The pros and cons of headless commerce for B2B organizations
Carla Gonzales is no stranger when it comes to B2B digital transformations. Throughout her career she has successfully implemented several B2B ecommerce websites and as an Ecommerce Business Manager, she brings plenty of insight and experience to best navigate the organization and her team through their latest digital initiative.
“There is a huge need in the B2B market to build a digital presence, to create at least a website and a mobile app, so that customers have a self-service option and can order what they need 24/7 no matter where they are. It is no longer optional now that Amazon is squeezing B2B companies out of business.” – Carla Gonzales
Gonzales recently shared her experience in the ebook, Getting Started with B2B Ecommerce. Here’s an excerpt from that book on the benefits of going headless with your commerce initiative.
Choosing a B2B ecommerce platform is the greatest digital decision your organization will make. It determines your online growth and direction for years to come. Choosing a platform requires you to consider which business rules can or can’t be incorporated, and if your chosen platform doesn’t have your business solution out-of-the-box, know you’ll have to modify the code a lot in order to make it work.
“Headless” is today’s digital trend. With headless, the data, business logic, and commerce engine are separated (de-coupled) from the front-end storefront. Without getting too technical at this stage, a headless architecture is layered and can include at least three levels:
- Front-end presentation layer: the top layer that can include CMS, custom storefronts, apps, chatbots, kiosks, Alexa, etc.
- API communication (REST API/JSON): the middle layer that ensures API calls take place in an orchestrated fashion.
- Back-end commerce: the bottom layer that includes commerce platform functions like cart, catalog, pricing and promotions, and integration framework to back-end systems, e.g. ERP, PIM, CR, etc.
The primary benefit of a headless architecture is the freedom and flexibility to develop as many front-end interfaces as you like on as many different devices as you need without the constraint of the back-end systems. Your front-end developers can extend commerce functionality to any customer touchpoint you can imagine, from multiple websites, mobile apps to the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as devices that do not yet exist. You can also implement headless commerce platform gradually, without ripping and replacing your existing technology investments.
Choosing to go headless will require a clear plan of action as to avoid scope creep, which could be a factor in developing headless layers. Although the flexibility to build virtually any front-end you desire can be a plus, there are a few drawbacks to consider. Headless architecture has more puzzle pieces to fit together. It requires a different build and implementation schema from a traditional commerce platform. The development process may involve additional planning, which translates to more detailed requirements. Depending upon the complexity of your headless platforms, more than one development teams may need to be employed. Your budget, resource utilization and project timeline may be impacted. Unknown auxiliary costs may also need to be considered.
Depending on where you are in your ecommerce maturity, the best way to go with headless is with a starter store that has all basic pre-built integrations. Which would allow you to go live in 30-90 days.
Truthfully, B2C commerce is continuously expanding and B2B is catching on. The growth in the areas of digital communication, transactions, and personalization are requiring websites to be more robust and enterprise-ready than ever before. B2B organizations have to incorporate more buyer touchpoints as well as gain the ability to change quickly to respond to buyer’s needs, this means shifting your business strategy to include a fluid online store.
Therefore, chances are good that you may want to consider a headless commerce platform but before you chop off the head of your website project, consider these questions:
Can you make a case for going headless?
Some companies start with a basic transactional website, which is fine, however if you are considering at least one other digital presence, such as mobile, you have already validated the need to go headless. It’s okay to start small and build multiple heads as you grow but having the infrastructure in place allows you to move quickly. Your upfront cost for development may be high, but adding on independent front ends later will be significantly less than continuously building new websites or adopting a small, cramped traditional platform and later having to tell your boss “sorry, it will be difficult to expand the new platform into a mobile app.”
What should your headless ecosystem look like?
Each touchpoint has its own unique needs, and your potential ordering channels will continue to expand in the future.
Which system will own the data?
In a headless website, the front-end is responsible for the presentation layer. This is un-structured data. Will you still pull data from your customer relationship management system (CRM) or from a product information management system (PIM)?
For more insights and expertise from Gonzales, check out her ebook, Getting Started with B2B Ecommerce.