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Headless Commerce: the evolution to online selling is here

Headless Commerce

There is a rapid transformation in the eCommerce industry so much so that legacy digital commerce solutions struggle to maintain pace with it.

As more shoppers connect with brand products outside of traditional websites like mobile, social, or IoT, traditional eCommerce platforms aren’t strong enough to adapt to these new touchpoints in a reasonable interval. In simpler words, customers are readily embracing the new tech-era even when retailers aren’t (or haven’t yet). 

While some eCommerce brands incorporate all such modern trends, others are still brainstorming as to how they can get into action without inventing an IoT device or backend coding solutions from scratch. Well, there is undoubtedly one way you can do it. 

And the answer is via headless content management and, by obvious extension, headless commerce. 

Organizations that rely on digital commerce as a significant component of their business model need to adapt to solutions like headless commerce to maintain a competitive edge, nurture customers, and move towards a smooth and seamless digital delivery. 

What is headless commerce?

Unlike in a traditional eCommerce site where the frontend and backend are connected and interdependent, in a headless commerce website, the frontend and backend exist separately and operate independently, communicating only via APIs to each other. Headless commerce allows developers to initiate change in the frontend so that it doesn’t affect the backend and vice versa. The good thing about a headless commerce platform is that it removes any IT dependency, allowing frontend developers and backend developers to handle their respective ends efficiently and enforce customer-friendly changes. 

Modern customers access your online store using different mediums- desktops, phones, laptops, tablets, and other connected devices. In the coming years, these mediums will only multiply in number. Headless commerce allows you to accommodate such needs and that of a customer’s changing buying preferences.

In a traditional eCommerce setup, any changes in the frontend would require updates in the backend. However, in a headless commerce model, developers can review, modify, and publish changes in the frontend without applying code changes in the backend. Similarly, if you wish to improve user experience, you can integrate infrastructure points like ERPs, PIMs, OMS, and POS to the backend without uploading the modifications in the frontend. As long as the API calls the right code, the frontend and backend are connected seamlessly and effortlessly.

Headless Commerce

In a headless commerce platform, the frontend part (popularly called the head) is removed, leaving only the backend. So, developers can use APIs to code products, blogs, or customer reviews for any screen or device, while the frontend developers can represent it in any framework they want. 

Since user interfaces, social commerce, and digital marketplaces are no longer governed by a rigid frontend, enterprises can follow a relaxed approach to create a unique experience for their visitors. They can select and customize features and functionalities based on user traction. When developers have the freedom to code and design anything for any screen, they can create the best-in-class retail experience without any restrictions to specific touchpoints. 

How headless commerce functions & why is it so popular?

To understand the buzz, you need to know how headless commerce works. 

First is the presentation layer that includes your fast-loading website with its user-friendly design, mobile or kiosk application- depending on your business needs. This presentation layer or frontend is the interface customers use to interact with your brand. That means your website is your frontend. 

Headless ecommerce solution

Then you have a backend layer that stores all the data and carries out processes like billing, reporting, analytics, content management, order fulfillment, etc. 

 Between these two layers lies the API or application programming interface that carries user requests from the frontend to the backend and respective updates or information from the backend to the frontend. Any software system can use the API to communicate with another software without knowing how that other software system functions. 

Headless Ecommerce Platforms

 

Suppose a user wants information about a placed/purchased order via the order detail page. Now an eCommerce frontend only needs to know what API to call to the backend and get information about this order placed.  As long as the frontend communicates with the backend through the API, it doesn’t have to know anything about the backend or its complexity. 

In fact, in a headless commerce site, since the frontend is decoupled from the backend, the entire backend system can be replaced or modified any number of times without breaking or obstructing its functionality or communication with the frontend as long as the new backend system provides the correct response to the API call. 

All in all, in a headless commerce site, a user interacts with the frontend of your eCommerce store via the website and requests information which is communicated to the backend by the API. In return, the backend supplies the requested information via the API, which is then displayed as information on the frontend to a user. 

By decoupling the frontend and backend, you can make the latter more generic that can interact with anything and is willing to send the right API requests. Also, you can make any number (for mobile, web, kiosk, smart devices, web apps, etc) and type of unique frontends since it doesn’t have to deal with any processing, only displaying information to the user.

Coming back to the second part of the question; headless commerce is gaining tremendous popularity mainly because of two factors-

First, when eCommerce came into being, the idea was to make it desktop-friendly since customers were new at online shopping and most traffic came from desktops. As a result, all eCommerce solutions developed during that time were full-stack, inclusive of frontend and backend. 

As the technology evolved, so did the purchasing patterns, including mobile traffic and other complex metrics like flexibility, scalability, and easy-to-navigate solutions- making the execution of the coupled frontend and backend systems tedious. Headless commerce allows brands to develop a frontend and backend for their commerce site independently. A front-end developer can make any change they like while only understanding the backend interface- the APIs- and the backend developers can enable new functionalities by supporting the new APIs. It makes the development of an eCommerce site quicker and more agile.

Second, eCommerce has become a soft spot for industries, and every brand wants to expand in the online selling domain. It is easier to build a commerce engine from an implementation standpoint and link it with a CMS than creating a new website and migrating old content to it. 

In the wake of such factors, headless eCommerce is the perfect solution to supplement modern needs, fulfill consumer demands, and maximize profitability. 

Headless commerce vs. traditional commerce: what’s the difference?

Still wondering what makes it different from traditional commerce? Well, here’s a comparison between headless commerce and traditional commerce that’ll make your brain juices go running. 

Frontend and backend development:

Traditional commerce: You might think that the overall design process might be manageable via a standard commerce platform; however, the reality is the opposite. Developers encounter several constraints when coding websites using traditional commerce. To change any functionality, you have to spend so much time editing data in the model, the code, and the frontend platform. To upgrade to future versions, they might have to go through the same lengthy process again. 

