Disruption by technology is a constant threat, but one you can prepare for. Headless commerce is the necessary starting point for the ongoing journey to stay ahead of customer expectations shaped by future technology trends.
There are 3 ways headless helps organizations adapt faster to future technology trends.
1. Headless enables the quick adoption of emergent experience technologies
Innovation happens quickest on the edge, closest to shopper behaviors. Consider the emergence of mobile, native apps, progresive web apps, and augmented reality.
Shoppers compare your shopping experiences to other experiences that have captivated them. Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience, “Users spend most of their time on other [experiences]. This means that users prefer your [experience] to work the same way as all the other [experiences] they already know.” Your customer experience isn’t being compared to competitors in your space, but to other interactions that compete for the customer’s time. These likely come from other industries such as gaming, social, and media. This raises the experience bar for your industry.
A good example is looking at the adoption and growth of mobile, where users became accustomed to mobile moments based on instant access to email, messaging, and voice. We started to see that impact shopper expectations, with the emergence of initiatives around native apps, responsive design, and progressive web apps. We’re now seeing the fringes of the same pattern for technology like voice, A/R and social shopping, which are likely to become normalized expectations to have as part of a shopping experience since they’re being adopted outside of the commerce space. Extrapolate that out, and you’re dealing with a diverse set of experience technologies to learn and incorporate.
Retailers that have been able to keep up with native apps, and experiment with voice and A/R, have done so via the wide availability of fit-for-purpose shopping APIs, which are the basic building block of headless commerce.
Once these APis are in place, they can build independent teams (internally or via external experts) that can focus on leveraging the potential of emerging technology, without having them fully dependent on the underlying systems.
Headless commerce sets you up for quick experimentation and learning with emergent experience technologies that weren’t possible in previous architectures. Learning how to excel now with headless commerce within the known boundaries of your current mobile or storefront experience puts you ahead of the competition for the next wave of experience technologies.
2. Headless enables teams to take advantage of external innovation to get ahead of the competition
The emergence of disruptive technologies happens external to most organizations. Headless commerce allows teams to focus less on forcing innovation internally, and explore paths for learning from and leaning on external innovators.
Clay Christensen highlights in the Innovator’s Dilemma that disruptive technologies readily emerge from unexpected sources, not necessarily the internal incumbents. We see this already with disruption in commerce across several functional areas:
- Product search, traditionally powered by the same underlying technology embedded in commerce platforms, has seen the rise of headless-friendly SaaS alternatives with Constructor.io, Algolia, Bloomreach.
- Content management and the related Digital Experience Platform space, has seen the emergence of headless vendors that aim to power content across many experiences, such as API-first platforms Contentful, ContentStack and Amplience.
- Post-purchase experience solutions such as NarVar have replaced the largely ignored shipment and returns functionality of commerce platforms with a customer-centric experience.
Most of these emerging disruptors all adhere to principles laid out by the MACH alliance, which seeks to “future proof enterprise technology and propel current and future digital experiences” based on promoting modular and swappable architecture.
Integrating the above examples across all parts of the customer journey, and not just the web experience, can be difficult without a headless commerce setup due to the cost and feasibility of updating a highly coupled system. Not being able to explore new approaches from emerging companies will lead to retailers falling further behind in how to delight shoppers.
Headless commerce unlocks how teams can quickly adopt and leverage the hard-earned lessons from first-movers, by decreasing the adoption cost and switching cost of new technologies, and pushing those integration efforts up to the front-end and away from heavier weight systems.
3. Headless builds the team’s muscle for adaptability
Headless commerce builds muscle for adaptability, critical for a digital world. Just adopting new technology isn’t enough, learning how to quickly adapt your business to new technology is just as critical.
Joel Crab pointed out that architecture, which is what headless commerce ultimately represents, is critical to flex and scale, based on his experience transforming BestBuy and Target: “If we learned anything from the last two months of COVID lockdowns, a good architecture allows you to flex, scale and build new capabilities overnight. It allows you to withstand an instant 30% channel shift from store customer to online customer. “
What Joel is describing is that technology itself is not enough. How that technology fits into the team using it, and how it creates more value via new processes and behavior is the additive benefit.
The current pandemic has forced teams to run lean, and take more risks than they were previously comfortable with. Teams who flexed their muscle previously in learning and experimentation, were able to adapt quickly, while others had to shutter online stores, gate shoppers or suffer from a barrage of customer service complaints.
Without learning how to create and improve lean processes that empower your team to learn and experiment, technology itself won’t give you that extra edge. The secret power of headless commerce isn’t the technology in itself, but the resulting behavioral change in teams as they realize they can be empowered to work independently, not be blocked by silos, and take more calculated risks within their area of expertise.
Headless prepares you for the future
We’ve seen that headless commerce paves the path for quickly adopting disruptive technologies, enables organizations to leverage an ecosystem to get ahead of the competition, and empowers teams to become more adaptable.
All three are critical focus areas to keep top of mind, as technology trends are changing rapidly – even more so given a world forced to adopt digital faster than ever.