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07/18/2022

IT Leaders: How Hard Are You Fighting for Headless Commerce?

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headless commerce concept

Think back to your most recent purchase. Maybe it was something straightforward like grabbing a pair of socks at the mall. Or maybe you finally ordered that coat you’ve been eyeing — after weeks of online and in-store research, product comparisons, customer reviews, discount code searches, and more. 

Some purchases are more complex than others. However, regardless of complexity, no purchase should ever be difficult.

Unfortunately, many retailers still struggle to make easier purchases a reality. The limiting factor? Most often it’s a reliance on outdated legacy commerce systems. It’s rarely a lack of imagination, goals or budget, but the solutions at a retailer’s disposal. 

This doesn’t have to be the case, and frankly it can’t be if retailers hope to find success in today’s market. I won’t sugarcoat it: Retailers must embrace headless commerce solutions that offer the freedom and flexibility to handle any purchase, anywhere and at any time — and that means letting go of outdated solutions that are standing in the way.

Why Headless Commerce Works for Retailers 

Perhaps the single greatest strength of headless commerce solutions are their ability to pivot, customize, and roll out improved customer experiences with minimal fuss, time or resources.

Unlike legacy commerce systems, headless solutions — by nature of having disconnected front-end and back-end experiences — allow developers to adjust code and programming without forcing customers into disjointed experiences on the other side of the screen or store. The technology incorporates the APIs most relevant and helpful to your business, allowing you to customize commerce experiences with your unique shoppers and teams in mind.

[Read more: Sephora CTO Sree Sreedhararaj Reveals the Beauty Retailer’s Digital Dominance Journey]

For example, with headless commerce backed by microservices, you can iterate quickly based on real-time shopper feedback or prepare for an upcoming product launch and its associated marketing push. Each interaction point and customer action is powered by a separate API — one for checkout, another for shopping carts, product, etc. These single-purpose APIs allow digital work to happen seamlessly behind the scenes, ensuring that the customer experience remains uninterrupted. From a development standpoint, this orchestration is really quite beautiful (yes, I’m someone who thinks APIs can be beautiful).

The level of agility achieved through headless commerce means you can solve problems faster and introduce new interaction points as needed. When you no longer have to worry about back-end updates resulting in poor user experiences, you can pursue improvements with more freedom, curiosity, and experimentation — and truly endlessly.

Of course, these technology improvements are a major motivator behind the rise in headless commerce solutions. But consider a few secondary opportunities the technology generates:

1. Preparing For the Future

Not only does headless commerce help you navigate current customer needs and expectations, but the approach supports experimentation around tomorrow’s trends.  In our viral world, it’s almost impossible to predict the next craze, and by proxy the next retail rush. Customers clearly want to interact with brands in an omnichannel fashion, but what that looks and feels like is constantly evolving. With a headless commerce solution, you can stay on course with this fast pace of change and even get ahead of it over time.

You need to be prepared for what’s around the corner in retail, but also for what’s down the block, across town, and in another hemisphere. We’ve seen this as recently as with a capability like buy now, pay later (BNPL), which emerged practically overnight and left many major retailers scrambling to update their solutions.

It’s important to call out “future” doesn't necessarily mean selling within the metaverse or other emerging markets. If I’m being honest, folks are getting way ahead of themselves with these solutions and their real-world applications. For now at least, your future-proofing efforts are better spent within the interaction points you already turn to when engaging customers, and less so the solutions dominating headlines.

2. Supporting Your Sales Team More Deeply

IT and sales have historically shared common ground, but headless commerce takes this relationship to the next level. For instance, when back-end updates no longer result in disruptions on the front end, you can A/B test content assets and page templates at all times to develop a stronger and ongoing understanding of what attracts — and ultimately converts — your target audiences.

You can lean on these insights to improve sales materials and tactics. Likewise, you can help drive more organic traffic to your business through this approach, which assists sales teams in achieving a higher volume of customer acquisitions at lower cost and less effort.

3. Offloading More Technical Responsibilities

While it's great to steer the ship on the technical side of your organization, headless commerce also democratizes a broader set of digital responsibilities, which is good news.

With a headless commerce system, your business can bring on a CMS and other relevant APIs, which have low onboarding lifts and are intentionally accessible and easy to use. Even your least tech-savvy teammates can learn to add elements to web pages and mobile experiences, change content layouts, and more. 

While you’ll retain control over your organization’s big-picture commerce experiences, inviting others to the table inspires greater collaboration, deeper thinking about commerce possibilities and frees up your department to tackle higher-priority and higher-value projects.

With these opportunities at your disposal, what you create on the front end is entirely up to you — and that now needs to be standard practice. Innovations and improvements are no longer limited by what your commerce solution can handle. With the right headless commerce partner, the sky's the limit and you retain control over the experiences and touchpoints available for your customers. While all retailers share the goal of reducing friction and making shopping experiences more inclusive and easier, what that looks like in your world is up to you to decide.

Once your decision is made, the question is whether your current commerce solution helps you or stands in your way. If it’s a roadblock, maybe now’s the time to fight harder for headless commerce.

— Kelly Goetsch, chief strategy officer of commercetools

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