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Doing Headless Commerce Right Means Being Willing to Get a Few Things Wrong

When budgets and timelines are on a clear trajectory for disaster, the launch of new digital commerce experiences are often dialed back. But why do we wait until things are falling apart to scale down, launch lighter, and accept a more incremental approach to optimization? Let’s dig into three reasons why taking a crawl, walk, run approach to optimizing digital experiences is a great idea.

1. Designs Are Only Hypotheses

The typical process of delivering a new digital experience involves aligning on goals, defining customer experience criteria, gathering requirements, prioritizing features, and then conducting the quantitative and qualitative design research required to begin to bring a new experience to life. Design teams conduct comparative analysis to learn how others have solved similar challenges; they apply design heuristics to ensure they are keeping to the principles of good experience design; and they create several design hypotheses to ensure they aren’t fixating on a single idea.

Once these design hypotheses are created, often as wireframes, they are “tested” with a small representative set of customers, typically four to six, to identify where there are opportunities for improvement. Based on this testing, incremental changes are generally made, and a single hypothesis is prioritized for development.

Something that cannot be overstated is that what is being developed is still a hypothesis. There has been a degree of validation to find the most obvious problems, but a small set of customers in a simulated environment is not a true reflection of how hundreds of thousands of customers a month will interact with the designs in the real world.

Designers need to plan experiments

To ensure they are shipping the best possible customer experiences, ones that result in optimal business outcomes, designers need to go above and beyond these fundamental hypotheses. Design teams need the time to craft, evaluate, and iterate upon customer experience experiments.

Conducting data-informed experiments when the new experience launches delivers insights that are not available as part of the material that design teams have at their disposal when researching and planning their initial hypotheses. But time is a finite resource on a project. So what are design teams to do?

Instead of rethinking every experience pattern and interface component, designers should consider tools and platforms that allow them to leverage known patterns and proven experience conventions for digital commerce, like the Baymard Institute. Leveraging these resources provides more time to focus on the features that differentiate brands and the experiments that allow for the optimization of real world customer experiences.

2. Feature Creep Forces Technical Debt

The digital world is littered with features that sounded good in a boardroom but don’t result in value for customers or brands. There is an appeal of adding in a new capability that we may need someday, especially when the time to develop any individual feature sounds like it only takes days.

There’s a true tension between staying focused on time-to-value and squeezing in as many features as possible up front, to avoid the inevitable down-the-line squeeze of “we didn’t consider that and it would require a major refactor”.

As the timeline for project delivery looms nearer, the pressure on development teams to find a way to fit all of these “must-have” features into their delivery plan requires a trade-off of other fundamental, non-functional requirements.

Capabilities like performance, analytics instrumentation, accessibility, testing, and documentation start to sound less important compared to ensuring that features are shipped on time. But here’s the thing: the technical debt that’s accrued does end up needing to be paid. And most often it’s paid as a tax to the team’s ability to ship new capabilities and to quickly make changes requested in the future.

Developers need to plan for the future, while delivering now

The most successful brands will be those that find a way to leverage technology to prepare themselves for inevitable future shifts in business models and customer expectations. Development teams need to consider all of the architectural patterns at their disposal and optimize for those that provide the greatest future adaptability and flexibility, not those that provide for the fastest path to the finish line for their present digital projects. This enabling technology shifts not only how solutions are delivered, but the nature of collaboration within the organization.

Composable commerce, the philosophy of architecting solutions around distinct packaged business capabilities delivered as headless microservices, can ensure that from day one of a project there is an architectural plan to add in or swap out features without the need to conduct major replatforming. An effective composable commerce architecture empowers brands to ship early, without the fear of painting themselves into a corner and limiting, or significantly increasing the cost of, their future options.

3. Composable Commerce Prepares Brands for the Future

One of the strengths of composable commerce lies in its ability to resolve the tension between what a business identifies as its needs right now and what design and technology teams require to continually perfect that brand’s digital experiences for the future.

The traditional approach to delivering digital commerce is to select an all-in-one solution. These monoliths provide the convenience of out-of-the-box configuration and customization, but have been primarily architected to encourage convergence to their set of pre-defined business capabilities and third-party integrations. These platforms are well-suited to brands that engage in relatively few channels, where the future needs of the business are highly predictable and little value is placed on the ability to experiment with new business or customer engagement models. And in reality, fewer and fewer brands fit that description.

The best-in-class approach of composable commerce, however, encourages brands to be selective about the technologies they choose in order to deliver upon needed business capabilities. By offering an architectural pattern that supports the integration of a variety of headless technologies, brands can choose the right tools for the job. This much-needed flexibility empowers brands to make decisions now, without foregoing the ability to expand upon or exchange business capabilities in the future.

Composable commerce is the starting ground for brands that understand the strategic value of tailoring their own digital experience platform. By focusing on the assembly of the right tools for the job, they’re able to create a solution that’s custom built to meet their unique needs.

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Composable.com™ Accelerator

The Composable.com Accelerator makes it easier for brands to benefit from composable commerce. It combines an experiment-driven approach to customer and retail data, pre-built and customizable design patterns based on proven conventions, and a headless architecture that combines best-in-class headless technologies, so that brands can easily manage the customer experience across a variety of channels and digital experiences. If you’re looking to better understand the differences between headless commerce and composable commerce, read more here.

Profile photograph of Everett Zufelt

Everett Zufelt

Vice President, Product & Partnerships, Myplanet

Everett leads go-to-market strategy at Myplanet, supporting the exploration, validation, and promotion of new service and product offerings. Everett works closely with advisors, partners, and customers to help translate market signals into strategies that enable brands to leverage technology to move to the forefront of their market.

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