Why Headless Commerce is Essential for Retail Survival in 2020

Ally Feiam By Ally Feiam | 22 Jun 2020

In the modern world, providing retailers with a flexible and agile platform is one of the essential tools to create a successful e-commerce business and develop a robust CX. We sat down with Joshua David Emblin, Territory Sales Manager for commercetools ANZ to discuss the power of headless commerce and how it can impact retailers in everyday use.

commercetools was founded in 2006. Starting out as a systems integration partner for e-commerce software platforms, a change in technology and the launch of AWS caused an ‘epiphany’ for the company. 

“After a few years, we realised there had to be a better way to manage application deployments to the cloud,” Emblin told Power Retail. “This shift in strategy coincided with the launch of Amazon Web Services which saw lots of new technologies emerging.”

“A platform that was built ‘in the cloud, for the cloud’ was born as an API first and API only concept, without a dedicated head or storefront to support it – the creation of headless commerce,” he explained. 

Headless commerce has since become one of the leading strategies for e-commerce companies worldwide. The process removes the interdependencies that exist between ‘certain functionalities within monolithic software applications’. 

“This gives merchants greater flexibility and agility when it comes to not only selecting but also implementing the types of experiences they want to deliver to their customers,” Emblin explained. “This flexibility opens up the freedom to experiment faster, the ability to quickly pivot your business in times of need and to distribute the load on your website across multiple applications, giving you unprecedented scalability during peak load times.”

Headless commerce and microservice oriented services offer a myriad of uses for e-commerce platforms. Moreover, there are major differences between monolithic and microservices which can impact retailers in various ways. 

“Monolithic platforms often provide lots of useful features and functionality as part of the core offering, however, these are tightly coupled and often dictate how the frontend interface experience can function,” Emblin told Power Retail. “To make modifications or customisations can be time-consuming, expensive and risky which limits your ability to adapt quickly to changing market forces.”

In contrast, microservice-based architecture can provide retailers with ‘ultimate flexibility’, allowing companies to build and deploy different types of experiences to ‘any device’. 

“The underlying services can easily be upgraded, modified or swapped out altogether without having to take your entire site offline,” Emblin explained. “This also applies to the front end as templates can be modified without the underlying services needing to know the change has been made.”

So, how can a company begin the process of pivoting to a headless commerce platform, and why is it important for a modern e-commerce retailer to make these changes? 

Before a retailer starts, it’s important to understand the process the business should expect to undertake. Typically, according to Emblin, there are two common approaches to a headless platform. 

The first “typically involves a number of smaller projects to gently migrate specific services away from the monolithic platform until all the pre-existing functionality has been replicated,” Emblin explained. While this method may ‘take longer’, it ultimately de-risks the project, which allows for ‘learnings’ to take place and be incorporated along the way. 

The second process is a ‘big bang approach’. According to commercetools, the second process involves ”a new environment being developed alongside the monolith, which is completely replaced at the time of go-live.” This approach is typically seen with an existing platform that has a predetermined end of life date. It’s also commonly used for a company that has a significant event which needs to be met. 

There are plenty of ways that headless commerce can assist retailers with the never-ending changes within the industry. While some platform changes don’t see immediate results, headless commerce can instantly improve countless aspects of retail. 

One of these immediate results is page loading time, which is essential to keep up with the leading online retailers in this day and age. The faster page load time is especially important, “as the frontend or ‘head’ doesn’t have to contain as much logic, and the content that is served is loaded from multiple sources which speeds up the delivery time,” Emblin explained.

Moreover, using headless commerce allows retailers the ‘freedom to experiment’ and ‘reduce downtime’ – all of these can quickly navigate back to the fundamental reason for these changes: customer experience. 

Customer experience is a buzzword that is used a lot in modern e-commerce, but as the term develops, it’s now more about ‘customer expectation’ as online continues to boom. “What used to be easily forgiven 12 months ago is now unforgivable, and what used to be an outstanding experience has become the norm,” Emblin told Power Retail. “Retailers need the ability to adapt to these changing consumer behaviours, via omnichannel communication methods through post-purchase and follow up communications to have your preferences remembered the next time you return to the website.”

E-commerce is no longer a desktop-exclusive platform – the entire process has expanded with the ever-transforming customer expectation, resulting in a flourish in mobile commerce and in-app shopping. These expectations have bolstered even further with the online boom amid the pandemic. So, how can headless commerce assist online retailers in this evolving landscape? 

“Headless commerce will impact commerce by taking us away from the desktop and the browser completely, and the web as we know it will soon cease to exist,” Emblin told Power Retail. “Loyalty will increase as we focus on our favourite marketplaces, brands and experiences and we will soon access these via IoT devices via voice search, and have artificial intelligence suggest new purchases to us.” 

In the future, it’s safe to say that IoT will seriously impact the way customers choose to shop online. “Your fridge will tell you that you need more milk (or wine) and your sneakers will tell your watch that they’re wearing out and you should replace them to keep your stride healthy,” explained Emblin. 

It’s something that hasn’t risen out of thin air. “We are already seeing the FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) companies push into e-commerce with the opening of Facebook stores and Google Places now being shopping enabled,” said Emblin. 

“So the mentality of ‘purchase anywhere’ will dominate the future of e-commerce. I have no doubt that Netflix is indexing the shows you watch to soon begin recommending the types of products you’re likely to buy. All of this will be powered by headless commerce experiences.” 

For brands and retailers to survive and flourish in this whirlwind of changes in modern times, they must remember that experience, relevance and convenience is imperative. 

“They will need to leverage all the systems and information available to them to put the right product at the right time in front of the right consumer to capture their share of wallet, before they are easily distracted by the next well-placed advert or sponsored influencer post, as all these transactions are going to be powered by headless commerce platforms,” Emblin told Power Retail. 

While e-commerce is constantly changing, evolving and adapting, staying abreast of the customer’s expectations and how to react to them is essential. 

You can find out more about commercetools by clicking here.

Power Retail is dedicated to providing critical and live e-commerce retailer benchmarking data and shopper insights for the online retail industry. Click here to find out more about Power Retail E-Commerce Intelligence or here to sign-up for the free weekly Pulse Newsletter for more essential online retail content.

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