In the last couple of years there has been a shift in the way retailers approach eCommerce: where in the past development efforts were prioritized around building a solid foundation for backend transactions and operations now it is clear that companies in this space are focusing on differentiating themselves by creating unique shopping experiences that increase engagement and reduce friction.
But how can development teams spend the necessary time designing and writing code for this kind of interactions while also having to seamlessly maintain eCommerce vital components like online catalogs, shopping carts and checkout payment processes? Enter headless commerce.
Headless commerce (HC) helps companies of all sizes to innovate, develop and launch in less time and using fewer resources by decoupling backend and frontend. Headless solution providers empower online retailers by offering a balance between flexibility and optimization through pre-built API-accessible modules and components that can be easily plugged into their frontend architecture. This translates into rapid development while keeping desired levels of security, compliance, integration and responsiveness.
This composable approach enables dev teams not only to create new features but also connect other eCommerce components with less effort which is critical when responding to business trends. But above all, the main benefit retailers receive from HC, is owning and controlling the frontend for an engaging customer journey as well as quickly launching new experiences.
Google Cloud + commercetools
commercetools, a leader in the headless commerce space, has partnered with Google Cloud to make their cloud-native SaaS platform available in the Google Cloud Marketplace. With a flexible API system (REST API and GraphQL), commercetools' architecture has been designed to meet the needs of demanding omnichannel eCommerce projects while offering real flexibility to modify or extend its features. It supports a variety of storefront providers like Vue Storefront, offers a large set of integrations and supports microservice-based architectures. All this while providing access to multiple programming languages (PHP, JS, Java) via its SDK tools.
commercetools and Google Cloud provide development teams with all the tools to build high-quality digital commerce systems. Google Cloud's scalability, AI/ML components, API management capabilities and CI/CD tools are a perfect fit to build frontend shopping experiences that easily integrate with the commercetools stack. Developers can take advantage of this compatibility by:
Integrating systems with Google’s Retail Search, Recommendations AI and Vision Product Search
Injecting serverless functions into commercetools using Google Cloud Functions
Extending and integrating commercetools via Events handled by Pub/Sub
Managing 3rd party, legacy, microservices and commercetools APIs with Apigee
Selecting the Google Cloud region commercetools uses for zero latency for custom apps
Expanding their microservice ecosystem with components like Cloud Storage, Cloud SQL, Firestore and BigQuery
Additionally, commercetools allows eCommerce solutions to tap into the wider Google Ecosystem by providing authoritative data via Merchant Center, advertising via product listing ads and selling via Google Shopping.
As mentioned previously, headless commerce is increasingly preferred by retailers who want to own and control the ‘front-end’ for providing and enabling an engaging and differentiated user and shopping experiences.
The approach involves a loosely coupled architecture that separates ‘front end’ from the ‘back end’ of a digital commerce application. The front end is typically built and managed by the retailer. They want to leverage an independent software vendor (ISV) offered, ready-to-use ‘back-end’ commerce building blocks for capabilities, such as product catalog, pricing, promotions, cart, shipping, account and others.
Most retailers want to invest their time and resources in building a front end that requires an agile development model to introduce new and tweaking existing user experiences to acquire and retain customers. A few retailers that do not have an in-house web development team may choose an ISV that offers ready to use front end. The front end is a web app and designed as a progressive web application (PWA) on Google Cloud. The backend is a headless commerce offered by an ISV, such as commercetools. The backend commerce capabilities are built as a set of microservices, exposed as APIs, run cloud-native and implemented as headless. It is commonly referred to as the “MACH” solution. The API-first approach of the architecture allows easily integrating ‘best of breed’ capabilities built internally and/or offered by 3rd party ISVs.
Leveraging Google Cloud Components
The architecture of the front end will be implemented on Google Cloud and will integrate with the ISV’s headless commerce back end that runs natively in Google Cloud.
The front end will be designed using cloud-native services for
PWA web app development (Google Kubernetes Engine, CI/CD services),
Google Product Discovery solution that includes Retail Search and Vision API Product Search for serving product search (text and image) and Recommendations AI for serving recommendations.
Storage (Cloud Storage), Database (Cloud SQL, Cloud Firestore), and edge caching for content delivery (Cloud CDN)
Networking (Cloud DNS, Global Load Balancing), and
Security (Cloud Armor for DDoS, API Defense for API protection)
Additionally, API management (Apigee on Google Cloud) can be used to orchestrate interactions of the front end with the APIs of the backend commerce services. The API management’s capability will be used for accessing the services of on-premises systems, such as ERP, order management system (OMS), warehouse management system (WMS) as needed to support the functioning of digital commerce application. Alternatively, depending on the frontend capabilities, developers can use middleware to build custom services and route requests.
A considerable number of retailers have adopted headless commerce and are now focusing on adopting best practices and leveraging the agility that comes with this approach. Just like commercetools offers robust components that meet the retailer's backend operational needs (Product Catalog, Order Management, Carts, Payments, etc), Google Cloud's Compute, Networking, Severless and AI/ML services provide the agility and flexibility required by development teams to quickly and easily extend their frontend capabilities.
commercetools and Google Cloud work seamlessly together because they both prioritize ease of integration, scalability, security and iterability while providing ready-to-use building blocks. It also helps that commercetools backend runs on Google Cloud. Once an initial foundation of Google Cloud and commercetools has been established, adding new commerce modules and extending functionally of the current ones becomes a straightforward process that allows to route efforts to innovation initiatives. In the end, the main beneficiaries of this technical synergy are the shoppers that enjoy experiences which increase engagement and minimize friction.
Alternatively, retailers can also save time and resources by relying on frontend integrations. commercetools offers a variety of third-party solutions that can effortlessly be added to a headless commerce architecture. These integrations as well as other important headless commerce extensions will be explored in future blog entries. In the meantime, all the necessary tools to leverage headless commerce can be found in just one place:
Get started with commercetools on the Google Cloud Marketplace today!