The past two years have demonstrated that consumers are ready and willing to change their behavior to find and purchase the things they need. Shoppers migrated online in droves in 2020, with eCommerce sales up nearly 32% from 2019 per data from Digital Commerce 360.
Not missing a beat, consumers began returning to physical stores in 2021 as pandemic restrictions lifted and vaccines became widely available. But the return to in-person shopping, didn’t equate to a return in pre-pandemic behavior. Instead, consumers continued shopping in multiple ways using multiple channels, with online sales growth up 14% in 2021 from the previous year.
The move online wasn’t the only significant shift to consumer shopping behavior that occurred over the past two years. A pivot to omnichannel shopping is also being adopted by consumers.
Consider the following statistics from a March 2022 Bizrate/Digital Commerce 360 survey of over 1,100 consumers. When asked about their shopping habits for the previous six months:
- 44% of respondents said they use a mobile app to buy a product and 31% used a mobile app to locate a product in a store
- Over half of respondents had checked a product’s availability online
- 24% of respondents returned an Amazon order to another (physical) retailer for processing
- 37% of respondents ordered online and picked up the product in store while 25% ordered online and picked up their order curbside
- 27% of respondents ordered online from a physical store like Walmart and received same-day delivery
Hybrid online/in-store/mobile shopping journeys are becoming the new normal. For marketers, this means eCommerce agility should be top of mind. It’s exactly why headless commerce is well-suited to delivering unified shopping experiences.
What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce is an umbrella term used to describe the approach of decoupling your commerce platform front-end (e.g., the online storefront) from the back-end machinery that powers the store (e.g., the data, transaction, and development layer).
There are three main characteristics of headless commerce architecture.
- It’s API-first, meaning your developers can leverage headless commerce APIs to expand and customize commerce functionality.
- The front-end and back-end tools are separate, so your marketing team can create and deliver customized content (no coding skills required) while your developers can work separately on expanding and maintaining your website’s back-end functionality. This frees up both teams to work on what they’re best at.
- It’s powered by customer data and uses machine learning to deliver powerful data-driven experiences. This enables you to unify the customer shopping journey by connecting to your existing tech stack via extensive integrations and APIs.
Why should marketers care about headless commerce?
Headless commerce architecture makes it much easier for retailers to adapt to changing consumer expectations and behaviors. This is particularly true of modular headless systems that take a microservices approach. Microservices are designed to operate independently of each other, meaning robust functionality can be added to the backend of your commerce system without having to rebuild the entire system.
Some examples of microservices include:
- Cart & Checkout
- Promotions & Discounts
Microservices facilitate good customer experiences in a few ways. Since they operate independently, they create a more stable platform ecosystem. Issues for a given microservice can be isolated and managed without impacting the larger website ecosystem.
A headless microservices-based system lets retailers quickly test and integrate new technologies, adding functionality onto the existing commerce infrastructure without having to migrate to a new platform or technology.
Adding new fulfillment and payment options, expanding to new channels like mobile, and scaling these services quickly means you can keep up with customer expectations and stay competitive.
Build engaging shopping experiences
Customers value good experiences to the extent that they’ll spend more with and remain loyal to retailers who get it right. Research from PwC found that customers are willing to spend up to 16% more on products and services in exchange for a good customer experience. That translates to speed, convenience, and friendly human service.
Shoppers want the companies they buy from to know who they are, regardless of what channel they’re using at the moment. They are “channel agnostic” in the sense that they use multiple interactions and tools to make a purchase. A typical channel-agnostic shopping journey might look like this:
- Mobile app research: Sam launches Target’s mobile app to research bedroom storage benches. She adds a few to her shopping cart, but doesn’t make a purchase.
- In-store information gathering: Sam drops into her local Target to see what storage benches they have in stock. She doesn’t see the bench she wants, but she takes note of the prices, styles, and quality to better inform her online research.
- Website purchase: Sam visits Target’s website from her laptop, reviews the benches she put in her cart from the mobile app, then deletes them. After reviewing a few more benches from the website, she selects one she likes and buys it. The color she likes isn’t available in her closest store, so she has it transported from a store 50 miles away to her local store.
- Curbside pickup: The item arrives in 4 business days and Sam picks it up curbside at her local store. She uses the mobile app to notify the store when she arrives, and it’s loaded into her SUV with minimal contact.
Headless commerce turns this multi-channel shopping journey into an omnichannel experience by unifying all touchpoints and data. The items added via the app are also present on the website. The item ordered on the website can be picked up at the store, using the app to bridge the online/offline experience.
Headless architecture can also help marketers better understand customers and unify the shopping experience by:
- Easily connecting to your existing tech stack, allowing you to access and analyze data from all touchpoints.
- Use AI/machine learning to unveil rich customer insights which are then used to create audience segments, targeted content, and personalized messaging.
- Facilitate real-time experimentation to optimize messaging, personalize content, and streamline journey orchestration across channels.
The data collected and connected in a headless commerce system is what drives rich customer experiences. It enables marketers to access deep customer insights with less effort and create immersive customer experiences that foster conversions and sales.
Things to consider when going headless
If you’re moving from a traditional, coupled commerce system to decoupled headless architecture, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.
First, you’ll need to decide if you want to move quickly or slowly when adopting a headless commerce system. We call this taking the crawl, walk, run approach to headless commerce.
Moving from a traditional monolithic commerce system to a headless system requires a shift in culture. Consider the following when making the switch:
- Take the time to map out the process to see how all the pieces connect. Developers (either internal or contracted) need to leverage APIs to bring data, content, and technology together. This may include creating a “head” for business users (though that’s not necessary with hybrid platforms like Kibo’s which offers out-of-the-box functionality for non-technical users).
- Create a process for your marketing and development teams to regularly communicate. This helps avoid bottlenecks and ensures that needed features and capabilities are incorporated into the new platform.
- Headless commerce can be complicated. Headless systems make it possible to connect many tools, platforms, and solutions into one connected system, but this same feature means the total commerce solution can be quite complex. That’s why it’s important to choose your headless platform provider wisely—a solution that offers out-of-the box functionality combined with comprehensive support can help you manage complexity while choosing the right system for your business.
Kibo Unified Commerce Platform
Marketers love Kibo because it delivers personalized, omnichannel experiences for both B2C and B2B retailers. Kibo’s headless API-first commerce architecture allows developers to seamlessly integrate critical tools including CRM, CMS, and ERP systems which together create a unified commerce ecosystem. To learn more about Kibo and how headless commerce helps marketing teams succeed, connect with one of our sales specialists today.
Free eBook: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Headless Commerce