What is Headless eCommerce and Headless Fulfillment? And Why Do I Need It?

Over the last decade, eCommerce has turned retail on its head; online purchases now account for 19% of sales worldwide in 2021 and are expected to...



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Over the last decade, eCommerce has turned retail on its head; online purchases now account for 19% of sales worldwide in 2021 and are expected to hit 25% by 2025. Each new wave of eCommerce technology—including mobile, social, IoT, and innovative new web apps—has made the eCommerce landscape even more complex and competitive.

Retailers are also grappling with the monster in the room, Amazon. With nearly 60% of all online retail purchases in the U.S., Amazon has created skyrocketing consumer demand for next-day, same-day delivery, free shipping, and personalized experiences across all touch points.

As retailers were wrestling with these ongoing challenges, the pandemic hit. In an instant, there were new market demands, customer expectations, and an extreme level of unpredictability. On top of that, add labor shortages, supply chain disruption, and other constraints.

Retailers today certainly have a lot to handle! These realities call for unprecedented flexibility in everything from user experience to inventory sourcing to fulfillment. The question is how to remain competitive. So, what's the answer?

Traditional Ecommerce Platforms Aren't Delivering the Goods

One thing's for certain in today's world of eCommerce —we can't act as if it's business as usual. Speed-to-market, improved customer experience, and consistency across all channels are more crucial than ever. Unfortunately, traditional monolithic, one-size-fits-all eCommerce platforms are no longer hitting the mark.

Because the customer-facing front-end and technical back-end of eCommerce systems are inextricably tied together, software changes, new features, and customizations just take longer. Retailers are now subject to quarterly software releases versus weekly releases, upgrade cycles take more time, the ability to customize is limited, and requests for new features may never become a reality.

These shortcomings prevent retailers from meeting rapid shifts in market trends and rising customer expectations for innovations, such as personalization, easy mobile purchasing, and 1–2-day delivery.

What can eCommerce companies do to ease the pain caused by the massive changes we are facing?

Headless Commerce Platforms and Microservices are the Future

What can retailers do to overcome the drawback of traditional eCommerce systems? The future lies with headless commerce. In this approach, the front-end customer interface (the head) is decoupled from back-end technical eCommerce functionalities like CMS, payment gateway, online catalogs, personalization engines, shopping carts, email, mobile devices, FTP, and more.

By separating the front-end and back-end, companies can quickly optimize the front-end for user experience and plugin eCommerce solutions that publish the content on any channel without interfering with back-end systems. The result is a new level of flexibility, efficiency, cost savings, and increased user experience.

Headless commerce can be made even more agile with microservices. In this approach, not only are the front-end and back decoupled, but the architecture uses small modular components that integrate seamlessly with other system components. There is greater flexibility because each microservice component can be independently deployed, altered, replaced, or scaled. You can add only what you will use to your system, creating a leaner and more efficient technology stack.

Headless Commerce Needs the Back-end Needs to Catch Up with the Front-end

Companies adopting headless commerce and microservices are experiencing massive benefits on the front-end, with marketers gaining more freedom. But user experience doesn't end there. As we saw in the pandemic, for example, customers were frustrated by delays in product fulfillment. Shopping carts were abandoned at higher rates, and customers relied even more on Amazon, which did a better job of keeping up with demand.

Consumers want flexibility on how they receive their goods whether they want them directly shipped to their home or pick-up at a local store or access point. And who could predict what new ways of delivery are coming in the future. Retailers need a technology infrastructure that is agile enough to evolve with consumer needs.

Fulfillment microservices could give retailers greater flexibility and control to meet ongoing fulfillment changes and constraints. Whether it is adding on a new marketplace channel for orders, onboarding a new last mile carrier, or a new fulfillment center; all of this needs to happen within days. Perhaps there would have been fewer fulfillment problems if microservice components were available for processes such as order orchestration, store fulfillment, and capacity management. Unfortunately, these processes have remained mostly unchanged over the last 15 years.

Headless Fulfillment Supports Headless Commerce

Retail has changed dramatically, and there's no end in sight. New market demands, customer behaviors and expectations, emerging technology, and other unforeseen circumstances call for a new way of doing eCommerce—one that allows businesses to be more agile and competitive. Headless fulfillment solutions are growing, and it's time to consider if it's the right fit for your company as it seeks new ways to provide an excellent customer experience through the entire journey, at all touchpoints, and on every channel.