Guest Column | January 8, 2019

How Headless Commerce Stands To Put Retailers Miles Ahead

By Jimmy Duvall, BigCommerce

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An oncoming trend will change the way retailers build their online stores and experiences.

As is the case for mid-market businesses or enterprises in any industry, the exemplary tech stack is up for serious debate with retailers. Particularly as large swaths of commerce shift online, there’s been increasing friction in the way retailers build their digital presences and make themselves more accessible to the modern consumer. Developers may want to use one platform, while e-commerce managers prefer an alternative and marketers have yet another opinion.

As an example, one side may want to build a complete customer storefront in React, another wants to use Adobe Experience Manager and the third party prefers a DIY model with WordPress. In this classic clash of the IT organization — or e-commerce developer team — versus the business, very few (if any) platforms provide what everyone needs, and one party often ends up feeling slighted and constrained in the quest toward digital transformation.

But here’s the thing: Digital transformation doesn’t have to be that difficult, or that disappointing.

There’s also a second industry driver that’s part and parcel to those transformations: the convergence of content and commerce. Consumers have developed an expectation for online brands — retailers, lifestyle or otherwise — to double as purveyors of engaging content. The time they spend online and their engagements with those brands are fueled by the search for and consumption of compelling content. That content interchange in turn fosters a more dynamic, deep, sustained customer (or even fan or follower) relationship, rather than a one-and-done visit or transaction that leaves potential revenue on the table.

Bringing It Together, Headlessly

Fortunately for retail executives trying to appease multiple internal stakeholders while reconciling their tech decision making with external industry forces, the concept of headless commerce has arrived and is poised to gain substantive traction in the coming year. At its core, headless commerce refers to using whatever front-end content (or presentation layer) and back-end commerce engine is preferable for a retailer to conduct commerce. The resulting combination gives web designers and marketers the powerful content tools they want, while still providing developers and e-commerce managers the robust commerce tools they want.

The current combo du jour for headless commerce is a CMS paired with a full e-commerce platform, but there are some enterprise solutions providers (like Skava and Moltin) enabling it through a slightly different model that leans heavily on microservices to deliver very sophisticated (and costly) build-your-own systems and online stores. Though there’s a distinct difference in approach and mechanics, both flavors of headless achieve the ultimate goal of infusing commerce capabilities that empower retailers to create content-forward experiences for their customers while still effectively covering priorities like security, fraud management, PCI compliance and inventory management and connecting to key systems such as enterprise resource planning and points of sale.

That ideal outcome may sound all hunky-dory, but there have been lingering, very valid questions surrounding how headless commerce solutions can be effectively, efficiently and securely built, deployed and maintained. It hasn’t been until recently that integrations between front-ends and back-ends have been designed and tested enough to allow both platforms’ strengths to shine through, without anything breaking or causing customer service headaches for retailers that deal with multiple tech vendors. Without getting overly technical, the advent of APIs also has a profound effect on making headless commerce a reality.

Long story short, headless commerce promises to grant retailers and their internal teams the choice, flexibility, customization, global scalability and time-to-market that they need to collaborate and compete in an increasingly crowded e-commerce landscape. In the not-too-distant future, we expect headless commerce to become the new normal for building a world-class shopping experience, and retailers not considering their options and investments do so at their own peril.

About The Author

Jimmy Duvall is chief product officer of BigCommerce, leading product strategy, management, marketing and design. Previous stops include Hootsuite, eBay/Magento, GSI Commerce and Yahoo.