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Altering a B2C eCommerce website can be like playing Jenga. You can have a very sturdy site, but make one minor tweak here or an addition there, and the whole thing can easily come crashing down. But downtime doesn’t just mean time wasted fixing the issues and getting your storefront back online – it results in missed sales and damage to brand perception. So, updates, enhancements and modifications often follow slow and complicated processes to safeguard against such disasters – meaning that agility and ability to respond to the market suffer accordingly. In this article, we’ll explore a solution: the headless Salesforce® B2C Commerce Cloud.
But first, let’s take a step back for a moment to quickly set the scene and break down some key concepts:
Heads, bodies and B2C commerce today
The outward-facing part of your eCommerce website, which customers see and interact with, is known as the “front end” – and can be thought of as the “head” of your online store (and perhaps also the face of your business, but let’s not complicate the metaphor too much). It includes the content, the design – anything that consumers come into contact with. On the other hand, the “back end” contains everything that goes on behind the curtain: the mechanisms that your site runs on, the product/order/customer data you deal with, and so on.
In a traditional eCommerce setup, any changes made to the back end can have dramatic, potentially site-breaking knock-on effects when it comes to the front end. For instance, while making alterations to the customer experience and interactions, you may inadvertently do something that interferes with payment processing or database access. Not good. As a result, retailers have had to accept slow, cumbersome development processes and architecture that safeguard the front end but restrict the ability to act quickly.
Furthermore, in a traditional arrangement, a company will often use different platforms for their web, mobile and social media stores, each with its own “heads” and “bodies”, resulting in jarring inconsistencies and differing customer experiences in each store. To use an analogy, it’s like speaking to a set of different people. I’m sure you’ve come across some brands’ mobile apps that have looked and functioned very differently from their eCommerce website and if you thought it gave a poor impression, that’s exactly the kind of consumer judgment a brand doesn’t want.
So, what is headless B2C commerce?
I’ve just described the general state of B2C commerce until relatively recently: disparate and disconnected platforms, inconsistent experiences and highly restricted agility. With today’s pace of innovation and consumer expectations, this can’t go on any longer. Hence the necessity for headless B2C commerce: decoupling the front end (head) from the back end (body) to provide greater freedom.
With headless B2C commerce, back-end functionality and data can be accessed via API calls, which means the entire site doesn’t need to be redeployed every time a change is made – just the part of it that’s been changed. And instead of using different platforms for each channel, with different heads and bodies, it’s possible to bring everything together. Retailers can have far greater abilities to provide innovative, personalized and consistent shopping experiences for their customers across web, mobile and social stores.
So, now that we’ve looked at what headless B2C commerce actually means and why there’s a need for it, it’s time to look at it in the context of B2C Commerce Cloud.
Can you have a headless Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud?
To help organizations achieve a Salesforce Commerce Cloud headless implementation, Salesforce has developed the B2C Commerce Progressive Web App Kit, also known as the PWA Kit, and Commerce Managed Runtime. These allow you to achieve headlessness via Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), and I’ll explain what those are and why they’re useful.
PWAs are changing the way that customers interact with brands in a world where mobile devices are increasingly important. Brands have long sought to use mobile apps for iOS and Android to provide great experiences to customers on their smartphones. The aim is to deliver user experience (UX) going beyond the clunkiness often found in browser-based stores, and they’re designed to work against the performance limitations of mobile connectivity. However, many users are put off by the need to download such apps. It’s not always a fast or hassle-free process and requires storage space on your device as well as using up mobile data for the download if you aren’t near Wi-Fi.
Not only do PWAs offer better performance and unified, multi-channel customer experiences but they also solve the restrictions to agility. Because your storefront is being delivered by an app, the PWA replaces the “head”, interacting with the “body” (your back-end commerce engine) via API calls. That means you can make changes and updates to the storefront whenever you need to – all without disrupting everything else.
More benefits of the PWA Kit
What’s more, with the included Retail React App, plus pre-built React templates, development doesn’t have to start from scratch. Want to develop some new functionality to capitalize on a fresh consumer trend? Now you can make it happen before the “moment” has passed.
