It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that 2020 is shaping up to be the year of ecommerce. In addition to a pandemic-driven boost, the past few weeks have brought a spate of announcements from players, which thus far had been on the sidelines, signalling just how seriously they intend to take ecommerce. Facebook was first out the gate, with the launch of Facebook Shops, and Snap announced the global expansion of Dynamic Ads. As Christmas messages start to appear on the horizon, it is abundantly clear that this will be a Q4 like no other.
Ecommerce has become a primary way in which brands and consumers interact. But this has exposed a vulnerability: ecommerce websites havent really evolved from being catalogues on the internet. Yes, they’re faster and prettier but are largely listings of products with endless scrolls. Its hard to feel an emotional connection to something when it says “397,623 others like this” at the bottom. Ecommerce doesn’t reflect the way consumers use the web or live their lives. Most ecommerce websites are staid and a far cry from the cheekiness of TikTok, the immediacy of WhatsApp, or the emotive lust of Instagram.
Social platforms are where consumers live and conversation happens – which then gives us culture. For ecommerce to be a game-changer for brands, it needs to move at the speed of culture. We currently use social platforms right now as pointers to our internet catalogue - they are largely disruption rectangles amidst conversations. We must bring commerce to life on social platforms. We now have the technology architecture that allows us to have commerce move at the speed of culture, in the form of headless commerce.
Headless commerce decouples the backend of a website from its front end, and allows the two to talk via a series of APIs. Effectively, once your backend (the bit that does the heavy lifting like order tracking) is separated from the front end (which is what the consumer sees), your front end can be anything, anywhere and is unleashed outside brand.com. This calls for a radical rethink of the role of social platforms in ecommerce.
To use an analogue equivalent: if you had a store in a mall that was falling out of fashion, and at the same time a chic neighbourhood was on the rise, spurred by the new Heston Blumenthal outpost with lots of cool kids, and by waving a magic wand, you could set up a store that fitted in to the streetscape, could merchandise at an individual consumer level and start trading overnight…in such a world, you wouldn’t then buy a huge out-of-home poster with a map to the mall.
Ecommerce is still, to a large extent, a replication of traditional retail practices – especially in areas like merchandising, where the retailer decides what the consumer’s experience should be. It is physically impossible to have a changing display of products for each individual who walks into the store – and so we’ve kept this one-way engagement alive in ecommerce as well.
On brand.com, barring a few outliers, like ASOS, which have spectacular personalisation algorithms, we still have merch and content calendars that look the way they did 20 years ago. If we’re able to break this habit, then the opportunities that headless commerce presents are endless.
We have lived in media with the idea of optimisation for decades – and now optimise media by the second, across campaign types and platforms. What we have never been able to optimise is the retail front end: until now.
Effectively, what headless commerce allows us to do is optimise what front end makes the most sense at that point in time, and that point in culture. This redefinition is what we’re working on right now – and why our approach to social commerce doesn’t live within just the ecommerce team, but also spans content, precision, production, consumer insight and analytics.
Unless you are Amazon. Then you can do whatever you want.
Mudit Jaju is global head of ecommerce at Wavemaker