Industry Insights

Acquia Partners with Headless Commerce Solution Elastic Path

Gone are the days of a brand hinging their entire commerce strategy on a great webstore with a responsive design for mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Commerce can no longer just exist on the web and be reflected on a few devices. The customers of today and tomorrow demand the commerce experience be served up within every touchpoint they use to interact with a brand and thanks to the explosion of IoT and conversational technology, the number, and variety of those touchpoints will grow exponentially. 

This is why organizations looking to future-proof their commerce strategy are being encouraged to “lose their head”. By this I mean to make the leap into a headless, API-first approach where the shopping experience on the front-end is decoupled from the commerce business layer of the back-end. In separating the two, brands are free to get creative with the customer experience strategy without having to replicate the commerce logic for each touchpoint every time they want to shake things up. 

In full-on support of this trend, Acquia recently announced a partnership with Elastic Path to bring together the power of open source content management with a headless commerce solution and place it directly in the hands of global brands and merchants. Michael Sullivan, CEO of Acquia explained in the press release “Together with Elastic Path, we’re creating the potential for disruptive brands to redefine the customer experience and bring true elegance to content and commerce. Our combined approach provides ultimate flexibility that enables rapid innovation along with the security and scalability that global brands require and that our customers are demanding.”

To hear firsthand, exclusive commentary on this partnership, I was able to connect with Darin Archer, CMO at Elastic PathRead my conversation with him below. 

When Legacy Isn’t a Good Thing

When it comes to technology, it’s not only survival of the fittest, its survival of the most flexible and this is where some legacy systems fall short. They’ve gotten too big, too slow to adapt and don’t always play nice with other systems completely ignoring a whole sea of customers who choose a best-of-breed approach to their technology. 

In the press release, Elastic Path CEO Harry Chemko made a comment on this notion that “brands face an uphill battle if they continue to use legacy technologies to deliver modern customer experiences online” which sparked my curiosity. We hear so much about the need for headless, agile systems especially in commerce but what are the tangible examples of the ways in which legacy technology can inhibit a brand from executing on a modern commerce strategy? 

Darin: “Legacy technology doesn’t allow the beautiful, personal and responsive shopping experiences customers have come to expect from modern commerce solutions. Companies invest large amounts of time and money to make beautiful products -- and then they use legacy commerce system that presents the products only in tiny thumbnail photos the customer can barely see. It does a disservice to the energy put into the creation of product. The product might be amazing – but if the customer can’t see and experience it well online, they won’t make a purchase. 

Legacy technologies simply don’t support the engaging, personalized experiences consumers expect today. The customer today should be able to go from browsing online, to transacting by voice from another device, to suggesting an additional item that improves the customer experience. For example, a car equipped with a modern commerce system can let the driver know they’re due for an oil change, find service shops nearby, book the appointment, ask if the driver wants a latte while waiting, and pay for all attendant purchases directly from the car’s voice-enabled system. That’s the level of service customers today expect, and most legacy technologies just can’t deliver.”

TA Digital, a digital agency working with both Acquia and Elastic Path to deliver CommerceFactory, the experiential commerce solution offered to their clients share here how traditional monolithic systems can restrict brands in their agility:

"For a number of brands, the challenges to experience monetization opportunities are dictated by the limitations of brittle, monolithic systems and legacy platforms. Traditional ecommerce systems couple the frontend presentation layer with the commerce engine. This creates siloed solutions for mobile, web and other channels, limiting a business’ ability to launch new, consistent modes to engage the customer. Adding new frontend experiences involves working with backend code, and this requires the involvement of specialized resources.

This type of effort forces the business to adapt its pace to accommodate its own operational dependencies, instead of matching the pace of consumer behaviors and expectations. Because today “consumers are benchmarking experiences laterally,” brands are not only required to take note of competition in their industry vertical, but are also expected to innovate on par with other disruptors in any market their consumers inhabit: Internet of Things, bots, and wearables are only some of the emerging touchpoints that monoliths lack the ability to rapidly monetize."

The Benefits of Best-of-Breed

The idea of brands divorcing themselves from a monolithic system and embracing best-of-breed seems like a no-brainer when you unpack what all that really means. Who wouldn’t want to handpick every system in each category that works best for the business model? However, there obviously was a time when a single-stack system was the better option, and there was. In the early days when web-commerce was the tipping point of innovation, they worked well. 

But times have changed and brands need to adapt so I asked Darin and if a brand makes the move from a traditional monolithic system to a best of breed approach in utilizing open source content management and headless commerce, what are some of the biggest benefits they would realize?

