring innovation to production. This is not a sustainable model. The logical step is to separate frontends and backends and break down functionalities into granular pieces, making innovation manageable and hassle-free.

It’s time to flip commerce on its head. Instead of all-in-one suites, Mach-based commerce will cut down on technical debt, reduce innovation time-to-market and drive revenue growth.

Learn how Commercetools can help you innovate with Mach here