Forget Headless: Operational Excellence is Next-Gen E-Commerce
25 April 2023
In uncertain times, most entrepreneurs choose to operate from a safe position and focus on easy wins and consolidation. But with this strategy you miss out on opportunities. What can we offer to withstand the unpredictable, changing consumer needs and economic and social turmoil? Our Software Architect Bavo Janss went back in time and made up the current state of affairs. He says that Operational Excellence is the answer to most of the big questions coming at us today. Read on to learn how composable commerce can help us prepare for the future.
Headless commerce was the great promise of 2018. Everything would be infinitely flexible, extendible, and scalable. And yes, to please the purists with “headless” we actually mean decoupled: building a front-end on an API-only (aka headless) application.
Headless didn’t disappoint: customer focused, highly customisable, and lightning fast. Stacking content, imagery and products into a fluid user experience that could easily be perfected into a jaw dropping conversion rate booster.
It’s worth noting that headless is ‘some-what’ more expensive to build, run, and maintain than e-commerce platforms used to be. And that doesn’t include the projects that failed, got cancelled or didn’t live up to their initial promise. Sticking an out-of-the box head onto an out-of-the-box commerce solution may deliver a headless setup in a technical sense but without the anticipated flexibility, extendibility, and scalability. Where many marketeers are still eager to jump on the headless train, others have already disembarked a few stations before.
We are now at the bottom of the trough in the Gartner Hype cycle.
Is the headless hype over?
No, not at all. Headless has its unique benefits and many useful applications. Once it has matured in best practices and tooling, it will undoubtedly be the dominant setup in e-commerce.
But hold on. Let’s just slam the brakes on here. Aren’t we in a crisis? Lots of companies are going bust because they are failing to adjust. Didn’t headless promise the entrepreneurs the agility to adjust from this day forward for better, or for worse? Or did it?
Headless didn’t provide a flexible solution to supply chain problems, didn’t extend more easily to rising markets and didn’t scale down effectively when faced with surging energy prices. Not a fair comparison? Why don’t we step out of the headless frame and see what it really brought in terms of business value. Stay with me here.
What have we learned?
Headless commerce reacquainted us with the idea of separating the presentation layer from the business layer. How did we ever forget? We also learned that building the whole commerce shebang from scratch might not be, or in many cases just isn’t, a feasible solution.
But decoupling did show us that dividing stuff up in chunks gives you more control over the setup as a whole. Why not take the next step and break your platform up into the best-of-breed components that are tailored to your business needs? Integrating multiple components like search, content, marketing automation, recommendation, loyalty, etc. with commerce is less cumbersome in a headless, a best-of-breed setup, than it would be in a best-of-suite solution.
The 2023 buzz is all about composable commerce, fulfilling the headless promise of flexibility, extendibility, and scalability without, necessarily, building a separate front-end.
The key component in composable commerce is an integration layer that is the glue that sticks your best-of-breed components together. This integration layer harvests all data and dispatches it to the designated consumers. By using an integration layer, it is easier to extend your landscape or swap one component for another, so you can keep up with what is ‘best’ for you because you are less locked down by tightly knit direct connections.
In this setup the integration layer might look like a new single-of-something problem, but an integration layer is, in itself, a set of separate components that are, when you choose the right technology, interchangeable with others. A good integration layer provides the facilities you need to replace everything, including itself.
“A good integration layer provides the facilities you need to replace everything including itself.”
The concept of composable commerce, however, runs deeper than the usual suspects in commerce. To be truly composable you want your back-end to be as extendible and replaceable as your front-end components. Adding an ERP or replacing your PIM system? When applying the composable commerce concept to your back-end and avoiding direct connections, and you share a common set of exchange formats over an integration layer, you will unleash the awesome power of composable commerce for your organisation.
Composable Commerce: Hype or Here To Stay?
What should you take into account when considering composable commerce? Composable commerce is not a silver bullet. It is a philosophy and evolution that you need to integrate into your business the right way. And that's exactly what this whitepaper can help you with.
End-to-end composable commerce delivers the headless promise to every part of your business, compared to just the front-end experience. From your systems-of-record, through to your marketing email hub. But remember, composable commerce when handled incorrectly is not that different to the lessons we learned from headless: it’s easy to get it wrong.
It’s essential to have a clear understanding of what information goes where, what are the single sources of truth, and what are the de facto exchange formats. How to keep your components small but not too small, and how to link them together using one or more integration layers without losing oversight. Beware, even with a clear vision and rock-solid determination to stick to the plan, the nostalgic temptations of the rose-tinted past, where everything was simple, will always remain.
Bavo JanssSoftware Architect
Bavo Janss is a true software veteran – starting out delivering office automation to clients working with mainframe terminals, 25 years ago. Later he witnessed the rise of the internet, modern websites, e-commerce, and social media. It only made him appreciate the biggest gift of modern tech: knowledge access – without that dial-up modem noise.