What’s the Buzz Around Headless, Unified, Composable, and Omnichannel Commerce?

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Ecommerce has always been at the forefront of innovation, using the latest tools and technologies to develop the best possible user experiences for visitors and potential buyers. With the increasing number of possible software stacks and SaaS solutions, the possible number of business development strategies in this field has also significantly increased, especially in recent years.

We’ve been working with headless commerce for quite some time now and are accustomed to concepts like multichannel and omnichannel commerce, but we’ve been intrigued lately with buzz concepts like unified and composable commerce. In this article, we’ll dig into these concepts to try and make sense of their added value for organizations and distill the general framework and building blocks behind them.

Don’t Lose Your Head, It’s Just Headless Commerce

One of the most talked-about innovations in ecommerce in recent years is “headless commerce”. Why the name? Figuratively speaking, in headless commerce, the frontend (head) of a software stack and an ecommerce application is decoupled from the backend. This opens up a range of possibilities and flexibility when building (added) applications.

This concept derives its buzz and importance by using APIs to decouple backend integrated data, like transactions and customer information, from frontend use of that information in different output channels (like a website or a mobile application). This means a single codebase can serve a multitude of frontend applications, allowing for more personalized shopping experiences and increased speeds. But also, headless dramatically decreases the development costs of MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) and gets applications to market faster. 

Headless commerce

Decouples the backend of your application from the frontend, meaning a single codebase or commerce engine can serve multiple frontend applications.

Commerce Across All Devices, Let’s Unite

Unified Commerce

Commerce channels are connected in the backend, allowing customer interactions to be moved across touchpoints. 

Unified commerce is the practice of connecting all your commerce channels together in the backend. It means that companies with an omnichannel retail strategy can, for example, give customers more flexibility when it comes to paying for their products. They choose how, where, and when they would like to pay, while all transactions and inventory changes are tracked and updated in the same, often cloud-based backend.

Unified commerce is being driven by two main forces:

  • The customers need to have a more personalized buying (and checkout) experience. 

  • The desire of retailers and commerce entrepreneurs to derive more insights from larger, more relevant data sets. This can result in a better understanding of customer wishes and demands.

Composing the Ultimate Commerce Tool

The term composable commerce might be the youngest addition to this set of relatively newly coined strategies. Composable commerce strings together business microservices that compose the whole commerce ecosystem. These microservices (also known as Packaged Business Capabilities or PBCs) could include:  

  • Catalog display

  • Search functionality

  • Checkout

  • Payment processing

  • Inventory management systems

In the backend, these services are "loosely coupled", meaning they share and exchange the bare minimum to function in co-existence with each other.

The main benefit of organizing commerce this way is it gives the ability to build scalable applications with flexibility in mind. This is sometimes referred to as a MACH strategy (Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, Headless). Adopting a MACH strategy means that your application can be continuously modified and improved, setting you up for future technological advancements.

Composable Commerce

Packaging together independent microservices to build a unique commerce ecosystem.

Multichannel or Omnichannel, That’s the Question

Multichannel Commerce

A unified message across isolated channels, putting your brand in front of the customer at multiple touchpoints.

Omnichannel Commerce

Integrated touchpoints delivering a consistent or customized customer experience across all channels.

Multichannel and omnichannel commerce are disciplines that develop a uniformly branded ecommerce experience for your customers across a range of platforms or devices.

In multichannel commerce, your customer can engage with your brand across multiple touchpoints. However, this engagement is often siloed. Research shows that customers are likely to engage across multiple platforms before making a buying decision. By unifying the experience across touchpoints you can boost conversion without much-increased effort. 

Omnichannel is a step up from this in effort, but also in its effectiveness. When your touchpoints can exchange data and information about buyers between themselves, you’re working in an Omnichannel system. A classic example of Omnichannel could be customizing a customer's buying experience by tracking their member number from the website to an app and then to a brick-and-mortar store. By integrating your channels around your customers you can customize offers and tailor the experience to how far along they are in their buying journey, boosting conversion as a result. This way, customers can pick up their activity across the board, delivering their updated information at the right time to help them to move closer to the sale.

Conclusion: Piecing It All Together

Throughout this article, we have seen different terminology that claims to encompass different infrastructural and business strategies, but in fact, addresses two very important needs in commerce that have developed in the last decade:

  • The customer wants to make an informed buying decision by using multiple, personalized online or offline touchpoints. They all need to offer the same seamless, branded user experience.

  • The need for businesses to develop flexible and scalable solutions that integrate microservices as easy-to-develop-and-maintain building blocks of frontend and backend code. This serves the focus of better distilling insights of user demands and wishes through the development of large and complete data sets.

While all of the strategies and terminology we’ve mentioned here focus on different aspects, the underlying principles are all similar and support solving these needs. Ecommerce technology has made leaps and bounds through technical advancements allowed by APIs and SDKs. Adopting a MACH strategy can keep you flexible enough to continuously improve and scale your application. Moving forward, the best way to maintain your competitive advantage is to understand and continuously implement headless commerce in some form.