Switching To B2B Headless E-Commerce: Why Now Is The Time (And How To Do It!)
September 24, 2022
Is launching or migrating to a B2B headless e-commerce solution right for your company? For many businesses still operating on an older, “legacy” platform for their e-commerce, contemplating such a change may seem overwhelming. Luckily, the switch can be far easier than one might think—and the consequences for delaying such an upgrade potentially damaging for your business’s future.
The ideal B2B headless e-commerce solution satisfies your customers, meets your needs of today, and enables future growth. This article offers a practical headless commerce guide for those considering the move to trending B2B e-commerce solutions, based on these essential Seven Steps that will propel your business to the next level:
Establish A Clear Vision
Discover The Art Of The Possible
Take Inventory And Identify Gaps
Determine In-House Skill Sets
Decide What Solution Is Right For You
Create A Migration Timeline
Choose The Right Partner
What Is Headless e-Commerce And How Can It Help You?
The secret to headless e-commerce’s flexibility & simplicity of operation is in the name:
In headless e-commerce architecture, the Head (customer-facing side including dynamic elements such as templates, forms, images, and other content) is decoupled from the Back-End infrastructure (the dense set of programming tools needed to run a company’s entire system).
In a legacy or “monolithic” system, the front- and back-ends are mostly coupled, meaning they are very dependent on each other. Changing a functionality in the frontend could risk messing up the intricate legacy back-end engine that it runs to and vice-versa. In a headless system, however, that content-rich front-end is independent from the back-end—the only communication between the two are via interfaces (via APIs—application programming interfaces) which allows different software programs to communicate with each other by standard protocols
This means that aspects of your B2B e-commerce site subject to regular updates such as reordering, tracking, and order management can be easily changed without damaging the underlying software “engine” that makes your business run. Your company will be able to seamlessly adapt to the dynamic needs and anticipations of your B2B customer base—which in the current e-commerce marketplace is crucial.
The Consequences of Staying with Your Legacy Solution
On the surface, it’s certainly understandable how migrating to a new B2B platform might seem like a really big step. The decision to stay with your current legacy model or switch to a modern solution comes down to weighty factors such as capital, operating budgets, growth opportunities, and market demands. HOWEVER: there are a lot of hidden costs that come with keeping an existing legacy solution!
Here are some pricey points to consider that may convince you that switching to headless e-commerce could save you money in the long run…
Licensing Costs: Early B2B e-commerce systems, built before cloud technology, are located on-site—which means your company is required to keep and maintain hardware and licenses for them, which requires money & manpower.
Security Risks: Those legacy systems also need to be constantly updated—at a cost—to combat the latest threats to online security. Even when the systems are constantly updated, they still might be prone to security risks.
Extra Manpower: An elaborate early B2B e-commerce solution often requires a high headcount to operate, meaning extra staff & extra weight on the payroll. It also increases your dependency on the employees—because if a worker with specific knowledge quits, you may lack the competence to tame the beast that is your complicated infrastructure.
Lack Of Flexibility: Many traditional e-commerce systems may be good at what they do out of the box—but when it comes to customization and getting it to work with modern protocols, that tends to be a problem for most companies. Moreover, fixing those problems will cost money and labor time!
Poor User Experience: A complicated legacy B2B system can typically cause issues such as slow site speed, bugs, and more. In the customer-centric B2B landscape, such snafus can quickly alienate your potential customer—hobbling growth and slashing profits.
Higher Cost Per Order: Of course, all of the operational activities required to process any orders you do get increase your cost per order. Increased cost = limited profitability.
Low Scalability: Legacy systems can hinder the scalability of your e-commerce by increasing dependence on slow manual processes. In order to really grow, a company needs a faster solution for onboarding, order fulfillment, and much more.
Given these examples, the answer as to whether to switch to a modern e-commerce system seems clear. So what are the steps you need to take to evaluate the right headless e-commerce site for you? It is not just about the dollars and cents, but clearly visualizing your company thriving in the dynamic B2B e-commerce landscape of the future…
1. Establish A Clear Vision: What Are Your E-Commerce NEEDS?
The first place to start on your e-commerce upgrading journey is to achieve a clear vision of what you expect your e-commerce site to accomplish for your business. Visualizing your end state helps create the road map from where you are now to where you want to go.
Analyze your site from the perspective of a potential B2B customer, using the questions below as a guide. Your answers will help identify opportunities that will in turn help your users achieve their goals and become loyal customers.
Is the purchasing process easy? B2B customers differ from B2C in that the former’s purchases are usually done in bulk and repeatedly. Consequently, a seamless and convenient purchasing process is key for customer retention. If your interface is choppy, slow, and full of bugs it will drive your no-nonsense B2B user away for smoother pastures.
