When a Perfect Sense client needed to overhaul the content management system across its entire organization, replacing a legacy system with a new CMS, there was one key caveat in place - the team would need to be able to integrate their system, called Brightspot, with Slatwall Commerce.
The client had only recently launched two new websites powered by the eCommerce platform including a new integration with internal systems and point of sale.
It’s fairly uncommon for a project to launch two major initiatives in the same calendar year with two different vendors - especially when those two projects have overlapping responsibilities. Let’s be honest, most CMS and eCommerce platforms don’t play well with one another.
Separately, replatforming on a new CMS and an eCommerce platform has huge game-changing implications for a company. A new eCommerce platform allows for easier to manage products, orders, and customer relationships. Along with the customer-facing improvements, the migration provides for streamlined shipping and inventory processes while, in the end, leading to increased sales for the business. Similarly, migrating to a more robust CMS allows for the delivery of a much richer digital experience with a modern look and feel and a broader array of valuable multimedia content. Naturally, most systems when designed and built at the same time will work fine on their own, but won’t play well with each other over time. Stepping back and reviewing the newly installed systems, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that the possibilities could be even more exciting if there were a way to combine the enhanced digital experience offered by the CMS along with the benefits of eCommerce for all of the customer-facing web properties.
If you’ve done any reading about eCommerce lately, chances are you’ve seen headless commerce mentioned a lot. Simply speaking, it refers to when an eCommerce platform is built in such a way to make integration easier. The back end exists independently from the front end, or the “head” – hence the name “headless”. With headless commerce, the actual front-end shopping experience – including apps, websites, mobile stores, and retail points of sale – is built separately, with much fewer restrictions, and connects easily to the eCommerce platform.
As Brad Gustavesen, ten24 partner and vice president, explains, headless commerce relies on fully featured APIs in order to succeed. “APIs open up the eCommerce platform so that the CMS can then ‘grab’ product information from it,” he says. “That includes everything from inventory details and marketing data to product assets and images. The Slatwall eCommerce platform is a hybrid because it includes its own CMS, but it can also be used as a headless platform, thanks to its APIs. It provides the most flexible setup while opening up possibilities for the future.”
According to Ben London, director of client engagement at Perfect Sense, when it’s done right, headless commerce is absolutely seamless to the end-user. “The whole thing should feel like a native experience for website visitors,” he says. “There are no distracting ‘powered by…’ messages because everything looks and feels like the brand of the company site you’re on. Headless commerce is essentially all about cross-selling content with commerce.”
One additional benefit of a headless setup is that by leveraging the integration between the CMS and eCommerce platform, there’s an opportunity to turn any site into a shoppable experience. In the past, you might think of a “content” site and an “eCommerce” site as two separate platforms because they were. In many ways, each was trying to do similar things and the level of overlap was high.
As a result, you’d discover there were eCommerce platforms trying to layer in CMS functionality as well as CMS platforms offering an eCommerce “plugin”, neither of which work very well. Trying to implement either of those when there is heavy demand on one side or the other is typically a recipe for failure.
ten24 and Perfect Sense knew that if they worked together, they could integrate Slatwall with BrightSpot, position organizations for future growth, and enable them to capitalize on new opportunities.
“Recognizing that the headless concept is not just about creating a single site or storefront is critical to understanding the potential impact on the selling experience,” Gustavesen comments. “It’s about utilizing an eCommerce platform to build out storefronts and connect to a diverse array of other applications. Building a site single works for most stores, but imagine how commerce works when you have the flexibility to create and market products without constraints powered by a single system. Giving all that power to the marketing and sales team is pretty amazing.”
From a future use standpoint, the practical applications of headless commerce fare almost dizzying. Down the line, for example, imagine building mobile specific storefronts with a varying mix of products, design, and content - a suite of mini-stores, each with a unique design, but powered by a single eCommerce core. Or utilizing a number of unique storefronts but tying all of the customer records together.
With headless commerce, the marketing team simply creates the user experience with its CMS, turns it on, and decides how it would like to connect with the Slatwall framework. If you imagine it as a hub-and-spoke image, the business implications are truly astounding.
“Headless commerce makes that possible by marrying editorial content about those opportunities with the ability to make those purchases online,” London notes. Integrating Slatwall’s APIs means that a CMS can ingest products from Slatwall, immerse them within a website experience, and treat them natively, just like an article, slideshow, or video. Content can be created that markets the purchasing of whatever products a company is interested in selling. Finally, the CMS and eCommerce platform are connected at the end to deliver a unique checkout experience with a completely customized user experience.
Late in 2018, ten24 and Perfect Sense joined forces on a project and successfully launched a live proof-of-concept eCommerce website. The two partners worked together on an integration to build, test, and launch a site using the Slatwall API.
In addition, ten24 and Perfect will be working on another experience-led eCommerce site that ties together an offline in-person product exhibition with an online purchasing process. Clients can review informative editorial content (powered by Brightspot) along with the ability to make purchases (powered by Slatwall). End users, of course, weren’t able to distinguish between the CMS and the eCommerce portions. To them, everything felt like a holistic online experience. And that’s exactly the point.
As Gustavesen explains, all of this growth and expansion is happening rapidly because each of these buying experiences takes place on the Slatwall platform. “Every new purchasing experience connects directly to the Slatwall eCommerce platform, so there is no waiting for another eCommerce core to be developed and populated with data,” he says. “The online store is already there, so eCommerce data delivery remains consistent, no matter what’s being sold. The Brightspot team can focus on building the best content and user experience.”
Gustavesen adds that headless commerce is an exciting way for ten24 to do business going forward. “This is a top-of-line technical concept, and we made it work with Perfect Sense and Brightspot,” he says. “In the end, it’s all about helping clients build unique web experiences, grow their eCommerce presence, and make their operations more efficient.”
London couldn’t agree more. “ten24 is a great partner to work with,” he says. “Like us, they are big on establishing partnerships, collaborating, and making sure clients are set up to succeed. ten24 has the same high-touch mentality that we do. Each of us as a vendor has a core competency and a ‘sweet spot,’ so nobody’s reinventing the wheel – we’re combining our strengths.”
Image credit: Perfect Sense / Brightspot. Perfect Sense is a product company that capitalizes on its enterprise publishing platform Brightspot to drive innovations in web and mobile development for corporations worldwide.