Off with Their Heads

How headless commerce and its customized variations are changing digital shopping

Headless commerce is all the rage in ecommerce circles these days. The reason is simple: It unlocks the use of modern technologies, streamlines platform updating, engages consumers with irresistible content, and generates revenue.

In basic terms, headless commerce splits the front and back ends of an ecommerce application, letting the two portions function more independently. Put another way: client-side code such as JavaScript is separated from server-side code (such as REST web services). User interfaces are thus freed from direct connection to the platform’s inner workings, meaning front-end content presentation is easily changed by the client via the CMS, enhancing the consumer’s shopping ease, experience, and satisfaction.

There are multiple reasons to consider a headless approach, including: 

Quick deployment and quick to market. Usually a company’s IT team handles most of the front-end website changes associated with presentation of the site’s content, features, and functionalities. Each such adjustment monopolizes the attention of engineers who might more profitably direct their efforts elsewhere. But a headless commerce system allows more of a DIY approach; front-end changes can be implemented easier, often by staffers with only moderate technological grounding. The update process is streamlined, and new content, products, and promotions can be launched with minimum effort and at minimum cost.

Greater customer engagement. Because headless systems allow easier implementation of single-page applications and progressive web applications, there’s more latitude for creative design and outreach, attracting and motivating customers. That translates directly as enhanced revenues: it’s axiomatic that engaged customers hit the purchase button more often than those who find website content boring or merely “adequate.”  

Better CMS Conjunction. Headless provides a superior, more complete integration to a CMS than alternative approaches.

Further, headless commerce is uniquely suited to address the stark realities of the post-pandemic retail landscape. Eric Lessard, a senior product marketing manager for Salesforce Commerce Cloud, noted in a recent webinar that the COVID-19 pandemic is the advent of a new normal rather than a temporary anomaly. The consumer hallmarks of the crisis—a massive shift to online shopping and storefront curbside delivery among them—won’t disappear when the virus wanes, Lessard observed. 

“Brands have to embed and engage their customers on all channels,” Lessard said. “Consumer behavior has changed forever. [For ecommerce], that means rich content, one-touch payment options, building custom apps specific to brands—whatever it takes. To be successful, you need a commerce platform with the right tools and flexibility, trusted at scale to reach customers throughout the world. That’s at the heart of headless commerce.”

Moreover, a headless strategy is particularly apt given the accelerating dominance of mobile in the ecommerce sphere. Mobile users demand speed, updated and timely content, and ease in navigation—all qualities of headless commerce.

“There’s an historic consumer shift toward mobile,” Patrick Grissinger, a senior product manager at Under Armour, said in the recent headless commerce webinar. “People interact with their phones an average of 80 times a day, and we have to make the most of those moments. Consumers vote for solutions that reduce time to value, and we need the architecture that [allows] that.”

But headless commerce is not a fixed formula; it can have many different configurations. Following its inception, it was often predicated on a front-end layer to a content management system. Modules for discounts, promotions, and other initiatives were then added with little regard for the stability and efficacy of the general architecture.

Such hodgepodge approaches are less than optimal. Simply piling modules on one another may fulfill the basic intent and function of headless commerce, but the process can be weak, brittle, and vulnerable because it’s ad hoc. 

There’s a better way.

At Astound Commerce, we prefer a “best of breed” approach. That means we evaluate a wide range of components and approaches and choose those that dovetail with a client’s specific needs and goals, a solution that maximizes customer engagement and platform resiliency and minimizes the necessity of expensive and time-consuming technical support.

Sometimes our solutions may meet the definition of headless commerce in its most narrow interpretation. Sometimes we employ a hybrid schematic. 

Example: You may need to integrate a specific component with an existing Salesforce program, but you don’t want to rip everything up to create a “classic” headless architecture. In short, you want the benefits of headless commerce—but you don’t want to devote the sizable corporate and technological commitment needed to make a single program conform rigidly to the term. 

Our engineers will evaluate, identify, install, and update components that foster powerful front-end customer experiences without extensive platform rebuilds. We fashion bespoke solutions that allow you to incorporate the best front-end technologies for your platform and business, all the while keeping things simple, flexible, and versatile. 

We’re masters of digital technology—including any technology associated with headless commerce—but technology isn’t our focus. It’s a means to an end. And that end is and always will be devising effective remedies for each client’s specific pain points.

To learn more about Astound’s approach to headless commerce and how it can benefit your bottom line, get in touch at partnerwithus@astoundcommerce.com.

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Peter Youell

Peter Youell is technical and operations director at Astound Commerce UK.

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