A primer for traders with foresight
What is headless commerce and why is it important? While the term has all the amazing capacity of an NFT, like the Metaverse, headless commerce is the future of retail. Composable Commerce is the next evolution in modern retail. The benefits of modular composable commerce are many, including the ability for the website, mobile, and physical stores of the same company to communicate with each other.
Legacy platforms are holding companies back from real growth and inhibiting new business models, said Ryan Bartley, Fabric’s co-founder and chief strategy officer, adding, “Headless commerce is the new way forward.”
“I’ve been with Fabric since August 2020, but I’ve been associated with the company since its inception,” said Faisal Masud, Fabric CEO. “Ryan started the company and worked for me at eBay and Staples, so the idea originally came from our digital transformation that happened at Staples when I was chief technology officer there, we had moved to microservices and a headless platform and stuff more has evolved into building a platform for others to do what Staples has done.
“That was the evolution of how I got here,” he added. “Before that, I spent the last two decades building commercial businesses, specifically e-commerce at a variety of large retailers including Amazon, where I spent seven years, building both functionality and inventory management, automation and reverse logistics and later on Amazon Basics, where I was also part of the general management team for electronics.
Masud’s extensive background includes building cross-border commerce at eBay, building cross-border commerce and Groupon in its early days, and before joining Fabric he worked for GoogleX, a division of Google and Alphabet, “where we dreamed of things that the world could change. I ran the drone delivery business as chief operating officer for a while, then left that to come here to become CEO at Fabric.”
“In the last 18 months we’ve gone through quite a rigorous evolution, growing our revenue 35x while also raising $293 million and growing from 40 to 350 employees. I don’t think there has been growth of this magnitude in the trading segment in the past, especially for a SAAS startup. And we’re remote, we don’t have offices. I’m in Seattle and New York. We are proud that we are very distributed, but also very connected through our values. We have Corporate Principles When we have complex problems to solve, we default to our values. That has kept us all closely connected to this day.”
When Masud joined Staples as Chief Digital Officer, all he heard was, “We can’t do that because IT said no” or “We can’t do that because IT said no.” “I used to go to meetings and say, ‘Why are they saying no?’ and they said, “This system depends on this system, and it runs on this system, and we can’t do this unless we change all these things,” he said.
“There was always this very real possibility of a single point failure, which means imagine a platform that’s just a big box with a lot of little boxes in it,” continued Masud. “If a single small box fails, the whole system fails. On Christmas and Cyber Monday we spent all our time in these so-called war rooms. Every retailer, buy Kohl’s Macy’s by the way, has these war rooms. Our infrastructure is physically run by them in these data centers and these data centers are not used to scale, so they go down. On our second Cyber Monday at Staples we were down for half a day. We realized that such a monolithic platform will not work, we needed to be cloud native/elastic and API driven.”
Being API-driven means separating two systems and enabling them to talk back and forth to each other. So, headless commerce basically means you separate the front end that the consumer sees – the beautiful website on the tablet or phone – from the back end where all the installation happens, item, price, advertising, cart, checkout, ordering and inventory. The customer doesn’t need to know anything about it, said Masud.
All of this can happen in the background. To create these APIs, trading APIs capable of providing this separation so that your experience is not impacted by changes to either environment. Headless is effective, the head is the website and the torso is the back end. APIs connect these two together, and the benefit of being composable and modular like Fabric is that you can choose best-in-class for search, for payments, or as a product manager, or whatever you want to use, such as for couponing, and in the Being able to piece together an experience that you think is the best, as opposed to what Staples was dealing with: “This is what it is, take it or leave it.”
“So headless allows you, and we’re trying to use less headless and more modular and composable solutions because you can choose what you want from Fabric and not have to buy the entire platform. We. actually discourage it. Full platform moves are almost never done well and mostly fail, so we like this iterative anti-replatforming approach that picks out your most common problems and let’s talk about them. If they’re relevant to Fabric’s stack, we give you the APIs that are most relevant,” said Masud.
Fabric’s Series C grossed $140 million. “Hopefully we’ll keep it for a very long time,” Masud said. “We are quite economical with fabrics. Our goal with the money raised is twofold. One is to invest more in our product and technology teams and innovation where we create more sophisticated products for our customers. The second is our internationalization. We’re moving to places outside of North America, especially India, so investing in building teams and products and moving our infrastructure to AWS, to international regions, and that’s a pretty big boost because of the geographies and different languages and different currencies and different nuances of these companies, so we think it’s time to start thinking about global brands instead of just US brands.”
The benefits of composable commerce are numerous: Unlock omnichannel selling, faster page loads for more conversion, better customer experience, flexibility for developers, faster updates, improved security, and easy integration with existing systems.
Scott Saeger is vice president and chief information officer at GNC, where he oversees the company’s global enterprise technology strategy. He is responsible for high value technology functions including B2B and B2C platforms, native mobile applications, retail systems and new technology initiatives.
“Together with Fabric, we are creating a unique and personalized experience for GNC shoppers,” said Saeger. “Our entire enterprise tech strategy is consumer-centric—our customers are at the heart of what we do. That’s why innovation is one of the key areas we focus on. We apply this mindset to reinventing our approach to technology and how it supports both business infrastructure and consumer experience. We needed a partner to help us implement headless and Fabric was the right choice.”
GNC’s goal was to improve its mobile CX, and since it has a complex architecture and some specific use cases, it had to assign focus and solutions to improve the customer experience in this area.
“The headless architecture has allowed us to leverage order management, inventory availability, and fulfillment optimization capabilities that are critical to retailers,” said Saeger. “We are also able to process and manage multichannel orders, track the order lifecycle, streamline accounting, process returns or exceptions, and set our customer service team up for success.”
Since consumers only see the head of headless commerce, are any backend features they don’t need to know well hidden? “Yes, our designs are intended to create a seamless shopping experience that complements what our consumers experience in-store,” Saeger said, adding that Headless Commerce will give GNC more bandwidth during shopping events and holidays like Christmas and Cyber Monday, when it’s typical of the internet websites have been known to crash.
“Our strategic investment in composable and headless architecture will see us succeed in the short and long term, both in everyday use and during peak traffic seasons,” said Saeger.