What is Oliver Bonas’s headless e-commerce approach?

Oliver Bonas e-commerce strategist, Camilla Tress, spoke about headless e-commerce and bringing digital elements into stores at RBTE, offering intriguing insights into the online strategy at the UK lifestyle retailer.

It’s a relatively new term in online retail circles, but the term “headless e-commerce” entered centre stage at this year’s RBTE at London’s Olympia.

Benefits of headless e-commerce?

Talking as part of a panel debate on day two of the event, Oliver Bonas e-commerce strategist Camilla Tress explained that the company is focused on delivering a compelling online customer experience using a headless e-commerce architecture.

The headless approach is traditionally defined as separating the content presentation layer (including content and experience management systems) from the more technological part of the website (such as e-commerce stack, integration and transactional elements). It is viewed as a way of giving retailers added flexibility.

It is high on the agenda for Oliver Bonas as the lifestyle retailer completes its re-platforming from Magento 1 to Magento 2 in the coming months.

There are various potential benefits of adopting this approach, and Tress said that decoupling the front and back end of e-commerce means it will be able to better adapt its content for multiple customer-facing platforms.

“We’re building our website so we have complete control of the CMS,” she explained.

“We have a whole series of content blocks, so we can provide really interesting and engaging content very easily. It’s quite practical. We’re really going to build out that content and try and recreate our stores online.”

She added: “People love coming into our stores, our store assistants are really knowledgeable about products and give good advice – and we want to recreate that online.”

The e-commerce vision

Mark Lewis, co-founder and deputy CEO at Practicology, who joined Tress on the panel alongside O2 Digital strategic account manager Miranda Clarke, explained more about the headless approach to e-commerce.

“The ‘headless’ term originally came from separating the CMS from the e-commerce platform but we’re also finding it in use in a much broader sense – for defining the API-led microservices-based architecture, which lots of people are talking about,” he said.

“The CMS deals with product management, promotions, and there’s a lot to be said for that. One of the reason people have been forced to face the facts [and change their websites] is that they have significant monolithic infrastructures which can’t be broken into different pieces and changed incrementally.”

He added: “A vision is to move towards a modularised, API-driven architecture which means if there is a fantastic new CMS, [for example], you can just swap it out.”

Lewis warned, however, that platforms like this which sound “fantastic in principle” are not necessarily the easiest strategies to implement and can cause complexities in different areas. “Don’t pull [all] the struts out of the existing infrastructure,” he advised.

Oliver Bonas and technology

Tress is excited about the potential of the new website and continues to lead that project, but she also indicated several other areas where Oliver Bonas is looking to introduce digital elements to its stores.

She acknowledged that the brand is aiming to make its store changing rooms “Instagrammable”, while much later down the line she envisages NFC tags on products in the store, enabling customers to scan items to generate additional content on their smartphones.

Augmented reality deployments are also on the radar, although not necessarily close to implementation. “We want to do that, too,” she explained, showing the UK retailer is open to a number of new technologies currently making their way into the market.

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