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Headless Commerce Is Here to Stay: How Can You Make It Work for You?

Headless commerce is all the rage for e-commerce marketers because it allows for more control, but replatforming an e-commerce website can be a logistical headache. Like many up-and-coming solutions, headless commerce is not one size fits all and it requires the right team of strategists to make the technology work for the entire business.

The movement towards headless commerce is about control and flexibility. Essentially, headless commerce uses APIs to decouple the back-end commerce platform from the front-end presentation layer. In these scenarios, the eCommerce platforms will still handle all eCommerce functionalities (category management, discount and promotions, payment, etc.) but a third-party system, like a content management system (CMS) or storefront, will manage the presentation layer.

 One of the biggest misunderstandings about headless is the nature of the implementation. Developers and marketers are often unsure about the extent to which they’ll be managing the back-end collaboration between vendors. And in many cases, the implementation supports the needs of developers while neglecting front-end marketers.

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Headless Is Not Buy Versus Build, It’s Both

In the tumultuous retail environment of the last two years, many eCommerce platforms were built in a rush. As a result, it is expected that retailers can get new pages and capabilities up and running quickly. However, when using headless technologies, this process involves a variety of third-party applications.

For example, a new e-commerce page will need to integrate with a personalization tool, a search engine solution and more. All the while, these pages must maintain a well-branded presentation layer that is appealing to the customer.

Oftentimes there are two recognized options for implementing headless. Retail technology leaders can either build an e-commerce website from scratch that decouples the front- and back-ends or buy applications from different vendors and integrate them as needed. However, I encourage these leaders to look beyond the binary to a third, hybrid option. This includes developing a headless tech stack (the combination of technologies working behind the scenes), thereby both buying and building an e-commerce platform, while leaving the door open for the retailer to extend capabilities further.

Managing the Chosen Tech Stack

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I have witnessed the greatest success with the hybrid buy-and-build strategy for headless technology. Yet, what many e-commerce CTOs forget in this mix-and-match tech stack scenario is that it will greatly increase the need for project management. One way to ensure maximum success is to have a dedicated team tasked with making these solutions work together.

One of the advantages of the hybrid approach is the ability to choose an “out of the box” headless tech stack. Meaning that the overarching headless solution provider chooses strong applications and manages the interactions between them to create a branded experience. In other words, the right e-commerce platform will not only offer strong core commerce functionalities, but also allow for retailers to build on top of it to meet their unique business needs.

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The right solution provider will also understand how to achieve the necessary breadth of capabilities but can also be the “middleman” that coordinates the vendor interactions based on the developers’ wishes, leading to the most effective solution for all parties. While this theoretically may remove some of the flexibility of a “build your own” headless solution, the benefits of the “out of the box” strategy greatly outweigh the potential limitations. These benefits include a lower cost of ownership and a higher return on investment.

Regardless of which combination of buy and build an e-commerce CTO chooses, the best headless commerce strategies involve a dedicated project management team. This team should include in-house leaders at the retail company and employees from the headless commerce vendor that have pre-existing relationships with and an understanding of each of the vendors. With these parties involved, the business needs of both the in-house marketers and developers will be met and the retailer will achieve maximum flexibility and extensibility.

Creating The Balance Between Developers and Marketers

When implementing a headless commerce platform, marketers and developers must collaborate to ensure both the front- and back-end experiences are optimized, regardless of the number of vendors involved. Successful headless commerce setups are those that incorporate the marketer’s point of view without losing the developer’s flexibility, and will strike that balance from architecture, management and customer experience perspectives. Ultimately, CTOs must have the right tools to appeal to business stakeholders along with future-proofing the digital transformation from all angles.

Headless Should Save Time, Not Waste It

Headless technology is designed to make things easier, but for a solution like headless to be beneficial, it must benefit everyone on the team. Like with any new implementation, it’s best to bring all affected parties in at the ground level and ensure the tool is set up in a way that helps everyone become more efficient and effective. An “out of the box” tech stack, managed by a headless provider, is the easiest and most cost-effective way to implement the up-and-coming technology.

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