How Headless Commerce Can Futureproof Your eCommerce Brand

Voice assistants, smartphones, VR headsets, smart watches and other new technology all provide consumers with new ways to browse and buy products. Shoppers are always quick to adopt tech that makes their lives easier. But many established retailers can’t keep up.

Legacy eCommerce platforms make it difficult to embrace changing consumer behaviour. But the likes of Walmart and Amazon have adjusted quickly and they are now leading the industry. However, you don’t need to be a tech giant to adapt to new trends. With headless commerce, brands can take advantage of new tech without needing to build a solution from scratch. That’s why 61% of retailers plan to implement it.

To help you get your head around the concept, here’s our comprehensive guide to headless commerce.

What is headless commerce?

Simply put, headless commerce is an eCommerce architecture which sees the visible frontend of your store separated from its backend functionality.

In the past, eCommerce sites relied on a frontend and backend that worked together. The frontend – or head – came in the form of a predefined template or theme. Usually, content could only be delivered in the form of a website and maybe a mobile app.

But with headless commerce, the backend stores, manages and delivers content without a frontend presentation layer. Instead, it communicates with the frontend through APIs which allow content to be displayed on any screen or device.

Frontend developers can present content using whatever framework they like. This provides brands with the flexibility and freedom to develop their store in a way that pleases their users. As new smart devices come on stream, they can simply build a new API to cater for it. For this reason, headless commerce is a futureproof innovation designed for the IoT era.

How headless commerce can help your brand

Since headless commerce comes without a set frontend, developers need to build their own. Although creating bespoke interfaces can be time-consuming and costly, it is well worth the effort.

Here are just some of the benefits that come from implementing a headless commerce architecture for your store.

Omnichannel eCommerce is enabled with a headless commerce architecture

Thanks to its use of APIs, headless commerce is a scalable solution that can adjust to include any kind of omnichannel integration. Once in place, it allows brands to take a truly omnichannel approach.

A headless commerce system has the power to push your content out in any form across any channel. This means you can deliver your products, marketing and brand message to any smart device that exists now, as well as to those that emerge in the future.

This is hugely beneficial to brands as omnichannel strategies have been shown to increase both sales and customer lifetime value. Yet, according to a 2020 Gartner report, only 32% of retailers have a ‘best-in-class’ omnichannel experience in place.

It’s worth noting that many of the leading brands in Gartner’s omnichannel index have a system of headless commerce in place. These include Walmart, Home Depot, Macy’s, DSW and CVS Pharmacy – to name just a few.

Headless commerce improves the customer experience

Headless commerce allows brands to build a bespoke frontend for every device and touchpoint. This means they can create a convenient and enjoyable eCommerce customer experience for absolutely every visitor.

Offering a smooth and dynamic consumer journey makes it easier for shoppers to complete a purchase – whatever device they’re on. So headless commerce can help increase conversions. This is particularly true for experience-centric businesses, like beauty, apparel and D2C brands.

If you employ a content-led experience, headless commerce can even reduce your acquisition marketing by increasing your organic traffic and reducing your reliance on paid advertising.

Headless commerce enables agile processes

Headless commerce makes it easier to scale and adjust your online store as needed. Essentially, it makes your store more agile in every way.

Because it is so easy to update, the architecture can easily support new devices, have the most up-to-date security and meet evolving customer demands as they arise. Thanks to its flexibility, developers can typically add code on a daily or weekly basis. Brands can even set up a new store in a matter of days.

Beyond this, headless commerce makes it easy to test different approaches to your content and layout. So you can continuously run tests which will provide the data you need to optimise your customer experience.

Three examples of headless commerce in action

If you want to introduce headless commerce architecture to your business, take a look at the brands that have already done it with great success.

1. Under Armour

A few years ago, Under Armour was one of the first big brands to introduce a headless progressive web app for its online stores. This framework was designed to work on any standards-compliant browser, so Under Armour was able to introduce it to 26 different markets around the world.

By introducing a progressive web app, brands can cut their load times and provide a seamless shopping experience which is similar to that of a native app.

According to Patrick Grissinger, Under Armour’s Senior Product Manager at the time, the company’s conversion rate increased by 76% on optimised pages. This resulted in double digit revenue growth.

Similarly, when AliExpress introduced a progressive web app solution, it saw a significant increase in conversion rates, new users, pages visited and session length.

2. Zalando

In 2016, Zalando became an industry leader when it decided to ditch its monolithic system and introduce headless commerce architecture instead.

The changes went deep and ended up shifting the whole company’s culture and structure as well. According to Zalando’s Head of Engineering, Rodrigue Schaefer, the development team now treats its store as a SaaS product. The company has no problem attracting top-class tech talent either.

The new store took three months to build but now new features can be added faster than ever before. The development team can also easily A/B test designs to see which layouts attract the best conversion rates. It uses a combination of templates and context triggers to implement its frontend layouts.

Zalando now has a more scalable, flexible architecture, which helps it implement all sorts of innovations. Over the past five years, it has introduced everything from a Gift Finder tool to visual searches.

3. Lancôme

When Lancôme saw mobile traffic surpass desktop visitors for the first time, the cosmetic company was worried. The conversion rate for mobile browsers was only a small fraction of their desktop counterparts. So it decided to introduce a headless commerce solution.

While the brand knew it could provide a great experience through a dedicated mobile app, it knew getting people to download it would be a barrier to conversion. So it opted to introduce its new flexible, headless framework. This resulted in a 17% increase in conversions. The company also says its recovered cart conversions grew by 12% through the use of push notifications

Lancôme’s new approach helped the brand make huge progress on mobile devices. More recently, the brand has continued to innovate by introducing real-time shoppable media and VR pop-up stores.

Final thoughts

Recent changes in consumer behavior and emerging technologies are impacting eCommerce in a big way. Brands need to be ready to stay connected and provide premium experiences through a wide range of channels and devices.

Although headless commerce has been around for a few years, it’s now almost essential for retail brands to use this architecture to keep up. Headless technologies have received over $1.65 billion in funding in the past two years, so if you haven’t already, now is the time to check it out!

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