July 06, 2020
7 min read

Headless Commerce is Next Frontier for Enterprise Retail Platforms

Modern retail demands flexibility and control. Especially in verticals such as grocery and convenience, consumers expect retailers to make it as easy as possible for them to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

Thus, the more high-value services a retailer can provide, the better. 

The enterprise systems retailers run their businesses on are responsible for enabling these services. For most of history, deploying new services and upgrading existing ones has generally been tedious and expensive. It didn’t matter if they were built in house or acquired from a third-party vendor. 

Then, the widespread availability of SaaS models for even the most robust enterprise systems made it easier to deploy best-in-class service across the business. The ability to add new modules to existing architecture and upgrade existing services gave retailers the flexibility and control to give the people what they want. 

They could offer every service under the sun – from BOPIS, to self-checkout, personalized coupons and fresh-prepared foods – but could only move as quickly as vendors could update their overall architecture. 

But by outsourcing the development of these services, they lost something along the way: control of the customer interaction. 

That’s where headless commerce comes into the conversation.

What does headless commerce mean?

Headless commerce is a subset of a microservices-based architecture that separates the front- and back-ends of the overall commerce architecture. A headless commerce architecture gives retailers the capability and flexibility to create and fully manage their own graphical user interface (GUI) for every consumer touchpoint. 

The platform provider is responsible for ensuring the service is equipped to handle any customer or retailer demand. The retailer maintains full control of presenting it any way they want to their customers. 

In other words, the software provider does the heavy back-end grunt work while the retailer uses their talent and customer relationship knowledge to focus on delivering rewarding shopping experiences. 

The headless trend has been popular particularly in the ecommerce space for years (think Shopify). It makes it a lot easier to set up a web shop and get to work when someone else manages the infrastructure of the site and you can worry about making your customers happy, without turning the store into a generic experience. 

The same is now happening in the store – and across the ecommerce and in-store divide.

Headless goes in store

Online, a mouse click on a website triggers an interaction with the technology hiding under the covers. But in the store, everything a customer sees is the user interface. It is all the head. 

Thus, it is more complex to decouple from the back-end infrastructure. With the growing requirement for ensuring the entire enterprise functions as a unified system, headless in-store operations are ready for their moment. And the POS platform is at the core of this transition. 

There may be up to 50 or 60 or more other micro-services that make a single point of sale platform. Most functions are universally required and occur in the background – for example, applying tax during a transaction only requires one module regardless of the channel it’s applied. When a retailer needs to update these functionalities or modules, they can rest assured the vendor can do it quickly and easily because it doesn’t interfere with the customer interface. 

This is one of the reasons that with a headless architecture, vendors can introduce updates much faster. But other services, such as BOPIS, require the customer to engage with multiple user interfaces across channels. So, even while the vendor works to deploy capability upgrades, the retailer has the option to integrate them with their APIs and GUI at their own pace. They’re fully in control of how fast to move and how the customer interacts with the brand.

Ultimate flexibility of the user experience

When the interface to customers is managed by a vendor in a standard platform arrangement, it can eliminate a lot of work and time spent by internal team. But it can also limit by their options to create a differentiated experience and customer connection. 

With headless, retailers are entirely unrestricted. The end user gets the flexibility they crave in a modern retail environment. If you have the desire to support the in-house expertise and associated costs and time to manage the front end, then a headless omnichannel platform may be for you. 

Want to maximize how open and flexible your customer interactions are? 

Don’t just choose cloud, not just micro-services. Choose headless and do commerce your way.