Five Reasons Retailers Should Consider Headless Commerce
Shoppers don’t care too much about a retailer’s tech. But, they do care when they can speed through mobile in-store check-out, swing by the store to pick up their online order, stream the latest content for their game console, or enjoy cool online experience features like Bang & Olufsen’s ‘Sound of the Cities’ podcast.
When the first retailers started selling online 25 years ago, commerce software was designed for a classic web-shop, installed on the company’s local servers and updated monthly by taking the site off-line to make updates. Over time, companies expanded into new product lines, new channels and new regions requiring highly specialized software development customizations and new licenses for the additional storage required to scale the system. Meanwhile, mobile overtook desktop, social media overtook classic television advertising and brands had to scramble to keep up with an increasingly mobile and enlightened consumer.
Moving commerce into the cloud as a good first step
Though many retailers upgraded their commerce software to run in the cloud, many are still using all-in-one or so-called ‘monolithic’ commerce software that is difficult and costly to maintain and enhance. A few online retailers – Amazon for one – built their own commerce platforms that gave them incredible flexibility, agility and speed. The growth of these commerce giants speaks volumes about what happens when technology is applied to opportunity.
Luckily today, retailers who need to stay relevant but don’t have the budget, IT team or desire to build a new commerce solution from scratch have solutions. Relatively new commerce software architecture gaining in popularity called ‘headless commerce’ was introduced nearly 10 years ago. In a headless commerce scenario, the front-end or customer-facing software is decoupled from the back-end shopping cart functionality and everything that goes with it including payment, order history and tracking and fulfillment.
Headless commerce represents more than a shift in what a commerce architecture looks like. It reflects a change in how consumers buy, a dramatic expansion of shopping touchpoints and the need for retailers to embed their brand experience into every channel or device. Or, in the reverse, it allows retailers to be able to make every customer touchpoint shoppable.
If your strategy revolves around growing your brand and staying relevant for digital consumers, consider these five benefits of headless commerce:
Using a headless solution, retailers are not tied to a monolithic software prescribing how a front-end should be structured. You don’t have to follow a mold. Instead, you can build the right type of user interface for your exact needs. You have full control of what happens on the front-end, and you can follow your UX design principles and shape your brand’s identity without having to adhere to a templated layout that makes your sites and apps look like everybody else’s. You gain brand recognition, higher conversion rates and increased LTV.
2. Freedom to experiment
Regarding user interaction, you can experiment without the risk of jeopardizing the whole ecosystem. For example, if you want to A/B test specific parts of your commerce website, or build an Alexa skill or a Progressive Web App (PWA), you can do it quickly -- if you create some errors in the process, you won’t affect the backend operations. In contrast with traditional commerce solutions, you often have to modify frontend and backend code simultaneously, sometimes requiring a shut-down of the entire application for maintenance. With freedom to experiment, you learn faster by gaining quick feedback on new promotions, programs or processes. You’ll also have less dependence on IT to innovate with commerce.
3. Speed and Agility
Having the freedom to experiment, you can implement new user interfaces more quickly instead of installing and maintaining a full software stack. Development becomes much more efficient because teams can work in parallel. Due to its decoupled nature, changes can be made to the UI, without having to test all of the core logic in the backend. You’ll gain faster time to market and greater efficiency.
Typically, frontend and backend can be individually scaled. Even if the frontend receives a lot of traffic, the backend is not affected because they are only loosely coupled. You’ll gain the freedom to push seasonal, flash or trend-seizing promotions.
5. Easily Add New Touchpoints
In a headless scenario, multiple frontends connect to one API (application program interface) and one underlying system. In other words, if you want to add social channels, kiosks, mobile apps or in-car marketplace shopping – you can get it done faster with less negotiating and business-case proving with the tech team. You’ll gain a new set of customers, competitive advantage and loyal fans appreciating the opportunity to engage with your brand everywhere.
Headless commerce is breaking down the monolith and affording retailers more agility, speed and flexibility than ever. Although retailers may think consumers don’t care about their technology, they are demanding a seamless buying experience and convenience, which retailers can enable with the right tools. And the biggest upside with headless -- building a new commerce platform from scratch would take far too long.
As a senior marketing professional, Margaret Rea has helped companies market some of the most significant innovations in the technology industry to build brand and penetrate markets. Margaret is Head of Americas Marketing for commercetools, a German-based commerce software company that pioneered the use of APIs for commerce more than 10 years ago as the foundation of the company’s headless, cloud-based commerce platform.