How headless architecture can help solve omnichannel challenges
Legacy ecommerce platforms put retail brands at risk of being unable to innovate new digital experiences for their customers.
A newly released report from RSR titled Retail ecommerce in context: the next iteration found that only 36% of over-performing retail survey respondents reported being satisfied with their current tech stack’s ability to measure the business impact of commerce innovation.
And innovation is needed to attract customers. In 2020, 73% of consumers used “a mix of physical stores, ecommerce, digital apps, social commerce, and marketplace platforms to buy products,” according to a Deloitte study of retail and consumer products trends. In the post-pandemic era, customer demands for new, seamless commerce experiences across multiple channels will only increase.
For brands that have navigated the disruptions of the pandemic on a legacy platform, the notion of moving to a modern one might seem uncomfortable, difficult or not necessary, while other brands may be looking to upgrade only one critical part of their platform, like subscriptions or pricing rules. Either way, a major replatforming is not necessary. A headless architecture approach can help brands streamline omnichannel experiences, drive greater innovation, and move faster to stay ahead of competition.
Headless architecture helps solve omnichannel commerce challenges
A headless architecture simply means separating the frontend (or consumer-facing) user interface “head” from the backend of an ecommerce platform. When the site architecture is decoupled, it allows for any kind of frontend experience an enterprise brand can imagine — even multiple experiences.
With headless, brands can create highly differentiated and memorable shopping experiences for their customers across multiple channels. Brands can begin to meet their customers where they are shopping all while connecting to the same backend processes.
Meanwhile, those backend processes — ERP, product information management (PIM), order management systems (OMS), content management system (CMS), customer database, checkout — remain controlled by IT and won’t need laborious, time-consuming updates any time a frontend change is requested.
With this separation in place, brands have more flexibility to tackle their omnichannel challenges, like buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, inventory checks, consistent pricing across channels, adding loyalty programs everywhere and more.
For those considering a headless approach, it’s important to think about grouping capabilities together — such as keeping all things checkout together or all functions for PIM together.
This allows for multiple efficiencies:
A brand can take one set of capabilities and use it as a test case for exploring a headless approach using API-driven microservices.
A brand looking to urgently solve one omnichannel issue can start there without entirely replatforming.
A brand can restructure internal teams to be more efficient by having teams dedicated to each capability set.
Each capability set can be worked on and scaled independently without impacting the external systems interacting with it.
While a headless approach has a number of benefits, it creates different types of complexity for IT and development teams to manage. For example, communication, integration testing and debugging between microservices can require additional attention from development teams.
Use the strangler pattern to fix issues — and innovate
For enterprise brands, the last year has created intense customer demand for commerce capabilities. Be it seamless omnichannel experiences or a variety of pickup and delivery options, customers have high expectations for a brand’s shopping experience that are not going away.
Brands on traditional monolith platforms may have struggled to meet customer expectations because of internal siloing of ecommerce functions, inflexible commerce platforms, or a large legacy code base. This has left many enterprise leaders wondering if they should replatform to unlock new possibilities to meet customer shopping expectations.
While replatforming is an option for some brands, it’s not ideal for those looking to roll out solutions on faster timelines than a typical replatforming undertaking.
The good news is brands can work with their traditional platform and legacy code base to start launching features for modern shoppers. How? By using API-driven microservices to facilitate the strangler pattern, which allows teams to redesign elements in parallel to existing code. This not only makes it possible to pick one area to test a new fix or approach — like product detail pages — it also means it’s easier to manage a transition from old code to new over time incrementally without risking the entire platform going down.
Lastly, this approach opens up the opportunity to go headless and build an ecosystem of partners with API-driven solutions. “A brand can put together a best-in-breed of pieces for their ecommerce tech stack, whether that's their ERP, their product, information management, their OMS, their CMS, their customer database, or their checkout. They can essentially pick which one makes sense for the brand and how they want to do commerce, and then compose them together to build their solution,” says Jay Myers, Co-Founder, Bold Commerce.
Four benefits of headless architecture for omnichannel commerce experiences:
As omnichannel increases in complexity with growing consumer demands, brands can set themselves up for success now and in the future with headless architecture for their commerce platform. Here are four of the benefits:
Highly customizable: With API-driven microservices, a brand can not only build a commerce platform using an ecosystem of best-in-breed partners for each of their microservices, it can add in custom development where necessary. Consider a brand that wants to build a dedicated purchasing channel for wholesale buying across multiple geographies. They might need custom pricing rules on bulk orders of certain products in different currencies. It’s all possible with additional development. Gone are the restrictions and limitations of legacy monolithic platforms.
Create innovative customer experiences: A brand looking to test selling products via a smart, connected device — consider an IoT dishwasher ordering soap when its low — can create a frontend experience that uses APIs to access backend information and complete a transaction. This can be built and tested in this channel without disrupting other parts of the platform. If successful, it can be rolled out to other devices.
Greater resilience: With a headless approach, a brand builds agility and flexibility into their omnichannel strategy. As a brand scales or new customer demands arise, a headless platform can rapidly respond by modifying the necessary parts, switching one microservice for another or adding in a new one to meet needs. A brand can create a platform that solves for its unknown future.
Focus on your core business: By building a commerce platform of best-in-breed vendors, a brand can focus on what is core to its business success instead of trying to custom-build an ecommerce platform feature, like a CMS, OMS or checkout.