The future of ecommerce is headless. You might have heard someone mention it during a webinar or you might even have been targeted by a promoted post on LinkedIn saying “the future of e-commerce is headless”. And now you probably feel pressured into understanding what this means for your business. It comes with no surprise that the term “headless e-commerce” has emerged as the next new thing. Many speak about it, yet few understand it.
Headless ecommerce has profound implications for both vendors and consumers and rightly so because it is reimagining of the entire e-commerce tech stack.
In this blog, we’ll look into what headless e-commerce is and what it means for subscription e-commerce.
How Does Regular E-commerce Look?
If you run an e-commerce store or are planning to launch one soon, you’re probably familiar with the tools required to provide and fulfill digital selling.
How Does Regular E-commerce Appear to the Customer?
A prospective customer lands on your website, browses through your product catalogue, selects a product, adds it to the card, fills in personal and payment details, and awaits the arrival of their purchase.
How Does Regular E-commerce Appear to the Vendor?
The seller receives the order, processes it, sends the product to the customer and collects payment. The process is pretty straight forward in theory. There are other elements involved such as accounting, financing, inventory management and so on but these are the nuances that the customer doesn't have to bother with and therefore is not relevant for this article.
Where Does Headless E-commerce Jump In?
In headless e-commerce what the customer sees (photos, videos, text and information) is separated from what the vendor sees and uses to power the e-commerce experience. Headless e-commerce is a way of having more flexibility over the digital purchase experience so as to offer a more personalised and a unique purchase experience to the customer.
How Does One Do That?
Headless e-commerce architecture involves decoupling or separating the frontend of e-commerce from the backend.
What Is the Frontend of E-commerce?
It is what your customers see - the presentation layer of a website. Seeing a product, browsing the product on the website, experiencing it digitally, adding it to the cart and so on.
What Is the Backend of E-commerce?
It is what the vendor or the seller sees - the e-commerce functionality.
- The product catalog system,
- an inventory system,
- a payment layer,
- accounting and financing system
- and even a billing management system.
Why Decouple the Front-End From the Backend?
There’s a one word answer to this question - Personalisation. Most e-commerce sites use a single platform to control both the front end experience and the back-end systems. Is it a bad thing to do? No of course not. It’s the bets way to get started with e-commerce because this approach provides an ample amount of opportunity to learn about the product, the customer, the processes, the operations and whether ot not a vendor is able to generate business. The monolithic approach (a single platform to manage the front end and the backend) is perfect for small and medium sized businesses.
Headless e-commerce has huge potential as soon as e-commerce processes become about brand, personalisation, brand perception, digital experience creation and so on. As you can guess already, going headless requires resources. TONS OF RESOURCES.
So we know know that going headless is common among e-commerce companies. But what about subscription-based e-commerce?
A Product Subscription Business With Headless E-commerce Architecture
Strollme is a baby goods company that provides baby goods on a monthly subscription plan. They have a headless e-commerce architecture meaning that their front end (the pretty stuff that the customer is) is separated from their backend (what they use to manage the e-commerce process).
This is how their website looks:
The front-end (what the customer sees) is separated from the back-end (what StollMe needs to display, manage, organise all this information and manage their subscriptions).
This is how their digital shopping experience looks:
1. Customers can browse through the product catalogue and select a product that they want to (maybe) rent on a monthly subscription basis. Going headless gives the vendor the possibility to customise how the product catalogue appears to the customer and what information is displayed so as to facilitate conversions.
2. Typically after selecting one product from the catalogue of products, a product information page is displayed where the customer can read more about the product and find answers to questions they might have about the product. For StrollMe, the product information page contains product specific and subscription specific information. By adopting a headless system StrollMe can customise how this information is displayed. From experience a vendor can judge what information should be included in the top section of the webpage vs the bottom section of the webpage.
Customisation of the product page, gives the vendor the opportunity to create a unique shopping experience that can facilitate conversions.
The shopping cart displayed on the right side is the first snippet where the back-end interacts with the front end. The shopping cart is a circuly feature that takes over the CMS cart (Shopify cart in case of StrollMe) that would be other wise displayed.
3. If the customer doesn't drop off at this stage and proceeds to the checkout page then the customer is taken to the checkout page where they can proceed to fill in relevant information (name, email, address and payment details) that will help the vendor fulfil the order and also keep track of important subscription specific KPI.
IMPORTANT to note here is that the checkout page of subscription e-commerce is build similar to that of regular ecommerce. Asking the customer to fill out a form, or to create ab account is a BIG NO-GO when it comes to maximising subscription e-commerce checkout conversions.
And this is how their tech stack looks:
When it comes to managing an e-commerce business (or a product-as-a-service e-commerce business) there are tools that you absolutely need and then there are tools that may or may not be optional depending on what your priorities and goals are.
StrollMe uses the following tools to run their online baby stroller subscription business.
What Do You Need to Go Headless?
- A development team that understand the value and flexibility of API.
- Close communication between the front end and the back end team
- A secure and compliant payment flow. Make usre to check the following boxes PCI, GDPR and other regulations.
When to NOT Think About Going Headless?
Customisation and personalisation is great but only when you either have the resources to do so from the very beginning or (in case you dont have resources) you've learned enough about your product, customers, the market and processes in general.
As a vendor you should not think about going headless for your product subscription business, if you:
- Are new the game and just launching a subscription business
- Don't have the resources to develop such a system.
Where Does Headless Ecommerce Fit In Subscription Ecommerce?
If one of your questions is if headless ecommerce plays a role in subscription ecommerce, we just told you that it CAN! It’s not absolutely necessary but it's a good way to go. Unlike regular e-commerce where transactions happen on a one time basis, subscription ecommerce deals with recurring payments. This means that the vendor has a constant touchpoint with the customer.
What are the Major Benefits of Going Headless?
- Faster Scaling: going headless allows your developer team to quickly change and make tweaks to the front-end and add additional features such as delivery logistics in the back-end without affecting the overall website.
- Better User Experience: going headless allows the vendor to influence all stages and touchpoint of the consumer journey.
- Enhanced Security: the decoupling and separating of parts allows for better security. Separate network system and access control points allow for better security.
- Better Conversion Rate Optimisation: when it comes to e-commerce, the marketing team knows best what can enhance and improve conversions and going headless usually leads to less dependency of the marketing team on the developer team. The marketing team can easily make small changes that ultimately enhances user experience and improves conversions.
- A/B Testing: going headless allows for more experimentation and A/B testing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has somehow given another push to e-commerce. And if you are in e-commerce you know that consumer touch points are absolutely critical. A nightmare sometimes. But still important. While the pandemic has been accelerating e-commerce vendors have to accelerate their ballgame.
In subscription e-commerce upping the game comes down to having the right tools and system. Scalability in subscription ecommerce is only possible if you are competing at par with regular ecommerce, who if you’ve paid attention, has been working day and night to create that ultimate customer experience that converts.
Believe it or not, competitors of subscription ecommerce companies are not only other subscription companies offering the same/similar products but ecommerce companies selling the product instead of offering them on a subscription basis.
Customers are still making the active choice between buying and renting and not whether to rent product X from Vendor A or Vendor B.