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Headless commerce isn’t a trend, it’s expected

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Let’s say a business wants to increase the upload speed of their website. If they used a traditional CMS, any substantial change to the ecommerce architecture would influence the rest of their platform; every link on the chain is connected in a monolithic system.

But if that business instead opted to build their digital assets through headless commerce, they would see the benefit of that framework immediately, as Adam Sturrock, VP of Product Marketing at Amplience, explains in an insightful conversation with Bold Commerce.

“Headless separates the front end from the back end, and that enables businesses to make smaller decisions and become more agile,” he says. Tackling a problem like site speed can be done in a chunk, as opposed to overhauling an entire platform or adding an integration that contributes to the technology’s complexity.

Modeling for the future of ecommerce

What truly makes a headless CMS more flexible than a traditional CMS is its content-first model with full APIs to access and display content in any way desired. It may take more vendors to manage, but it's customization and scalability strengths are often a compelling draw to digitally-savvy brands. 

By stitching together microservices under the headless commerce model, elements of pages can load asynchronously because they aren’t being delivered from a single server, which is routine among common, monolithic ecommerce setups. A faster site speed trickles down its efficiency to the customer, who can’t see the many moving parts making processes more efficient by milliseconds.

As cloud-based tools become the norm, modernizing the tech stack to be as nimble as possible makes sense for forward-thinking brands who want decoupled architecture. These brands are tired of the legacy systems determining which tech they have to use for every component of their digital assets, and how.

And herein lies the tricky stitch. Headless commerce isn’t just a burgeoning trend, or suggested future state ideation, it’s crucial for serving the operational needs and consumer expectations of right now. Especially for businesses seeking to level up their ecommerce muscle after years of getting by with the limitations of a traditional framework.

The businesses that benefit most from headless commerce, says Sturrock, are those with “a creative checkout experience, or those that sell products which can’t be stored in a typical location. Maybe they are trying in-store experiences separate from the point of sale, or are implementing AR or VR.”

Strategic partnership to drive your digital vision

Bringing in different vendors to contribute to your digital vision could sound like an overwhelming responsibility at first. Managing those moving parts takes a steady hand and strong leadership skills. But opting for a headless model actually eases the task overload a business owner may face.

“You're making smaller decisions which are lower risk and if something does go wrong you can always swap it out for something else. You can become a lot less precious with the decisions that you're making, too,” Sturrock says. After all, the motto in Silicon Valley is better done than perfect.

On where headless commerce is heading, Sturrock is bullish. “Traditional platforms started out immature and over time new features were added and the supporting ecosystems grew up around those platforms to meet the needs of retailers and brands,” he notes. “Headless is on a similar trajectory but the pace of change is faster than it was a decade ago, thanks to how headless vendors are rapidly maturing.”

He adds that the value-add of headless shines bright due to best-of-breed vendors who can bring more creative features and impressive scalability than what traditional platforms offer.

Back end commerce sees architectural transformation

Market indicators point to the rise of headless commerce among retailers: A Yottaa study published in 2020 found that 61% of retailers surveyed were either currently leveraging or planning to leverage a headless commerce architecture that year. 

Adding more fuel to the headless fire is this study reporting a 35% organic traffic boost for online retailers who revamped their websites to look and feel more like apps on mobile using a headless approach.

To insiders such as Sturrock, it’s clear headless commerce is here to stay long after the aftereffects of COVID-19 wear off in the online space. Digital commerce sales were surging pre-pandemic; the move to eCommerce for businesses added urgency to a crisis where pivoting was essential, not an option.

Headless commerce began as a separation of the front end from the back end, put simply, as Sturrock says, “and now we’re seeing the back end itself fragment and have all of these best of breed components, so the architectures are becoming more sophisticated to meet more complex challenges.”

And what happens if a business at the right stage of digital transformation prefers a cautious wait-and-see approach? “The biggest risk you can take,” warns Sturrock, “is that your competition will adopt headless commerce, and outperform you in terms of search engine ranking, reach, and customer experiences that convert.”

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