Headless Platforms – Telco’s Key to Omnichannel Commerce
There was a time when offering a good product or service at a fair price was a sound sales strategy for a consumer-driven company. Since the Middle Ages when the first transactions were made and the concepts of trade and commerce were established, it’s worked fairly well. Even when businesses introduced advertising and marketing strategies to increase sales, the commerce process remained consistent: When a consumer wanted or needed something, they visited a store, browsed a catalog, or made a call to a local provider. A buying decision was made based on available options, currency exchanged for a product or service. Done.
Then, less than 30 years ago, the internet disrupted commerce. Websites suddenly became a critical part of the consumer sales strategy. For brands whose core capabilities were making and selling products or services – whether apparel, automobiles, televisions or telephone service – the scramble to implement technology to launch and support a website was daunting.
Since the 90s, there have been rapid technology advances from online transactions to smartphones, apps, virtual assistants, loT, and smart cars – each one providing consumers greater ability to access information, discover new products, explore options, make purchases, and do it all anywhere, at any time, using any form of currency. Ultimately, technology has given consumers more control over how to spend their hard-earned money and forced brands to become technology innovators.
According to Matt Alberts, Vice President of Professional Services at commercetools, “It doesn’t really matter what industry a business is in – keeping up with constant technology change isn’t easy.” Alberts, who currently focuses on helping Telco companies implement commerce technology solutions, has worked in technology for over 20 years. He believes the single most important priority for all consumer-driven brands needs to be providing consumers with an omnichannel technology experience. “The issues most are having is that the original technology platform they built years ago isn’t equipped to support omnichannel functionality.”
Telcos: Omnichannel Obstacles
As service providers, Telcos never employed traditional consumer sales strategies until the mid 1980s. Consumers paid for telephone service from whatever telco served their area and leased phones as part of their monthly fee. As the industry grew, and deregulation broke up the Bell system, Telcos started making acquisitions, adding cable and wireless services, and started selling products and packages. Eventually, most Telcos decided that for consumers to experience all they had to offer, they had to open stores. Alberts says it was a smart move: “The best way to get a consumer to commit to a $3000 year-long triple play subscription is for them to experience it in store.” However, he explains, “Once Telcos became retailers, they inherited the problems of retailers.”
Today, Telcos are realizing they don’t have the right technology infrastructure to benefit from all their acquisitions, cross-sell products, or consolidate them into packages. “It’s a reflection of how their business has changed,” says Alberts.
The Omnichannel Dream
Delivering true omnichannel commerce requires integrating a combination of marketing, sales, and purchasing strategies into a single platform, which enables interactive experiences, personalized content, and transaction processing seamlessly across all channels.
It’s important, says Alberts, because the consumer wants the same experience, product availability, pricing and quality of service regardless of whether they walk into a store, call customer service, go to a website, check an app or ask Alexa. What they want, he says, “ is the true omnichannel commerce dream.”
Not being able to provide this type of omnichannel experience is causing brands to lose customers and sales. Alberts offers multiple examples:
“A customer goes to a store and buys a product. He chooses not to buy something else, gets home and changes his mind. He goes online to buy it and can’t find it. Or, the customer wants to experience a product in-store before committing to purchase, and it’s only sold online. Or, the customer wants to speak to a sales rep, and is quoted a higher price than he saw advertised online. All of these things are frustrating and unacceptable to the consumer.”
While brick-and-mortar retailers were first to embrace, develop and implement omnichannel strategies by integrating tools that deliver consistent content across disparate systems, only a handful have been successful at delivering a true omnichannel experience.
The problem lies in an outdated approach. “Everyone is trying to adapt old technology to address a new challenge,” says Alberts. “The common solution is to just build a brand-new system on top of the existing platform. It continually fails because the platform is already supporting disparate systems with different capabilities. Brands end up dealing with countless restrictions and exceptions that prohibit true seamless operations and create glitches, crashes, and downtime.”
Alberts believes the only way to deliver a robust omnichannel experience is for brands to transition over to a technology platform that offers functionality and flexibility. “A modern headless, API-first, microservices-based, cloud-native platform can take them into the future.”
A Future without Fear
commercetools introduced the concept of headless platforms to the industry in 2010. The idea was that by decoupling the front-end UX/UI platform (i.e. “head”) from the back-end operations platform, it would eliminate the limitations of a traditional inflexible all-in-one platform. Using a headless architecture, commercetools has enabled clients across multiple industries to successfully deliver omnichannel experiences.
A headless commerce platform offers countless benefits:
- APIs are to fulfill their intended purposes, do what they are designed to do, without exceptions
- Data is able to be collected, managed and consolidated with more efficiency
- Content is able to be delivered, changed and updated quickly and easily
- New features and tools are able to be added without risking disruption to the front-end UX/UI
Most brands are fully aware they need to transition to a headless approach. Multiple factors prevent them from doing so – everything from the cost and time involved to fear of change, pressure from internal IT, and a lack of understanding of the technology. “Headless as a concept is simply hard to get your head around,” says Alberts. “It’s a matter of helping them justify the investment by seeing how being able to access all their functions across all channels on a single platform drives value across the board.”
commercetools has been helping retailers recognize the benefits of running their operations on headless platforms since 2006. Two years ago, they brought in Alberts as a Telecom industry expert, and the company is currently working with one of the world’s largest Telcos. “We’re not only providing a platform that can take them into the future, we’re providing a path to that technology while protecting what they have in place. And, we’re providing new ways for them to go live quicker and safer.”
He says that the established industry-specific providers Telcos have turned to for years are offering the same thing they offered retailers and repeating the same mistakes. “That’s why they are turning to us. We help them imagine a future when introducing a new product, promoting a sale, changing a price or billing process — anything they have to do to run their business — doesn’t require updating every single individual system. It doesn’t even require contacting us to help. Everything is connected and seamless. The omnichannel dream delivered.”