Customer expectations have and will continue to evolve. For ecommerce companies, that means providing a unified experience through all channels. Product pages must be robust, sites must load quickly and navigation must be intuitive.
This requires an agile and malleable frontend and backend that can quickly react to changing needs.
For decades, the common approach to ecommerce has been through a monolith approach. However, with that digital transformation that is changing, with a shift to a MACH (acronym for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, Headless) architecture that enables ecommerce sites to be more modular, flexible, scalable and future proof.
In one study, 79 percent of IT leaders expressed an interest in applying more MACH principles to their stack. It’s likely that number will increase in the coming years.
Monolith technology was the standard for the early days of ecommerce and has been an enduring approach.
In a monolith set-up, the front-end experiences — or digital storefront— that shoppers see and interact with, as well as the back-end — or server-side — that determines how the site functions, are packaged together as an all-in-one solution.
Monolith is ideal for simple, straight-forward approaches that have limited functionality or customer engagement. However, it fails for more complex ecommerce platforms.
Using multiple websites, selling across borders or approaches that leverage social touchpoints doesn’t always work with monolith setups.
MACH is designed to be the best-of-breed approach to enterprise IT. It does away with the old, single view of IT and embraces the idea of a superior user experience and future-proofing your technology.
Microservices are, well, small services, but small services that come together to build an application. They are then deployed together to launch the application.
Microservices provide more flexibility and are easier to scale. Code can be reused and the development cycle is reduced.
They’re complex and require a mature IT ecosystem to be used effectively.
Much like the title says, an API-first approach prioritizes application programming interfaces over other components. This enables platforms to interact with each other.
Prioritizing APIs means that applications work freely with one another and data and functionality are shared. It also creates a common UI for customers, reducing the complexity of the platform.
API integrations require significant up-front planning and they don’t always easily fit into your technology stack. They also require regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure all systems are working properly.
Cloud-native systems are designed specifically to live in the cloud. They are typically built using microservices and are typically highly resilient and easier to scale. The SaaS platforms help organizations be more flexible and shift quickly to meet changing business needs.
They’re ideal for quickly deploying the tools and resources to meet unforeseen challenges. Innovation happens in the cloud and SaaS platforms are typically the drivers behind it.
The costs can be significant and integrations can be time consuming.
Headless architecture decouples a commerce platform’s front-end user interface from the back-end logic enabling a framework-agnostic technology structure. Here, the backend provides an API that delivers content to the frontend.
Headless commerce is ideal for omnichannel approaches and is easier to scale when necessary. Their flexibility and quick deployment make them ideal for ecommerce sites that frequently want to deploy new features.
A headless approach can be highly complex and resource-intensive. Additional development time also means additional costs.
Ecommerce technology is evolving quicker than ever before as new approaches and platforms provide better customer experiences. It’s incumbent on you to keep up with the market, which means having IT architecture that can do everything.
Composable refers to a development approach that involves selecting the best ecommerce components and “composing” them into a single application.
This is microservices-based and takes the best of all systems and combines them into one that is designed to fulfill a specific business need. From page UI to payments, this gets the best of the best at all levels.
The headless aspect of MACH means that ecommerce stores can be set up across channels to meet customers where they are versus having customers come to you. This omnichannel is an expectation of modern ecommerce shoppers.
Unconnected systems can be connected through APIs, reducing time needed to perform integrations and get to market. Upgrades can be developed and released in silos, so they have reduced risk to other components.
MACH is based on agile development, which means it takes less time to create minimum viable products and deliver systems to market. Monolithic architecture is tied to legacy systems that can be cumbersome and difficult to innovate within.
Legacy systems are tethered to their own ecosystems. The MACH approach avoids this by supporting best-of-breed functionality, giving developers the freedom to select the best tools to use for their specific needs.
Microservices and APIs can be patched automatically without impacting unrelated systems, keeping platforms secure and up to date.
The flexibility MACH provides means a greater capacity to make systems that suit specific needs. Need an omnichannel ecommerce platform that sells across borders and ships from multiple locations? A MACH approach is ideal for addressing complex problems.
There are certainly use cases where monolith may be a preferred approach. Most smaller ecommerce platforms with fewer systems and less complexity and need for scalability may benefit from it. However, MACH becomes the superior option as more features are added.
Coupling refers to how connected software services are. In tight coupling, resources are built to fulfill a specific purpose. They are bound to a specific purpose and nothing else. In loose coupling, components are detached and may be repurposed for other needs.
This reduces the dependence systems have on one another and reduces the impact of something happening to a specific platform.
Distributed systems, like those that use microservices, are more reliable and have additional redundancies built in. While non-distributed systems are located in one place, distributed systems are spread around and are less likely to be impacted by a system failure.
A centralized approach to APIs has data stored in a central location, which is then distributed to APIs bi-directionally. API networks are decentralized and use a gateway to handle requests from other APIs.
There are two approaches to moving from monolithic to MACH: migration and replatforming. While the end result is the same, the journey is quite different.
Migration involves a phased approach in which the ecommerce platform is systematically upgraded. Typically, the front-end and back-end are decoupled to give each autonomy, with the frontend configured for composable commerce. Other systems are then upgraded in a phased approach instead of all at once.
Replatforming does all of this at once. An entirely new tech stack is developed alongside the existing one before data is transferred to the new storefront. From there, the existing platform is completely replaced at one time.
There are good reasons why MACH architecture is quickly becoming the preference of modern ecommerce platforms. The ability to add functionality, scale and future-proof your store makes MACH the better option for ecommerce platforms looking to stay at the front of the technology race.
Common examples of commerce solutions using MACH applications include:
Personalized purchasing suggestions.
Third-party payment solutions.
Shipping and logistics outsourced to a vendor.
Created by the MACH Alliance, MACH Certification is provided to providers who have a demonstrated expertise in MACH technology, philosophies and principles.
Absolutely. The benefits of MACH architecture are customer agnostic and is appropriate for any ecommerce platform looking to create a digital experience that is seamless and efficient.