Microservice architecture is an approach to software design that breaks down large projects into a set of manageable, independent and loosely-coupled services. Each microservice manages a part of the overall retail process and is reusable across different clients such as browser or mobile- based applications.
The approach is as relevant to high street retailers with an online presence as they are to pureplay retailers; individual microservices can range in size and scope from a small, closely defined and discrete business task, to a whole area of operation or market that sits across online and in-store; identity management, loyalty, delivery or discounts for example.
Microservices offer significant advantages over traditional, monolithic commerce platforms.
Each service can be designed, developed, tested, deployed, managed and maintained independently of the others. Being independent, individual services can be developed and deployed in isolation but plugged in across the business, providing a significant reduction in “time to market”. The result, if designed well, is a more scalable, resilient and flexible solution that lowers the barrier to innovation by removing any long- term commitment to a particular technology stack.
This independence also makes each service replaceable, bringing the freedom to “plug-and- play” with a mixture of custom-built and off-the shelf services. Building the services you are expert in and renting services where you are not allows you to focus on your unique areas of competitive advantage, helping you stand out from competitors.
Many retailers, both on the high street and online are now adopting this approach, isolating individual areas of functionality from the monolith one at a time and creating new service boundaries, allowing them to innovate without affecting the day to day running of the business. Leading retailers like ASOS and Amazon have been doing this for years to the extent where they now have their entire ecommerce platform built using microservices.
When delivering microservices architecture for retailers, understanding your organisation’s target service architecture is only half the battle; the war is won by knowing how to break apart your existing monolithic systems into bitesize chunks and phasing them in while keeping the lights on in the meantime.