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What A Headless Tech Stack Can Do To Conquer Ecommerce Compromises

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I’ve been focused on the shopper experience for a while.

If you look at brands that are doing it really well — Glossier, Warby Parker, Casper, Dollar Shave Club — it’s a marriage of content, community, and commerce.

They’re focusing on the shopper experience, and they can do it because they have the resources available — they started the brand in complete control of the entire experience.

The rest of the world — the legacy, big-box brands — have a much more difficult time with this innovation. When it comes to technological advances, they just don’t have the development team built out in the right way.

Most ecommerce companies aren’t tech companies — they’re retail companies first.

At CartHook, we see a lot of frustration happening in merchants’ inability to craft the shopper experiences that they want — and a lot of that has to do with the existing complexities associated with older ecommerce platforms.

Over the past 10+ years, ecommerce platforms were built with the front and back end very tightly coupled to one another.

The front end was basically just showing what was in the database — the product info, image, description, and so on.

In a way, online commerce experiences still resemble a brick-and-mortar store — with the categories being aisles in the store, and the shopping cart still called the shopping cart.

Commerce needs to go beyond that. For it to go fully digitally native, it doesn’t need that same analogy to physical stores.

This gets accomplished by decoupling the front and back end — where the back end becomes the powerhouse commodity: a utility and a set of APIs that perform ecommerce functionality that’s already well understood — paired with fulfillment, shipping, inventory, app integrations, and so on.

The front end needs to be completely under the merchant’s control. There’s an enormous amount of effort and money being directed toward advertising, content, partnerships, and influencers — all of these new methodologies to drive people towards a purchase.

As soon as shoppers enter the buying experience, the merchant’s site, product page, and overall level of control goes down significantly. You can’t just take a product page and do whatever you want with it. It’s just not that easy, but it really should be.

If I’m doing a campaign with a YouTube influencer for my nutrition brand, I should be able to control every pixel of the experience from the time the shopper clicks the ad or the link in the video all the way through to the thank you page. Every pixel should be under the marketing team’s control, and right now that is very, very far from the case.

What we now see is a constant set of compromises on strategy in order to accommodate the limitations of an ecommerce platform.

We think it’s inevitable that that goes away, but it can be fixed by decoupling the platform.

At CartHook, we’ve built a fully flexible front end system that gives the marketing team in an ecommerce company 100% control of every pixel of the page, from the time the shopper hits the property of the commerce company, all the way through the thank you page. Whatever type of page, it should be aligned with the campaign. That’s our general outlook between the front end and back end.

The Compromise Of Ecommerce

Up until recently, ecommerce merchants have entered the market knowing that they need to make compromises on flexibility and customization. Of course, they can get full control on the front end with something open source, like WooCommerce or Magento.

While these options give them more control over the shopper experience, they have to deal with the complexities of the back-end by themselves.

  • They have to host it.

  • They have to manage it.

  • They have to develop on it.

The other side of that compromise is working with a hosted platform like BigCommerce or Shopify. And what that does is it removes the back end as the responsibility of the merchant to a very large degree.

  • It’s hosted.

  • There are app integrations.

  • It’s much easier to maintain than platforms like Magento or WooCommerce.

But in exchange, traditionally these options mean that you’re giving up control on the front end.

Within this theme structure and store structure, you don’t have much control. Because of that, these pages end up being multi-use to an extreme.

The idea that brands are running campaigns on Snap, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and other channels, with all of that traffic going to the same product page, should tell you that something is wrong.

The sticking point is the compromise that lays between those two, flexibility on the front end and difficulty on the back end, or vice versa. And that compromise is what needs to end.

For larger enterprise brands that demand customization, the upkeep of an on-premise or IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) platform can be frustrating.

So they start looking toward hosted platforms. They go through a process of identifying what compromises they’d need to make — and what aspects they can live with.

An example here is Native Deodorant — a successful direct-to-consumer brand. They’re running on their own custom platform, and they want to put an end to the complexity and move to a hosted platform. One of the compromises inherent to that is control over the checkout page and post-purchase upsells. At CartHook, we helped them by eliminating and minimizing those compromises.

Extensibility Via Add-Ons: Building Tech Stacks For Growth

At CartHook, we’re an extension and an addition to SaaS platforms. We want to allow merchants to make fewer compromises in their ecommerce.

We believe that right now, marketers sacrifice too much of their strategy because they are confined to the bounds of the store, theme, templates, etc.

However, CartHook’s new approach with ecommerce funnels allows marketers to control every step in the funnel, starting with contextual, personalized landing pages paired with social proof (and the option for experimentation and testing) that produce higher ROI on marketing budgets.

This is followed with a customizable one-page checkout page that brands can match to their existing store’s style, creating a unified shopping experience. Once the customer completes their initial purchase, CartHook allows store owners to offer one time upsells before the shopper arrives at the thank you page, when shopping intent is the highest.

This leads to increased AOV and revenue for every merchant.

At CartHook, we’ve looked at other platforms like Reaction Commerce and Moltin as headless ecommerce platforms. But we think, at least from our point of view, it’s going to take a while to get adoption to a large degree from those platforms because they require a much higher level of complexity that ecommerce users just don’t have.

I think the front end solutions are what help bring adoption to a back end platform. So to be just headless is a really hard slog. To open up the back end from an existing platform that has a bunch of merchants on it, I think that’s the right way to go.

On The Future Of Ecommerce

Marketing for physical products will accelerate in the direction of where marketing for digital products already exists.

If a brand is going to run a webinar or sell an online course, they shouldn’t be driving traffic to a homepage that simply has a section about the webinar or online course on it.

Instead, the brand should drive people to a landing page that:

  1. Crafts the experience,

  2. Makes the promises,

  3. Shows the benefits, and

  4. Asks for the conversion in a focused way.

This level of personalization is where ecommerce will go — and pioneers will follow. Right now a lot of marketers already know what needs to be done — but they can’t currently do it. We’re behind on what people are demanding from their digital experiences.

In the next few years, we will witness a lot of technologies catching up to what marketers already want to do.

The word we always look for, the word we use in our marketing, and the word we hear a lot in conversations is finally.

With decoupled commerce options, it’s finally time for brands to get exactly what they want out of a digital experience.

Jordan Gal avatar

Jordan Gal is the Founder and CEO of CartHook, a checkout optimization and funnel platform for online brands.