What Is Headless Commerce and How Can it Help Retailers Compete with Amazon?

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Running an ecommerce store requires a range of diverse and layered skills. While physical contributions- human input and management certainly play a part in how an ecommerce store functions, optimizing its virtual home is essential.

Executing such an optimization calls for innovative approaches. One of the concepts developing quickly and entirely transforming the way online businesses sell and function is headless commerce. In the past five years, it’s grown tremendously and is set to continue to revolutionize digital trade.

This article will explain what it is, how it works, and how it differs from traditional commerce models. Further, it will illustrate the benefits and downsides of its implementation with real-life examples. It will also explore how retailers can introduce it into their ecommerce strategy.

What Is Headless Commerce?

Your website has two distinct layers to it. When customers visit your store, they see the interface display or presentation, known as the front-end. The back-end oversees transactional elements like product, payment, and order management systems.

Back-end functionality includes commerce features like:

  • Product stock levels and inventory
  • Discount valuation
  • Checkout procedures and carts
  • Payment methods
  • Customer details
  • Order management

Front-end functionality includes display touchpoints like:

  • Different connected devices like mobiles, laptops, desktops, etc.
  • Kiosks
  • Messages
  • Dashboards and interfaces
  • Virtual assistants

Headless commerce is a type of ecommerce architecture that distinguishes the front-end customer interface from an online store’s back-end business functions. It separates the front from the back, allowing for a more efficient use of resources and faster functioning of systems, among other benefits that we’ll discuss later.

But Why Separate The Front and Back-Ends?

With this separation, businesses can use the same commerce system for different online storefronts, maximizing their resources. Furthermore, it makes it easier to transform the visual, design, or content aspects without affecting the commerce aspects. This makes it simpler for brands to stay up-to-date on both ends.

This also means you can use specialized software, contractors, or suitable technologies for the front- and back-end, respectively, optimizing functionality. As a result, your business can streamline omni-platform commerce, speed up innovative processes, and create consistent and convenient omnichannel customer experiences.

How Headless Commerce Works

Headless architecture works much like electrical extension cords with numerous sockets. Retailers can plug Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERPs), Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs), accounting systems, and various storefronts into the headless commerce platform of their choice.

From there, they can control all the financial or transactional aspects of their many storefronts from that one platform. Just as flicking the switch on an extension lead allows electricity to travel to each plugged-in device, your platform’s API can deliver content and data to any digital space at a fast pace.

How Headless Commerce Compares to Traditional Commerce

Traditionally, ecommerce stores use singular programs. This means that the front-end and back-end software and hardware systems are inextricably connected. Thus, each storefront has its own commerce system that needs unique management and updates.

Traditional commerce struggles to tackle the challenge of providing an omnichannel shopping experience. It makes multi-channel management tedious and slow, stagnates productivity and delivery from the office to the market. Slow processes lead to higher development costs and discourage creativity and originality.

It is also challenging to maintain consistency across channels when they have unique and individualized systems. Thus, data and information can become disjointed across the varying platforms.

The isolated nature of traditional commerce complicates transactions and data management for retailers and results in inconvenient customer experiences. Consumers cannot cross-use platforms. For example, an item added to a cart via one platform will not reflect across all other devices or digital touchpoints.

Headless commerce, however, standardizes information and experiences for retailers and their customers to promote convenient and smart omnichannel transactions.

The Amazon Case Study

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Numerous big corporations have adopted the headless model over the years, including Walmart and Nike. But from all the available examples of the concept in action, Amazon is undoubtedly the prime case study of an enterprise with a successful headless commerce program.

Amazon has a variety of front-end spaces linked to its online commerce system. You can access their store on their website or the browser site, smartwatches and gadgets, smartphones, apps, Amazon Dash and Echo (their virtual assistants), and many more devices in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Their headless system allows them to change and develop new storefronts on relevant devices and digital spaces without impacting the back-end systems. In 2016, Amazon updated its store code every 11.7 seconds, and headless structuring enables this constant alteration.

This speedy cross-device, cross-platform storefront update availability makes customers’ shopping experiences convenient and consistent, the essential requirements for modern-day retailers. Amazon sets the standard for businesses developing their headless architecture.

How Can Headless Commerce Help Retailers Compete With Amazon: The Benefits of Headless Commerce

Increases Flexibility

With the detachment between your front and back-end, your business and developer team have greater flexibility in designing storefronts. You can work with a diverse range of developers as you’re not limited to selecting a developer accustomed to specific ecommerce platforms like top shopify apps.

This also provides greater flexibility for your chosen developers, as they can use the frameworks, technology, and coding language that they’re most familiar with.

Better Customer/ User Experience

Faster storefront updates and cross-connected channel management result in improved interfaces and storefronts for your customers. With designers not facing back-end limitations, they can customize storefronts for the best user experiences. Improving omnichannel user experiences is also one of the best ways to increase ecommerce conversion and engagement rates.

Multi-channel Management

This is the primary way that headless commerce can give retailers the chance to catch up to Amazon’s ecommerce model. Omnichannel experiences are critical to modern shoppers who are invested in engaging in convenient and personalized shopping journeys.

Consumers can shop on different platforms like websites, social media apps like Instagram, a shopify ecommerce store, and more. They can also access stores on various devices, including their laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, watches, etc. This architecture makes the process of expanding across the Internet of Things feasible and manageable, broadening your retail business potential.

Easy Integration

Headless structuring permits you to integrate multiple third-party applications into your system. With constant shifts in technology, new commerce, and business spaces popping up every now and again, going headless allows you to integrate your back-end into new devices and platforms quickly.

Improved Optimization

With segmented front and back-end digital operations, your business can accurately test improvements and innovations for your store. Introducing software that betters your front-end won’t require consideration of the back-end effect. The opposite is also true, making stock-level changes to accommodate products selling on consignment will not affect your store’s look.

Thus, it becomes quicker to test and implement optimized processes and features.

However, implementing an efficient headless structure has its challenges:

  • High implementation, setup, or installation costs
  • Complex troubleshooting and problem-solving
  • More expensive software systems as the structures are custom and complex
  • The need for a more extensive management team or separate departments, as it can be hard to manage
  • Time-sensitive data management and analysis

Get Started With Headless Commerce: An Easy 5-Step Checklist

  1. Establish designated teams to manage the separate parts of the model: a design and content team for the front, a coding, accounts, and developer team for the back.
  2. Decide on necessary storefronts and integrations (including devices, digital platforms, and third-party apps like CRMs, ERPs, accounting software, etc.)
  3. Choose a headless commerce platform that accommodates all your chosen storefronts and integrations.
  4. Define and plan your architecture implementation. This will help keep a clear direction for your system. Be sure to include budgeting and estimates in your plan.
  5. Implement your headless architecture. This includes organizational education, as the system requires diverse input across departments (i.e., inventory levels, prices, etc.) to work.
  6. Constantly review, analyze, and improve system efficacy.

Where Is This Trend ‘Headed’ In The future?

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Ecommerce relies upon and evolves with developments in technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing. Headless commerce is one business trend and technological advancement that promises to continue growing. It meets the needs of an ever-evolving, technical, and highly-connected digital world.

Going headless gives retailers the step-up they need to keep up in such a world by making many wonderful benefits and opportunities available to them.

While shifting to headless commerce can be complex, costly, and resource-consuming initially, the longer-term benefits are worth it. So, even though you may not be ready to cut the cord right now, you should certainly prepare to in the near future because headless commerce is here to stay!


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