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Five things retailers can't do (easily) without headless checkout

A little over a decade ago, retailers applauded the shift away from self-hosted, licensed e-commerce platforms. 

Many made the move to all-in-one SaaS platforms at a lower cost, and app or plug-in marketplaces to add more features. Fast forward to today: Retailer ambitions have outgrown traditional ecommerce approaches. Platforms that once liberated businesses by providing a dedicated channel for selling through a website are now limiting their potential to sell everywhere else they operate in the digital realm. 

The next phase of e-commerce will be defined by a checkout experience that can take place anywhere. Retailers will look to add shopping capabilities to front-end customer touchpoints that span online, offline, voice, social, IoT and more, while integrating with all of the back-of-house systems that run the brand’s operations.

Make way for headless commerce.  

“Going headless” means separating the consumer-facing user interface I “head” from the back end of an e-commerce platform. 

By making commerce functionality, such as checkout, independent from the platform, it’s now possible to innovate and transform any digital user experience into a unified transaction experience, and to essentially place checkout anywhere. This means businesses are no longer limited to selling from a website, or held back by disconnected online and offline user experiences. Retail brands can now turn shoppable moments into revenue on any digital channel, without having to build or modify back end functionality, or migrate to a new platform.

Here are five crucial headless checkout capabilities:

1.    Unifying shopper checkout experiences and history across all channels.
Without headless checkout, data around individual customers and their transactions will remain siloed by channel, and brands won’t be able to see the full picture of a shopper across multiple channels. This limits their ability to personalize promotions based on known interactions or implement seemingly basic improvements like frictionless in-store returns for online purchases. 

Because a headless checkout is API-based rather than hard-wired and channel specific, capabilities are unlocked to move this information seamlessly between in-store and online channels. Furthermore, a retailer can easily access information about the customer and her history across shopping experiences - enhancing content personalization based on shopping behaviors and preferences. 

2.    Serving up different checkout experiences on different channels.
With headless checkout, brands don’t have to serve up the same experience on every channel. They can customize the checkout flow to make it easier for shoppers to move quickly and efficiently through checkout —reducing cart abandonment.

Headless checkout is also key to bringing commerce to new channels such as video, voice, social and augmented reality. Using voice commerce to order groceries, or shopping outfits while streaming videos, and connecting customer journeys across channels will be enabled through headless checkout. Creating a checkout experience that caters directly to the channel where a customer is browsing, will enable  a customer to complete a purchase when they’re most engaged with a product. 

3.    Offering BOPIS and other cross-channel experiences.
During the height of lockdown, many omnichannel brands and retailers were forced to address gaps in their infrastructure that made it difficult to adapt quickly. Retailers clamored to introduce BOPIS and curbside pickup to local customers when in-store shopping was either closed completely or simply not preferred by consumers. 

The challenges to getting BOPIS up and running for many started with the fact that the online and in-store checkout experiences are typically disconnected. Connecting these experiences relies on the ability to retrieve inventory information and display in-store availability by location on the website. 

Information must be real-time, accurate and paired with personalized communication throughout, to build trust and customer satisfaction. Of course, consumers have no idea how complex this process is, so their expectations were another source of pressure. 

Retailers had two unappealing options: implement a clunky, manual process that was likely to be a less-than experience for customers, or invest in a long and expensive development cycle in an effort to modify their current ecommerce platform. 

Retailers with headless commerce, however, were able to adapt quickly to the new environment by modifying their checkout to meet the new circumstances with less time and effort—and then quickly modify again when the next challenge, or opportunity, arose. 

4.    Experimenting with different checkout experiences. 
Savvy brands are experimenting with changes to the browsing experience - serving up products or search results based on shopper behaviors or preferences and using A/B testing to inform how they merchandise their stores in an effort to persuade them to add more to their carts. Why not keep this mindset going through checkout to boost order completion? 

Headless checkout allows retailers to A/B test which checkout experiences work best for their customers without the risk of impacting the backend. Retailers can test one page or multi-page checkouts, add in cross sell and upsell recommendations, trial pay with points, and more —all while measuring results to inform the optimal checkout experience. This kind of experimentation also allows retailers to continue to iterate their checkout to keep up with customer’s ever-changing needs.

5.    Giving shoppers the ability to purchase on the digital channel they’re on—whether that’s  during a workout or watching television. 
Brands are typically bound to ecommerce and in-store checkouts with traditional platforms. With headless, any customer touchpoint can be a checkout--there is no limit. Consumers now have a new level of expectations when they interact with a brand, and they want to buy what they’re engaging with at the time, rather than breaking from the experience they’re in to go to pop open an ecommerce site in a web or mobile browser. 

Yvan Boisjoli is CEO and co-Founder, Bold Commerce.

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