What is Headless Commerce? Be Part of the Headless Revolution

Darin Archer

Why should you care about headless commerce?

Headless commerce (or API-first commerce) is becoming a less obscure term to marketers, but it’s still murky for many – especially what it means for real brands and real customers. I could dive into the technicalities of what headless commerce is upfront, but I'll instead start with a story.

I recently saw a social ad for a jacket from a brand I frequently shop with. I wasn’t particularly on the hunt for a new jacket, but I liked it enough to click through and see if it was worth a buy. The brand could have taken advantage in a moment of weakness and earned a spontaneous purchase from me. If it were a matter of a few clicks – select my size, choose my color and checkout – I'd have bought it without much thought.

But as is the case far too often, it wasn’t that easy. When I clicked through the ad, I was redirected to the brand website. There was the jacket, featured on a model smack in the middle of the page. But from there, no purchase options to be seen – just more buttons. Clicking that graphic brought me to ANOTHER page: the men’s catalog, featuring every product the brand sells from wallets and sweaters, to jeans and jackets.

For example, if you go to nike.com and you can see something like the jacket in this image:

Looking for rain gear instead? Marketing builds this page for rain-proof running gear and highlights this blue jacket:

Now count the steps it took to get to the e-commerce application so that you can actually add a jacket to your Cart.

Here’s another one.

Marketing would rather the images be clickable (or touched on mobile) so shoppers can easily learn more about a styled item or quickly add that item to their bag. Instead, because katespade.com uses Salesforce Commerce Cloud, it takes at least two more clicks for the site visitor to get to a shoppable product page and the experience suffers.

Perhaps my wallet thanked me for this poor
shopping experience. But as a marketer, it was a sadly common and
frustrating scenario, considering retailers still lose most of their
potential sales to cart abandonment. This simple problem illustrates a
much larger issue about the state of commerce: Brands aren’t prepared
for the way consumers want to shop. They don’t want to sift through
hundreds of products on the same web catalogs that have existed since
Amazon started selling books. They simply won't accept inconveniences
like the one I described. On a higher level, they’re done with the
limitations of the web storefront model. They’re thinking bigger – and
brands need to do so as well.

Customers Want to Shop Anywhere, Anytime
In response to the example I mentioned, a marketer might say, “We need
to make the jump from ad to individual product page more seamless to
avoid cart abandonment.” But why do I need to leave Facebook or
Instagram at all? Why can’t I see that jacket, choose my size and color
and checkout then and there? Beyond that, why isn’t ANY brand content I
see shoppable? With all these new experiences and technologies emerging,
why am I stuck essentially with the same options to shop (either on a
web storefront or in a brick and mortar) I’ve had for years?

Sooner than marketers want to admit, more customers than not will expect to shop directly in Instagram, or on their Alexa devices, on their smart refrigerators and whatever other new touchpoints emerge 10 years from now. It comes down to enabling commerce at any of these points of inflection, not just when a customer has wandered to your web storefront. You can’t do this if you’re struggling to adapt your backend each time a new channel emerges. You have to have a strategy that can handle new touchpoints as they come. And that’s what brings us to headless commerce.

Brands Must Rethink the Separation Between Marketing and Commerce
Adapting to these new touchpoints requires eliminating old barriers
between marketing and commerce functions. We’ve all seen the beautiful
marketing experiences brands create to entice customers and showcase
their products. However, these offerings usually end up directing
customers right back to bland traditional product pages. The marketing
website and commerce site are often two separate entities entirely since
traditional commerce engines can’t support the marketing content. You
can create the sexiest, most innovative marketing experiences you want,
but if your backend can’t integrate factors like product catalogs,
shopping baskets, account info, and more, you’ll always be back at
square one. Headless commerce enables brands across verticals to
transcend these old paradigms by solving for just that obstacle.

How Headless Commerce Solves the Problem
Leveraging API-oriented commerce, all functions – commerce, experience
management, payment, content, personalization – can be decoupled
services. That means you can deconstruct core commerce platform
attributes (e.g., product catalog, shopping basket, account services,
payment integration and order processing) for more flexibility.

That solves the problem of those old silos
and limitations. Since headless commerce provides all commerce logic
through the engine API, all information is available to any new channel
on a consistent basis. Using an API-first strategy, brands can integrate
data about each individual customer regardless of channel.

Whether you’re creating a landing page or
microsite for a campaign, or even a blog, when you highlight a product
or service, you don’t have to create a click trail for the visitor. It
should no longer be an epic quest to find your e-commerce site and ‘add
to bag’ button. You can meet that engaged shopper where they are, right
on your latest blog post, Instagram or social ad.

Then you can allow customers to buy wherever
they want to – which is to say, anywhere. Shoppable videos, social
media ads, store kiosks, Alexa-enabled purchase capabilities, virtual
and augmented reality...the list goes on. That’s not just the reality
for consumers, either – B2B buyers have the same expectations, whether
they’re reordering parts or configuring medical equipment.

Wherever a buyer interacts with your brand,
an API-first approach connects each interaction to ensure consistent
experiences regardless of touchpoint. Plus, on the marketing side,
brands have more comprehensive, accurate and accessible data. All of
these factors can radically change the customer experience in ways
brands have barely conceived.

THAT’s what headless commerce is. And you should care because it’s not only driving real results for brands,
but because it’s the way of the future – and the only way brands are
going to be able to stick around. Want to learn how you can break your
commerce experience free from full-stack? Learn more about taking a
flexible, forward-looking approach with headless and check out Elastic
Path’s latest whitepaper here.

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Darin Archer

Darin redefines what ecommerce means, challenging the industry to move beyond the thumbnail in category pages to an experience-driven approach where customers can purchase anything anywhere at the point of inflection.