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Getting Started with Headless Commerce: 5 Industry Experts Share Advice

June 21st, 2019

By Chris Haines

Headless commerce, where the front-end/content presentation layer is separated from the back-end/functional layer, is a fast growing trend in ecommerce. Why? Because this approach to architecture is an absolute necessity for brands that want to scale new experiences quickly and the ability to publish to multiple endpoints like web, app, in-store kiosk or even voice and the Internet of Things (IoT).

To better guide and educate brands that are considering going headless, we interviewed industry experts from global agencies and system integrators about how they work with clients to get started with headless commerce.

Why headless?

“Our first question is why headless?” says Jeff Ryan, Managing Director at Accenture. “Do you as a customer really need it? What touchpoints are you enabling? Headless is important when we’re talking about non-traditional touchpoints.”

“I get excited talking to clients when we’re talking about IoT, for instance,” he adds. “The more extreme use cases are where the power of headless really lies.”

It’s not just technology

“The one thing we never do is talk technology,” says Mark Blockhuys, CTO of Osudio. “We look at the technical savviness of the clients. Are they just reacting to buzzwords or is there a business case? Is there a need to distribute content? Are they working on apps or kiosks?”

Thomas Obrey, Co-Founder and CTO at PixelMEDIA sees this discussion as key to long-term business and technology planning.

“We generally talk to clients about their long-term strategy and then work back from there. How far out are they planning? Historically, planning has been for two to three years, but we’re now seeing accounts that have five, seven and ten year plans.”

“They’re trying to get ahead of where things are going because they can’t continue with the historical monolithic platform rip and replace approach,” says Obrey. “A lot of the dialogues with our customers are about where they are struggling, what kind of technical expertise to have on staff or what kind they aspire to have.”

Scalability and flexibility matters

“We focus on the pace of innovation, scalability, and flexibility of headless architecture when we speak to clients,” says Oscar Tryvall, Director of Sales & Business Development at Columbus Commerce. “It’s easier to onboard new technologies in a componentized environment, which shortens time to market with new channels.”

Rick Hobbs, UK CTO at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, says that a client’s approach to headless depends on their level of understanding of its consequences.

“The majority know they should have it because it’s a great buzzword, but they don’t fully understand exactly what the implications are. With the more mature customers from a technical perspective, it’s more of a consequence of an approach they’ve decided to take and one that we’d advocate for as well, of decomposing their commerce solutions into more discrete components. Headless is almost a consequence of this approach rather than a specific objective.”

Headless is more than a buzzword

As with any buzzword, headless is surrounded by lots of different meanings and definitions, so it often requires a fair amount of client education. It also means understanding client objectives in a holistic way.

“Headless technology is an enabler of what objectives clients want to reach,” says Blockhuys from Osudio. “For instance, our clients want to be more independent of what the market is asking of them. If they stick to a certain functionality or tool then they need to go with the ups and downs that the tool provides.”

“We recommend thinking more in components and pieces of technology that you bring together,” he adds. “If they grow, then the tool can grow with them. If they outgrow the tool, they can skip these components and swap them out.”

Customer first

“Headless commerce allows us to truly put the customer at the center of the digital experience,” according to Mark Rubin, VP Technology at DEG Linked by isobar. “Unlike traditional monolithic approaches that only allow for standing up sites or apps in silos, headless architecture creates the opportunity to align all customer touchpoints. Whether it be commerce, web, mobile, or emerging interface technologies (voice, AR/VR, mixed reality) we can now create those experiences in a way that is seamless to the customer.”

Headless still requires a head

As all the industry experts caution, headless doesn’t mean that your technology stack is a free-for-all.

“Even if you have headless commerce and a headless CMS you still need a head somewhere,” explains PixelMEDIA’s Obrey. “You’ve absolved yourself of a point and click environment to work with something more lightweight and easy to use but you still need a head-end on it.”

By introducing a separate, more agile “head” you will be able to fully leverage a headless CMS and headless commerce system to get all the benefits covered above. For more information on how to build a head for your headless commerce stack, download the Guide to Headless Commerce Front-ends.

Is headless right for your company?

So, is headless commerce right for your brand? If you’re interested in a system architecture that is easily scalable, puts the customer first, and can publish to multiple end points simultaneously, then chances are a headless CMS with a separate, agile presentation layer like a Front-end as a Service is the right approach for you.

Amplience is an API-first, cloud based headless Content Management System. To learn more, download our Headless Content Whitepaper.

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