Skip to content
Microsoft Industry Blogs

High angle view of people on street

Retailers require a strategy that allows rapid upgrades and changes to their commerce systems, or they risk losing customers to competitors. In the tech world, a new kind of architecture is becoming the leading candidate for accomplishing changing tastes and new ways of differentiating a market offering. Here we describe a “headless” architecture that enables constant evolution of a platform—and that should be a part of planning for digital transformation.

Change is the only constant

Retailers are by far the most active sector on the internet. Everyone shops—on the web, or at supermarkets and boutiques. It’s a never-ending battle to attract the consumer’s eye and get customers to spend. While price alone may drive many shoppers, a good experience may be the reason to return to a site, so retailers are constantly looking for ways to improve and differentiate the customer experience. And consider the interconnected nature of shopping—where smart phones are used in brick-and-mortar stores to compare prices or check reviews. The expanding range of apps and devices is also known as the “omni-commerce” experience.

So, it’s no surprise that the omni-commerce experience reinvents itself every three years; and even within those three years, the experiences require constant enhancements to keep consumers engaged and retain loyalty. As a result, retailers are constantly upgrading assets to improve their interconnected e-commerce and mobile systems. They can’t afford to lose the customer’s gaze.

Consumers also change their behavior as new buying opportunities appear. They have many choices in the form of mobile self-service, buy buttons, social shopping, box subscriptions, new marketplaces—and more. No one can predict the next shopping experience innovation. So, retailers must be ready to match the latest trend.

Rigid platforms give way to flexible systems

However, it’s often the case that the existing e-commerce and digital systems are difficult to upgrade and require expensive outlays. Most retailers are using legacy e-commerce and mobile platforms that are older than five years. While these systems were the best choices at the time, they are, by current standards, inflexible and brittle. That is, they are monolithic, resistant to change, and prone to breaking.

The solution lies in embracing an adaptable omni-commerce architecture, one that is capable of working with a variety of devices: apps on phones, web browsers on laptops, and even appliances that connect to the internet. The possibilities are a kaleidoscope of experiences that move the customer from storefronts on browsers, to apps on devices, to appliances that respond or interact with customers.

This means the omni-commerce platform must be decoupled, modular, and flexible.

A way forward

There are four stages in the adaptable e-commerce architecture maturity curve:

  1. A unified approach: To communicate with any device, in any context, requires a simplified mechanism that works on any platform—Apple phones, Android phones, Windows PCs or Macs (to name a few). For the web designer, accommodating all of these devices is a major headache because every one has different technical requirements. The answer is an “abstract” layer that unifies all of the functions that any device might use into a single layer. In the tech world, these are known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The API developer creates it once, without any knowledge (or care) of any device.
  2. A “headless” architecture: Another problem for the web designer is that every device has its own way of doing something—even as simple as putting a clickable button on a page. The app experience depends on the device (the “head” in this metaphor). The solution is to “decouple” the unified layer described above from the actual device. For the techies, decoupling means adding a new device is simpler. And we mean any device—such as a car or refrigerator, or refrigerator in a car!
  3. An integrated commerce and content platform: The ever-changing nature of retail means content is transient. But older platforms have rigid structures that must be used when creating or updating content (UIs, templates, tools). This slows down content producers. The remedy is a new design experience for them—one that reduces (or levels) the barriers to content creation and empowers the creators to innovate quickly.
  4. Scalability + microservices: One last technical item. For the technologists in an enterprise, the traditional way of doing things is to program an experience as one large project. That meant a lot of complexity and a lot of time between new versions. Think of it as designing a car from the ground up—every piece is part of the whole. The new way is to use “microservices.” Instead of building the whole car, each piece is designed by a separate team. The team knows the parameters into which their piece fits and can design quicker—and make it real—in record time. Instead of waiting for “transmission” to be done, the “steering” team can be done at their own pace. The idea is to break up a monolithic process into individual, separate “microservices.” Each microservice is simpler and easier to create and maintain. And also, they are easier to automatically scale up or down, on-demand.

Now that you have an understanding of how and why the omni-commerce experience requires new ways of thinking, you need a strategy to implement it. Here’s a suggestion:

  • Create a well-defined customer differentiation roadmap that aligns with the omni-commerce architecture. The map depends on the business, its customers, and the competition. It can include all devices and how one experience links to another.
  • Create a roadmap and maturity strategy based on the four e-commerce architecture maturity stages above.

To discuss the latest retail and CPG industry trends, market drivers and technologies, please contact Sahir Anand, Kate Baroni and Marty Donovan.

Next steps

Download our latest playbook covering AI.