Headless, No-Code, and Legacy Commerce with Builder’s Steve Sewell

December 1, 2021
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Headless, No-Code, and Legacy Commerce with Builder’s Steve Sewell

Steve Sewell is the Founder & CEO at Builder, a headless platform that helps ecommerce stores design new digital experiences. Builder recently closed a $14M Series A round led by Greylock, with participation from Imaginary Ventures, Sugar Capital, and executives from world-class brands, like Allbirds, Warby Parker, Everlane, and Harry’s.

We sat down with Steve to jam on the rapidly evolving wave of no-code solutions, how headless performance translates into revenue, and why he leverages data as his single source of truth. 

Legacy Commerce: Masters of None 

Traditional commerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and WooCommerce are strong on the back-end, but they’ve fallen behind on the front-end. Headless takes advantage of this opportunity by swapping out the antiquated front-end component of a storefront (think landing pages, product pages, blogs) with a custom stack that’s faster, modern, and elegant. 

Critically, headless outperforms traditional commerce platforms across nearly every metric that matters. While there are a seemingly endless array of headless platforms out there, illustrated by the recent flurry in funding activity, Steve points out that most are quite similar. 

In his own words, while there isn’t a clear winner among new headless tools, one thing is certain: the commerce ecosystem will continue to gravitate towards headless options over legacy tools. Brand owners are finally seeing the performance benefits of this headless wave in real-time, and more importantly, they’re seeing how that performance directly translates into new revenue.

“To put it bluntly, legacy commerce tools are jacks of all trades, masters of none.” 

Phase One: Migrating to Headless

According to Steve, there are an increasing number of brands that simply aren’t a good fit for traditional commerce tools. This cohort tends to have complex business models and expansive product catalogs. Or, they simply might be encountering a common pain point: performance. 

If storefronts are particularly complex, run slow on mobile devices, suffer from consistently low conversion issues, or are pushed to support multiple locales, Steve suggests going headless. 

All of these headaches fall under performance issues; issues that headless solutions like Builder directly tackle by improving site speed and boosting conversion, LTV, and loyalty.

This sweet spot is where Builder offers the perfect solution: no-code software tools that enable teams to test, design, and scale powerful drag-and-drop page builders and headless CMS infrastructure that integrates with any tech stack or legacy platform.

Before making the jump to headless, Steve points out that revenue must be taken into account. More specifically, he recommends that a brand should be doing at least $10M GMV. Why? So teams can afford to hire an agency or full-time dev team to customize their new storefront. 

Before migrating to headless, Steve recommends running through this checklist:

  1. Figure out who’s doing the work: do you have an internal dev team?
  2. If you need to hire, who will be the best fit: agencies or contractors?
  3. Evaluate cost, timeline, and tooling options. Is it simple or complex?

For context, Steve recommends bringing on at least 3-4 devs (internal or external) while scoping out at least 3-6 months for the project timeline. He notes that as you’re building a site, start with Webflow or Squarespace first. It doesn’t need to be custom or fancy. Then, when you need more customization and your GMV is nearing $1-5M, start seeking out headless solutions. 

If you need engineers but you don’t have the capital, Steve recommends looking into contractors or agencies. Start with a contractor, and then once you see the ROI, scale up and find an agency.

“As a rule of thumb, if you’re using a legacy platform and you keep bumping your head against its limitations, you should probably look into headless alternatives.”

Phase Two: Leveraging Data Analytics  

When brands start using headless platforms, the best way to measure success is by looking at conversions both before and after making the switch. The data point to look at is dollars per visitor. In an ideal world, you start A/B testing for this metric at a website level. 

For example, Steve notes that brands can test for this metric by sending half of their traffic to the old stack and half to the new stack. Then, brands can get cleaner data as to what is giving them better conversions. In his words, the highest converting stack is nearly unanimously headless. 

Steve also notes that the more custom stack you’re using from a headless perspective, the more custom you’ll want your analytics dashboard to be, especially for tracking performance data.

“If your headless stack isn’t generating positive results, first check your data. Then, talk to your engineers and find out why. That shouldn’t be the case.”  

Advancing the Future of Headless

Previously, when a brand would want to go headless for its clear performance benefits, founders and operators were essentially entering into uncharted territory. A few years back, there weren’t clean, simple, and accessible tools that offered the ease of traditional commerce platforms.

However, with more headless platforms emerging, the game is changing at a blazing fast pace. Founders needed drag and drop functionality and the ability to visualize real-time feedback based on customer journey and user testing. In tandem, teams needed to sync their existing back-end infrastructure in one place, then customize it under a single front-end platform. 

At Builder, Steve and his team realized that tech stacks were shifting to a custom, more modular feel. The end goal? A tool that allows non-technical teams to seamlessly create and optimize on-brand digital experiences, with a clear outcome in mind to drive revenue growth for brands.

“Headless effectively marries the best that no-code and headless have to offer. The result? Improved speed, flexibility, and the ability to rapidly roll out new tests.”

Turning Insight Into Action

Developing a fluid understanding of headless, no-code, and legacy commerce is critical to building your brand’s ecommerce strategy and executing against it. The latter step, execution, is what ultimately will separate your brand from the pack. To take advantage of Steve’s unique POV on the landscape, we recommend shifting quickly into action by building, shipping, and testing.

Last month, Builder partnered with Sharma Brands to create an easy-to-use and customizable landing page. Developing high-converting landing pages is the critical first step in migrating to headless and supplies rapid feedback via data analytics as to what positioning and messaging is yielding performance benefits for your brand. To dive right in, click here to get started.

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