Headless Commerce in Follow + three Examples (2021)


The headless architecture has become known as an emerging technology strategy that many traders are considering. The benefits of this architecture are primarily promoted to give businesses more choices for integrating best-of-breed solutions, superior site performance, and other technical advantages. While all of these benefits are true and incredibly beneficial, we are very excited about the creative possibilities this approach has opened up for brands.

Highly branded and unique user experiences have been a little out of reach for many midsize retailers looking to enhance their brand by integrating more dynamic content into the overall shopping experience. Aside from the more expensive and sometimes unaffordable monolithic platforms, there was no complete solution that would support both a brand’s unique content and e-commerce needs. Brands have weighed the tradeoffs between the two, forcing them to decide which is more important.

So what has changed? One change is the rise and support of APIs by some ecommerce platforms. The availability of these APIs offers a new way of combining dynamic content experiences, business service applications and the commerce catalog in such a way that everything is brought together. This creates efficiency and the ability to provide an overall better brand and customer experience.

BigCommerce made an early decision to fully support headless by taking an open SaaS approach to its platform and making its catalog and functions available via APIs. This strategy has allowed brands to adapt quickly to change while reducing operating costs by providing flexibility in supporting the front-end of choice. While there are several other platforms making similar claims, we’ve found BigCommerce to be much more advanced as we’ve adopted their entire platform strategy to support open SaaS and be headless from the get-go.

The headless architecture offers brands the opportunity to take a step backwards and forwards at the same time, supporting their current brand requirements and at the same time preparing them for future growth and change. As an e-commerce design and development agency, we’d like to share some specific examples of how this framework has unlocked creativity and improved our design solutions and systems to better support a brand’s ability to manage their website more sustainably.

For many years, ZaneRay has had the advantage of doing both design and development, and some of our team members have significant experience and skills in both areas. Understanding the design and construction requirements has helped keep our designs informed over the years, allowing us to get a little more creative while knowing exactly where the lines are being drawn. The headless framework has significantly expanded these lines in all directions and enabled us to create brand experiences that would previously have been unaffordable for our brand partners. From a design perspective, the decoupling of the front and back has enabled our design team to work in a more robust content management system that better supports unique and inventive designs that were simply not possible before. Because of this newfound freedom, we were able to explore further with our brand partners who want to do something more immersive and unique to better communicate their brand experience.

Skullcandy is one of those brands that has built a loyal and connected community around music and action sports that is quite active on their website due to its role in nurturing that culture. This cultural affinity sells their products as a lifestyle brand. Because of this, Skullcandy wanted a commerce website that would creatively showcase their products while telling the stories around the art and culture that make up the essence of the brand. The challenge that Skullcandy posed was how best to run the 18-month Moods campaign. It includes a limited edition product, new musician and new artwork every month. The requirements included the ability for the Skullcandy team to swap campaign resources every month with no development constraints, and to schedule and schedule the release.

Using BigCommerce’s open SaaS, we were able to take a hybrid approach by incorporating a headless CMS to create the page structure and components, with the ability to provision and preview the assets before the content was published. The CMS also has scheduling capabilities that the team can use to schedule the site to go live in the middle of the night without the assistance of the development team. This hybrid approach has been expanded to other areas of the website, allowing Skullcandy to push the creative boundaries and showcase its brand without restrictions.

Yeti Cycles is another headless website we recently launched on BigCommerce. Her previous website was beautifully designed and matched her branding needs. However, their “design-first” approach had resulted in a very fragmented and tangled technical back end over time that was extremely disjointed and made it difficult for the marketing team to manage or update the site. Not only was it difficult, but it was also quite expensive as most of the updates required tech support. To get the marketing speed they needed to achieve their goals, the Yeti team needed a more integrated backend, as well as a more user-friendly frontend that would give them the insights, tools, and systems they needed to better manage their website.

A goal at the beginning of the project was to improve the overall design of the website, improve the designs rather than redefine them from scratch. The Yeti Cycles team also needed to be able to advance the integrity of these designs for future campaigns, content updates, and product launches, and needed the right systems and tools that would enable them to do this themselves. To achieve this, ZaneRay created a design system that is supported by a library of reusable components along with a digital style guide. It provides brand consistency across the website and allows the team to create new pages and upload new content. This combination of front-end tools and systems along with a robust CMS has enabled them to advance the accuracy of the designs beyond the original design and creation of the site.

This system was tested just days after the website launched with the release of the new retro-themed ARC 35th Anniversary bike, limited edition. What previously required weeks of preparation and development coordination for the start now took hours and you could do it completely by yourself. The bike was sold out within a few hours.

Another primary goal of the project was to ensure that all of the backend systems were properly integrated so that they could fully monitor the purchase funnel and, with this new visibility, make adjustments to their website based on data-driven insights. The integration issues they had encountered with their previous tech stack had also contributed to their inability to monitor their buying funnel because the backend systems were so fragmented. Since headless is an API-first framework, the backend systems could be simplified and connected with minimal effort. The result was a backend that was now fully integrated and structured for site analysis. Inside BigCommerce’s analytics admin, the Yeti team can now fully monitor the abandoned cart rate, view specific products that are abandoned, and create specific campaigns to reduce abandonment rates.

Our third and most recent headless project is Black Diamond Equipment. Black Diamond is a strong outdoor brand that has struggled to showcase its inspirational content on their previous website which was on one of the monolithic platforms. Due to the limitations and prohibitive development, Black Diamond decided to go with a headless strategy that incorporated BigCommerce’s open SaaS platform for their new website.

One of the main goals of the Replatform was to allow the Black Diamond marketing team to freely manage the website and its extensive content, and provide a more dynamic creative experience that better represents the brand while lowering the total cost of ownership. The headless solution included the integration of many third-party service applications and a feature-rich CMS.

The new design is based on a similar strategy to Skullcandy and Yeti Cycles, combining rich content with products where it matters most to customers. Using the incredible images and stories developed by the brand, the new design and CMS allow Black Diamond to immerse their customers in the experiences the brand is known for. Not only do they have the full ability to manage this content, but their team can go far beyond simply updating them using this advanced design system and CMS to create new pages and content.

Another goal of Black Diamond was to adapt the news to the different markets. In addition to their professional athletes, this also includes European countries and languages. Not only does the CMS support multiple languages, but the website has also been programmed so that the European team can present various merchandising, asset and messaging features to these different customers for a better user experience in the market. The Black Diamond marketing team has new freedoms that they quickly take advantage of when they flex their creative muscles.

While mindless architecture is still in its infancy, it levels the playing field for what brands can do with their digital experiences. What used to be achieved only with custom programming can now be used by non-technical marketing teams who express a real, no-compromise experience. Early adopters like BigCommerce are already way ahead when it comes to getting brands and retailers on the road to success with this approach. The landscape only gets better where there are many tools and programs to make headless an architecture that is even easier to consider. Unleashing this creativity for brands is just one of the benefits of headless, but probably the most exciting for those who enjoy creating a great user experience.

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