Why Modern eCommerce Strategies Should Incorporate Headless


The way we shop has changed forever. According to eMarketer, global retail eCommerce is on track to reach $4.9 trillion (£3.6 trillion) this year. At the heart of this is the mobile phone. Consumers use it to research purchases, buy products, find the nearest store, and even price match when they are in-store. They track social media recommendations, and benefit from the personalised approach that online retailers take, having learnt from the success of Amazon. 

Smartphones, social media, and eCommerce marketplaces have dramatically changed the shopping experience, leaving even the most long-established retailers scrambling to meet customer expectations. 

Many retailers built their eCommerce foundation on legacy “everything-in-one” eCommerce platforms connected to antiquated systems that were designed to support in-store and distribution channels. These legacy technologies are often inflexible and require costly customisations for even the smallest changes. 

Brands have no choice but to pile on complexity and use solutions to deliver must-haves like product recommendations, social shopping, and loyalty programs. The rapidly evolving technology landscape and escalating customer demands require a more flexible framework—one that gives retailers the freedom to create truly unique branded shopping experiences and meet shoppers’ wants and needs in every channel. 

In response, a growing number of retailers are adopting a new framework—a modern, headless approach— and rebuilding their commerce strategy. The idea of headless commerce is to enable consumers to interact with retail brands across multiple channels. It decouples the front and back ends, eliminating the need to redesign the eCommerce experience for each channel. Instead, developers can build or buy new front ends and use APIs to connect them to the monolithic back end, where transaction processing and other commerce logic reside.

Creating a unique experience 

A modern headless approach to commerce can help retailers create a unique multi-channel shopping experience and evolve it as their brand and customer requirements change. It also gives retail development teams more freedom, both to combine existing best-of-breed solutions and to develop custom solutions in whichever programming language they prefer. 

With a single monolithic platform, development teams would ordinarily have to use its standard interface or undertake a complex development project. With modern headless, they can instead create a custom interface for the online store and for other channels while continuing to use the commerce logic from their monolithic platform or a set of modular back-end tools. 

Combatting the difficulties of scale

Traditional commerce platforms, especially those that run on premises, can be difficult to scale when traffic and transaction volumes increase, or decrease. A modern headless model, however, allows retailers to create high-performance commerce solutions that run on hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructures. This means retailers can start improving their web store’s performance even if they are still in the process of moving all their infrastructure to the cloud.

While online shopping gets all the headlines, there’s more to digital commerce than just a website and mobile app. Social platforms, public kiosks, wearable devices, and augmented reality are just some of the channels that retailers are using to reach their customers and add new revenue streams. Traditional commerce platforms, however, are not built to work with these touchpoints. With a modern approach to headless, the retail IT team can quickly create a bespoke commerce experience for each channel and respond immediately as buyer behaviours change. Plus, retailers can ensure that key elements of the commerce experience—the shopping basket, payment methods, and checkout process— are consistent across all their touchpoints. 

Adding commerce to content-first websites 

Many large websites are built on a content management system (CMS). Most traditional commerce platforms have their own native CMS. In many cases, however, if a retailer adds commerce to their CMS-powered website without migrating all their content, they risk creating a disjointed experience. Headless commerce allows them to easily add commerce elements to existing websites run on their CMS with no migration required. So, for example, they can quickly turn a high-traffic consumer-facing blog into a revenue centre.

Moving ahead with headless

Some retailers that are highly qualified to succeed with headless are concerned that any transition would constitute ‘re-platforming’, and the disruption and cost this entails.  The good news is that migrating to headless commerce is not re-platforming. Instead retailers can use headless technologies to migrate small pieces of their functionality from the traditional commerce platform in discrete, manageable phases.

eCommerce transformation calls for a flexible, connected, cloud-based digital platform that frees retailers from legacy limitations. Modern headless commerce is a step in that direction, enabling fit-for-purpose tools and solutions to be used to create a user experience that embodies the brand. Changes can be made quickly allowing retailers to react to market fluctuations in the moment. Engagements can be tailored to customers’ needs and can be easily converted across every channel. This will allow retailers to drive growth, increase loyalty, and improve profitability at every touch.

By James Brooke, CEO, Amplience.