How headless ecommerce can help retailers grow

Finlay Mure
27 December, 21

The shift to digital, accelerated by the pandemic, has seen many small and medium-sized retailers transition into the world of ecommerce. With out-of-the-box platforms available on-demand, like Shopify, Wix and WordPress, the prospect of getting up and running easily online is an attractive one.

What these platforms and solutions do well is the straightforward out-of-the-box approach, ideal for smaller businesses in their early stages of growth. However, as they scale and begin to manage larger inventories and greater volumes of data, they tend to realise they need a scalable ecommerce infrastructure to support that growth. They also realise that to effectively serve a larger customer base, they need a robust solution to efficiently support processes like fulfilment, inventory management and returns.

In a world where customers have endless choice, retailers are looking to create their competitive advantage with unique and memorable personalised experiences. To do that, they also need to gain control over their customisation and personalisation strategies.

Headless ecommerce has new and unique answers to this.

What is ‘headless ecommerce’ anyway?

You may have heard of ‘headless’ Content Management Systems (CMS). The principle is the same when it comes to ecommerce platforms. In simple terms, ‘headless’ means having a clear separation of the presentation layer from the backend layer. The presentation layer is made up of customer-facing touchpoints — the store, website, mobile app, social channels, marketplace, IOT, and others. The backend layer is made up of servers, security, APIs, databases and infrastructure. A headless approach enables businesses to focus on customer experiences without the complexities associated with the backend.

Headless commerce takes care of the backend complexities and security while enabling businesses to have full control over the frontend, allowing them to continually measure and optimise the customer experience. It is an increasingly popular option that addresses the pain points of ecommerce businesses and retail brands looking to scale and gain control of their customer experiences. Headless commerce APIs and modules can work together as a platform or independently and integrate with existing technology solutions.

For businesses that want to scale and branch out internationally, the flexibility of headless empowers them to add new capabilities without the challenges associated with scaling hardware, omnichannel selling to a global market, brand customisation, rich content and effective SEO.

One example is giving businesses the power to tweak SEO by adding meta tags and information to the website and perform extensive on-page SEO with image alt text for instance, enabling them to grow their organic rankings and encourage repeat business. Another example is allowing for a more diverse mix of content on a brand’s website, including copy, videos and eye-catching infographics which capture the attention of consumers who respond better to certain types of material.

Headless supports the creation of personalised customer experiences to meet continuously evolving consumer demands, in turn boosting customer acquisition and customer lifetime value.

Can headless be a headache?

Headless ecommerce is beneficial for a number of reasons, but it is not without its challenges. For small businesses in the very early stage of their ecommerce journey, the headless route might not be suitable.

Setting up a headless ecommerce solution is more complex than implementing an out-of-the-box solution. To fulfil all the needs of your business, various customisations and integrations are needed, which will likely take the expertise of multiple developers to create. For a small business, this can be challenging and time-consuming. Some ecommerce businesses can help by offering complete integration and initial setup, so businesses can entrust the technical side of headless ecommerce with a team that has the right expertise.

Another associated challenge can be the need for training. This can be a con or a pro, depending on where the business is on its journey. Teams will need to be trained before they can use every part of the software with confidence. Without sufficient training, the managers and users looking after marketing campaigns and ecommerce operations will not be able to effectively utilise the platform.

Meeting the needs of a modern retailer

The decision for headless involves a strategic weighing of the benefits and challenges, with a particular focus on what stage of the journey your business is on, to what extent it needs its ecommerce platform to scale to support growth, and to what degree it wants to own its customer experiences and personalisation efforts. 

Headless is a strong alternative to legacy platforms and out-of-the-box ecommerce solutions, providing the scalability and flexibility to create unique experiences, while providing control over data, analytics and user experience against the backdrop of evolving customer expectations.

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