How headless commerce can solve friction in the B2B eCommerce development process

The statistics on the number of B2B eCommerce projects that fail are alarming. Historically, we’ve seen numbers that range from 80% to 95%. Of course, what determines a “failure” versus a substandard solution may differ from survey to survey.

Whether the project had a successful outcome or was an abject failure, the process to define, launch and deploy a solution is almost always a bumpy path.

If we step back and assume that a company and its technical team have the right skills and experience and the business team has figured out the metrics for success and has an appropriate budget and timeline, then where are projects going off script and what’s causing the slowdown and forcing a compromised solution?

What we’re really looking closely at is the friction in the build, launch, and development process.

What is the definition of friction? According to Wikipedia (outside of the eCommerce world anyway):

“Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other.”

And if we keep reading…

“This property can have dramatic consequences, as illustrated by the use of friction created by rubbing pieces of wood together to start a fire.”

Starting fires? Whether in the woods or building a new storefront, “fire” isn’t one of the words you want to hear to describe the status of what you’re doing.

In the next several sections we’ve broken down the process of building, configuring,and deploying B2B commerce applications into three areas of friction you might run into and explain how headless commerce services can help to alleviate these issues.

#1: Customization & Configuration: Making a new tool work the way you need it to

Whether you want to admit it or not, your business looks and operates differently than your competitors. The obvious benefit to this is that you have your own unique brand and personality. The downside is that when it comes to implementing off-the-shelf software solutions, it will most likely require you to make do with as best a fit as you can find.

The capability to take a package-hosted software-as-a-service product and connect to it to build unique applications or leverage its services is still a relatively new concept.

Creating a uniquely branded storefront with a pixel-perfect design, configuring an order management workflow, or implementing a unique customer feedback and automation strategy are all worthy projects that likely require some level of customization.

These customization options are often just not available within the platform. This leads to friction caused by the decision-making process around creating a workaround, finding add-ons, and plugins, and trying to fill the gap.

How headless commerce provides a solution:

  • More configuration, less “start up” development
    Flexible, customized eCommerce with low/no coding requirements to provide exceptional customer experiences for your most loyal shoppers. You can seamlessly connect marketing-centric advantages like loyalty programs and customer analytics, and marketing services like CRM, email, and more. Development time is freed up and not spent rebuilding pieces of your business that were already working perfectly or struggling to connect systems that aren’t ready to integrate.
  • If there’s no way to do it, connect something else
    That’s right, if there’s simply no way to do what you want to do or there’s a better option out there – the integration and framework support composing those solutions together into a best-of-breed solution that’s unique to your business.
  • Or, use a slimmed-down version
    Take a menu of services and make use of the pieces you need. Eliminate “forced” use of any feature set. For example, if you’re already utilizing a suite of services that are working well – keep them. Use the capabilities you need and simply turn off the rest (you might need them later).

#2: Development Friction

Wait a minute, you might be asking – aren’t development and customization two sides of the same coin? In our approach not really. If you have a packaged solution, it doesn’t matter what it is, there are small tweaks or enhancements that you’ll want to build or extend from that platform. Whether it’s something small like adding a “Birthday” field to an account or larger like launching a separate storefront to support a new DTC sales channel, for example.

Development friction is the number of steps, hoops and/or workarounds that need to get through to make that happen. The more friction the platform puts in the way of your development team, the more time and cost it takes to customize.
Beyond the front end and design of a storefront, how does a business make a platform operate the way it needs? How does a business connect to the backoffice – ERP, accounting, and other services?

It’s appropriate to look at the question from two perspectives: (1) can I customize the service to do what my business needs? (2) how much effort is required to implement?

How headless commerce provides a solution:

  • There’s less to learn
    With API based commerce frameworks, a developer only needs to become comfortable with the naming and structure in the API to begin irking. There aren’t specific requirements for tools to install, set up, or deploy.
  • With less to learn, you’re “building” faster
    Spending less time getting set up and learning the basics results in faster delivery of the final product.Whether working directly on a final storefront or jumping into a proof-of-concept approach, the timeframe from start to delivery of something working is greatly reduced. Development and business teams can feel better about progress when they see deliverables quickly.
  • Less effort to switch
    The replacement potential just doesn’t exist with other solutions. The ability to leverage services or modules to use the pieces that are needed today and replace existing technologies one by one reduces that massive “replacement” bill that we all fear.
  • Better Migration Tools
    Moving to a new platform and dealing with limited data export and import tools is challenging, to say the least. A full coverage API and the opportunity to quickly connect to an existing platform, do any clean up or manipulation and then migrate into another system is critical to reducing the overall project timeline.

#3: Integration Friction

It’s safe to assume that any B2B eCommerce platform is going to require some form of integration with external systems – ERP, accounting, content management, PIM, order management, or others.

With a spiderweb of services and systems all talking to each other, the likelihood that you can use out-of-the-box integrations from a vendor to make it all work is fantasy. Version updates and customizations (and more) can all cause major headaches. Given that you’re likely to be using a technology service differently than a developer at one of those providers means there are going to be challenges making integrations work seamlessly unless you have significant configuration control.

Throughout the initial build and as a business grows and adapts, the integration requirements change the dynamics of how business technologies need to interact with the commerce platform.

How headless commerce provides a solution:

  • Reduces reliance on and improves integration with middleware
    Previously, the fastest workaround to even the smallest data integrations was to connect all systems into a centralized data routing or middleware option. Basically, expensive software that understands the data coming out of both systems and can make the syncing process straightforward.
  • Get Access to Data
    It sounds so simple that it’s shocking, but one of the most likely friction-causing issues when building integrations between backoffice solutions and eCommerce platforms is the inability to access key data points. We’ve seen it all, from an inability to get gift card balances to payment history; it’s almost impossible to correctly manage and sync data when one system locks away key data. With the API-first approach to headless commerce platforms, development and technical teams can connect to and access key datasets across the eCommerce dataset.

Wrapping Up 

While so much attention is focused on the benefits of headless commerce for B2C retailers in terms of creative and design flexibility, B2B companies can also stand to benefit by achieving better outcomes with improved business integrations, capabilities for their business complexities, and a solution that can serve as a platform for their growth well into the future with headless commerce platforms.

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