Research indicates that more Australians have embraced online shopping than ever, with more than five million households actively participating in this digital retail trend. As the online retail market continues to thrive (Australia generated AU$68 billion in 2022) and evolve, it’s more important than ever for eCommerce retailers to get it right. According to KPMG’s Australian Retail Outlook 2023 report, almost half (44%) of retailers believe that shoppers will expect better customer service this year.

But the pressure is on eCommerce retailers to meet ever-changing consumer expectations. In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, delivering a seamless and personalised customer journey across every touchpoint has become a critical necessity. And consistently creating delightful experiences at every interaction is no longer a luxury but a fundamental requirement.

If online shopping carts freeze, a customer encounters a 404 error or site visitors can’t find what they’re after, they will leave the store and put their money in someone else’s cart – a costly error. Research reveals that 60% of consumers regularly abandon purchases due to poor website user experience with businesses estimating it costs upwards of AU$108,000 in lost sales per year.

These eCommerce shortcomings can ofteb be attributed to online retailers’ reliance on traditional methods of content management. Content management systems (CMS) that were created years ago cannot meet the needs of today’s consumers, no matter how ‘cutting edge’ they were at the time.

What is a CMS?

A content management system (CMS) is, in its simplest form, a platform for you to create, edit, publish and manage your content of any sorts. In an eCommerce setting, your contents range from the products, a blog, targeted campaigns, the brand story and everything else that the visitors interact with. Your CMS capabilities create the user experience that your customers go through in their journey.

The speed of your website, the personalisation of customer journeys, your ability to quickly respond to market trends and expand your target audience and the resources you have to spend in each case all depend on your CMS.

What retail digital content used to look like

In the earlier days of the internet when eCommerce was still in its infancy, an online business usually meant maintaining a single website as a storefront. Back then, there was no need for a CMS that would specifically address the issues of eCommerce, as the market, in general, was much smaller. However, the exponential growth of eCommerce in a short time suddenly shed light on the ever-growing shortcomings of the usual CMSs.

The traditional CMSs and their pre-built templates were falling short in offering a unique brand story and a customisable customer journey. Additionally, their old architecture was not responding well to increasing modern demands. As consumers become increasingly time-poor and attention spans decrease, pages that don’t load immediately can mean that a customer will refuse to purchase from your website.

In fact, research demonstrates that for every additional second your site takes to load, response rates (people buying from you or leaving an inquiry) drop. At one second, there is a 40 per cent conversion rate. Bump that up another second, and it becomes 34 per cent. One more and conversion hits 29 per cent and keeps on lessening as load times become greater.

The early retail pioneers

Some of the industry leaders such as Amazon, Netflix and Uber realised the problem with the traditional CMSs and adopted a new strategy. For example, in Amazon’s early days, when the eCommerce giant was simply an online bookstore, its traditional content management approach was capable of answering its needs as a small company.

However as Amazon grew, its CMS’s shortcomings became all too obvious: deployments took too long, multiple content silos and huge databases were hard to maintain without dropping the quality, each new feature required immense team effort to implement and the users were experiencing longer response times.

Uber’s case is a similar story. When the company started as a local app, serving customers in San Francisco with just a few key features, the traditional CMS was doing its job in a rather acceptable manner. However, as soon as the company grew, the same bottleneck problems started to surface.

Headless CMS: A modern way to manage content

A modern, ‘headless’ eCommerce CMS has a profoundly different architecture from its traditional counterparts. In a traditional system, the front end (what you see on a website) and the back end (the system that manages the website’s content) are completely tied together, which means every small change to the front end (such as adding a new feature to a website) has to address the back end and vice versa. This not only means growing levels of complexity and extra work, but also any issues on the front end will affect the back end (and vice versa).

The front and back ends on headless CMSs, on the other hand, are completely separate. This separation reduces complexity and makes it easier to update and maintain the website. It also means that any issues or changes in one part of the website won’t affect the other part. Basically, a headless CMS provides the flexibility today’s fast-paced landscape demands.

Headless CMS: No longer a choice, but a necessity

By leveraging the flexibility, scalability and personalisation capabilities of a headless CMS, online retailers are empowered to move swiftly to changing market demands, deliver exceptional experiences to customers and propel their business forward in exciting new directions.

Marcus Paterson is sales director for APAC at Storyblok.