“Omnichannel” has been a huge buzzword in the global retail industry throughout the past few years, especially in rapidly evolving markets such as China. When many people hear the words omnichannel retail, the first thing that comes to mind is O2O or the connection between online and offline shopping experiences. However, another major component of omnichannel retail is the seamless connection and consistency between various online commerce touchpoints.
Commerce in China is fragmented - many large brands have a Tmall store, a WeChat mini program store (or sometimes multiple), a .cn website, and a Xiaohongshu (RED) store, as well as stores or products on other niche or emerging platforms.
In this situation, keeping pace with new touchpoints and experiences isn’t easy. In a traditional e-commerce model, adding new touchpoints or making changes to existing ones can require updates to both the front and back-end system, which can take a lot of time and effort.
Instead, brands should consider using a headless commerce model which separates the front-end and back-end of an ecommerce application, allowing each to operate independently so that changes on one end do not require reciprocal changes on the other. One back-end can be integrated with multiple front-ends, sharing data across platforms and making seamless connection and consistency between various online commerce touchpoints.
Limitations of Traditional Commerce
Time and Resources:
Traditionally, e-commerce sites require a lot of time and resources to customize or update as the back-end and front-end are coupled, meaning even the smallest of changes require updates to both systems. This hinders agile customization and adaptation.
Omnichannel means delivering a consistent commerce experience no matter where or when the consumer is engaging with the brand. But with the traditional commerce model this is hard to do as brands need to constantly update multiple platforms. Furthermore, with separate systems, product and user data may be siloed which does not translate into a seamless user experience.
Processes Difficult to Scale:
In order to make updates, developers need to make edits on multiple layers of coding both in the front-end and the back-end of each platform.
Lack of Flexibility:
A predefined front-end optimized for the specific channel that the system was built for leaves little room for customization in terms of frameworks and tools. Developers are also constrained as to what can and cannot be edited with risks of preventing future upgrades.
How Does Headless Commerce Work?
Headless commerce transforms the traditional framework into a modular system allowing for rapid changes and customizations by separating the front-end and back-end into interchangeable building blocks.
The “head” is the front-end user interface that can be changed at any time with just a front-end developer and the “body” is the back-end system that contains e-commerce data and content such as prices, catalogs, reviews, promotions.
With a decoupled system like this, the back-end “body” is waiting for a “head” for its content to be displayed on. For the head and body to be connected, API calls must be used to deliver content or products from the content-only data source “body” to a touchpoint “head”. You can put any “head” on the “body” quickly through API calls which send the data between the presentation layer of the front-end and the application layer of the back-end.
For example, when a user clicks on a “Pay Now” button, the presentation layer sends an API call to the application layer to process the payment, which will then send another API call to the presentation layer to show the user payment success notification.
This facilitates agile marketing as companies can quickly provide a seamless user experience optimized for any device or new touchpoints such as apps, .cn websites, H5 pages, and even multiple e-commerce mini-programs for one-off scenarios/events.
Other Key Benefits of Headless Commerce Model
Headless commerce is excellent for brands who may often do limited-time flash sales or product drops and need to get an e-commerce mini program up and running very quickly.
Since the backend body is already in place, once the front-end developer has designed a user interface for a new mini-program, all that is needed is an API that calls the relevant data from the backend.
Faster UI/UX Update:
Partial upgrades can be instantaneous as parts of the system can be edited and deployed in isolation without affecting the other parts, whereas editing in traditional commerce would take a lot of time and resources having to edit multiple layers from the front-end and the back-end.
Multi Channel Inventory Management:
Headless commerce allows for unified inventory thereby removing the hassle of maintaining siloed inventory. It also creates integrated order management - order data collected from all channels will allow a brand to create accurate reports and conduct seamless tracking.
Setting up a headless commerce solution will facilitate the actualization of a true omnichannel retail experience by seamlessly connecting all e-commerce consumer touchpoints. It also enables faster deployment of new products, content, and storefronts, and creates a unified inventory and integrated order management.
With the increased fragmentation of China’s e-commerce landscape and the addition of e-commerce features on social media platforms, the benefits of deploying a headless commerce solution are only going to grow.