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When is it Time to Switch to Headless Commerce?

If you are in the ecommerce industry, odds are you've heard the phrase headless commerce increasingly more over the last few years. So, what is it, and when does your organization need to consider making the switch? In this article, we will review the benefits and challenges of headless commerce and the key indicators that your business is ready to move away from a traditional monolithic site.

So, what is headless commerce?

Headless commerce refers to any website that has separated the front-end presentation layer (or head) from the back-end data layer. The front- and back-end data layers communicate with each other through APIs. This is quite different from a traditional monolithic commerce platform where the front end, what the customer sees, is tightly coupled to the back end, which comprises all the business logic. This is beneficial because customers’ expectations have changed. There are more digital touchpoints than ever and consumers expect a consistent and excellent experience across all of them.

customer experience charts

There are numerous benefits of separating the data layer from the presentation layer. 

  1. Improved User Experience by Device and Context 
    With a separate presentation layer, the business has more control over the look and feel of what the customer sees. The ability to keep iterating and optimizing the UX without needing to re-engineer the back end each time allows for speed and flexibility. It is much easier for the business to customize and innovate for each unique device without a large back-end dev lift.

     
  2. Speed to Market and Reduced Development Timeline 
    A separate front-end presentation layer allows the business to identify emerging opportunities, develop solutions, and release digital products to the market rapidly. For robust digital product management teams, this is a huge benefit that can keep a brand innovating faster.

     
  3. Omnichannel Consistency 
    With headless, a single back end can support any front-end experience, such as desktop, mobile, voice, social, kiosks, etc. A single source of truth for the business data, including both product and customer data, reduces the risk that data will exist in silos. We want to avoid data silos because they don’t give you a full few of the consumer to meet them where they are with a personal, convenient experience. A consistent omnichannel experience for your users will improve both conversion and retention and ensure the business has the full view of the data it needs to make informed business decisions. 

When considering the switch to Headless be aware that several challenges arise from this approach.

  1. Potential loss of out-of-the-box (OOTB) platform features and functionality. 
    Traditional monolithic platforms often have standard functionality such as a CMS, CDN, internal search, product sort and filter, and more. Monolithic platforms will also have product teams who make regular updates to what is available within the platform. With a headless approach, you may lose out on those features and be self-reliant on all improvements to your website. Business users will likely be more dependent on developers to make updates to the front end if your business is unable to implement third-party tools to replace all the features offered by your monolithic site.

     
  2. Increased Cost
    Building templates and user interfaces from scratch can be time-consuming and costly both during integration and ongoing support. Utilizing additional third-party tools to provide some of these missing elements will add to operating costs.

     
  3. Increased Complexity
    A need for additional third-party tools or built from scratch solutions increases the site architecture complexity and means more points of failure. Your business will need a robust and knowledgeable technical team that understands how the entire system works together.

So how does your brand determine if it is ready to explore a headless commerce approach? If you agree with a majority of the statements below then it is likely that you are ready to explore this opportunity further.

  • My business is ready to expand beyond just DT and mobile digital touchpoints.
  • A consistent consumer experience across all touchpoints is essential to my ecommerce revenue growth.
  • My business has a healthy budget to invest in the implementation and ongoing support of complex headless architecture.
  • My business has enough internal and external resources to manage a broader scope of systems.
  • My business needs to provide a seamless omnichannel experience across many digital touchpoints.
  • I have a robust internal digital product management team that is unable to execute their vision within the existing site architecture and is hindered by both timeline and technology.
  • My business has or will soon be investing in a robust CRM, CDP, and CMS solution, and can integrate and maintain these in collaboration with many other disparate systems.


To summarize, if you are a small to medium size brand that can grow your ecommerce revenue, manage day-to-day tasks without technical roadblocks, and has sufficient flexibility within the constraints of your existing monolithic site to provide the UX your consumers require, then you can probably stay where you are. But if you have the budget and resources to manage headless commerce, this shift can be extremely beneficial for moving your commerce strategy forward.

In either case, you can reach out to Merkle and a commerce strategist can dive into your brand's specific needs to provide a recommendation and build a commerce plan catered to your business outcomes.

 

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