Mind the Headless Experience Management Gap!

  • Ecommerce
12 mins reading time
James Brooke | October 12, 2020

This post was originally published on LinkedIn, October 12th, 2020.

Why headless commerce needs headless content and experience management to create the most powerful digital-first, customer-centric shopping experiences.

AVOIDING THE COMING RETAIL CRISIS 

Mobile shopping has revolutionized the world of commerce as we know it. Today’s shoppers are using their smartphones for a broad range of tasks – everything from digital ‘window shopping’ to making purchases.

What’s more, the future of m-commerce is very bright indeed. According to Statista, m-commerce will account for 73% of all retail e-commerce sales by 2021.

However, many retailers are struggling to adapt to this new reality.

M-COMMERCE WILL ACCOUNT FOR 73% OF ALL RETAIL E-COMMERCE SALES BY 2021.

Despite investing in responsive storefronts that are supposedly ‘mobile optimized’, mobile sales conversion consistently languishes at around 50% or less compared to that of desktop devices.

Simultaneously, consumers have incorporated social media such as Pinterest and Instagram into their shopping routines, with as many as 20% of consumers going social-first to seek-out trends, discover products and find inspiration.

These consumers break the traditional e-commerce conversion funnel by entering the storefront from social channels at product-detail-page (PDP), which is traditionally the end of the shopping journey, not the beginning.

As a result, social-first shoppers who do not engage with the whole-storefront’s worth of content, offers and promotions spend less and return more products, further depressing retail economics.

And, as if the situation wasn’t complex enough - enter COVID-19.

Now retailers are confronted by a toxic combination of shuttered stores and reluctant, mask-wearing shoppers, who have driven a huge rise in online traffic (along with its associated scaling costs) to ‘Black Friday’ levels every day, but without the corresponding Black Friday levels of conversion.

And with consumers unlikely to venture into stores, brands can no longer rely on store associates to help shoppers navigate high-involvement, complex categories. The implication being that the e-commerce experience must now substitute for the absence of store associates by deploying enough content to support every stage of the customer’s buying process, further increasing costs.

To compete in this new COVID shaped, social media influenced and digital-first economy, retailers must deliver the high-quality, mobile-optimized, COVID-secure shopping experiences that consumers demand, at a competitive cost, or be left behind.

RETAILERS MUST DELIVER THE HIGH-QUALITY, MOBILE-OPTIMIZED, COVID-SECURE SHOPPING EXPERIENCES THAT CONSUMERS DEMAND, AT A COMPETITIVE COST, OR BE LEFT BEHIND.

OPTIMIZING THE COMMERCE EXPERIENCE TO BE DIGITAL FIRST AND CUSTOMER-CENTRIC 

It’s said that ‘you can’t improve what you can’t measure’ so digital teams have turned to voice-of-customer feedback to supplement their traditional web analytics, in an effort to start systematically managing their digital customer experiences.

What they find when analyzing the qualitative feedback and the journey analytics, is that storefront visitors consistently raise the same five key issue with the shopping experience: poor page load performance, incomprehensible navigation, opaque taxonomies, missing product information, and generic content that lacks personalization and/or relevance.

And when the results are filtered for mobile-first interactions, these challenges are magnified, with page load performance being the stand out challenge. We’ve long know that mobile visitors are highly sensitive to page load performance. But how quick is quick enough?

Analysis of Real-User-Monitoring (RUM) data reveals that sub-second page load performance eliminates pre-bounce – the measure of how often users abandon a session before the first page is even loaded – and results in more pages being viewed.

All of which has a dramatic impact on mobile conversation rates.

However, achieving these lightning fast page load speeds requires a completely different front- end architecture. One that is based on a new set of web technologies that are optimized for mobile experiences.

And it’s not just the front-end that needs work. To address the challenges in the shopper experience caused by the structure of the experience: navigation, layout, taxonomies etc, requires changes to the back-end systems where this data is configured and stored, and this is where it quickly becomes complex and costly to deliver the fixes that a truly optimized experience requires.

This is because the back-end is typically a traditional all-in-one monolithic ecommerce platform. Most of which, including some of the more modern looking cloud and SaaS solutions, are based on technologies that were innovated long before the iPhone made the mobile web the dominant form of shopper interaction, and it shows!

At the core, these monolithic ecommerce platforms use decades old web-content- management technologies to define the experience. Change is effected via complex and proprietary templating languages and server-side component development. Everything is tightly coupled, so even simple changes can require long development cycles.

And while retail technology teams have worked miracles in extending these legacy systems to accommodate mobile (and other channels), they are ultimately fighting a losing battle with complexity and cost. The long back-log of necessary experience optimizations grows ever longer, while shopper frustration is on the rise!

No wonder that disenchanted shoppers are abandoning e-commerce sites, often before the first screen loads.

NO WONDER THAT DISENCHANTED SHOPPERS ARE ABANDONING E-COMMERCE SITES, OFTEN BEFORE THE FIRST SCREEN LOADS.

HEADLESS COMMERCE TO THE RESCUE? 

Retailers desperately need to gain control of the way they build and manage digital experiences across every customer-facing touchpoint. Which is where the move to ‘headless commerce’ solutions seem to offer the perfect solution.

By decoupling the front-end presentation layer (the head) from the back-end ecommerce capabilities (which coordinate tasks like maintaining and updating a product catalog, processing payments, handling orders and more), these headless platforms expose functionality via an API in JSON format, delivered from the cloud.

This not-only makes them ideal for driving Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) that support lightning fast mobile-optimized storefronts, but also solves for the problems of monolithic back-end complexity. It’s an innovative move to a more agile microservices based approach that delivers greater:

  • Flexibility – retailers can deliver consistent, seamless and optimized experiences across all delivery channels (mobile apps, web sites, voice, in-store, and other systems).

  • Speed – content is delivered as data via APIs, which can be displayed quickly and efficiently by a PWA that improves the customer experience.

  • Agility – modifications can be made quickly, one microservice at a time, using open standard front-end technologies.

  • Scalability and Performance – the front-end can be optimized and scaled independently of the back-end.

The headless and micro-services approach breaks down the traditional e-commerce monolith into its component pieces (content, product information management, search, order management, account management and commerce) which can then be replaced wholesale, or incrementally in a low-risk migration pattern known as ‘strangulation.’

Little wonder that headless commerce is creating such a stir among retailers. For them, going headless represents an opportunity to achieve enhanced agility and significant improvements to front-end performance for a much lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

But while technical teams are keen to push forward with implementing a new headless commerce stack so as to realize these promised gains, marketers, merchandisers and operations teams seem reluctant to make the transition.

And they’re right to be cautious.

IT’S BECAUSE THESE HEADLESS COMMERCE SOLUTIONS DO NOT YET OFFER TOOLS FOR MANAGING THE STOREFRONT EXPERIENCE...

It’s because these headless commerce solutions do not yet offer tools for managing the storefront experience that are comparable to those contained in the legacy e-commerce monoliths they currently work with.

And that has significant implications for the productivity of business users. One that ultimately impacts the ability of the e-commerce teams to successfully make the transition to headless.

To take a deeper look at why headless commerce solutions are still missing vital functionality, download the Headless Experience Management Whitepaper.