Guest Post: Reap the rewards by keeping open-minded about 'headless commerce'

Guest Post: Reap the rewards by keeping open-minded about 'headless commerce'

Chris Branagan, chief technology officer IBS Software, says businesses that adopt a progressive approach to their IT infrastructure can free their front-end retail experience from the limitations of their back-end systems

You won’t find many people in the industry denying that retail is the next big thing for travel brands. 

There is huge opportunity in using technology to transform the customer experience to upsell customers, incentivise them to spend and make them stickier. 

But how? For many the answer lies in headless commerce – the hottest trend many brands, quite understandably, might never have heard of.

Headless commerce is the separation of the front-end and back-end of an ecommerce application. While this might sound like a straightforward evolution, in reality it represents a fairly dramatic departure from the status quo. 

Traditionally ecommerce platforms tie these two very distinct functions together. 

While the back-end delivers vital business processes (eg shopping cart and promotions), the front-end is the part that online shoppers see and interact with – effectively a brand’s shop window. 

The orchestration of order flow has been historically tightly coupled. The chief drawback of this approach is that brands do not have full control over their front-end. 

They are restricted to the often-limited customisation templates offered by their ecommerce platform or restricted to using the data or services from their ecommerce platform. They are effectively locked in to whatever their vendor of choice can deliver them.

If the front-end is restricted by the back-end, it means brands are unable to adapt the shopping experience to dynamically change the way they reach customers on emerging different channels. Inevitably conversion suffers. 

With consumer behaviour changing at breakneck speed, it is an existential threat to travel companies’ business models.

Headless commerce, however, puts brands in control of their front-end – the all-important interaction with their buying audience. 

It allows them to keep their back-end constant but use APIs to work with multiple different applications, eg the content management system (CMS), and vendors to promote products exactly as they see fit. They are no longer restricted to the capabilities of one point of sale. 

In my view there are three major reasons why headless commerce will usher in a new era of brand experience:

  • Omnichannel commerce becomes a reality – travel brands gain the ability to reach people in the way they want to be reached whether that is on mobile, laptop, tablet, smart watches, or even the likes of virtual reality platforms of voice assistants like Alexa or Siri. Consumers must be reached wherever they authentically want to engage with brands in an ever more complex and fragmented user landscape. A headless architecture gives them the freedom of expression to revolutionise the customer experience and reach consumers in the right way

  • Dynamic marketing becomes attainable to any brand – a more open architecture allows brand to be flexible and deliver personalised offers and promotions in the front-end without impacting the back-end. It makes it far easier to stay nimble and reactive to trends and behaviours, and bring in new features. Very quickly, travel businesses can go from working with the confines of limited and often static front-ends to gaining the ability to use much more modern and sophisticated methods to tailor offers to potential buyers in real-time.  According to Gartner, organisations that have adopted headless commerce can implement new features 80% faster than the competition

  • It opens new, achievable revenue opportunities – there is no doubt that a more flexible, adaptable front-end can unlock new revenue streams or maximise existing streams. Take airlines as an example. Historically they have struggled to sell more than just seats. Headless commerce can open a new world of retail options for their customers. A traveller going on a beach holiday might by buying sunglasses, a good book and flip-flops at the airport. Headless commerce makes it easy for them to offer purchases for all three through their website

Headless commerce is maturing at great speed. It has already evolved into an architectural approach that brands are adopting called MACH (Microservices, API-first, Cloud native, Headless). But there is tension in the story. 

None of the promise headless commerce can deliver is possible without travel businesses taking a progressive approach to their IT infrastructure. 

Only travel businesses that recognise the limitations of their current set-up and are open-minded about implementing change can reap the rewards headless commerce offers. 

With brands that digitally transform the fastest now able to overtake their more established rivals, headless commerce has the potential to revolutionise the travel industry.