Does it have optimal performance and speed? Many e-commerce systems may have mostly good user experiences, but the time it takes to process transactions or go from one screen to another is too slow. Sub-par speed in performance can really frustrate a potential customer and send them to purchase elsewhere by default.
Do I respond to growing customer needs? Technology in general continues to rapidly develop and change, and B2B e-commerce is no exception. Customers flock to the shiny new increasingly personalized user functionalities that become available—and if you don’t give them what they want, they will look for and find it elsewhere. Legacy systems, dependent on their oft-precarious monolithic infrastructure, can’t support or keep up with the pace of innovation.
Am I able to support multiple touchpoints? It probably goes without saying, but your B2B e-commerce solution must accommodate mobile devices. Here is yet another factor that can be a nightmare to implement in a legacy set-up, but that headless e-commerce makes easy. Voice-activated ordering is another touchpoint that is soon becoming a necessity for B2B to adapt to.
Are my customer experiences personalized? One of the biggest B2C customer preferences is for a personalized user experience, and that desire has made it to the B2B world as well. It makes sense: customized buying experiences increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. The versatility of headless e-commerce architecture easily creates tailored shopping experiences, gathering data to provide the right product recommendations, convenient self-service options, and more.
Do my customers have account visibility? Along the lines of customer personalization, B2B customers require an interface that can place all the aspects of their account at their fingertips: purchase history, order tracking, saved payment information, and more. Yet, B2B businesses with legacy e-commerce often lack individual account visibility because it is too taxing & advanced a procedure for their monolithic system. Headless architecture, on the other hand, not only provides those basics, but can be configured once and used over and over.
Does my site have a wide range of B2B functionalities? In this ever-changing global economy, having the flexibility to change to different business models and to adapt to international commerce is critical. Implementing such demands on a legacy system, however, can be a time-consuming disaster. Ideal B2B e-commerce platforms offer users a range of features tailored to the requirements of your specific business, effortlessly changing as you do.
Do I offer multi-channel support? With the need to support multiple devices comes the additional requirement to ensure that all customer data—whether by laptop, mobile, or phone—is seamlessly connected. Although more and more B2B customers are making purchases online, personal contact with your support staff is still important. Your business needs an e-commerce solution that can integrate with your existing tech stack to fill in the customer experience gaps that often go unchecked in legacy systems—and again, that’s where headless is invaluable.
2. Discover The Art Of The Possible: What Are Your E-Commerce WANTS?
Moving past the absolute essentials for your B2B company to compete in today’s marketplace, here comes the fun stuff! Knowing what your business wants means knowing what you can have. Headless e-commerce solutions extend and adapt as far as the changing B2B landscape (and your own creativity) can go—so you’re no longer limited to your existing infrastructure, the capabilities of your current backend systems expanding exponentially.
Now you can think in terms of your ideal customer scenario!
Integrating third-party applications will be key in optimizing your B2B e-commerce site and exceeding your competitors’ shopping experience. Which ones you’ll need are specific to your industry, products, and target market, and will be covered in a future post.
Some common APIs to consider are…
- Live chat
- Email marketing
…and there are many, more!
Here, once again, is why headless e-commerce solutions are so important. Because its architecture has a flexible front-end, headless is better equipped for microservice and API integration. This makes it easier to add new functionalities without affecting other parts of your system and creates opportunities for future innovation. The sky’s the limit!
3. Take Inventory And Identify Gaps
You have made your list of NEEDS and WANTS—now we’re going to go back down to Earth with some nitty-gritty to make that all happen and determine the best e-commerce solution for you.
It is time to take a thorough inventory of your B2B site. Knowing what you have now–from functionality and process flows to existing architecture and resources–will help determine what headless e-commerce architecture can leverage, and the gaps needed to be filled.
Your site inventory should include an analysis and test of your B2B e-commerce site’s performance, including tracking such data as:
- bounce and exit rates
- average order value
- conversion rates
- session duration
It’s also important to take an inventory of your existing tech stack, identifying all the frameworks, applications, and so on necessary to make everything run. Conducting a review of your tech stack is key to understanding what type of integrations are needed in a proposed upgrade.
Combine this quantitative data with the qualitative data from step one (Establish A Clear Vision), so you can understand not just what happens on your site, but why it happens. Only then can you trust you’re making the right changes to accomplish your primary headless e-commerce goals.
Taking your site inventory will naturally lead to the next task on our list: identifying gaps in your current e-commerce system’s operation that are limiting your business success and growth. Compare the difference between your goals and actual numbers in terms of a number of variables, such as functionality and overall user experience. You will also want to consider how your site measures up to current industry standards.
Some common examples of e-commerce gaps include:
- We have ordering, but our existing platform doesn’t satisfy fulfillment.
- We need to drive more sales.
- We don’t have wishlist functionality.
- We can’t compete with our competitor’s customer experience.
