Q & A: Headless RaaS and Digital Transformation – Webinar Sept 2020)

Headless retail-as-a-service is a relatively new architecture that has already demonstrated to be effective for retailers who are reshaping their business with agility, innovation, and speed to market. Yet because its use is largely by retail innovators and leaders, we thought we’d shed some light on the questions we are most often asked about this platform.

Q: How do I know if headless retail-as-a-service (RaaS) is a good fit for my retail business?

A: If you’re a retailer who recognizes the need to respond head-on to disruption and to quickly meet evolving customer expectations, you have to seize control over experience development from software vendors and legacy applications. Retail mammoths Amazon, Alibaba, and JD.com use an agile RaaS architecture that lets them innovate at lightning speed. If you want to build your own POS, commerce and/or digital experiences fast, headless RaaS is for you. What’s more, you can develop and implement point-of-service and engagement use cases iteratively alongside your existing POS system. This approach moves your organization toward the platform of the future in measured steps as each innovation delivers ROI.  

Q: What are the benefits of moving away from siloed, vendor-controlled applications?

A: The benefits fall into a couple of categories. The first is about gaining control. Your organization decides on and prioritizes the development of high-value use cases that align with your digital and business strategies and customer demands; you own the entire customer experience. 

Secondly, there’s the issue of how quickly your development team can innovate. You have to be able to introduce new commerce experiences as fast as customers can imagine new ways of interacting with your brand. And if you don’t have direct control over development efforts, you simply can’t keep up with disruptors who are actively coming after your market share.

On the financial front, iteratively building POS, commerce, and digital experiences that deliver ROI eliminates regret spend. In fact, since this approach validates digital and business strategies, executive and governing boards are likely to support continued funding for your digital transformation. As a result, your technology investment will be amortized on a solid foundation of quick wins that justify long-term investment. 

Q: How does headless work? 

A: In traditional commerce systems, front-end functions are tightly coupled to backend processes. This precludes sharing new applications across touchpoints without having to redevelop insignificant nuances of each interaction. This redundant development of non-differentiating backend functions (such as search, add to cart, discount, void, etc.) leads to wasted time and resources on activities that don’t innovate, engage, or create competitive advantage. 

In contrast, a decoupled, headless architecture separates the user interface from backend/functional layers, empowering you to build the exact customer experience that matters to you and reuse those built components wherever you want to deploy them. Most important, the experience can be totally aligned across all touchpoints without time-consuming, duplicate development efforts. New experiences are created quickly and seamlessly transcend commerce, web, mobile, or emerging interface technologies (voice, AR/VR, mixed reality).

Q: What does the headless RaaS platform provide?

A: A headless RaaS platform provides a library of POS, commerce, and engagement services that empower retailers to build customer experiences faster and with agility. As retailers create their own unique experiences, they can contribute new “commoditized” backend functions and services to the platform ecosystem. Having these functions readily available to all platform users frees them from long-term maintenance of critical but not differentiating functions.  

Think of two laptop brands powered by the same microchip, yet each provides different user experiences and engagement. The chip is a commodity while the differentiator is how each brand uses the chip to provide functions and experiences to meet specific user needs and priorities. 

Q: What skill set and capabilities will I need across my teams to support this?

A: The platform allows development teams to determine what front-end CX/UX tools they want to use in focusing on new, transformative elements of the customer journey. So essentially, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. What you do need is the desire to own and control your development trajectory and the determination to be free from constraints found in the typical software vendor-customer relationship.

Q: How do I transition off legacy applications without doing a rip and replace? 

A: You can actually start building your future platform without a rip and replace, because a headless architecture lets you build use cases alongside your existing POS system. For instance, Kroger is building off of the OneView headless RaaS architecture starting with buy online/pickup at a partner location (Walgreens). Similarly, Australia Post introduced mobile linebusting for faster checkout and more engagement with customers by “coming out from around the counter.” This covered almost 90% of their in-store use cases and saves just 10% of the complicated transactions for the traditional lanes. In both of these cases, owning the user interface through a headless architecture that is independent of the backend (legacy) system allows retailers to quickly develop use cases where they matter—at any customer service touchpoint.

Q: How can I test the waters to ensure we have the right customer/digital engagement strategy?

A: Headless RaaS enables a build, learn, deploy, or destroy methodology. Development teams can build smaller innovations that they can easily tweak or expand based on ROI or other identified metrics. Incremental results also act as a barometer for assessing validity of customer/digital engagement strategies and proving each concept of innovation. This approach is effective in eliminating regret spend.

Q: How can I get  buy-in from executive management?     

Without having to rip and replace your legacy system, headless RaaS makes executive buy-in a more palatable decision. Since it can be used alongside existing systems, your organization can avoid operational disruption and protect market share more easily. While it is difficult to construct a rock-solid business case for digital transformation with a neatly quantified ROI, each iterative development step toward digital transformation provides an opportunity to test and learn. Progress can be continually monitored, results measured, and customer feedback assessed to build confidence during the early stages of digital transformation.

CFOs and risk managers will be more predisposed to a journey defined in steps, with each phase delivering bankable value. Funding tied to milestones and achievements (each with defined outcomes and value) provides a way to manage investment risks. It also helps manage changes in direction or priorities that will arise from time to time in the disruptive retail landscape. 

Ready to know more? See how Kroger, a leader in transformation of customer experiences in grocery, is leveraging new ways of thinking and headless retail-as-a-service to disrupt, transform and engage, fast.

Go-to-market and thought leadership strategist empowering OneView teams to bring exceptional products to market. She brings significant experience in technology marketing for complex enterprise products including working as a consultant for companies ranging from startups to global entities.

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