Shopify Ecosystem

What Is Headless Commerce? We Asked The People Who Invented It.

what-is-headless-commerce?-we-asked-the-people-who-invented-it.

blog banner featuring Kelly Goetsch

Before becoming Chief Product Officer at headless commerce platform, commercetools, Kelly Goetsch started his career in the digital space building websites part time while still going to highschool in a small town in Wisconsin. 

With a passion for site architecture and cloud-based microservices, the four-times published O’Reilly author worked for Oracle for a number of years until discovering commercetools in 2016.

On a recent episode of Bold’s Own Your Commerce podcast, Goetsch recalled “There had to be someone out there doing commerce, cloud, and microservices.” A quick online search brought up the company he had been looking for. 

Today commercetools is the world’s most flexible commerce platform, providing the building blocks for leading brands like Audi, Lego, and Harry Rosen to create next generation commerce-enabled experiences with more than 350 flexible APIs. 

“My boss invented headless commerce back in 2013,” Goetsch said, his boss being Dirk Hoerig, founder and CEO of commercetools.  

More than just the latest ecommerce buzzword, headless commerce is an approach to site architecture that decouples frontend customer-facing layers  from backend business processes. 

Bold graphic showing decoupled frontend and backend in headless commerce architectureThe shift to headless represents a departure from the tightly-wound architecture of legacy ecommerce platforms of the past, giving brands the freedom to build any frontend commerce experience possible for their customers for a fraction of the time and cost. 

Where did headless commerce come from? 

Goetsch said he can still remember a time where it was common to submit IT tickets to make pixel changes on a page. It made sense in those days for the frontend and backend of ecommerce sites to be tightly coupled. As a result, platforms had to invent a lot of frontend technology that allowed for server-side rendering of pages. 

As technology became more advanced and consumer behavior evolved, there emerged a necessity to frequently update the front end of commerce sites. And not just one. Today’s businesses often have multiple frontends — sites, mobile applications, social, voice, and more. 

Decoupling the frontend from the backend allowed business leaders to customize, manage, and even improve the customer experience. For example, product videos, unboxing videos, social engagement, product content, a relatable brand, to name a few.

“You can’t just sell a thousand-dollar handbag in a standard magenta style shopping grid. You need an emotionally compelling, engaging experience that’s driven by marketing,” said Goetsch. 

As the surge to ecommerce continues to shift the face of business, consumers simply expect engaging, seamless experiences. The key to keeping up with these demands lies in a decoupled frontend driven by marketing and backend controlled by IT. This model has been widely adopted in recent years because of its benefits for content-first brands. 

Goetsch describes it as offering a certain composability. 

What is composable commerce?

Goetsch describes commercetools’ ideal customer as one that has unique business needs, such as pricing requirements, they believe no platform could handle. With commercetools, brands can pick a few pieces and build in  their own microservices, tapping into commercetools’ large catalogue of APIs. 

Composable commerce, broadly, means being able to compose your experience from many different APIs, allowing brands to pick the “best-in-breed” providers for specific needs and business problems. 

Some examples of different best-in-breed components that make up a composable commerce stack could include:

  • ERP
  • Product
  • Product information management (PIM)
  • OMS
  • CMS
  • Customer database
  • Checkout

These backend business processes are connected to any frontend imaginable. This is one of the reasons headless architecture is becoming so popular with cutting-edge, consumer facing brands.  

In a composable commerce architecture, brands can essentially pick which pieces make sense for them and the way they want to do commerce, and then compose them together to build a solution, and companies like commercetools provides the tools to connect everything.

“Think of us as a library of APIs, think of us like a box of color pencils, where you can pick and choose the one you want, but they’re not really integrated with each other,” said Goetsch. 

Learn how Staples Canada used a composable commerce solution to save time and money. 

Key takeaways for brands considering a headless build

So what does the future of headless commerce look like? Goetsch described commerce enabled experiences such as shoppable QR codes during reality TV shows, also referencing commercetools partnership with Audi and BMW to enable car commerce. Customers can now essentially buy a vehicle and activate new functions in their car via their myAudi app. 

Throughout the discussion, Goetsch and Bold Co-Founder Jay Myers outlined several meaningful insights for brands considering a move to headless commerce. Here are four key takeaways. 

1. Build on top of existing APIs


“We have a lot of customers who will pick one, two, or three pieces and then build that on their own as their own microservices. What you want to end up with is a big catalog of APIs that your front ends can consume. Whether you’re a huge enterprise or a single developer, and you want to add that ‘add to cart’ button, you should be able to call an API and do that.” – Kelly Goetsch, commercetools 

2. Go headless gradually


“Most of our customers will start by using us for a product detail page, for example. Then they’ll use us for the category pages, and they’ll just kind of work their way through the product catalog. Then they’ll start using us for customers, and then finally, for orders. And that takes time. It’s an API every week give or take, and you just incrementally switch to us.” – Kelly Goetsch, commercetools

3. Enable a content first approach to keep customers engaged 


“You need to engage with your customers. You need to show them product videos, you need to do unboxing videos, you need to engage with them on social, you need lots of product content, you need to build your brand. You can’t just sell a thousand-dollar handbag in a standard magenta style shopping grid, you need an emotionally compelling, engaging experience that’s driven by marketing.” – Kelly Goetsch, commercetools

4. Use composable commerce to pick “best-in-breed” partners 


“A brand can piece together best-in-breed of pieces their ecommerce tech stack, whether that’s their ERP, their product, information management, their OMS, their CMS, their customer database, all the different aspects that make it up, you basically, essentially pick which one makes sense for your brand and how you want to do commerce, and then compose them together to build your solution, and then commercetools kind of help provide the tools to connect everything.” – Jay Myers, Bold Commerce

Enable commerce where your customers are already  looking

Decoupling backend business processes from frontend customer experiences unlocks the flexibility to bring commerce anywhere.

Talk to us about how Bold Commerce can help your next big idea convert

banner depicting headless commerce experiences

Have a question about headless commerce? Post a comment below or visit our ultimate guide to headless commerce. 

Special thanks to our friends at Bold Commerce for their insights on this topic.

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