Why Headless Commerce is the Future


The Headless CMS approach is not new; in fact, most of the leading web CMS providers, including Sitecore, now support headless implementations. Where the headless approach is now seeing a big uptake is ecommerce – and, when we look at the benefits of headless alongside the huge changes taking place in ecommerce, it’s easy to see why.

The State of Ecommerce

Consumer behaviour and emerging technologies are constantly changing and keeping retailers on their toes (to say the least). In the Switch blog, we recently wrote about conversational AI and that 22% of US consumers are already using voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, to make regular purchases (Edison Research); but voice isn’t the only technology that’s changing the face of online shopping.

The Internet of Things (IoT) – or, to put it simply, the process of making the internet accessible through everyday devices – means that the way in which we buy ‘online’ has the potential to change beyond recognition. With the emergence of smart fridges, smart watches, and voice assistants, consumers have more and more purchasing options than ever before… but what does this mean for retailers?

Ecommerce Experiences for Tomorrow’s Interfaces

Previously, commerce hype was centred around simply having an online store, which then evolved to a mobile ecommerce experience and, more recently, an omnichannel ecommerce experience. However, when a ‘channel’ can now include anything from an Alexa ‘skill’ to a two-square-inch Apple Watch interface, how can retailers keep pace?

Larger retailers have the resources to simply create device-specific experiences as new technologies emerge; for example, Target recently released an Apple Watch app, enabling customers to make shopping lists and locate products. While adoption rates for the Apple Watch are high, the question remains: what if consumers decide they don’t want to use their Apple Watches to make purchases? Developing apps is an expensive exercise that can prove risky for smaller businesses, especially when betting on experimental devices that may or may not make it into the mainstream (Google Glass, anyone?).

There’s also the question of obsolescence. Only a few years ago, Samsung unveiled its smart fridge; like many smart devices, putting internet access into a fridge seemed baffling to some, exciting to others (depending on where you sit on the technology adoption curve). However, four years on and the fridge (now in its third iteration) is still struggling to make its mark with consumers.

Headless Commerce

Headless Commerce is simply the practice of decoupling the front-end (or ‘presentation layer’) with the back-end (commerce layer) of a website. For retailers, a headless approach (also referred to as an API-first) can help to deliver the content-rich digital interactions that customers have come to expect, via any device or channel, without the restrictions associated with a traditional CMS. Headless offers brands the freedom to introduce new interface design which demands flexibility and high-performance, data-driven interactions, in a more agile (and more cost-efficient) way; an approach that is, according to Forrester, ‘the future of digital experience architectures’.

Headless commerce approach enables retailers to:

Become Agile

Decoupled CMS means that the front and back-ends of your website aren’t tightly connected, therefore front-end changes that are made in order to, for example, support the latest Samsung Galaxy, don’t require significant changes to the back-end system (typically the most complex). The speed and ease with which changes can be made enable brands to keep pace with emerging technologies without time and resources required previously.

Make Omnichannel a Reality

The ability to react to consumer trends quickly also helps brands to remain competitive and to create messaging and experiences that can be delivered via any device at any time… in other words, omnichannel experiences. While omnichannel is a concept that has been around for a long time, the ability to deliver it effectively has become the Holy Grail for many marketers; headless commerce offers a real solution to that challenge.

Improve Optimisation

The test and learn approach that enables organisations to truly hone their customer experiences isn’t easy when those tests involve making back-end changes and the ability to spin up new sites quickly. Becoming more agile enables brands to test and optimise at light speed, which helps them to transform into a state of constant evolution and improvement. The ultimate example of this in action is Amazon. With sales accounting for 49.1% of ALL online retail in the US, Amazon’s AWS team recently revealed that it performs 50,000,000 code releases per year… more than one per second!

At Switch, we’ve been advocating headless commerce for forward-thinking retailers, as it offers the opportunity to design innovative, fully customised solutions without compromising on performance or ability to scale into the future. Headless commerce is changing the game completely, by allowing retailers to exercise more freedom of expression, convert more customers, increase customer life time value, save on development costs and stand out from the crowd.

To find out more about the benefits of headless development, check out some of our previous posts on the topic; or, alternatively, chat to one of our friendly digital strategists today.

— Nick Jones

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