Let’s cut through all the confusing advice on headless and help businesses make the right decisions on headless commerce, says Peter Youell, EVP Technology at Astound Commerce
Headless means different things to different businesses, so finding the best advice and applying it is not easy, particularly as there are so many myths around the subject. So let’s start with a definition and talk about the many benefits to avoid turning myths into a bad reality.
Headless is a modern architecture for delivering commerce where the front and back ends have been decoupled, and then APIs are used to connect the storage and logic, the commerce functionality, with all the “heads” or presentation layers, covering website, social commerce and marketplaces to IoT devices, native apps and in-store kiosks – all the channels customers are interacting with.
This separation of the front and back end is how to achieve value, giving the flexibility to choose the best-of-breed components a business wants and needs, such as personalisation functionality and search tools. Businesses also then have the flexibility to update or change these components more easily – without affecting the rest of its stack – as the business adapts and grows. It’s essentially building a suite of tools specifically designed for a specific business.
As everything is being served over APIs, all the front ends can draw on and interact with those services in a consistent way, essentially pulling on the same data from the same tools. This adds up to being able to deliver more consistent and more meaningful digital experiences.
This approach offers some great benefits as follows, not least that the architecture is less complex so it requires less resources to maintain.
Ongoing agility enables updates to go live in hours or days—not weeks or months—whilst still enabling continuous optimisation and innovation.
Businesses can realise value more quickly than a full replatform.
Increased front-end performance with sub-second load times, even with increased traffic, leading to improved rankings from search engines and improved customer satisfaction.
Solutions can now be scaled individually with no affect to response time, cutting risk.
Agility to move and react to the market and to business needs as needed makes scaling easier.
No lengthy replatforming or costly upgrade cycles and each vendor and component can be managed individually.
Developers have the flexibility to choose the front-end tools, frameworks, and languages that they have experience in and meet business needs.
Easier to deliver true and consistent omnichannel experiences by operating across as many channels as you want, be it social, mobile apps, kiosks, IoT, etc., all utilising the same powerful data and back-end logic.
Freedom to build your own UX.
Personalise at scale using real-time data, and then optimise using AI and machine learning.
Workflows are streamlined so both technical and business teams can work in parallel, with fewer bottlenecks.
Marketers are free to create using tools like a headless CMS without relying on developers.
It’s important to remember that it’s not all or nothing with headless; you need to pick the right level to suit the business, so let’s bust some of those myths, especially since headless done right is wonderful. Headless done wrong is catastrophic. A big part of ensuring the success of headless is understanding what level of headless is going to suit your business.
A well-executed headless strategy can help save costs, but if that is the key success measure and the only goal, then there also may be better-suited options out there. Best not to underestimate the investment headless will require in terms of both cost and effort, nor the operational and ownership aspects of a headless architecture.
A headless architecture is more complex than a traditional platform because it requires control of more moving parts and more integrations between all the vendors. In addition, a full headless approach will take time; however, headless does enable a go-live with a small part of the architecture within months, seeing value relatively quickly as a result.
Better performance can be delivered with a headless architecture, but going headless alone does not guarantee it will be delivered. It still needs someone with a magnifying glass to go through each layer and make sure there are no bottlenecks.
Managing more platforms and vendors can be difficult but the degree of difficulty depends on what the team can manage. Teams that embark on big headless migrations will need a level of digital maturity (or to draw on external resources) in order to not only do the initial migration but keep everything going.
Headless is catching a lot of businesses off guard when it comes to not understanding the organizational and mindset shift needed to realize its full potential. Companies will need to adapt their ways of working, processes, and probably teams too.
Separating the front and back ends has caused some issues for business users, whereby they lost the easy editing tools they were used to and ultimately lost control of the customer experience. However, there are solutions that cater for this.
Each business is different and unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach or solution. Take the time to outline what you want to achieve, why you think this is the right approach for your business, and what the roadmap will be for getting you there. For more information on headless and the potential benefits businesses can unlock from this approach, download What to expect when going headless.