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. In October 2021, Builder closed a $14M Series A round led by Greylock, with participation from Imaginary Ventures, Sugar Capital, and executives from world-class brands, such as 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 how to leverage data as a single source of truth.
Legacy Commerce: Masters of None
Traditional commerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and WooCommerce are strong on the backend, but they’ve fallen behind on the frontend.
Headless takes advantage of this opportunity by swapping out the antiquated front-end components of a storefront (i.e. landing pages, product pages, and blogs) with a custom stack that’s faster, modern, and elegant.
Overall, headless outperforms traditional commerce platforms across nearly every metric that matters.
There are a seemingly endless array of headless platforms out there, illustrated by the recent flurry in funding activity. In Steve's 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.
And now, 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
There are an increasing number of brands that simply aren’t a good fit for traditional commerce tools.
This cohort of brands tends to have complex business models and expansive product catalogs. Or, they might be experiencing performance issues—a common pain point among fast-growing brands.
If a storefront runs slow on mobile devices, consistently suffers from low conversion issues, or supports multiple locales, Steve suggests going headless.
All of these headaches fall under the general category of performance issues—issues that headless solutions like Builder directly tackle by improving site speed and boosting conversion, LTV, and loyalty.
This is Builder's sweet spot. They offer 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. Plus, it integrates with any tech stack or legacy platform.
Before making the jump to headless, Steve recommends taking a look at revenue. More specifically, he suggests that headless brands 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:
- Figure out who’s doing the work. Do you have an internal dev team?
- If you need to hire, who will be the best fit—agencies or contractors?
- 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 three to six months for the project timeline.
"Start with Webflow or Squarespace first," says Steve. The site doesn’t need to be anything custom or fancy at first. Then, when the brand needs more customization and their GMV nears $1-5M, they can start seeking out headless solutions.
If a brand needs engineers but doesn't have the capital to hire them, Steve says to look into contractors or agencies.
Start with a contractor, and then once the brand sees the ROI, they can 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 to look at conversions both before and after making the switch.
The key data point to consider is dollars per visitor.
In an ideal world, a brand starts A/B testing for dollar per visitor at a website level.
To do that, brands can send half of their traffic to the old stack and the other half of their traffic to their new stack. Then, they can get cleaner data and see which stack is giving them better conversions.
And, the highest converting stack is nearly unanimously headless.
Steve also notes that the more custom a stack gets, the more custom the analytics dashboard should be, especially as it relates to 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, if a founder wanted to go headless for its clear performance benefits, they were entering uncharted territory. Just a few years back there weren't any clean, simple, and accessible headless tools that offered the ease of traditional commerce platforms.
However, with more headless platforms emerging, the no-code game is changing at a blazing fast pace.
Founders now need drag and drop functionality and the ability to visualize real-time feedback based on the customer journey and user testing.
In tandem, teams need to sync their existing back-end infrastructure in one place, and then customize it under a single front-end platform.
At Builder, Steve and his team see how tech stacks are shifting to a custom, more modular feel.
What's the end goal? They're building a tool thatallows non-technical teams to seamlessly create and optimize on-brand digital experiences with a clear outcome in minddrive revenue growth
“Builder 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 key as it relates to building a brand's ecommerce strategy and executing against it.
The latter step—execution—is what ultimately separates a brand from the pack.
To get started, Steve recommends shifting quickly into action by building, shipping, and testing.
In the fall of 2021, Builder partnered with Sharma Brands to create an easy-to-use and customizable landing page.
Developing high-converting landing pages is a critical first step in migrating to headless.
It's conducive to rapid feedback, especially around what positioning and messaging is yielding performance benefits. To dive right in, click here to get started.
- What to pledge
- How to improve
- Which tools will set you up for success
I think the most important thing brands can do in 2023 is to better manage their customer data—both ethically and effectively. There’s an opportunity for brands to know their customers better than ever before—a clear benefit for both the customer and the brand. When you manage your data correctly, you’ll create stronger and more personalized ads, creative, site experiences, and so much more.
This is a classic: Let the data guide you. Go where the buyers for your products are and communicate with them on a personal level (i.e. by persona and funnel position) and nurture those relationships (past, present, and future customers). It’s possible—all through data.
We recommend that Shopify brands analyze and update their websites using data-driven decisions. Using analytics tools such as heatmaps and scrollmaps can help brands better understand how customers are interacting with their store.
Store owners tend to make assumptions about the way customers interact with their website. Most never go back and analyze their design choices to find pain points or areas of opportunity. By using heatmaps and scrollmaps, they can see where real customers are clicking and concentrating their attention. Leveraging this data, brands can start to iterate on design and make their online store experience streamlined and intuitive.
Hotjar provides a simple way to implement heatmaps, scrollmaps, and recorded user sessions on your site, helping you acquire incredibly informative user data. Additionally, it gives you the ability to create on-site surveys, which allows you to obtain direct and often critical feedback from users about their experience.
Test various attribution models and analyze the impact on your business. At Fifty Six, we are always here to help our clients identify and optimize their approach—a critical step in any successful marketing strategy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Customer Lifetime Value. And even more importantly, Future Lifetime Value (FLTV). With the ever-growing importance of first-party data, it is crucial that brands take a good look at their CRM and FLTV metrics.
