Headless Commerce: What Is It And Why Does It Matter?
Headless commerce is a new buzzword / term that many people are grappling to understand. In this post, we’re going to spare you the jargon and explain everything there is to know about ‘Headless Commerce’.
In this article, we’re going to address the following
- What is headless commerce
- Reasons to go headless
- Conns of headless commerce?
- Ecommerce platforms that allow for the headless architecture
- The best headless commerce CMS
- And much more valuable insights
What is Headless Commerce?
Headless commerce refers to the disconnection of the front end from the back-end allowing each to operate independently. This is an eCommerce solution with “no strings attached”) that basically lets you evolve by scaling almost all parts of your eCommerce platform without impacting others. Because of the decoupling mechanism, the headless approach can also be called decoupling commerce.
Still foggy? No biggie. Let us put it in a more practical sense.
You run an eCommerce shop with WordPress, Bigcommerce or Shopify as your existing infrastructure. You have benefited a lot from that technology and are also familiar with it. So it makes sense that you don’t replace it, right?
But here is the problem; the same technology that propels you to success does not scale as fast as you want and denies you some experience like running a blog or something else. This is where headless commerce comes in. A solution that will allow you to have multiple front-ends to your primary infrastructure (back end) that you are used to and have been working with.
So rather than have a limiting single front end, with decoupling commerce, you will have multiple of them running independently on your back-end. This means the headless approach allows you to adopt the best of breed solutions to evolve your brand.
Reasons For Adopting The headless architecture
Here are all the reasons why it might be best to decouple your back-end and front-end:
The need for freedom and flexibility
Adopting a headless approach allows you to build your business as you see fit. You have free-reign over every aspect of your business.
But freedom comes at a price, don’t you agree?
Once you choose to adopt the headless model, you must have not just a plan but the funds and a team to design your systems. If you don’t have the money and a huge team to handle that, it would be better to keep using your eCommerce platform as is.
To allow for headless commerce channels
The idea of having a headless storefront is to meet various needs of all your customers devoid of complexities that can exist in such an arrangement. This is only possible through having multiple channels. You can think of a channel as selling points or market places. This could be Amazon, eBay or even other WordPress websites all linking back to your single back end (maybe Bigcommerce or Shopify store).
The existence of channels helps business owners to be able to sell different products on different storefronts at varying prices. It allows you to meet the unique needs of various customers through specific platforms. However, for hassle-free inventory management and record-keeping, everything will be reported back to the primary infrastructure.
The definition of channels is actually pretty broad. It can include anything from a WordPress site, PWA to a marketplace.
The need for extreme performance
Most eCommerce engines provide lightning-fast performance out of the box. But as your business grows to mega-scale levels, this could justify going headless to tailor bespoke systems that deliver warp-speed performance.
But you have to understand that most of the front-end systems you build will not be maintained by your primary software architecture. It will be your sole responsibility to test and maintain them.
Expanding digital touchpoints
The way customers interact with eCommerce shops keeps changing. As one medium loses clients, another picks up more. In 2017, eCommerce sales from smartphones trampled those from desktop devices-for the first time ever.
But that’s not all. According to the future eCommerce trend predictions, it’s not only about devices but channels as well. Take smart voice assistant tech, for instance. It’s all the rage now with Amazon Echo competing against Alexa and Google Assistant.
So as your business grows, so do your customers’ expectations. The moment they visit a store with improved touchpoints, their standards get higher than before and they expect other stores to have the same advanced systems or better.
There are many digital touchpoints you can support on your primary eCommerce architecture. Besides voice search and mobile apps, you need to consider other marketplaces, progressive web apps (PWA), POS and other customer points before, during and after purchase. The best way to have all that and more is through a headless approach.
One of the problems of monolithic platforms is having to put the entire store in hiatus while making updates. Every aspect of your website stops when you want to restart the primary eCommerce engine. That means some sales will be lost during that time-no matter how brief.
Take platforms like Amazon for instance; they have updates happening every 11.7 seconds which shortens downtimes while ensuring the platform is ever up-to-date to meet ever-changing customer demands. That’s the kind of performance you need to emulate.
Basically, by having an independent front end, you can roll out an update on any one of them without stopping or impacting other systems. This means you can still be able to make sales and stay competitive.
But this is not the only way headless commerce puts you ahead of the competitors.
You see, every front end system is designed to seamlessly integrate with other APIs for communications. This is where the magic happens because you can get your business to be accessed on any device- be it a fridge with a screen, smart speaker, mobile, etc. and the fun part is, it takes hours not weeks or months to integrate with other APIs.
Creates an agile environment
The beauty of a headless approach is that it lets marketers and developers focus on their ends without one waiting for the other to finish working on a system. This means new technology can be rolled out at any time and within a very short time.
With no particular system in the driving seat, an eCommerce store is well poised to take any direction according to the changing customer needs.
