One of the striking trends of the composable era has actually played out on the customer side.

As deployments to full-stack composable commerce have become faster, brands have invested more heavily in the talent needed to lead digital efforts from inside, and command greater control of the data.

In this special episode of Martalks, we put three of those brand-side tech pioneers on the podium to discuss the roadmaps of their journeys to composable adoption. 

Speaking to…

  • Fred Argir – formerly CIO  of Toys “R” Us and Barnes & Noble, and now CEO of The Argir Group
  • Diane Randolph, a seasoned CIO on the board of Shoe Carnival, Former CIO Ulta Beauty, and who now advises technology companies such as Orium
  • Stuart McKeachie, CTO at Serena & Lily, and formerly of Williams-Sonoma and Restoration Hardware.

…we investigated the marketing requirements and difficulties that provided the motivation for replatforming to composable platforms and the agility that the business gained as a result.

We also delved into the agents of change, and how that responsibility falls variously to vendors, integrators, and in-house personnel, and the cultural implications of transformation for the wider business.

Listen to the full podcast here or scroll down for a few key highlights.

A history of replatforming in the name of better marketing

Successive generations of technology have solved different sets of problems for retailers. In the early days of ecommerce transformation, this may have been the need for a retail group to stand up multiple brand websites, whilst maintaining a consistently high customer experience across all properties.

As Diane Randolph recounts from her time at Reitman’s, the initial decision of replatforming to Demandware was a need for a “…cost-effective way to run eight sites, each running in different languages”, some of which had special functionality such as loyalty programs.

Today, such efforts are less likely to be for the purpose of standing up an online presence; more, in order to unlock greater marketing performance across multiple channels.

Later, at Ulta Beauty, Diane and her team were…

“…really focusing on delivering a consistent [omni-channel] customer experience that was similar in our stores to what they experienced online. Traditionally, Ulta always had various creative promotions: gifts with purchase etc. And of course our in-store systems had the history of being flexible; the retail POS industry grew up that way. And that was not matched with the online version. So our customers couldn’t understand or relate to why they couldn’t get the same promotion.”

Of course, this need for greater agility has had knock-on effects for many different areas of the stack, with the need to expose data for more sophisticated marketing. As Stuart McKeachie explained …

“We were with a legacy monolith platform that couldn’t represent the products that the brand wanted to represent. If you think of a couch, you can think of a lot of product variations associated with that… 250-odd fabrics, cushion fill, sizes… when you put all those things together it makes a lot of product variations. Due to limitations in the other platforms we really couldn’t present all those options on the site in the way we wanted to.”

Composable architecture as an asset in navigating change

Fred Argir, CEO of business transformation consultancy The Argir Group, has overseen multiple replatforming exercises in his career. In a number of cases, this has been where a merger or acquisition has given an opportunity for a full audit and overhaul of the brand’s technical architecture.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of his work, Fred speaks despairingly of scenarios where legacy technology – and the inability to “react to headwinds” – is holding back the business.

“…that headwind is costly, frustrating, and it tends to be not just an IT function but it’s a way of thinking… We’ve all heard companies say, ‘I can’t react to that because my systems will not allow me to’. That just kills me… The great companies out there have embraced new technologies and newer ways of thinking that allow them to play to win all the time.”

Of course, headwinds are an inevitability of business and, indeed, of marketing. One of the primary advances of composable transformation has been reaching a point where the marketing team can react and innovate independently with minimal IT dependency.

As Diane recounts…

“We clearly realised we weren’t able to deliver the experiences that we wanted to… It wasn’t even a cost-constraint issue… [the legacy] platform just could not deal effectively with the promotions that we wanted to deliver. And we also realised that we were not as nimble as we needed to be, because we had to do a full end-to-end regression test on the entire stack before implementing a new release. The best we could hope for was monthly releases.”

The human element of digital transformation

Many of our guests on Martalks have extolled the virtue of systems integrators and digital agencies in helping brands go composable. These agencies are called upon for their deep experience in composable architecture, data architecture and change management.

Mirroring this trend is the rapid enhancement in brand-side technological expertise, needed to oversee the ongoing management and procurement of ecommerce systems.

Diane recounts how Ulta Beauty’s collaborative internal operation proved to be highly effective in introducing a more modern composable ecommerce platform, while also highlighting the need for a single leader to shepard the project and align internal teams.

“One of the key secrets to Ulta Beauty success is that it’s probably the most collaborative, cross-functional organisation I’ve ever been exposed to… Really the person taking the lead was our chief digital officer….”

…Diane explains, working alongside herself, the head of enterprise architecture, and the support of a switched-on and tuned-in procurement team. Working together to specify the requirements – for the digital team, around infrastructure, and the desire for the right partner – the team struck upon Commercetools as their vendor of choice.

 “This was back in 2019, so the number of players was even smaller, but Commercetools bubbled to the top fairly quickly. It was clear they had the true composable solution… we needed someone who could prove they had delivered solutions at scale.”

When the brand’s technology team fires on all cylinders, it becomes possible to greatly reduce the scope of replatforming efforts.

Composable replatforming timelines of around a year were reported by both Stuart McKeachie and Fred Argir – but with significant implications for the wider business.

In Stuart’s case, the company budgeted for 12-13 months to launch their new, full-stack composable platform, composed of 8 solutions with Elastic Path at its core. In fact, it took 14 months. Considering the exercise entailed hiring or replacing 30 new team members, and completely divesting of ATG and Oracle, one can hardly begrudge a few extra weeks to reach project completion.

Fred, meanwhile, described a successful 12-month implementation and go-live on Commercetools, but needing longer for a secondary development phase for proprietary applications and the new ERP system integration.

“…because we were also bringing up supply chain and ERP and everything else at the same time, we needed to be very sensitive about our architecture platform. So in our case we did it in 12 months, but it took us almost another year and a half to react to the other things that were going on around it.”

Historically, ecommerce replatforming exercises of 24+ months have been relatively common. Composable transformation, while usually more rapid, is not to be taken lightly. “Better, faster, cheaper” are all qualified carefully with the word “eventually” and are contingent on tested processes, solid database architecture expertise and effective leadership. 

Once you’re up and running with a composable platform, the marketing payback can be almost instantaneous – particularly if it allows you to launch new experiences or break into new markets. But significant wins and losses can be made in how those initiatives are delivered, and managed once live. Landing right-side up ultimately depends on having the right technical leadership on board.

About The Rosenstein Group

The Martalks Podcast is published by The Rosenstein Group, the leader in martech executive search. For over 20 years, we’ve been recruiting heads of sales, channel sales leaders, and other members of the commercial team, across martech, supply chain, ecommerce, sales enablement and systems integration.

Visit to find out more.

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