Upping your commerce game this year? Get expert advice on how to start faster with composable commerce
If you’re in the business of selling anything — products, services, ideas… even philanthropy — then commerce should be a cornerstone of business operations. But ensuring you’ve got the digital capabilities to adapt and change as customer expectations do isn’t always a straightforward task. That’s where composable commerce comes in.
This flexible, iterative approach to building and evolving ecommerce capabilities is helping businesses to up their games and match the pace of customer needs. Even in businesses that don’t traditionally sell directly to consumers.
Just why and how companies are making this transition was the center of my conversation with Brian Jenney, Senior Engineering Manager at The Clorox Company, and Paul do Forno, Managing Director at Deloitte Digital, about their firsthand experiences in implementing composable commerce.
Brian spoke from his experience as a practitioner using composable commerce to bring D2C marketing to some of the many brands under the Clorox umbrella. Paul shared his broad industry expertise, including trends and best practices for getting started with composable commerce.
Here are some of the highlights from that conversation, covering everything from what MACH and composable commerce are to how companies are using them to expand and accelerate their commerce capabilities. To hear the full discussion, check out the recording below.
Commerce is business-critical no matter your industry
Nicole: It really doesn't matter what kind of business you're in. The ability to establish and implement a direct commerce capability — whether you're selling to other businesses, selling direct to consumer, or selling to retailers — is becoming a critical business capability.
We see it even as a software company. Our ability to sell directly to our customers through our website is actually a pretty big deal. It's not the only way we sell, but it’s a really important part of the way we sell.
Traditionally, the Clorox Company has been consumer packaged goods, not necessarily selling directly to customers. Brian, tell us a little bit about Clorox’s shift to direct to consumer and your role in making that happen.
Brian: I came to Clorox during an acquisition of Nutranext. That was really their first foray into DTC. They wanted better customer relationships, real time market responsiveness, improved customer experience, and personalization. That's where I came in.
So, the first brands were vitamins, minerals, and supplements — Nutranext, Rainbow Light, and a couple other ones. The big ones that people are probably most familiar with are Burt's Bees, Brita, and, of course, Clorox. Burt's Bees being one of the top ones that really has that strong personal connection and really benefited from having a strong DTC presence.
B2B commerce is catching up with B2C
Paul: From a commerce perspective, we've been on this historical growth both from a B2C and B2B perspective. During COVID, we saw a spike in B2C because of all of the shutdowns. What we've seen is the growth in B2C has continued, but back to the historic growth. And so B2C continues to grow, and it will continue to grow in its importance.
The area that's actually growing the fastest in the commerce space right now is around B2B. And in B2B, it's actually across maybe some of the industries that in the past have been laggards — oil and gas, manufacturing, etcetera.
How does MACH or composable architecture enable DTC commerce capabilities?
Paul: MACH stands for microservices, API-centric, cloud-native, and headless. What it does is provide a great framework.
Microservices are small services that might fulfill business capabilities.
API-centric: When you're building tools, you make it easy to interact so that you can interact amongst multiple systems.
Cloud-native: We're talking about all the AWS/ Googles of the world that are enabling many companies to be out in the cloud.
Headless: A design pattern of breaking up the frontend and website into more of a disconnected way to enable cloud performance.
Brian: When I think of composable, I think of what Paul was talking about: our website architecture being flexible, scalable, also within the cloud, so we can use resources smartly.
We can move really fast by having different teams deployed that can work on different services and also giving power back to our marketers so they can quickly enable things like content changes on the web, without having to go through lots and lots of red tape. So we have a lot more dynamic reusable components in our web infrastructure as well as our content, and it's a sustainable way to manage that.
What are the benefits of a composable approach to commerce?
Nicole: Part of the appeal of composable is that it's not all or nothing. We don't have to do a wholesale rip and replace of technology. We don't have to do everything at once. This makes it different from past technology adoptions.
Lower risk, lower cost than traditional solutions
Paul: Yeah. The first thing is always a challenge with new companies adopting new technologies. The first question is can I afford it? You know, how does this fit in?
And one of the big aha moments is many of these best-of-breed solutions are cloud-native. And so they’re constructed in a way that takes advantage of the new technology. So, for example, you're already SaaS-based and so you can be much more cost effective versus older software that you have to maintain.