Cons of Headless Commerce
While adopting headless commerce will very much improve your market share in the eCommerce niche, there are a few setbacks you must anticipate. Here are the major ones:
- Affiliated costs
With a headless approach, you don’t have a front-end and for your APIs to run, you need one or more. The beauty of this is that you are able to build many that are bespoke to your customers’ experience, devices or touchpoints.
But here is where the problem lies…
Building a front-end or templates for that is not only time-consuming but costly as well. On top of that, now you have many systems to be hosted and probably managed separately. Oh, it gets even better (you get the sarcasm, we hope). It will be your sole responsibility or that of your developer to troubleshoot your creations before launching and that means more costs.
- Its creates a complex environment
With a single interdependent platform, systems are easy to run, diagnose for problems and you don’t get overwhelmed. Now, a headless commerce environment runs on multiple APIs with unique installation procedures, security vulnerabilities, and support. And given that most of the APIs are independent, you might need separate teams, separate environments and separate everything.
Now, as you can see, the headless commerce architecture introduces you to interesting territories but with increased complexity as well.
- Loss of native eCommerce functionality
Every eCommerce engine comes with native functionalities such as previewing WYSIWYG, page building and merchandising.
Once you separate the front end, you may no longer have access to those features and if you do, it might get harder to update/edit them.
Furthermore, you might void the warranty or limit the eCommerce engine from accessing future upgrades.
eCommerce Platforms That Support Headless Commerce
Not every eCommerce engine has the ability to allow the front end to be decoupled from the backend. Such tightly held-together systems are known as monolithic. But here are a few eCommerce platforms that support the headless approach:
Core dna is a multipurpose digital experience platform with eCommerce capability, web content management systems and supports multiple APIs. As a result, it’s bundled up ecosystem is ideal for headless commerce with massive ability to support omnichannel experiences.
At the moment of this writing, V-Zug (Swiss high-end appliance manufacturer), Tivoli Audio (audio tech company) and Staples are among a few brands that leverage Core dna’s headless capability to power their eCommerce businesses.
Magento is an eCommerce solution for websites of every size and every business type (B2B, B2C OR even B2B2C. Having been acquired by Adobe, this gives you access to a pool of APIs to integrate with seamlessly for a better omnichannel experience. Example of brands running on this platform are hp, BevMo!, Tom Dixon, ADOREBEAUTY, Brown-Forman and Bauhaus.
Evolve beyond an ordinary online entrepreneur by leveraging Shopify Plus advanced APIs with headless experience. This is an ultra-scalable premium solution for big businesses with room to grow even more. Examples of brands running on this engine include REBECCA MINKOFF, allbirds, FashionNOVA, ROTHY’s and Magnolia.
Check out our Shopify review to learn what the platform is all about and how you can leverage its unique features.
This platform’s core mission is to increase business agility through a flexible headless commerce architecture. It is a future-proof, cloud-based business engine for visionaries and innovators who want to stay competitive.
This is the second most-preferred eCommerce platform after Shopify. It has versatile enterprise solutions with extreme freedom to scale your business to any level. Bigcommerce will also allow you to re-platform seamlessly without the associated big costs. Examples of businesses leveraging this engine’s highly secure and agile systems include Jeep People, HESS, Skullcandy, Tyler’s and DI Bruno Bros.
Merged into one package, Moltin, and Elastic Path now work hand in hand to help you leverage the power of micro-services to easily and quickly create any eCommerce experience that your buyers will fall in love with. The platform is ideal for B2B, B2C, B2B2C businesses, brand-centric experiences, manufacturing, complex product bundling, etc. Moltin is used by ZenHomes, MiniatureMarket, SHAKASURF, ENABLE THE LABEL, Kooi and many other companies.
This is an eCommerce OS that can link your business to any device and CMS from your car, CMS, social sites to smart home devices. With this OS, you can have as many customer touchpoints as you deem fit.
Other eCommerce engines that support orchestration of microservices include OroCommerce (ideal for B2B) and SAP CXCommerce Cloud.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adopting the Headless e-commerce Architecture
While headless commerce has the ability to open up a business to new possibilities, it’s not something to adopt blindly. You must review your business demands before moving forward. Here are a few key questions to answer before decoupling your front -end from the back-end.
- What eCommerce platforms are you running? Is it adaptable or monolithic?
- To what level have you invested in your current CMS?
- What customer experiences are you looking to upgrade?
- Can your current APIs seamlessly bond with the headless environment?
- How big is your IT and resource development team?
Examples of Companies using the headless commerce approach
Without looking at concrete examples, it’s easy to think headless commerce is an abstract technology whose time has not come. Well, you’ll be surprised to know that many brands (including some that you might know or deal with) are running on a headless architecture.
Here are renowned companies that are leveraging the power of microservices:
- Koala -(an Australian-based furniture brand). Its headless approach is based on Shopify Plus
- Clare-a paint supply store that runs its micro-services on Shopify Plus with Contentful as its CMS
- Canvas 1839-This Austin based seller of high-quality natural lotions and oils uses Bigcommerce as the core architecture and Gatsby as the CMS
- Louise Kennedy-this Irish Fashion designer uses WordPress to display content and Bigcommerce for security, PCI compliance, Checkout, and core duties.
