Casper Rasmussen is chairman of MACH Alliancea group of companies committed to open, best-of-breed technology ecosystems.
Headless commerce has completely changed the way brands sell online. While retail is the best-known industry it has disrupted, several others have already been shaken up for the better.
Headless commerce allows a company to decouple its front and back-end systems. The front is where users engage with the business. Behind the scenes are back-end systems, including cart management, order processing, and payment management. A decoupled front and back end offers the ability to create rapidly changing and personalized customer experiences with a high degree of operational commercial flexibility.
What drives the momentum according to a study conducted by my community, MACH Alliance, almost 80% of global IT decision makers said they strongly intend to incorporate more MACH elements into their architecture. (MACH is an acronym we use to describe technology that conforms to a certain standard: microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native SaaS, and headless.) And 27% said they plan to move the MACH elements within expand over the next 12 months, indicating a level of urgency. Clearly, rapid customer experience improvement cannot be achieved with legacy IT.
The need to continuously deliver new experiences requires frequent improvements to IT systems and software. Monolithic platforms cannot keep up with that frequency of change. By creating a headless front end, a company can develop and implement frequent customer experience changes with ease and speed. That helps keep customers happy and engaged, and it’s easier for the company to get those updates into production.
Which industries (outside of retail) are leading the pack
1. Food and drink
Many food and beverage companies have upgraded their IT architecture from monolith to MACH. For example, Dawn Foods is a one-stop resource for bakery products, providing ingredients, frozen dough and baked goods, and equipment to the global food industry. (The company’s senior director of digital is a MACH Alliance ambassador.) As their business grew, Dawn Foods decided it was time to create their own digital commerce web channel. She built their own front-end tailored to work with the back-end tools of their choice.
Dawn Foods’ approach is similar to many other companies that take advantage of API-driven tools to build IT architectures that can be assembled and fit the business. This headless approach works with smaller SaaS tools that fit together almost like Lego blocks. The parts work together seamlessly as a single unit, but each part is autonomous and can be replaced if necessary without disrupting the whole. This approach helped Dawn Foods provide a self-service platform that their customers could access 24 hours a day. It also made it easier for these customers to explore the extensive Dawn Foods catalog.
Another example is the Dutch company Just Eat Takeaway.com, a global online marketplace for food delivery. As the company expanded, new currencies, languages, products, and vendors needed to be added, but it became clear that legacy platforms couldn’t scale at the speed needed. With tens of thousands of SKUs and more 643,000 affiliated partnershas Just Eat Takeaway.com 99.99% availability, the company said. This has only been possible through an approach that relies on APIs, headless and microservices.
2. Health and fitness
The headless revolution has also made its way into health and fitness, with The Gym Group being a prime example of its success. The Gym Group, whose head of digital product is also a MACH Alliance ambassador, is a British fitness chain with nearly 200 locations throughout the Netherlands. Headless architecture helped the company scale quickly, particularly through the use of digital touchpoints throughout the customer journey. The company has complex needs unique to the health and fitness industry, and building MACH foundations to bring all those different systems together has helped it succeed digitally, according to their main digital products.
As other health and fitness brands have started offering more online content, such as home exercise videos and virtual physical training, the need for digital channels that can carry richer content is critical; this works best with a headless CMS. As described herein TechTarget article, the proliferation of digitally connected fitness equipment like Peloton also required business agility that monolithic software simply could not provide, including the need to connect equipment with mobile apps that combine workout experiences at home and on the go.
Car brands have been striving for years to improve the car buying experience. Some have done better than others. What largely separates the modern from the obsolete is the greater embrace of direct to consumer (D2C). This does not eliminate retail. In fact, more than half of car buyers still prefer to buy a vehicle from a dealer. But forward-thinking auto companies strike a balance between involving dealers in the process and transforming the buying experience with digital elements, as Toyota has done.
The company has rolled out the ability to buy completely online, including everything from configuring the car to securing financing. Once the buyer has selected the desired features, he can manage things like down payment and monthly fees, perform credit and identity checks, digitally sign the necessary documentation and arrange delivery to his local dealer. In many cases, that pickup will be the customer’s first trip to the dealership.
The revolution taking place within the automotive industry, and in particular the role of D2C, is underpinned by a headless strategy. Only this approach can achieve such an intricate level of personalization and digitization.
There is no going back to the age-old way of doing things. Customers today want fast, flexible, cross-channel service and businesses need to be digitally ready to deliver. This has ushered in the rise of headless architecture across a range of industries, and we’re just beginning to see the ways headless can make an impact.