How headless commerce is changing the way commerce platforms are designed and services are offered
Within the last 15 years we’ve seen commerce technology evolve at a breakneck pace. In the early nineties, online shopping was limited to simplistic webstores built around self-contained, all-in-one software solutions. And with consumer engagement restricted to web browser access via at-home desktop computers, many assumed e-commerce would never find its way to mainstream acceptance. Fast forward to the present: E-commerce is ascendant and traditional retail has been toppled from its throne. Immersive online shopping environments establish a sense of belonging, transforming casual shoppers into lifelong brand loyalists. Seamless e-commerce experiences are tailored to specific individuals, complimented by lightning-fast fulfillment, next-day delivery and 24/7 customer service.
As a result of these changes, self-contained software solutions have surrendered to agile commerce platform architectures offering a more open, granular approach digital customer experience management. In particular, “headless” commerce has drawn significant hype for its unique approach to commerce architecture, involving separation of a commerce platform’s front-end customer experience from back-end business processes. But just how much of a game-changer is headless and who stands to benefit most from it as this approach becomes more widespread?
Separate the Front and Back
Historically, the front-end and the back-end of commerce platforms were intrinsically tied at the hip. Headless commerce allows a brand to separate the front-end experience from the back-end business processes such as management of the merchant’s catalog, product pricing, promotional offers and day-to-day management activities. This separation enables marketers to embrace new channels and new customer touchpoints by removing any dependencies of new front-end releases having to be developed, deployed and managed together with the back end. It gives the front-end UX team complete creative control over what the experience should be and can be based on the needs of the brand. This is opposed to being prescribed a commerce experience that has to follow specific processes and workflows. When done effectively, headless opens up and gives the front-end customer experience designers freedom to think outside the box and build experiences that aren’t constrained in any way.
5G is Bottom Line
With the evolution of 5G networks and the ability to put low-cost transmitters into any device or product, the number of things in the workplace or products we own that are connected to the internet has increased significantly. A few years ago, only a few items things such as your laptop and your phone were connected to Wi-Fi. Now it’s a list of 30 or 40 things in your house that are permanently connected to your Wi-Fi. Eventually, Wi-Fi will become obsolete and everything will connect over 5G, leading to the possibility of having hundreds of connected devices just inside your home. All of those connected devices will ultimately fuel business models that can only benefit from a headless approach.
Many of the products we buy today are becoming more connected. By being connected to the internet, businesses can provide a value-add service, whether that’s a paid subscription or something freely provided by the brand. For example, if you buy a NEST home security camera from Best Buy, you pay a one-time fee of $400. However, once you buy it there’s also a subscription for recording and storing all the video footage. This scenario is ideal for companies looking to profit from a headless commerce business model, as the product needs to continually call home to determine if it has entitlements, if the customer is up to date on their paid subscriptions and so forth.
Headless in the Future Means Preparation in the Present
While headless is the future, everyone isn’t fully ready. It requires budget and teams capable of using headless commerce technologies. Generally, it’s a fit for larger, well-funded enterprise organizations that have significant in-house technical capabilities, architects and their own development teams versed in building their own custom, front-end experiences. For smaller businesses, a lot of it is about future-proofing their platform technology to prepare for a solution that supports headless in the future.
With much-misunderstood hype around the topic, headless is still a growing term and concept within the industry. It’s going to take a push from those who are creating demand for headless such as a chief architect or CTO. If you don’t have a strong IT organization that really understands the vision of how your company is going to be more agile with a headless approach, then it’s kind of a non-starter.
Traditional commerce is becoming a thing of the past. Headless is the future and it’s going to take everything we have to pave the way.