The Future of Retail is Headless

Is there any other industry which the advance in digital technology impacted more than commerce? Probably yes, but I cannot think of one right now. A quick history; before the internet, we mostly shopped by going in-store. Teleshopping and catalogues were around, but they only accounted for a minuscule part of the market. Then came the Internet and everything changed. The dot-com’s bubble got everyone creating websites; Amazon and eBay are the success stories. Retailers were still trying to figure the medium out, so many of them used it as an online catalogue. What was happening behind the scene was that companies like Amazon and eBay were changing customer behaviours. They both pioneered the new channel. More retailers followed suit and started to sell their products online. Fast forward to today, customers’ behaviour is changing again. Websites are still essential, but they will not be the primary way of shopping for products online. With the influx of mobile technology and the internet of things such as voice assistant and smart anything, customers are using multiple channels to get their products.

Agility and Time to Market

Retailers have invested heavily in their commerce platform and technology. The leading platforms speak of omnichannel enablement, but they are slow to enable any new channel. Why this is due to their underlying architecture. Those platforms built of many coupled components delivered as a single system; if you need to add a new workflow you must modify the platform. The same goes for adding a new channel, for example, a new site will have to be built on the platform using its language and tools. The IT team is usually the owner of those systems, and therefore they are seen as a dis-enabler. Commerce platforms do not live in isolation. They need to integrate with third-party applications in and out of the organisation boundaries, for example, a new logistics or inventory system. A fat platform’s performance will degrade over time as they are not built with cloud elasticity in mind. Some vendors will provide a hosted version which means that you have a new dependency. Never has it been more critical than now for companies to be more agile and reduce the time to market for new products and services. The marketing department might want to experiment with new ways to reach new audiences, but they do not have the skills required to build out their requirements. Even if they did, it would require a big bang approach. The system is for the IT, and only the IT team can operate or add to it.

Embrace True Omnichannel Commerce

Let’s start by breaking the all-encompassing, all great, commerce platform that you have running in your data centres. They are not flexible, and they impair your agility, thus affecting your time to market. We need to enable the marketing team to take advantage of new channels. The first thing is to break the core services of the platform from its user interface. The agile architecture exposes the core business services, call it retail as a service RaaS. The RaaS platform will provide true omnichannel capabilities. The digital team can create new services such as a new shopping service via personal assistants like Alexa or smartwatches. RaaS can only be enabled by a headless commerce platform. An API Gateway Management fronts the RaaS platform to provide additional value such as security and onboarding. Opening the RaaS system to third-party developers and companies will create a new source of revenue through monetisation of the APIs. The cost of running a RaaS is not higher than hosting and maintaining the current monolithic commerce system. RaaS makes use of the latest advancement in technology such as infrastructure elasticity, Kubernetes, and a microservices-based architecture.

My opinion is mine and mine only.

I would like to know your views, please share them in the comments.

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