Darin: “Brands today need the ability to deeply personalize customer experiences, adapt quickly to changing market needs, and eliminate the need to involve IT staff in every adjustment to the customer experience. Utilizing open source content management along with headless commerce, brands can create personalized commerce experiences at any and every touchpoint imaginable and know their brand feels the same to each customer, at every point. Customers will be greeted with a content-rich, personalized experience -- much beyond remembering names, birthdays and purchase history -- and will be consistent across any touchpoint, whether in-store, online, a voice-enabled car screen, to IoT devices, to AR/VR and much more.”

Dries Buytaert, CTO and Founder at Acquia, explains in this blog post, how the move to a headless commerce approach can be beneficial for developers, merchants and consumers alike:

"For developers, it means that you can decouple both the development and the architecture. This allows you to build an innovative shopping experience without having to worry about impacting a system as critical as your commerce backend. For instance, you can add ratings and reviews to your shopping experience without having to redeploy your commerce platform.

For merchants, it can provide a better experience for administering the shop. Traditional commerce solution usually ship with a lightweight content management system. This means that there can be competition over which system provides the experience layer (i.e. the "glass"). This can introduce overlap in functionality; both systems offer ways to manage URLs, create landing pages, manage user access rights, theming systems, etc. Because headless commerce systems are designed from the ground up to integrate with other systems, there is less duplication of functionality. This provides a streamlined experience for merchants.

And last but not least, there is the shopping experience for end-users or consumers. Consumers are demanding better experiences when they shop online; they want editorials, lookbooks, tutorials, product demonstration videos, testimonials, and more. They desire the content-rich experiences that a comprehensive content management system can provide."

Future-Proof Your Commerce Strategy

As I mentioned in the beginning, the shift we’re seeing in commerce is only going to gain more ground. We’re just scratching the surface on the potential of voice technology, social platforms will move from the consumption of media/ads to the consumption of goods and services and with IoT, let’s just say the internet is going to end up in more things that we can yet imagine. So what are the most important benchmarks brands should be thinking about as they prepare for the future of commerce? I asked this same question to both Darin and Lynne Capozzi, CMO at Acquia, see what they had to say below.

Darin: "Brands need to be prepared for the explosion of touchpoints and new channels. What seemed impossible yesterday, is the hot commerce point of today: AR/VR, voice purchasing through smart home appliances like Alexa and Google Home, more in-app engagement on social platforms like Snap or Instagram. If you just have pretty pictures on a web store, you’re behind the competition. In the future, the expectation will be that the purchase process is invisible: I just walk into a home for Airbnb. I just get in and out of the car for Uber. I just step onto a cruise ship and buy things, like the Ocean Medallion on Carnival cruises. In three to five years, enabling a seamless purchase process will be a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have."

Lynne: "Rapid advances in the adoption of voice-assisted tech and AI applications only prove that brands that deliver a fantastic customer experience will gain the advantage. Commerce and marketing teams have to work closely together to deliver a cohesive experience that tells their brand story in a way that emotionally connects with their buyers.

This is what’s driving the popularity of headless commerce systems. Merchants need to rely on their commerce solutions to manage their product catalog, order information, and customer data. These should feed into an integrated experience for customers, where all of the impact and storytelling of the brand come through before, during, and after each transaction. Brands need to be ready to adopt solutions that help extend the customer experience to social channels, to chatbots and connected devices, to the in-store experience and more. The future of commerce is fully immersive, and our partnership with Elastic Path is all about helping our customers fulfill their most ambitious customer experience goals."

Ending Notes

Acquia, now in its 11th year entered the market as the enterprise guide to Drupal and in that time has maintained a close connection and influence within the larger Drupal community. It is this characteristic that not only differentiates them in the market, as noted earlier in the year by Gartner, but also lends to their open nature as an organization. It is this nature that makes them such a strong believer in the efficacy and flexibility of a best-of-breed approach when it comes to commerce, as they know there is no one-size-fits-all commerce platform for their customers. 

Elastic Path, well-known for being one of the first commerce platforms to understand and execute on the need for a flexible, API-oriented solution represents the option for Acquia customers to iterate on the kinds of content-rich experiences that will truly engage across any device.  

This week in fact, Gabriella and I will be on location at Acquia Engage to capture the conversation from the event floor. Headless and experiential commerce will be a hot topic at the event as will many other exciting announcements Acquia has up their sleeve so make sure you come back to check-out those interviews! 

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

A digital business, marketing and social media enthusiast, Laura thrives on asking unique, insightful questions to ignite conversation. At an event or remotely, she enjoys any opportunity to connect with like-minded people in the industry.

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