AWS for Industries

How to deliver headless commerce in retail

Retailers who want to modernize their selling systems have a wealth of technologies available. Those who have already moved to a modern technology infrastructure are reaping the benefits of reduced maintenance, more business agility, and better customer experiences. CIOs can choose to refactor existing systems and slowly migrate functional areas, or they can make a rapid switch to a modern solution with a third-party vendor and build upon it. Regardless of the path, it’s important to understand the underpinning technologies and how they help achieve better business outcomes.

The term “headless commerce” gets tossed around quite a bit, and it’s most often used in the context of ecommerce. However, the design patterns that it encapsulates have been around for decades and apply to many solution areas. The concept is to create a set of business services with no user interface (UI), and then assemble them to achieve a purpose with a custom UI that’s tailored to the interaction. If we apply this to selling systems, we have a set of reusable services that can be leveraged by an in-store POS system, mobile app, or web store. Each has its own optimized UI—all with a common backend. This is often referred to as “composable commerce,” and it’s the long-awaited realization of an omnichannel customer experience.

The goal

The goal of every retailer is to provide the best possible shopping experience. That means reducing friction throughout the customer journey by merging channels so customers can move seamlessly between them. Reducing costs so savings can be passed on to shoppers is a bonus. This has been the promise of “omnichannel.” In reality though, retailers tried their best to integrate existing legacy solutions to achieve an omnichannel experience, but they realized limited results. Retailers who are considering the composable commerce strategy (and all retailers should!) must understand these four underpinning technologies.


Zalora found that cloud computing is the key to reducing costs while increasing scalability, availability, and reliability. Any modern solution must be cloud-native, albeit some solutions are augmented with edge computing to address certain use cases. Since retailer computing needs fluctuate depending on sales, promotions, and holidays, the cloud is a perfect platform to scale up or down to accommodate changing needs.


Microservices are self-contained encapsulations of business functionality that can be invoked over a network using widely available protocols. Because they are clearly separated from the UI, they can be reused across channels. It makes perfect sense that functionality to take payments, calculate taxes, and apply loyalty benefits are microservices used by both a POS system and a web store. This efficiency reduces maintenance costs, and it also creates a consistent customer experience. However, the biggest advantage of microservices from a technology standpoint is that developers can change, test, and deploy them without impacting the rest of the solution, which increases both agility and reliability as Vend has realized by using Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS).

Data stores

The traditional retailer IT landscape is littered with relational databases that enforce rigid relationships and provide limited scalability. Modern data stores, however, offer near limitless storage and performance, and when appropriate, are schema-less. Nike, for example, was able to simplify database administration by moving to Amazon DynamoDB. A modern cloud-native selling platform gives retailers highly scalable data stores at a lower cost.

Serverless computing

While serverless computing is not appropriate for every type of service, it means that you don’t need to manage a server, and you pay only when the service runs. In this model, functionality isn’t deployed to a server until it’s invoked, at which time the server processes the request and then shuts down. Dunelm uses AWS Lambda to better support peak trading times. This is by far the most efficient way to consume computing services and get the scalability retailers need.

Together, these technologies create the most advanced platform to deliver composable commerce, so retailers can finally achieve the promise of an omnichannel user experience.

Ask how AWS can help you make it happen.

David Dorf

David Dorf

David Dorf leads Worldwide Retail Solutions at AWS, where he develops retail-specific solutions and assists retailers with innovation. Before joining AWS, David developed retail technology solutions at Infor Retail, Oracle Retail, 360Commerce, Circuit City, AMF Bowling, and Schlumberger’s retail and banking division. David spent several years working with NRF-ARTS on technology standards, is on the advisory board for the MACH Alliance, and supports the Retail Orphan Initiative charity. He holds degrees from Virginia Tech and Penn State.