It's way easier to adopt one of these SaaS-based solutions to try it out. And because it's API and composable friendly, you can get started quicker. So, the first thing that I would make sure to understand when you're pitching it, is you're not locked in, and it’s effectively a lower cost software stack than many others.
Fewer constraints = more speed
Brian: At Clorox, we use the analogy of LEGO blocks. We want to move fast, not be constrained to a certain technology, or get vendor locked. [Composable architecture] allows us to move fast and allows us to get the best services that we need.
Going fast is a big thing at Clorox. They weren't used to that. They were used to large marketing campaigns that ended up on a store shelf. And now we want to do personalization. Maybe there's a real world event that we want to capitalize on and we can do that with this kind of architecture.
Nicole: Yes. And you don't necessarily have a whole lot of lead time in being able to plan for and anticipate those things. You need to be able to respond quickly. It's interesting to me because running a content team myself, we have exactly the same challenges.
Assemble tools to fit your exact needs
Paul: You start to see all of these components kind of coming together. And the great thing about being composable is you can pick and choose the best of breed. In the past, it would have been a lot of work to try to bring some of these together. And so you're seeing more and more standards and making it easy to get the best of breed.
Nicole: I love that approach, Paul. One of our solution engineers likes to call it “best of need,” because it really comes down to how are you framing what you're trying to accomplish and what are the best combinations of tooling and capability to get you there.
I see this a lot in working with our customers as well. There's a huge variability in the patterns there. What I find fascinating about this is that it forces a lot of discussion and some really deep reflection on who is responsible for what pieces and why and and how we put that power in the right places.
One of the things that I always like to see in a commerce case is where merchandisers and the people who own product and pricing have access to the tools and the systems of record where that gets changed and controlled.
What advice do you have for companies that want to implement composable commerce?
Paul: Number one thing, start small, test stuff out, get something out there to learn from. It's easy to think these are the latest and greatest technologies and it's a magic button. It's not. And it's a little bit more work, but it's the future. One way or another, this is the future. So learning how to best leverage it, you gotta get out there and try something.
Nicole: I love the iterative approach. It's very much the kind of test-and-respond agile mentality that I think so many businesses, not just technology and dev teams, are adopting. Brian, what about you? What's your big takeaway or point of advice for folks going down the road?
Brian: Like what Paul said, first of all. I like doing POCs as well, like proof of concepts, to just kind of flesh out an idea.
I think communication has been my big takeaway from doing this. Setting the correct expectations that these things aren't silver bullets at all. And then making sure that you have cross-functional representation in sessions so that everybody understands how this technology can be used. I think sometimes it can be too much on a technology team or other teams can end up driving decisions.
And then documentation, of course. How do you vet these things and what's your expectation for them? And how do you use them in a way so everybody understands, so it's in a shared common language?
How did Clorox implement composable commerce?
Nicole: Brian, what was your experience like? Because you guys definitely did this in a stepwise kind of implementation. What were the key starting points for you? And what were the key capabilities you initially focused on implementing?
Brian: We said we're going headless. So then we went through an exercise of deciding what are the services in streamlining on that? Because at one point in the past, we kind of were allowed to do whatever we wanted. So we had a lot of disparate technologies that didn't quite fit.
So, a lot of it was getting a roadmap. Getting teams aligned. Getting cross-functional teams and saying, okay, what are we going to adopt. Picking the right technologies, but also feeling like we weren't still locked in. And then deciding, okay, what is the best purpose and fit for these things?
What was cool was, we could incrementally adopt them. For example, adopting Contentful meant that one side at one point was using it. We said this is working really, really well. You're using something on another side that's not working so hot. Why don't we tell you to jump over to Contentful too?
We can continue composing these pieces onto each other. And then gradually, wean you off of that and put everybody on the same stacks. We have this parity amongst all the different sites that we operate. We have some of our core essential features and central functionality contained in a central place, but we then allow you a lot of freedom in sites.
We can pick and choose. For some sites, it is different. For some sites, the FAQs all live in Commerce Cloud and for others they're all in Contentful. The nice thing is we have the flexibility to kind of mix and match as needed, and it's become fairly trivial to do so.
Nicole: I love when stuff like that is trivial. It makes it so much easier than it used to be. This is part of the appeal of composability.
Want to hear more about how composable commerce works at Clorox and how it can work for you? Listen to the full recording or chat with one of our experts for a more personalized conversation.