AWS for Industries

Headless Commerce: What Is It and Why Does It Matter to CPGs?

Add this one to your buzzword bingo card for 2021: headless commerce. It’s a hot topic! But what is it, and why does it matter? In this blog post, I’ll unpack one of the most discussed and least understood new terms in ecommerce. When CPG leaders and technology teams understand headless commerce, they can start building a strategy to implement an architecture.

Headless Commerce Overview and Benefits

Headless commerce is an ecommerce architecture where the front end (the user interface for a website, social media channel, and so on) is decoupled from the backend commerce functionality. Because of the independent architecture, you can update or edit the underlying technology without compromising or interfering with the front-end user interfaces and vice versa. It’s similar to a headless content management system, if you’re familiar with that technology.

Dirk Hoerig, cofounder of commercetools, coined the term in 2013, so it’s actually been around for quite some time. Gartner prefers to call it composable commerce, so you might have heard of that term instead.

The idea is that you encapsulate business logic in microservices deployed in the cloud. Then, you can wrap the microservices with whatever front-end user interface you want. You might have a user interface for point of sale in a retail store, a different user interface for an ecommerce website, one for a mobile app, and so on. This concept of headless commerce underpins modern selling solutions.

Headless commerce offers several unique benefits:

  • User experience—Developers can re-use existing in-house skillsets and investments in content management systems to create a range of user experiences.
  • Customization and personalization—Brands are not limited by the ecommerce platform. They can choose the sales channels and presentation framework that provides the best experience for the consumer.
  • Scalability—CPGs can create the consumer experience they choose for their brands and scale it globally.
  • Freedom to experiment—Developers can easily test new ideas and functionalities for front-end interfaces without impacting the underlying site ecosystem. Because developers don’t have to edit front-end and backend code at the same time, they are free test and learn.

Differences Between Traditional Ecommerce and Headless Commerce

Traditional ecommerce systems were built specifically for one channel: the web. The content, commerce engine, and administrative effort are geared toward that one channel. In a traditional ecommerce solution, as the number of customer touchpoints expands, the architecture becomes more complex to manage, because the IT team has to update both the front-end interfaces and backend system.

With a headless commerce approach, developers can change a front-end user interface without impacting, or having to also change, the backend. That means brands can build many different user interfaces depending on needs, sales goals, and target audiences. That gives retail brands the agility and flexibility to keep pace with customer expectations, evolving trends, and major shifts in the business landscape, like the sudden changes that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Headless ecommerce systems are ideal for organizations that need best-in-class consumer experiences that can scale across many channels and geographies in a secure way.

Another key difference: After new content is added to the front-end interface in a headless architecture, the updates are reflected in near-real time. With a traditional commerce architecture, interface changes can take minutes or hours.

Why Should Headless Commerce Matter to CPGs?

Most global CPG brands are launching direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels globally due to the rapid shift to online sales over the last few years. Consider these data points from the CGT/RIS Executive Council:

  • In 2020, 43% of consumers tried new brands, up from 32% in 2019.
  • Meanwhile, 70% of consumers switched brands during the COVID-19 pandemic because of supply shortages or because they couldn’t buy products directly.
  • More than 57% of consumers aged 18-45 expect to continue shopping online at an increased rate.
  • More than 50% of consumers say brands that regularly engage with them using immersive technologies would stay more top-of-mind.

To keep pace with these trends, every CPG’s DTC platform must be agile and flexible to fuel growth—to quickly add new consumer sales channels and products, launch marketing campaigns, personalize the user experience, manage customer data, and add new functionality for order management and product delivery.

A headless commerce approach offers CPGs the agile, flexible digital platform they need. To drive home my point, let’s look at a few facts and figures from Gartner on digital commerce:

  • By 2023, 50% of new commerce capabilities will be incorporated as API-centric SaaS services.
  • By 2023, organizations that have adopted a composable approach will outpace competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation.
  • By 2023, 30% of commerce organizations will require an API product manager role to modernize digital commerce applications and architecture.
  • By 2024, 10% of digital commerce organizations will use packaged business capabilities (PBCs) to construct their application experiences.

AWS and Headless Commerce

Using the AWS working backwards approach, we identify the challenge: how best to help our CPG customers create a robust, flexible DTC platform. Then, we define AWS or AWS Partner offerings to address the challenge. One go-to-market solution example is using VTEX as the front-end-as-a-service solution and integrating your preferred content management system on the backend. You could also build custom experiences with your technology of choice. For CPGs that want to scale beyond a basic DTC platform, we also work with several other commerce engines, including Magento, commercetools, SAP Commerce Cloud, and BigCommerce.