- Our catalog structure is too slow and unwieldy.
If you have come up with a sizable list of gaps after taking your inventory, not to worry. A headless e-commerce solution can fix it.
4. Determine In-House Skill Sets
When we discussed the consequences of sticking to your legacy e-commerce platform, one of the pain points was the need to have a large headcount of employees to operate the system. Most legacy e-commerce solutions require an IT department to stay up to date with today’s rapid developments. Even with a big staff, however, keeping pace is still a challenge…and it’s costly.
Your company might not be currently feeling the full brunt of the adjustments, extensions, and integrations necessary to stay up-to-date with the latest updates and technologies—but it will happen over time. When it does hit, the impact will cause your platform to become slow and buggy. Updates will take too long, and new high-demand features will not be able to be integrated.
Therefore it is essential that you assess your in-house ability, as well as the time and costs it takes, to:
Perform system updates
(With a B2B headless e-commerce solution, your site will always be up to date!)
Scale up to support peaks in traffic
(Headless solutions easily scale up to support increases in traffic, and down to reduce costs.)
Deliver customer functionality demands
(Cloud-based solution providers keep their systems flexible with API technology that extends to third-party software.)
Adapt to changing laws and regulations
(Cloud providers offer the highest security and legal standards, and can better adapt to changing laws and regulations than legacy systems.)
Do you have the manpower and expertise it takes to match the performance benefits of headless e-commerce solutions?
5. Decide What Solution Is Best For You
Now that you have figured out what you want and need from a B2B e-commerce system, as well as the gaps it needs to fill, the next step is deciding which specific type of solution would work best for you.
There are a number to choose from, each with their own pros and cons:
SaaS solution: This pre-built out-of-the-box solution can be implemented quickly because it doesn’t require any customization. However, because of this SaaS can be limiting if and when you want to add extra functionality.
API platforms: APIs can provide desired extra features as the need arises—but you have to build your own infrastructure, which is time-consuming and can lead back to the overly complicated architecture you were trying to avoid.
Cloud-based solution: Cloud-based e-commerce is infinitely scalable according to your needs, can go live quickly, is easier to implement and simpler for IT, and cost-predictable…but can also be more expensive according to the amount of data usage.
Microservices: Small applications have the benefit of being able to easily scale up and down, require less headcount per microservice, evolve quickly, and are ecosystem-independent. However, more flexibility increases the complexity of the system.
Headless: Headless e-commerce has the benefit of being the market standard. New API & EDI integrations are simple and totally customizable, release cycles happen quickly, and are overall more accessible— but do require an implementation partner.
6. Create A Migration Timeline
You are close to the finish now! Establish a timeline for your data migration from a legacy e-commerce platform to a headless solution, determining what services to transfer to your headless platform, and in what order. This will help you establish your pace, and the gaps you need to fill with third-party providers.
There are misconceptions that such a migration project entails a tremendous amount of hours and inconvenience as it is being implemented…but nothing could be further from the truth. The key is in the planning. With the right approach, you can make a gradual transition to a headless e-commerce architecture by integrating parts of the old platform into the new one.
Initially, new and old systems can run simultaneously: the legacy solution can maintain all low-priority features, while the new headless platform enables critical features. This approach can be repeated and expanded over and over until the entire platform has been migrated.
If you are looking for a less elaborate migration plan, you can also partially convert to a headless e-commerce solution with cloud-based microservices. Then when you want to implement more services, the extensibility of the headless e-commerce architecture will allow for easy integration. A smaller project is much faster and more affordable than a complete platform rebuild, and just might be the best fit for your company.
7. Choose The Right Partner
This is a lot of information to consider, and if you are still unsure what will improve your site’s customer experience and provide it with the advantage to fulfill its full potential, don’t worry. Many B2B e-commerce businesses are left guessing what will work for customers rather than knowing. If this sounds like you, remember that the right partner can show you all that is possible with a headless e-commerce solution.
World-class e-commerce systems are not implemented overnight, a one-size-fits-all out-of-the-box solution that you can set up and configure in a matter of hours/days/weeks. That’s why having a knowledgeable e-commerce partner is critical. They will put the best voice forward inside your application and design around that. The right partner will even ensure that ongoing business activities are uninterrupted during the transition process.
A headless e-commerce platform like CUE Commerce provides the most intuitive, flexible, customizable, cost-efficient solution for your B2B e-commerce needs. And a headless e-commerce partner like Excellis Interactive can help you with every step of the way, from your business assessment, strategy, and final end-state of a headless build.
If you’re interested to learn what is truly possible for your B2B e-commerce, CONTACT the e-commerce experts at Excellis Interactive today. We will take you through the process step-by-step, showing you how a headless e-commerce solution such as CUE Commerce can be specifically designed to meet your goals for your business.