How to Launch a Headless Commerce Approach with Salesforce Commerce Cloud

This was a guest article originally posted on Salesforce’s Commerce Blog.

As new customer experience touchpoints emerge and shopper expectations evolve, ecommerce is the last place any company can afford to lose flexibility and agility. To continuously improve existing touchpoints, adopt emerging ones, and provide a unified brand experience across them all, organizations must separate the customer-facing experience from all underlying business logic with a customer-centric, headless commerce approach.

Customer-centric headless commerce

While commerce has always been a key part of the digital shopping experience, content has recently become an important part of the mix as well. To enable rich, immersive shopping experiences that customers crave, retailers and brands introduced Content Management Systems (CMS) to their tech stacks. Then they had to decide how to deliver the content functionality to the customer experience.

A commerce-led approach leverages the commerce system as the frontend with the content system integrated into the backend, while an experience-led approach flips the two so the content system is the frontend and the commerce system is integrated into the backend.

The Three Approaches to Commerce Architecture

Source: Gartner (Refreshed 14 May 2018, Published 28 September 2017) The Three Approaches to Digital Commerce Platform Architecture and How to Choose Among Them, Refreshed 14 May 2018, Published 28 September 2017. Figure 1. The Three Approaches to Commerce Architecture

In both scenarios, the backend systems can leverage APIs and be considered a “headless application.” However, neither are a customer-centric approach to headless commerce as there are limitations when one system is funneled through the other.

Customers want a unified brand experience across all touchpoints whether it’s web, voice, social platforms, in-store experiences, digital marketplaces, or even the Internet of Things. To achieve this, commerce and content systems need to be separated from the frontend and connected directly to all customer touchpoints through APIs. An API-oriented approach enables retailers and brands to quickly insert commerce and content functionality into any touchpoint and deliver a seamless, consistent brand experience.

Speed and agility

Separating the customer-facing experience from all backend systems unlocks speed and agility across your organization. It gives you the freedom to experiment and deploy frequently, allowing your team to learn faster and save on development costs.

The key to success here is building a new frontend layer that unlocks agility but doesn’t introduce a ton of risk and take years to build or a lot of resources to maintain. With Salesforce’s API-led approach, you can push commerce functionality into a custom frontend built from scratch or with Heroku-based solution kits, or into a Frontend as a Service (FaaS).

Custom frontend vs. frontend as a service

When new needs emerge in the ecommerce tech stack, retailers generally build custom solutions until a platform or product emerges. This trend was apparent with ecommerce platforms as many built them in-house until solutions like Salesforce Commerce Cloud emerged — now it’s quite rare to maintain and build a custom ecommerce solution in-house.

Now the same thing is happening with the front-end. Many have struggled to launch a customer-centric headless approach because building a custom front-end from scratch introduces risk, complexity, and lengthy timelines. But an alternative solution — a FaaS — has emerged to provide the foundation and tools to reduce the time, costs, and maintenance challenges associated with building a custom frontend. While a custom solution is going to degrade over time without substantial effort, a FaaS reduces time to market and promises long-term agility. The foundational building blocks offload the stress of deploying, securing, monitoring, and scaling the front-end so that the team can focus on creating a better brand experience that keeps customers coming back for more.

You’ll save on having to retain high-demand teams like frontend engineers, DevOps, and operations, as well as API experts, cloud experts, and more, and won’t have to worry about infrastructure or building up complex DevOps teams skilled in cloud technologies — and it means that global releases are a matter of seconds, not hours.

What you can expect when you go headless with a Frontend as a Service

A FaaS usually leverages the latest web technology, which means you’ll get a Progressive Web App (PWA) experience on the frontend. PWAs come with a host of benefits like near-instant page loads, seamless app-like interactions, offline browsing mode, and add to home screen capability.

When you go headless, your frontend teams won’t have to go through a central team or redeploy a backend system to make a customer experience change. This agility gives you the freedom to experiment often, learn faster, and deploy frequently.

You can also experiment with adding new frontends and be confident that your APIs will work with them, so you’re ready for the next wave of touchpoints. This future-proofing aspect is one of the biggest strengths of headless commerce, given the rapid pace of changing technology and customer expectations.

Learn more about how Mobify’s Frontend as a Service solution can help grow your business, from building blocks that accelerate time to market and reduce total costs to finding the freedom for custom experiences.

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