Mobify recently teamed up with Amplience, commercetools, and EPAM to host brand and tech experts from around the world at the Headless Summit in New York City. The topic up for discussion was arguably 2019’s most important retail technology topic – headless commerce.
First up was a keynote from Joe Cicman, Senior Analyst from Forrester, to explain what the problem is we’re trying to solve, how it relates to microservices, and how vendors are coming together to address it.
A Market Ripe for Disruption
It’s about customer expectations, Cicman says. “Every time customers are exposed to an improved shopping experience, their shopping expectations are reset.” If a customer has a different experience each time they shop it becomes a siloed experience — and we know customers abandon siloed experiences.
Ecommerce vendors tried to solve the problem of providing a good digital experience, but they were were awful at it. They just didn’t have it in their DNA. They could scale and integrate but they became the default stewards of digital experience and failed at it. The problem was exacerbated as the numbers of digital shoppers grew and it became increasingly clear that digital experience is the key to business growth. IT teams were falling all over themselves as well, struggling to update the front-end to keep up with customers. Disconnected customer experiences drop revenue, and as more customers abandon sites, the more this cycle continues.
The result is that, “The commerce market has been turned on its head because nothing vendors had in the market worked anymore. This is the main characteristic of a market ripe for disruption,” says Cicman.
A 3-Part Solution
So how do we solve the problem?
First, we can’t have a single vendor, rather, we need APIs to connect multiple solutions in what we call “the API economy.”
Second, we need a new digital experience architecture and this is key – the transaction box on the architecture diagram is the ecommerce stuff – and it’s subordinate to digital experience. That is the key part of what is different here.
Third, the headless architecture is touchpoint-agnostic. It must support any touchpoint.
Initially, headless has paid off for the digitally mature, but the laggards have had pain. And the question is, how to solve that pain?
To start, digital maturity has to involve making customer experience a priority. You have to become an organization that knows how to innovate. But not all digital beginners are ready for transformation. Some have tried to find a middle ground, for example, by customizing their digital platforms, while some are waiting for an API-first version to come out.
Many are stuck with “the monolith,” that is, an ecommerce system that has everything inside it. The problem with the monolith is, of course, upgrading and the pain associated with keeping up with customer digital experiences. There is also the cost.
How do you know you have a monolith? You can use this sniff test: If your vendor’s inventory update can save you a million a year but the cost to upgrade will cost you a million as well, you may have a monolith.
Enter microservices. APIs plus microservices lets you move faster because APIs are what everything speaks. It’s said that new touchpoints are coming out every couple of months. This means that vendors can move faster, and your developers can move faster. How this works is very interesting because you can test things, so if you have a hunch, you can find out very quickly if it will work or not. The result is that everyone moves faster. “You can make the right experience, and make that experience right,” according to Cicman.
It’s exciting because with any new touchpoint that comes on the scene, you can have a presence there. That can be phone apps, watch apps, PWAs – which are crushing it on engagement. It could be kiosks, or marketplaces where you list your stuff on Amazon, or Pinterest which now has visual search. Suppliers are making headless part of their B2B systems as well, for example it will be part of Walmart ordering platforms, so we are going to see machine-to-machine ordering and, ironically, ERP systems are going to become another digital touchpoint!
Headless Solves Disconnected Digital Experiences
In the headless world, who do you buy from? Well, as we learned, it can’t be a single vendor. So content management systems, digital experience platforms, ecommerce platforms, front-end platforms, and SIs are joining forces to complete their solutions. You are not tied to a single vendor. You can buy these solutions and use them as long as you want to transform your organization.
In summary, headless was intended to solve the problem of disconnected digital experiences.
APIs ensure your digital experience is always current and market leaders are making it work.
Why is this analyst so bullish on headless ecommerce? 1) Because it is bigger than just commerce and includes B2B; 2) This is how you get the agility you need – and there is no other way.