In the previous post, we talked about headless commerce, an approach to ecommerce development that decouples the backend of an ecommerce site from the front end. In other words, all the backend tasks – order processing, customer records, EPR integration – are separated from the elements that customers engage with, including content, images, product configurators and, critically, the shopping cart. What you’re left with is an ecommerce platform without a “head.”
What’s interesting about headless commerce is that it sets the stage for brands to sell anywhere in the digital universe. It’s a topic well worth exploring for brands, as whole generations of shoppers show signs that they favor non-traditional commerce channels, and your ability to reach and engage these consumers may hinge on how well you can meet them in the places where they make purchasing decisions.
Commerce is everywhere
When ecommerce first emerged in the early 1990’s, site developers sought to mimic the offline experience online, under the belief that such a replication would guide shoppers through the process. Online shopping was new, and many consumers were wary of entering their credit card into a strange new thing called a website. Mimicking the in-store experience felt fundamentally familiar, and gave consumers the confidence to try something new.
But the younger, digitally native Millennial and Gen Z generations don’t need that kind of analogy to the offline world. Moreover, they’ve adopted e-wallets and other tools that streamline shopping, allowing them to purchase a product with a click of a button. Navigating to an online retailer, going through the checkout process, and entering a credit card number and shipping address all feels so yesterday.
This combination of emerging attitudes and seamless technology has allowed innovative brands to sell anywhere, win new customers, and in some cases, leap ahead of their competition. Let’s look at some examples.
Social commerce & shoppable livestreaming
While social commerce isn’t exactly a new trend, 2020 saw an explosion of social commerce sales. And it’s not likely to slow down in 2021. In the US alone, social commerce sales this year will top $39 billion. Globally the numbers are even more eye popping, reaching $589 billion. According to Grand View Research, social commerce will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) 28.4% over the next 6 years
Social media platforms are keen to promote this trend. Over the past year many platforms formed partnerships with ecommerce vendors to enable tighter integration of the two disciplines (e.g. Shopify and Snapchat announced an initiative to make it easier for retailers to create ads and set-up campaigns via the Shopify platform).
Meanwhile, Chinese consumers are enthralled with a newer form of social selling, known as shoppable livestreaming. Platforms such as ShopShops and Pendoo have entered the market to support social livestreaming, and have provided social media influencers with an economic shot in the arm. It’s only a matter of time before shoppable livestreaming becomes a global phenomenon.
How does it work? ShopShops calls its influencers “hosts,” who present items from “iconic and trendy stores, sample sales and flea markets.” Holding up pieces from a sample sales or flea market automatically creates a sense of urgency within the customer: buy this now because it will never be available again.
Headless commerce is also paving the way for news organizations to get serious about ecommerce. Every news site has an ecommerce store, of course, but those sites are hardly a major source of revenue for them. That’s about to change, because headless commerce allows new sites to integrate shopping and content consumption and take advantage of impulse sales.
Take NBCUniversal which released its NBCUniversal checkout early last year. This new feature will incorporate commerce into the reading and viewing experience across its sites. Specifically, it allows the readers of articles and viewers of videos on NBCUniversal properties to click on a featured product, bring up the listing from a partner merchant and make the purchase. Users never need to leave the article they’re reading.
NBCUniversal isn’t alone in the field, as many major news organizations are fusing content consumption with commerce. But one of the things that is significant about NBC is the sheer number of properties the publisher owns, and the size of the audience who will be exposed to this new mode of shopping.
Within a few years I wouldn’t be surprised to see shoppable content become so common that consumers consider it a normal way to shop – and feel put upon if an ad or an article won’t let them purchase an item that’s right there in front of them.
Online games have always engaged in commerce, selling users tools and in-game currency to move up a level or acquire more power. In other words, online games already have the user’s payment information stored, and the consumer is already comfortable with spending money there.
Last spring, rapper Travis Scott performed a concert in the video game Fortnite (those who missed it can join the other 13 million viewers who watched it on YouTube). Given the scale and reach of audiences like Travis’, I can’t imagine that gaming companies will sit on the sidelines much longer. The technology exists to support in-game purchases, and with headless commerce, brands could offer up, say, the trendy sneakers or clothing worn by characters within the games to players with a purchase cycle that can be completed in a single click.
The future: Disappearing lines
These trends are obliterating the line between digital shopping and digital experiences. Soon watching TV, playing a game, keeping up with friends on social media may all become seamless commerce opportunities.
What’s interesting about these developments from a marketer’s point of view is that they collapse advertising and purchasing into a single interaction. A customer sees a product in her Instagram feed, video game or livestreamed fashion sale and makes an impulse purchase.
Headless commerce will usher in a world of new opportunities.