As a consequence of COVID-19, shoppers have embraced e-commerce more readily than expected. According to an Adobe Analytics report from June 2020, e-commerce adoption rates accelerated to levels previously anticipated for 2024 or even 2026.
For retailers looking to sustain this heighted online engagement, headless technology is a promising investment, as it can provide a huge improvement in agility and speed to market — for the right retailer. Understanding the benefits of this technology strategy requires a look not only at the way a headless platform works, but also how it integrates with the rest of a company’s commerce technology stack and processes.
The ‘Headless’ Backstory
The idea of headless technologies — a back-end capability decoupled from the front-end experience — is not new in the IT landscape, but its specific application to retail has recently risen in popularity. When retailers began to see their website as an extension of the physical store in the mid-2000s, a variety of e-commerce platforms emerged. The complication, however, was that each touchpoint was handled by different technologies with unique (sometimes overlapping or redundant) strategies, and retailers were often “locked in” to the front-end presentation.
This limited the ability to create new customer experiences, while making process and workflows cumbersome and siloed. The customer only experiences the “head” or face of the e-commerce platform, and in an effort to have more control of that presentation layer, retailers today are exploring “headless” alternatives.
This means that the e-commerce platform handles all the typical functionalities, such as category management, discounts, promotions, and payment, but retailers have more control over the presentation layer.
How it Works
Headless commerce is not just for natively digital brands, although many of those brands have been early adopters. Global luxury fashion brand Michael Kors notably adopted a headless e-commerce strategy in 2019 to standardize the user experience across all brand touchpoints and drive traffic to their mobile platform. Their implementation was successful at improving the shopper experience, and soon thereafter, nearly 65% of their traffic was funneled through mobile.
Offering headless commerce can make a retailer’s offering stand out amongst competitors by creating a smooth omnichannel experience that delivers a personalized, data-driven customer experience that unites all touchpoints. As consumer behavior continues to evolve at a rapid pace, other retailers will consider incorporating headless technology to avoid falling behind brands that are seeing successful growth in mobile traffic due to their headless e-commerce integrations.
Is Headless E-commerce Right for Your Business?
While recent events have accelerated the need for strong e-commerce offerings, it is important to avoid unnecessary costs and complexities. As you consider pursuing headless e-commerce, be sure to analyze the following key factors:
1. Business Goals: Despite its extensive benefits, headless commerce isn't suitable for all business initiatives. Make sure there's proper alignment between the technology and your bottom line. Ask yourself: Are conversions the main focus of your retail website? Is your current e-commerce environment meeting shoppers where and when they choose to shop? Does the public-facing content change frequently?
2. Costs and Time Investment: Headless can be a sizable investment requiring lots of logistical and financial resources, so determine if it's worth the leap based on your budget and current IT resources.
3. Framework Considerations: Whether “hybrid” or “headless only,” your approach to headless will also be largely dependent on your individual business case. Both come with their pros and cons, and the right provider can help you decide which one works best for your business.
4. The Right Platform and Partner: The right provider will ensure that ongoing support is a key facet of your investment, as headless requires ongoing maintenance and development. Headless commerce is designed to simplify the end-to-end process, but if a commerce platform is not built to withstand headless integrations — being API-first or microservices oriented — it will not be a good fit.
Making the Case for Headless E-commerce
The “new normal” requires speed and flexibility at every level of operation, making the case for headless commerce an enticing opportunity, if it’s a right fit for the organization. Headless technology has the power to strengthen your bottom line by creating a better user experience and simplifying the back-end processes associated with a complex e-commerce environment; however, each retailer must analyze whether this technology strategy is the right fit for their unique customers and their needs.
Ram Venkataraman is chief product and technology officer at Kibo.