The Future Is Headless

March 20, 2018

By: Myles Shipman,
Author Title: 
Vice President of Business Development
, BORN Group
BORN Group The Future Is Headless - e-commerce

In our recent joint webinar on ten B2B eCommerce trends for 2018, BORN and Magento predicted that headless commerce will become a popular type of website architecture in the coming year and beyond, for both B2B and B2C businesses.

What Is Headless eCommerce?

In a headless approach, the front end of your eCommerce shop and the back end of it are “decoupled;” they stand independently of one another. That means the content presentation layer (content and experience management systems) is separated from the business logic and functional layer (existing eCommerce stack, integration, and commerce management).

This architecture divides customer-facing concerns from system-facing concerns and allows for a more tailored development of the pieces that are underperforming or a focusing of resources on the pieces that are performing best.

The part of a website that users interact with is called “the glass.” In headless, the glass can be “owned” (operated and served up to the user) by either the eCommerce solution, the content management solution or a combination of both.

Why Headless Is Growing in Popularity

There are two major factors driving the popularity of headless. First, when eCommerce first appeared on the market as a viable channel, the majority of traffic to websites came from desktop, and sales were relatively simple. As a result, the platform solutions that sprung up at the time were all-inclusive (full-stack), with the website front end and backend coupled.

But as technology evolved to meet the growing expectations of customers, the path to purchase expanded to include not only mobile traffic, but a complex matrix of buyer touch points resulting in what we now call omnichannel.

Omnichannel demands a flexibility that is difficult for full-stack solutions to execute because the frontend and backend of the system are married, making it impossible to change one without running that change through the other, which costs time, money and introduces risk.

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, brands that have historically used their website as solely a repository of content are now wanting to expand into eCommerce (particularly in the B2B space). Because of the massive amount of content that already exists, it’s much easier from an implementation standpoint to build out a commerce engine and connect it to their existing content management solution, rather than creating a completely new website and having to migrate their old content into it.

In summary, apart from saving time and costs, the decoupling of a website’s back and front end allows for quicker integrations, greater experimentation, and more nuanced personalization.    

The Benefits of Headless Explained

Flexibility

Modern consumers demand more online shopping capabilities in the form of a front end that is up-to-date, easy to use, and seamless, while simultaneously a backend that is capable of increasingly complex transactions.

Because the front end and back end of a headless system are separate, brands can make updates to their customer-facing content layer without disrupting their business infrastructure. For example, your marketing team could launch a new promotion without having to rely on developers and a full system reconfiguration. 

Personalization

Innovation is the key to success, and innovation starts with experimentation. It’s the only way to learn the preferential subtleties of your key markets and really understand how best to deliver to them, which is the underlying principle of personalization.

Because headless systems are separate and therefore undisruptive to each other, you can experiment without fear of slowing your website down (or worse). For example, you could run continuous backend experiments on category tagging functionality without disrupting shoppers using the front-end search function.

Speed

As mentioned above, a decoupled architecture lets you can make rapid changes to your front end without disturbing the back end, and vice versa, because updating one does mean you have to automatically update the other.

 But it also means new functionalities and integrations that are a good fit for the business can be applied with much less time, energy and, ultimately, cost, because of the openness of the architecture.

For example, you can make a quick update for compliance with a new iPhone OS without having to reboot your entire system. With today’s new technologies moving at warp speed, the value of a system that can cost-effectively keep up can’t be overstated.

Customization

Because a headless architecture is decoupled integrations are no longer a package-deal, so you don’t have to buy in bulk and end up with software that you don’t want or need. You can instead work closely with your technology team or SI to identify which integrations make the most sense for your business and will actually impact your bottom line.

Headless in Action

One of our major clients in the media and entertainment industry (est. revenue 500+ million) sought to create a website that could handle subscription management, the ability to play videos via streaming, the ability to download virtual products, and the option to purchase physical products.

Essentially, they needed to craft a digital experience that would offer an easier way for customers to subscribe, watch, and purchase.

The client already had a proprietary streaming engine running on their website as well as a pre-existing Drupal CMS that housed millions of pieces of media-rich content. This was the perfect opportunity for a headless architecture because it meant the client could keep their existing content but still expand their eCommerce offerings without disrupting their entire business.

Magento Commerce 2 was chosen for all eCommerce functionality, because of its unparalleled set of robust APIs, ease of use on the back end, and quick time to go live. BORN successfully integrated Magento Commerce 2, the proprietary streaming engine, and the existing CMS to create a beautiful new headless solution. The project was completed on time and with no complications, resulting in a significant and immediate increase in conversions for both streaming services and purchased goods.

Who Does Headless Work Best For

As the example above demonstrates, headless is a particularly good solution for any business with an existing content management solution that wants to grow their eCommerce offering. Businesses that are content heavy, have content that is media-rich or quickly and constantly changes, or are experiencing rapid growth are also excellent headless candidates.

Additionally, a firm with an experienced marketing and content organization that wants more control is a good candidate for headless, since it can help them deliver highly-personalized, one-to-one experiences, and highly-targeted and contextually-relevant content.

Finally, headless is also an excellent option for large conglomerates with many portfolio companies, brands or divisions that need to exercise content and experience governance by enforcing workflow approval processes, DAM processes, content versioning, tagging and storage rules, or strict branding guidelines.

At BORN, we most often successfully implement a headless architecture for brands with an existing content management solution on Acquia, Adobe, or a proprietary CMS system.

Next Steps

There are several different headless implementation options and the architecture that’s selected depends on your present and future business requirements, so it’s important to consult with an experienced integrator to find the best fit for your brand.

About BORN Group

BORN is a highly decorated global digital agency. It produces outstanding brand experiences by connecting ten specialisms that serve as the foundation of the digital economy—creative design, content production, commerce enablement, conversions (visitors to customers), cloud technology, cognition (analytics), cohesion (integrating all the systems), consulting, and completeness across all channels. The firm operates in the USA, EU, and Asia, serving global clients in multiple industries.

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