Finally, it’s important to mention that the benefits of Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud itself make this headless B2C commerce route an attractive one, too:
- Unified eCommerce that engages consumers via a powerful platform connected with sales and marketing
- Intelligent personalization powered by AI that facilitates unique journeys and builds customer loyalty
- Multi-store and multi-brand functionality that means you can easily manage everything on one platform
- The ability to sell at scale if demand spikes or your business grows, at 10,000+ transactions a second
Want to find out more about the benefits? You can learn about B2C Commerce Cloud here.
Back to the main topic – there’s an important question that needs to be answered: is the PWA headless route right for everyone? Let’s see.
Is going headless right for a business like yours?
I’ll be upfront here and say that a headless commerce cloud setup via the PWA Kit may not always be the ideal option for larger retailers — yet. It’s still early days: the tools are still in the beta testing stage and might not be ready to support some of the huge and extremely complex eCommerce websites that many of the world’s biggest brands use. It is worth bearing in mind, though, that Salesforce’s ultimate plan is to build the future of eCommerce around the headless paradigm. So, it’s only a matter of time before this route becomes fully viable for the majority of organizations.
However, if your business is smaller, more niche or a new startup, then going for Commerce Cloud PWA Kit headless B2C commerce could be exactly what you need. Maybe you have an existing storefront on a platform such as Shopify, Magento or Wix, for example, and you’re looking for a step up. You’re finding that your current platform doesn’t offer as much as you’d like in terms of customization and capabilities, or it just doesn’t look and feel as professional as you want. However, the previous alternative — complex, “heavy” and unwieldy eCommerce platforms the big brands use — hasn’t been right for your situation, either. So, you’ve been stuck with “entry-level” eCommerce, looking for a way to reach the next level. This could very well be it.
Beyond initially getting set up, a Commerce Cloud PWA B2C commerce solution requires much less specialized expertise than those heavy platforms. So, much of the administration and updates can be handled by your in-house team, and any developers you may have will find it easier to work with when it comes to more complex projects. The built-in managed runtime infrastructure also means faster deployment is possible – in fact, we’ve known such projects to take as little as three months. That’s a big difference from the long and potentially costly development periods that other routes can involve. If you’re working with a challenging budget, and trying to gain as much value as you can, as quickly as possible, then these are all real pluses.
Here’s another advantage, which I’ve touched on earlier. If you’ve got a non-Salesforce eCommerce solution and you already use (or want to use) Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Sales Cloud, for instance, then the Commerce Cloud PWA Kit headless route gives you the very valuable ability to integrate them into your eCommerce. In fact, this can be a very cost-effective way to start gaining the full benefit of the Salesforce ecosystem — and bring the power of Einstein AI into your eCommerce activities – without needing Storefront Reference Architecture (SFRA). This was previously the main method for implementing Commerce Cloud but often had heavy expertise demands which were prohibitive for businesses with tighter budgets, who may have found such a solution too costly to maintain. But with a PWA Kit headless solution, the kinds of powerful capabilities Salesforce offers — once out of reach of most retailers using the more rudimentary eCommerce platforms — are now accessible.
Making your move to a headless(?) future
If you’re already thinking of making the transition to headless B2C commerce and wondering if it’s a painless procedure, I’ve got good news here, too. Because the PWA Kit and Commerce Managed Runtime use such standard, well-known web technologies, migrating from other eCommerce platforms is easier, quicker and more cost-effective.
So, if you want to move from another platform to a new headless Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud solution, or if you’re already using B2C Commerce Cloud but want to add headlessness to it, you can make it happen without delay.
We at VRP Consulting want to help you. Our B2C Commerce Cloud certified experts have worked with some of the biggest and most recognizable brands in the world, as well as up-and-coming challengers. We pride ourselves on our dedication, agility and innovation – so we’ll do everything we can to make your move as smooth and cost-effective as it can be, and ensure your B2C Commerce Cloud delivers everything it can for your business.
But if you need help making a decision whether headless B2C Commerce Cloud is right for your business, we can assist with that, too. If it’s not the appropriate course for you – at least right now – we’ll help you identify any other actions you can take to provide better shopper experiences and maximize your sales potential.
We’ll be glad to explore the possibilities with you. Get in touch to discuss your options.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud Practice Lead
About the Author
Martin leads our dedicated B2C Commerce Cloud practice. He has led teams on Salesforce B2C Commerce Cloud projects for major global brands including household names in fashion and sports retail.