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5 Questions retailers should answer before going headless

Jason Kohn

By Jason Kohn



Answering these five questions will help you know if it's time for your retail e-commerce site to go headless.

Answering these five questions will help you know if it’s time for your retail e-commerce site to go headless: 

  1. What’s your goal?
  2. What are your analytics telling you?
  3. Is your current technology scalable?
  4. Are you able to create the ideal customer experience?
  5. Do you have the in-house skillset to create the experience you want to give your customers?

What’s your current digital retail experience?

Right now, when someone comes to your online store, what kind of experience do they receive? Let’s pretend for a second your digital experiences are actually real store experiences. Are they coming to a car in a back alley and buying products out of your trunk? Are they sifting through piles of merchandise at a flea market (think of a disorganized digital product catalog)? Are they stopping by a kiosk at a mall, being pulled in by an overly aggressive salesperson? Are they stopping at JCPenney’s to get back-to-school deals, and struggling to find a sales associate (Can they easily checkout on your site)? Or is it a clean, streamlined experience like visiting an Apple store, where products are easy to find, they can get answers to their questions, and the checkout process is quick and painless?

Is a headless solution right for your digital retail platform?

Now, for some of you, being a flea market is exactly what you want to be. And that’s okay. But if you realized, “I’m a flea market and I want to be Apple, how do I get there?” then this post is for you. When you think about the investments that you need to make to go from flea market to Apple, it’s important to start thinking about the ROI of the equation. Yes, there is a cost, but when done right, that cost is an investment with an ROI. This type of transformation can be done by implementing a headless architecture to your e-commerce platform.

What is a headless solution?

A headless solution is “an e-commerce website architecture that consists of a separated frontend and backend.” This means a headless e-commerce site is one where the website that people interact with is not built on the same platform used to process orders, manage inventory, and maintain the product catalog. It allows you to build a website free of the constraints imposed by the templates and layouts of a monolithic e-commerce platform and use modern web development languages to establish your brand’s digital presence. Headless solutions help improve site speed (which often leads to higher conversion), allowing for immersive retail experiences which can set you apart from the competition, and help future-proof your website.

Answering these five questions will help you know it it’s time for your retail e-commerce site to go headless:

01. What’s your goal?

Before you decide to invest in headless, it’s important to know what your growth ambitions are as a company. Maybe you just want to have an Etsy store where you make a thousand dollars a month, in that case, you probably don’t need a headless solution. But, if you have a plan to scale and grow, do you know how your current technology is helping (or hindering) you from doing that?

There are two ways to look at how to establish this goal. One is pain and one is ambition, and headless can be the solution for either.

If pain is the reason for your transition, it probably means you’re experiencing things like site performance issues, limitations in your ability to provide unique customer experiences, and even having to choose between site performance and customer experience. You may be dealing with tech debt and trying to dig your way out.

Or you might be motivated by ambitions like wanting the fastest site out there, wanting the best customer experience possible, or wanting to use technology as the foundation that helps you grow at an aggressive rate. And for either scenario, headless is a great solution to consider.

02. What are your analytics telling you?

Google calls them the ABCs of analytics: acquisition, behavior, and conversion. Do you understand what your analytics are telling you about your customer’s journey? How are people getting to your site (acquisition)? What are they doing once they’re on your site (behavior)? What’s your average order size (conversion)? And your attrition rate? You can learn more about what metrics you should pay attention to as a retailer here, but as you think of these metrics, what are they telling you about improvements you could make to your site? For example, website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time between 0-5 seconds, so what would increase your site speed do to your conversion rates?

03. Is your current technology scalable?

This is a twofold question. The first is, is your tech stack equipped to scale and grow as the size of your business grows? What’s your tech debt like? This gets into the second part: while your technology may be great for today, is it ready to handle what’s coming tomorrow? For example, if a brand new technology was released in a month, how long would it take you to assimilate? And what happens if your competition assimilates first? It’s better to take that action when it’s a good idea versus a necessary idea.

04. Are you able to create the ideal customer experience?

Over 70% of customers say they expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations. Headless commerce enables retailers to do just that—provide a better customer experience. You shouldn’t have to choose between page load speed and the customer experience you want. With headless you don’t have to. To put it another way, “Is the experience you want to create for your customers currently limited by your technology?”

05. Do you have the in-house skill set to create the experience you want to give your customers?

Does your internal team have experience with different configurations? Are they able to do both frontend and backend work? Or are they more integration specialties rather than actual engineers? Oftentimes, in-house teams have a specific set of skills, the one you need to run your existing setup, but they may not have the tools for something like a headless migration.

What now? 

At Assemble, we come in and work alongside your team, build a solution, and then work to hand off the solution so that your team can be successful with your new technology. We also provide ongoing support, if some of the requirements are outside of your current team’s specialty.