As part of the AWS DTC solution framework, we offer unique, scalable, global services, like personalization, fraud detection, video commerce, advertising, and product fulfillment, that integrate with the ecommerce platforms I mentioned.

Bringing It to Life

The UK is one of the world’s most advanced digital markets, with 15% ecommerce penetration in grocery alone. Wanting to gain a foothold with digital consumers, Co-op, a leading food convenience retailer with over 2,600 locations and 4.6 million members across the UK, identified the need to deliver exceptional end-to-end customer convenience, from ecommerce to final delivery.

By partnering with Bringg, the leading delivery and fulfillment cloud platform provider, and Naveo Commerce, creator of the award-winning online grocery platform Connected Commerce, Co-op was able to rapidly deploy, adapt, scale, and optimize grocery ecommerce across more than 1,000 stores and provide two-hour home delivery service.

Bringg and Naveo Commerce’s integrated cloud technology solutions orchestrated end-to-end ecommerce pickup and delivery for Co-op. Bringg’s unified delivery and fulfillment cloud platform managed, automated, and measured multiple delivery models across internal fleets and Bringg’s Delivery Hub to meet consumer demand.

Naveo’s modular, microservices-enabled Connected Commerce SaaS platform enabled the management, measurement, and optimization of ecommerce retail in-store picking and setup for fulfillment, facilitating Co-op’s convenient one-hour delivery.

Working with Naveo, Co-op uses AWS compute, storage, and database services to power innovation. Co-op benefits from the flexible, scalable microservices-based architecture by using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon OpenSearch Service (September 8, 2021: Amazon Elasticsearch Service has been renamed to Amazon OpenSearch Service), Amazon ElastiCache API, AWS Lambda, and Amazon DynamoDB to provide an agile, secure, and scalable platform.

Over 12 months, the improvements to Co-op’s technology stack resulted in a more than 25x increase in store coverage. Co-op, which launched its online shop in 2019, took the number of stores offering online services from 32 to over 1,000.

To learn more about decomposing your traditional ecommerce application architecture so you can implement a headless commerce strategy, read my colleague Danny Yin’s recent blog post, Success Strategies for Moving to a Microservice Architecture in CPG. Or, to get started on your journey to headless commerce, contact your AWS account team today.

AWS Retail and CPG Partner Spotlight

VTEX is a multi-tenant commerce platform that unifies customer experiences across all channels into a comprehensive enterprise solution. VTEX helps customers build or migrate their online store, integrate orders from all channels, or expand product offering by adding third-party sellers. VTEX combines Commerce, Marketplace, and Order Management in a single platform to unlock new revenue streams.
Contact VTEX

Bringg helps enterprises scale up and optimize their logistics operations with our data-led delivery and fulfillment cloud platform. Using Bringg, retailers and logistics providers can rapidly enable innovative delivery and fulfillment models that maximize the customer experience, optimize logistics operations, and scale business channels for growth. Some of the world’s best-known brands in more than 50 countries use Bringg’s platform to deliver the perfect last-mile experience at peak efficiency across multiple delivery models.
Contact Bringg

Naveo Commerce
Naveo Commerce is an international end-to-end eCommerce, OMS, and fulfillment technology company helping SMBs and enterprises across all retail segments to manage and grow their business online. The company was founded in 2020 following the merger of Digital Goodie and Maginus, unifying cloud-based headless commerce expertise, order management systems, and fulfillment solutions to establish one of the only companies globally to be able to offer entire end-to-end commerce support to retailers.
Contact Naveo Commerce

Magento Commerce an Adobe Company
Magento Commerce Cloud gives merchants high-availability architecture, elastic scale, and global deployment options while maintaining the flexibility needed to create unique shopping experiences. Magento’s platform gives customers the power to create unique and engaging shopping experiences with rich, out-of-the-box features, an ability to customize, and seamlessly integrate third-party solutions.
Contact Magento Commerce

Justin Honaman

Justin Honaman

Justin Honaman leads the worldwide Retail and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Go-to-Market team at Amazon Web Services (AWS). He is also the worldwide segment leader for Food & Beverage. His team’s focus within CPG and Retail is on delivering supply chain, ecommerce, data, analytics, and digital engagement business solutions for customers globally.