OrderlyEmails is our go-to tool for transactional emails. It helps us level up our brands’ email aesthetics with customizable, quick-to-implement Shopify templates.
Lately, I’ve been really interested in Smile.io’s loyalty platform. Their UX is fantastic for teams with low bandwidth!
Stop allocating budgets to low-hanging fruit that doesn’t move the needle on conversion. Think about what’s really going to improve your CX and the return of undertaking different initiatives—not just on what’s top on your list of bugbears on the site!
One of the best ways to understand your customer behavior is by using HotJar. Their heat-mapping and screen recording tools shine a light on where customers are navigating to and from on your site, where they're rage clicking and experiencing frustration, and where conversion is dropping off within real life customer journeys and flows!
Understanding your customers’ pain points via data and analytics , will allow you to work with your CRO/CX Agency to solve customer frustrations and improve conversion.
Rewind backs up all product, customer, and order data for Shopify sites—essential since Shopify itself doesn’t provide this solution. It's saved so many of our clients time and money from administrative accidents.
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33% of customer service inquiries are pre-sale questions. What does this mean? If you’re not investing in customer service, you’re missing out on revenue-generating opportunities.
The benefits of elevating your customer experience:
- 10% to 25% increase in AOV for customers who engage with live chat pre-purchase
- 21x higher conversion rate for customers who reach out via Live Chat or SMS compared to other site visitors
- 87% of customers who have a great customer experience will make another purchase
- 72% of customers share positive experiences with 6 or more individuals
Gorgias is our favorite Helpdesk platform. They can reduce costs by 35%, primarily by decreasing the average ticket handle time. Their machine learning algorithms are trained on millions of ecommerce-related interactions across Gorgias’ customer base and provide accurate, automated replies for the most common ecommerce inquiries. This helps our agents resolve tickets faster, which provides the customer a seamless experience.
Trust your agency! Agencies do the same things across multiple brands and niches, so we see the trends and have the practice and experience!
Don't be afraid of data and insights. If customers aren't clicking on your emails, try a new CTA. If your ads are driving good metrics at a small spend, start scaling. If your customers are complaining about a product, look into QA! If the data tells you something isn't working, let it go and try something else!
I'm supposed to say Tydo, right? 😉
Double down on differentiation. There will be a lot of headwinds this year and standing out from the crowd will set you apart.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A video? Probably millions. In ecommerce that value translates into engagement, acquisition, and retention—everything you need to impact your bottom line.
At soona, we've seen the we've seen the impact of creative and the continuous split testing of it yield results. Our resolution is to challenge ourselves and double down on innovation and creative optionality so that each brand we work with can distinguish themselves in a crowded sea of D2C ecomm. We'd love to see our brands share this resolution and keep pushing the creative limits.
Klaviyo. We're using it to power our email and newsletter at soona too!
Optimize your returns strategy! This can lead to valuable customer insights, enhanced user experiences, and increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Brands need to dive deeper into understanding their customers to set themselves up for success. Conduct research to gain insights into customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. By doing so, you can develop targeted strategies that will enhance customer experience and boost overall retention.
Right now I would say Gorgias. Having a good customer service tool is crucial to building strong customer relationships.
Start paying heavy attention to data, specifically around retention. We see a lot of effort put towards acquisition with the assumption that once someone buys, they are your customer forever. Instead, get to know your customer, understand their needs, and analyze their behaviors once they are on-site and judge their sentiment after they have visited. Work with a retention focused and data-driven agency to implement tools that contribute to repeat business and customer delight. It will pay dividends.
When surveyed, about 80% of ecommerce merchants think that they are delivering a great experience to their customers. However, when the same customers are surveyed, only 8% of those customers think that they are getting a great experience from the merchant. Now, more than ever, retaining loyal customers is an essential part of any online business and you should spend time with your customers to judge their experience with your website and products and offer improvements based on that feedback.
Tydo's report cards are an essential tool, along with Klaviyo for email and SMS, Recharge for subscriptions and memberships, Okendo for reviews and surveys, Rebuy for AI driven collections and upsells, Loop for self service returns... each tool is great on their own, but their strength as the ultimate tool comes from when they are used together!
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Report Cards is a customized glimpse into your business, delivered to your inbox for free.
Report Cards consolidates all your key metrics across platforms for an at-a-glance pulse of your business.
Discover metrics for every team member so they can stay updated with the right data on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
It's free because we believe everyone should have access to the basics.
Portfolio is a hub for analytics across multiple Shopify stores. The perfect tool for agencies.
See an aggregate view of all your data for all your stores in one place.
Make real time assessments on marketing initiatives across every storefront you manage.
Analyze the performance of one store versus another in seconds.
More about the project
Here at Tydo, we try to highlight DTC founders who run their business in various ways. And, that's because there's no "right" way to run a DTC brand.
This project illustrates exactly that. Whether it's how a founder supports their team or how they talk about mental health in the workplace, every founder has a different approach. How do they discover these different approaches? One way: reading. Discover the greatest books that have changed the way 15+ founders think about or operate their business.
You can also listen to these book picks on Spotify or Anchor.fm.