The Future of Commerce: Going Headless
Trends in retail change quickly, and the pandemic drove consumers to reshape the retail landscape at breakneck speed. According to McKinsey research, 40 percent of shoppers bought from different brands or retailers than they had in the past, and more than 80 percent developed new shopping behaviors while quarantined during the pandemic. But addressing changing customer preferences while delivering on customer experience requires flexibility and speed. Keeping pace can prove overwhelming for IT teams, especially in a world where consumers shop on multiple devices and platforms while their expectations continuously evolve. To that end, many retailers are exploring headless commerce to increase their platforms' flexibility and remove that barrier between ideation and implementing changes.
What is Headless Commerce?
Headless commerce is an architecture that separates a website’s front-end applications running on desktops, mobile, wearables, progressive web apps (PWAs), and kiosks from the back-end engine. This uncoupling allows for increased flexibility and more robust multiplatform development of richer customer-facing content — e.g., updating product descriptions or personalizing customer messaging — without being tied down by back-end platform limitations. Headless commerce gives retailers greater control over the user experience of their product and ensures consistency and optimization across devices and channels to meet customer demand.
There’s no doubt headless commerce adoption is on the rise as organizations recognize its ability to increase customer engagement by supporting new sales channels without having to worry about back-end scalability issues. According to 52 percent of digital agencies and 46 percent of merchants surveyed in the 2021 Global Headless Report, it's the No. 1 trend in the world of retail.
Providing an exceptional experience isn't merely a suggestion; 85 percent of consumers say they would pay more for a better experience, per PwC research. But to deliver, IT teams must be prepared with the architecture to handle the substantial performance requirements needed to support features and functionality as expected.
Headless and the Need for Speed
The rise of social media and third-party applications has increased the number of application programming interface (API) calls on the retail database by at least 4X. This puts a considerable strain on the data layer, which can lead to a slower experience both on the front and back end, meaning that pages and product images are taking longer to load, and inventory refreshes aren’t happening as quickly. Implementing a headless strategy without enough horsepower to run it can actually result in a poorer customer experience than previous legacy monolithic solutions.
Moving large, time-sensitive workloads to and from edge devices swiftly can prove challenging. However, as global e-commerce is projected to hit $6.5 trillion by 2023, ensuring great customer experiences through speed, agility and high elasticity is imperative to capture market share. Performing exhaustive load testing to maximize the throughput and minimize the latency of back-end database workloads is essential. This is critical: the highest e-commerce conversion rates occur on websites with load times between zero to two seconds. Sluggish responses mean site abandonment, and too many bad experiences — even for highly valued brands — lead to significantly diminished customer loyalty. Speed is king in today’s omnichannel world.
The Role of the Cloud
It’s true that the cloud can provide performance equal to or better than on-premise legacy environments, especially when coupled with enterprise data services. Cloud platforms are practically required to provide the new bespoke customer experiences needed to capitalize on the prolific growth of the retail industry. However, the process for achieving on-prem levels of high performance is nuanced, and there's no one-size-fits-all strategy.
Some workload migrations are more straightforward than others, but moving mission-critical databases can introduce considerable challenges if complexity isn’t fully understood. Mission-critical applications must guarantee steady performance, even during peak or spiky load periods, like during sales or events. These applications cannot become unavailable due to slow speeds or outages. Designing redundancy, reliability, self-healing, and elastic performance into the platform are absolutely paramount.
With existing tools, ensuring speed and performance for your new headless e-commerce platform is achievable today. Collaborating with third-party applications that enhance cloud performance and reliability enables companies to implement rich headless features that deliver the modern experiences users want with the speed they expect. Data services that provide instantaneous zero-footprint clones, inline data reduction, and full application replication across zones or in a multicloud fashion minimize resource cost and outage risk while delivering increased availability.
Though the prospect of migrating and managing complex critical data platforms in the cloud may feel overwhelming, some third-party tools and services ensure the cloud can support the performance and reliability of today’s consumer demand. Implementing cloud strategies that emphasize reliability, performance and efficiency ensures that retailers using these enhanced platforms and toolkits can achieve the robust performance, uptime and cost efficiency desired.
Derek Swanson is the chief technology officer at Silk, a Cloud DB Virtualization Platform.