The ecommerce segment is witnessing unprecedented growth at the moment. Accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. ecommerce spending hit $82.5 billion in May, a 77% year-on-year increase. Without the pandemic, experts believe it would have taken four to six years to reach these growth levels.

Meanwhile, expectations towards digital customer experience (CX) in ecommerce have also grown to reach an all-time high:   Consumers demand holistic and personalized online shopping experiences, enriched by value-adding content and convenient order processing with full status visibility throughout.

This rise of experience-led commerce puts a premium on up-to-date ecommerce tech stacks. Most importantly, it marks the downfall of inflexible, monolithic ecommerce platforms and the rise of new, function-rich architectures built around specialized microservices. Fully integrated via APIs, these microservices work in harmony to enhance the ecommerce experience for every shopper. And from a merchant’s perspective, microservices offer a new level of simplicity, unity, efficiency, and choice of applications.

A recent ecommerce industry report by experts at Forrester concluded:

“As monolithic technology becomes outdated and less appealing to merchants, the providers that lead the pack will demonstrate deep integrations with both owned and competitive solutions, as well as business user tooling that unifies controls across those solutions and streamlines workflows.”

This blog post examines the advantages of adopting an API-first architecture in ecommerce.

What is experience-led ecommerce architecture?  

Experience-led ecommerce architecture works on two levels: It prioritizes the experience aspect for both end customers as well as merchants operating the ecommerce system. On the backend, this type of architecture is based on a digital experience platform (DXP). The DXP combines functionality and data streams from all key systems, including CRM, ERP, commerce, content marketing, customer experience engine, and other engines into a coherent whole.

As a result, end consumers welcome experiences based on the kinds of products and content they personally enjoy – across all channels, from mobile to.  Additionally, the shopping experience is enhanced via API integration with services like push notifications upon package delivery or seamless payment upon checkout. 

From a merchant perspective, this type of API-first architecture solves two fundamental problems: First, lack of unified visibility and insight into performance of the technology stack and its impact on customers, quoted by 80% of worldwide IT professionals as the major obstacle to delivering high-quality digital customer experiences. And second, it helps providing positive digital customer experiences across all channels, which 80% of professionals consider a challenge.

Graphic: The major challenges to delivering high quality digital customer experience.

The major challenges to delivering high quality digital customer experience.

Source: https://www.appdynamics.com/blog/news/agents-of-transformation-report-2020/

Out with the old: the limits of monolithic ecommerce technology

Only two decades ago, monolithic ecommerce systems were the only game in town. They allowed merchants single-point management of the entire online shopping process. But as business needs evolved and became more complex, monolithic systems proved too inflexible and difficult to scale.

Amid the rise of experience-led commerce, monolithic ecommerce systems are at a disadvantage for reasons such as:

  1. Difficulty updating system functionality. Monolithic systems contain all functions in a single, tightly coupled system. Both on the frontend and backend. Therefore, updates with new functionality require deep database code changes plus changes to the front-end platform. So updates not only prove time consuming, but also require specialized dev teams to work on the same platform.
  2. Potential for critical system damage. Due to the interdependent and coupled structure of monolithic systems, a single error can bring down the entire platform.
  3. Prolonged testing and slow site performance. Thorough testing is required to eliminate the chance of ‘breaking’ the platform with an update. This makes the addition of new, experience-led features a time-intensive  . What’s more, monolithic ecommerce platforms mostly rely on page templates to display content. This template model is flawed, as it combines front-end user interface interaction with back-end functionality directly, which leads to slow load times especially on mobile devices.

Also check our new E-book 9 Best Practices for Digital Experiences in Rapidly  Changing Markets.

In with the new: microservices architecture is the way forward for experience-led commerce

As a nimbler alternative to monolithic platforms, microservices architecture combines loosely coupled (but connected) services to create a system. Instead of a single platform that contains all functionality, these decentralized systems separate different business requirements into services. Supported by a headless commerce system in the middle, these services communicate with each other via APIs.

Graphic: The structure of a monolithic compared to a traditional SaaS and a microservices architectural style.

The structure of a monolithic compared to a traditional SaaS and a microservices architectural style.

Source: https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/microservices/#headless-commerce 

As we speak, this decoupled approach is trending. A whopping 92% of senior development stakeholders report an increase in adoption of microservices as a continuing trend. In ecommerce, the switch to a microservices-based architecture offers five key advantages:

  1. Easy updates, more stable system. Because updates focus on specific apps and services, merchants can expand functionality without fear of knock-on effects and potential system-wide damage. The result is a more stable system that is easier to scale.
  2. Consistent experience for consumers. Data integration between services allow for personalized shopping based on preferences and recent behavior (abandoned carts, clicks, purchases, etc.). Regardless of device and touchpoints, the customer is always at the center.
  3. Faster go-to-market. App developers can focus their expertise on evolving functionality of their solutions. To bring new features into their ecommerce system, merchants only need to update specific apps, not the entire monolithic platform.
  4. Pay for only what you need. As each microservice handles a specific business function, merchants can pick and choose what features they actually need – instead of shelling out for a full monolithic package offering.
  5. Innovate and respond to trends. Microservice-based architectures are lean and flexible enough to respond to the latest trends. Merchants only need to add a new app or update to enhance their offering. For instance, the rising demand for BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), which grew 195% in May.

Platforms in experience-led commerce

When it comes to solving the earlier mentioned site performance issues associated with monolithic platforms, microservices architecture presents another advantage: They integrate relevant commerce content through Frontend Experience Platforms  (FXPs) like Styla to achieve a boost in speed and relevance.

In order to boost page loads and overall performance, FXPs rely on Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). They support ultra-fast storefronts on mobile and desktop by leveraging front-end JavaScript technologies that accelerate page loads, especially on mobile  . An important improvement to the digital customer experience, keeping in mind that slow page load times cost retailers a lot of money nowadays and an FXP improves the front-end performance significantly. 

With that said, decoupled content management systems, built for seamless integration into ecommerce architectures, present a logical fit for experience-led commerce. An FXP like Styla layers on top of existing systems with APIs, decoupling the customer experience from slow-moving, monolithic backend systems while allowing for personalized content experiences based on the latest customer data.

Graphic: Styla FXP & Commerce CMS.

Graphic: Styla FXP & Commerce CMS.

The result is an agile platform that can quickly evolve to meet changing market demands and deliver the rich experiences today’s online shoppers demand. Leading merchants looking to enhance digital CX, deliver personalization and drive innovation are making the switch into microservices architectures. A switch that, according to Forrester, helps companies “grow revenue, deepen customer loyalty, and expand into new markets.”

Like this? Check out:

9 Best Practices for Digital Experiences in Rapidly Changing Markets

 

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Lee McDermott

Written by Lee McDermott

Lee is the Account Executive at Styla. Having worked in the martech industry for over 10 years, Lee has extensive experience in working with ecommerce leaders to deliver strategies around customer experience, increasing conversions and personalised digital communications.