- Carluccio’s-an Italian restaurant that uses WordPress as the presentation layer while Bigcommerce as the back-end operating system
Before we wrap this up, it would be unfair not to look at some of the best headless CMS that you can link with your eCommerce engine for better performance. Ready for the last lap? Cool.
The Best Headless CMS
When going headless, you need to have in mind the best CMS, PWA or DXP that you are going to use on your website’s front-end. Here are the top picks worth looking into:
After WordPress, Contentful seems to be the next best option when you are looking for a CMS to customize customer experiences.
This is a powerful DXP ( digital experience platform) that allows enterprises to customize experiences for their customers. With features such as automation, customer data, and analytics, you can nurture a buyer from the point of entry to the checkout on any device and any channel, all in real-time.
Started in 2013, Prismic is an intuitive CMS for managing past, present and future content. Unlike other headless CMS, this one comes with a custom page builder that voids the need of developers. Within this tool, any of your marketing team can edit content, preview it, and schedule publishing.
If you plan on reaching foreign countries via their local language, this would be the CMS to use. The amazing thing about it is the freemium plan that you can enjoy while testing its features. The enterprise-level subscription gives you advanced uses like recovery plans, backups, additional support and much more.
Given that it powers over 30million websites, it makes sense to see why WordPress might be an ideal choice eCommerce business. This is an open-source CMS that powers both new websites and advanced ones such as The New York Times.
If you use Bigcommerce, then you already know they have a WordPress plugin that makes installation a walk in the park. Thanks to the collaboration with Nexcess and WP Engine, now you can hope for the next level of WordPress hosting support.
There are two core advantages to using WordPress. The first is familiarity and the second deals with it being well-known and therefore, trusted.
If you are extremely ambitious with your project, then you don’t want a CMS tool that holds you back. One such CMS is Drupal. Thanks to its open-source design, you can work alongside the best developers to design and customer experience.
As a general-purpose CMS, Drupal can allow your business to venture into uncharted territories other special-purpose CMSes have never been to. It allows easy editing, addition or removal of content. But the major reason why big agencies and governments choose Drupal is because of their impenetrable security. So if you have a hard time protecting customer accounts, this CMS should be your pick too.
This is an AI-powered CMS solution that supports REST APIs and is written in easy to understand JAVA language. You can quickly create highly personalized connections on any page of your website through Bloomreach.
This CMS comes with an exhaustive Experience Manager loaded with merchandising tools for creating a next-level customer experience. Its systems are geared at improving conversions by creating environments that your buyers are familiar with or are looking forward to.
While you can run it on any headless commerce architecture, those on BigCommerce would be glad to know that they have a partnership with them. This means a friction-free working relationship.
Adobe is one of the biggest brands that strive to create useful business tools. If you run an enterprise-scale business that expands very fast, Adobe Experience Manager is the way to go. This is a multi-tool marketing solution with both experience manager and digital asset management as part of the package.
Its comprehensive scale allows you to build anything you want from a mobile app, business website, forms. It also allows you to create and display your content in any way you deem fit with an added advantage of using the Adobe Creative Cloud. So if you are out for a full-featured headless CMS for your headless architecture, then Adobe Experience Manager is a surefire choice.
Mobile sales are expected to get even better as time goes by. That means if your website is not optimized for mobile, you have no idea how big you are losing. One way to personalize your experience on desktop and mobile is through PWAs.
A progressive web app is an application with web capabilities even though it can still be run on app store like traditional mobile apps. This leads to a fully immersive experience that leads to impressive ROI. Twitter, Forbes, AirBnB, Starbucks, and BMW are using PWAs as we speak. SaaS that allows you to use web apps includes Gatsby, Deity, and Vue Storefront.
Wrapping It All Up
We all can’t deny the eCommerce ecosystem is changing very fast. And not just in technology alone. Customers too change on a daily basis. One of the ways to keep up with the fast-paced changes is by adopting the headless commerce approach.
Let’s tell you something.
It’s a really big move to transform from traditional commerce to a headless architecture. For some, the shift will make sense but for others, it will be an overambitious move. You need a clear road-map approach where every upgrade you make generates sufficient ROI to keep you afloat.
With all that in mind, we can all agree that headless commerce is good for:
- Companies with multiple eCommerce channels
- Brands with massive infrastructure in terms of money and in-house technical capabilities
- Companies in need of unique use cases
This headless approach, however, is not good for:
- Companies without massive investment funds and an extensive in-house team of experts
- Standard eCommerce sites including those on monolithic commerce engines
- Brands looking for a low maintenance eCommerce solution
We hope this article has helped you know what a headless eCommerce architecture is and if it is a good or bad choice for your store. Good luck!