Headless commerce is the new buzzword in the industry. As Forbes reports, headless platforms have raised a combined $376.3 million in funding over the last two years. A quick look at Google Trends shows the term “headless commerce” jumping in search volume this year.
No doubt about it, headless commerce is getting a lot of press — and for good reason. It offers tons of flexibility.
But with all that flexibility comes responsibility. Organizations that go the headless route need to know what they’re taking on.
This is especially true for B2B. Simply put, headless commerce isn’t right for every B2B use case. We’ll give you three questions to help you determine if it’s the right architecture for you. But first, let’s define the term.
Headless commerce for B2B: A quick definition
So what is headless commerce in a B2B scenario?
Simply put, it’s a commerce architecture in which the technology supporting the front-end user experience is disconnected from the back-end commerce databases. Front end developers can (theoretically) create whatever user experience they want in numerous technologies like web, mobile apps, chatbots and social media. Whatever the front-end technology, it talks to the back end through web services (API calls).
In the context of B2B, headless commerce may or may not be a fit. It all depends on the needs of your business.
On to those questions!
1. Is UX (user experience) a competitive differentiator for you?
Headless commerce gives organizations total control over the customers’ front-end user experience. And by total control, we mean total.
If you want a mobile app in addition to a web store, you’ll need to hire developers. (Read this post for more on mobile apps vs. responsive B2B eCommerce websites.)
If you want a web-based commerce experience that looks like nothing else on the market, you’ll need to hire developers.
In cases like these, the expense (and added technological responsibility) may be worth it if you need to differentiate yourself based on user experience. But realize that creating (and supporting) that user experience will require a lot of resources.
For many organizations, particularly manufacturers, this architecture is difficult to justify. By default, manufacturers differentiate based on product. When they’re selling to dealers, distributors or other channel partners through a contractual relationship, things like chatbot selling and social commerce typically aren’t priorities.
In these scenarios, the commerce experience isn’t a differentiator. It’s really just infrastructure — almost a utility. And if it’s a utility, then a template-based solution that includes ERP integration is a better fit. (Hint: This is what Corevist Commerce offers.)
A template-based approach is especially useful if you’re moving existing customers from phone, fax and email ordering to a B2B portal.
This leads us to our next question.
2. Are you moving existing customers online or pursuing new customers?
B2C is all about attracting and converting customers who are one step away from choosing the competition. (This is one reason why headless is so great for B2C, by the way — it gives you the freedom to build and test different user experiences. You may start with a UX template, but you don’t want to look like another store, so you’ll be modifying it heavily.)
B2B use cases are far more varied. The transaction often isn’t so precarious — especially if your products are more specialized than commoditized.
In these cases, you might prefer a template-driven user experience. As long as the solution adapts to your unique processes and data, why reinvent the look and feel if you just need a portal for dealers and distributors to do business with you?
Typically, these customers place orders through phone, fax, email, EDI or a commerce solution that isn’t integrated to the ERP. Rather than growing their customer base, the manufacturer is more concerned with creating a better experience for existing customers. They really just want to become ETDBW (easier to do business with) by abolishing phone, fax and email interaction. This reduces their cost to serve by eliminating manual order entry.
By the way, reducing that cost is also the primary driver for replacing a B2B portal that isn’t integrated to the ERP.
For manufacturers who just want to become ETDBW, headless B2B commerce may require too much heavy lifting — which leads us to our next question.
3. Do you have the resources to do headless B2B commerce well?
The whole idea with headless is to marry different technologies and systems through APIs. In one sense, you could say that headless commerce platforms aren’t finished — they’re the chassis and engine of the car. You have to supply the body yourself, whether building it from scratch or assembling a kit.
The more touch points you want to serve through headless commerce, the bigger the burden you’ll take on here. And since your headless implementation is unique by default (no one else is doing it exactly your way), your architecture becomes its own beast. It will require specialized knowledge to keep it up and running. If you’re going to manage that beast in-house, your FTEs will need longer ramp-up times to learn the ins and outs of your landscape. If you outsource it, whether in parts or in whole, knowledge management becomes even more difficult.
If you need full control of a flexible UX, this may be justified in some B2B use cases. But you should count the cost carefully.
Alternatives to headless commerce for B2B
At a high level, there are only two alternatives to headless commerce architecture in a B2B scenario.
- Traditional eCommerce platform with its own backend and no prebuilt ERP integration. Should offer a template-based UX.
- ERP-first eCommerce (like Corevist Commerce) that offers a template-based UX and includes deep ERP integration.
Comparing traditional eCommerce platforms with headless is beyond the scope of this article. (This post from CoreDNA explains how traditional platforms stack up against headless.)
However, it’s worth calling out the power of ERP-integrated, template-based B2B commerce solutions. They’re ideal for manufacturers who fit this profile.
- Your entire business depends on SAP ERP data and logic.
- Your dealers and distributors have unique contract pricing, inventory calculations and other business rules, and your B2B commerce experience needs to get them right for every customer.
- You rely on unique products, rather than an unusual commerce experience, to differentiate from the competition.
- You need to abolish phone, fax and email ordering — or you’re replacing a B2B portal that doesn’t talk to SAP ERP.
- You need to get to value fast, so a templatized front end (coupled with deep SAP integration in the backend) is more attractive than the task of building your own front end.
- Whatever route you go, you have limited IT resources (or no resources) to put toward a B2B commerce project.
If that’s you, check out Corevist Commerce. Our solution is built on a deep SAP ERP integration — and it’s designed to launch fast.