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The Move to Headless Commerce

4th June 2019

Delivering a seamless on-line experience

To hear some people talk, you’d think e-commerce is an automated business model that is protected from the sort of challenges a bricks and mortar outlet face.

But we know better, don’t we?  There’s so much that goes into building a successful e-commerce venture.  It’s just as challenging as any other business, in some cases more so.  That’s because every e-commerce organisation is reliant on something they don’t have direct control over, their third-party platform. 

Can’t I just use my website? 

Yes, you can start small, selling through a bespoke built e-commerce website. For a home business, it may work well. But if you want to scale up, you can’t escape the need to leverage a third-party platform at some point. To be successful, you need to deliver a great online experience to attract and hold customers.  You can develop some outstanding marketing, but if the user’s experience on your site doesn’t match up to what your brand promises, they won’t return.

Online shopping is changing

The days of sitting in front of a desktop, with a slow internet connection and a low-resolution screen – the norm of not too many years ago – have gone.  Two years ago mobile traffic overtook desktop interactions.  We’ve moved from a desk-based world to a mobile one, and now the app ecosystems that have so quickly become familiar such as Apple and Google have taken over our lives.

So third-party platforms are the answer?

Well, yes. But the trouble is, historically these platforms have had their limitations.  If you have a non-standard need, finding a platform to handle it has been tricky because the software has been built as a single integrated application that is inherently rigid.  Costs can be high, as you will be paying for a whole package – hosting, R&D, customer service etc.  And you will be reliant on their customer support, and therefore the quality of their CS team’s expertise.  Some platforms offer better service than others.  For example, Shopify positions itself as very strong on customer service because a lot of its clients are entrepreneurs with small numbers of staff and aren’t well-versed in e-commerce site technology.

Platforms continue to evolve 

To meet changing demands, e-commerce platform providers are launching a multitude of new services and tools to support online retailers that want help managing this crucial element of their business.  These range from innovative features that let merchants upgrade their customers’ experience, to tools that allow that much-needed customisation, or even linking resources with other vendors to offer a wide range of commerce and marketing tools in one solution.  So what’s the change in the industry that allows this to happen?

The move to headless commerce

We’ve mentioned the transformation in customer behaviours, where fragmented ‘anytime, anywhere’ interactions are now the norm. Staying in touch with audiences across the myriad of touchpoints now available calls for new strategies.

The challenge is that each of those touchpoints needs the support of a background technology stack.  One way forward that avoids the need to have a separate application for each point of interaction is ‘headless’.

Headless is a strategy that disconnects the front end of a system (the ‘head’) from the back end.  The benefit is that it gives companies a new freedom in terms of creativity and experimentation in the way customers can interact with the front end, without the need for updating and retesting all the core commerce logic and integrations of the back end. 
Indeed, according to the Gartner Industry Vision 2018 report, introducing API or headless architectures is one of the most crucial initiatives for today’s businesses. 
We’ve no doubt that as the e-commerce surge shows no sign of slowing, we’ll see more new strategies emerge.  Nearly half of online retailers list their e-commerce platform as a top three investment priority in the coming year, so there’s no shortage of demand.  And ultimately, what’s important is the customer experience – because that’s where the profit lies.

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