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Why Headless Commerce? Why Now?

Put simply, headless commerce is an ecommerce system that decouples the front-end web system from the ecommerce back-end engine. Most digital stores are built on ecommerce engines that provide both the product offering and processing engine, which is directly integrated with the website, and storefront. A headless ecommerce platform has the front end (or “head”), often a template or theme, separated from the backend mechanics of running an effective ecommerce solution.

Why Do This?

The first question to come to mind is, why would anyone want to do this? Why break the neatly integrated solution in which the front end and back end are seamlessly built together? In short, the answer is speed, flexibility, portability and versatility.

Speed

One of the first things people think about regarding headless commerce and headless solutions is speed. We all know that customers can be fickle. Patience is not a virtue of the typical consumer. Digital experiences must be seamless, visually stunning, have an intuitive user interface and be blazingly fast.

On this count, I can confidently state that our work on client headless commerce solutions combined with our own benchmarking has shown load time and speed improvements ranging from 40.6% to 84.3%. Although the full ecommerce experience isn’t just about speed, it certainly is a significant factor that improves sales conversion rates. Show these stats to any merchandising and marketing team and just watch the excitement level in the room bump up a notch or two.

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Flexibility

Another significant benefit of headless commerce is the ability to mix and match the front and back-end systems. You have the flexibility to design whatever user experience you want for your customers on the website storefront and connect it with the back-end processing engine. That means your brand’s creativity, design and experience considerations can be fully met without being bound to the templates, setup and capabilities of the ecommerce brand’s systems. Free your brand team from design constraints!

Not only does this give you full creative flexibility, but it also gives you the ability to mix and match the best systems that satisfy your brand’s needs. Headless commerce platforms lift you from the constraints of being stuck with one look and feel. This too lets you experiment with different headless storefronts without betting the company on one. Enter a new era of A/B testing across entire brand looks, layouts and storefronts.

Portability

Although seldom discussed, headless commerce gives brands much greater portability. In other words, if a certain front-end design isn’t working well, but you are in love with the ecommerce and back-end engines, the front end can be more easily swapped out for a new one. Of course, vice versa is also the case if you love your brand look and web app but want a more robust back-end solution.

Think for a moment about A/B testing across an entire web storefront. With a fully decoupled solution, headless commerce gives you this ability. As we step into this new era, we will start to see brands testing out entirely different front-end experiences on their customer base. Not only is it A/B testing for conversion and sales optimization, but portability can also let teams in different geographies cater to the local styles and preferences in storefronts. This while still connecting into a common, powerful back-end.

Versatility

Consider now the speed of technology evolution. Today we are abuzz about Meta, virtual reality options, enhanced reality, enabling mobile apps, shopping on smartwatches and even appliances that can shop for themselves thanks to the IoT. Tomorrow there will be significant new developments that consumers will use.

Headless commerce gives you the versatility of being able to decouple a stable, consistent back-end for product, pricing and security details, to connect to an expanding list of storefront options. Migrating to headless commerce gives you the ability to keep up with and adapt to a continually changing set of consumer expectations. Best of all, it can be done through the easy connectivity of APIs (application programming interface).

Versatility may be one of the most exciting aspects of headless commerce because as its adoption grows, more and more commerce options will emerge. We all immediately think about retail with respect to the adaptability of headless commerce systems, but the versatility of headless will more readily enable manufacturing, auto, grocery, QSR and even the energy industry.

And an ROI?

Beyond soft reasons for moving to headless commerce, is there a hard business case for taking on this journey? For this, let’s consider the most concrete of the four reasons to shift to this new paradigm: speed.

Imagine that your business is generating $10 million per year in annual sales. With the significant load time and overall speed improvement we have seen so far, this alone will keep more consumers engaged and reduce site defections. It is not a leap then to suggest that conversion rates could increase by 2% to 4%. And this is a very conservative estimate. Alone, this will bump up sales revenue by $200K to $400K ANNUALLY. After the initial outlay for the decoupling, there is a natural recurring bump in your annual revenue.

Is Now the Right Time?

Coming back to our opening question, there are compelling reasons for both this new paradigm and technology moving quickly. Given the current market turbulence, complaints about inflation and fears of an oncoming recession, there is no better time to prepare than now. Remember the beginning of the pandemic? There was a sudden rush by so many retailers and industries that had put off online commerce. Yet when the crisis hit, companies that upgraded their systems to include ecommerce and omnichannel selling were the ones best suited to survive and even thrive in that troubling time.

As the pandemic becomes endemic, the new challenges to the economy and markets are the next wave. To thrive, companies must prepare yet again. Headless commerce offers a new direction to keep consumers engaged and buying. So to answer the question succinctly: Yes, the right time to invest in headless technologies is right now — with the right business partner helping more businesses thrive.


Gerard Szatvanyi (“Gerry”) is Founder, President and CEO of OSF Digital, and President and Chief Technologist of eSkill. He is an entrepreneurial executive with broad experience in software products, enterprise grade scalability and systems integration, as well as cloud and mobile application development, enterprise CRM solutions, leading ecommerce implementations and integrated content management solutions.

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