[Internet Retailer / December 6, 2018] When enterprise-sized online retailers say they are held back by technology, they are often referring to the architectural constraints of their site. It’s unfortunate that our digital commerce community finds it normal to say this—that it has become acceptable to be hindered by the capabilities of your technology.
The architectural evolution of digital commerce platforms has been unhurried since the emergence of the big players: Oracle, IBM, and Salesforce. You got what the platforms offered, or faced significant development to customize them to your business. Many require certified developers to manage them, forcing investment in maintenance often instead of innovation. When I was on the retailer side, our global team used familiar systems but often struggled to wow online customers due to the friction of a 10-year-old platform, on top of the slow-moving, limited innovations.
Many companies look to resolve this friction and lack of innovation by traditional platforms with a microservices platform. If a microservices approach to tech stacks sounds familiar, it isn’t new thanks to names like Amazon and Best Buy talking about it. But how a microservices-based architecture supports e-commerce businesses isn’t as widely known.
For the uninitiated, microservices are individual components or independent services that can be swapped out with ease to keep an e-commerce business current, more agile, and able to deploy faster. A microservices-based architecture allows companies to build and deploy what they want and when they want and as much as they want, unconstrained by fixed deployments.
Where many retail technology teams find a microservices-based e-commerce platform most appealing is how they bring flexibility to the enterprise—making it easier to implement new features and capabilities, even during massive growth phases. This is contrary to conventional e-commerce platforms where IT teams work with something that was made to serve all business models and teams, and that has ceilings.
An e-commerce example
A practical application of microservices in digital commerce is a pricing engine. Typical legacy commerce platforms incorporate pricing into their main code, and while they may expose data via API, it’s difficult to leverage this engine for purposes outside the platform. With microservices, the pricing engine is a fully documented API-based microservice, allowing pricing data to be shared wherever it’s needed anywhere in your enterprise—from voice assistants to order management.
Microservices for e-commerce are rising in popularity due to the freedom it offers teams who want to be innovative. The ability to deliver code within a service independently, without impacting other pieces, and without restarting the entire platform allows developers and brand marketers to think more creatively. When new site features are wished for, they can be tested, added fast and without fear.
The best news for enterprise retailers is taking advantage of microservices is that incorporating microservices doesn’t require a full replatforming effort right away. Individual microservices can connect back into your monolithic architecture through well-crafted APIs. Work around the pains of your monolith by adopting microservices in increments, to systematically take over your system over time. This allows you to tackle the most critical parts of your platform first.
Consider starting with components that have an immediate need to scale, that would benefit from frequent updates, or that you want to extend independently to new touchpoints, such as in-store digital experiences, mobile apps, and shoppable content.