Headless commerce: Once the frontend is removed, developers can create a user experience from scratch, which fits their core business values. Developers can freely modify databases in the backend while on the frontend; all they have to do is make a simple API call. In simpler words, developers are free from the limitations suffered during traditional commerce development. 

However, headless commerce is not one without its drawbacks. Since there is no frontend presentation layer, marketers have to build everything from the start, be it product pages, landing pages, or more. So, developing an eCommerce web design becomes an even more daunting task, which is why developers prefer the decoupled solution to the headless commerce one. 

Personalization & customization:

Traditional commerce: Such websites have a predefined user experience that mostly is difficult to personalize for each visitor. That said, these platforms have little to no room for customization and personalization. As a brand, if you’re happy with extending that type of experience to your visitors, then go with it; otherwise, opt for headless commerce. 

Headless commerce: Unlike traditional commerce, where there is a set architecture for what passes as a positive user experience, headless commerce platforms act pretty contrary to it. There is no front end in a headless eCommerce platform, which means developers can create any experience they like. Also, such prospects give developers better control over the look and feel of the eCommerce platform and by extension, establish authority over admin user and consumer experience. 

Flexibility & adaptability:

Traditional commerce: In such a setup, the frontend couples with the backend in a somewhat friendly manner. Hence, it leaves no space to implement desired customizations. Even if you could do it, you will have to edit multiple layers of coding between frontend and backend via the database to let it reflect on the eCommerce platform. 

Headless commerce: Since there is no link between frontend and backend, it empowers developers with endless possibilities for whatever customization they want. You can make changes, big or small, by implementing a new field to the database layer and execute the command in a headless commerce architecture. 

Content delivery:

Traditional Commerce: In a conventional eCommerce platform, a developer codes the frontend to pull the content needed every time, as and when needed, increasing the number of API calls. Since the resources aren’t shared, coupled eCommerce platforms slow down during peak traffic times. 

Headless Commerce: The lack of a frontend makes API calls easier. These APIs calls are used to pull data, and since it is not restricted or dependent on other processes or code, it makes the overall system faster, which works great, especially during peak traffic times. 

Improved security:

Traditional Commerce: In such a networked environment, the business systems are combined with the access control lists (ACLs). It means the database is entirely visible to all the other systems and users. It creates havoc and weakens security systems. 

Headless Commerce: In the headless commerce atmosphere, all the systems rely on each other for reliable final output. Also, the business systems stay separate but consistent with the access control units (ACL) to limit access to other systems and users. In the long run, it eliminates the possibility of a compromised account and weak security.

Headless commerce: the top benefits

Want a big shot headless commerce website example? 

Amazon! 

The top eCommerce platform doesn’t stay constrained by the bounds of a traditional system. Even so, over 60% of online streamers prefer Amazon Prime-like service that you can’t achieve with a conventional commerce setup. 

All in all, headless commerce is a boon for brands who want to extend personalized and customized services but don’t know how to do it. As for other brands who still haven’t figured out the utter need for headless commerce platforms, the following reasons will indeed persuade you. 

Go fully Omnichannel:

If you wish your content to have the same look and feel anywhere and everywhere, then go for a headless content management system. For an eCommerce brand, an omnichannel experience will correspond to delivering products, product videos, or blog posts to any channel prevalent in today’s world or ones that emerge in the future. 

Lead the competition:

The most irritating thing about developing a platform in traditional commerce is that developers will have to change the frontend and backend whenever an update needs implementation. So, as an eCommerce store, if you wish to speed up adopting consumer technology, you can’t do it easily and quickly with a traditional commerce solution. 

However, a headless commerce platform functions oppositely. It enables you to deploy rapid updates without impacting the backend. More so, you can easily make changes to your frontend without spending too much time on it. Considering the rapidity at which technology modernizes, headless eCommerce is the only solution if you need to keep pace.  

Then again, major commerce brands deploy new updates every few weeks, while Amazon does it every 11.7 seconds. And we know now why it leads the race.

Works best for agile marketing: 

Headless commerce solutions are technology-friendly; it supports it as and when it comes. It is perfect for brands when designing new consumer experiences. Also, it places your marketing team back in the game where they can roll out multiple sites across different brands, geographies, portfolios, and divisions. 

Owing to the flexibility of headless commerce solutions, marketing teams can set up sites in days and weeks and not months and years, reducing the overall campaign launch hours. 

Making customers feel connected to the brand:

Indeed, customers demand changes at lightspeed; however, their objective remains the same- to achieve a personal and consistent experience across all devices and channels. 

Customers like buying more from headless commerce stores only because it understands their needs. A developer can use the backend data regarding customer preferences and use this to power personalization engines on the CMS, mobile apps, and social channels. 

Allow seamless integrations:

By superiority, headless commerce platforms must have an API that makes it easier to integrate and communicate with different channels. It must be compatible with any new or old device to reach more customers, find more opportunities, and grow your brand. More so, it should not take months to allow for such integrations, rather hours. 

headless commerce platforms

And headless commerce stands true to all that. 

Better conversion optimization rates:

Using headless commerce platforms, you can test different templates, strategies, and approaches to work for your brand. It allows brands to run several tests and optimization cycles to understand their customers better and improve their conversion rates. You can even work on the different backends while running the same frontend architecture. Since you employ solutions to boost positive customer experiences, it easily betters your conversion rates. 

Quickens time-to-market:

If you wish to create a multi-channel, or multi-location, or omnichannel retail experience, you can’t think of doing the same with a traditional eCommerce platform. Your competition will be far ahead of you before you are thoroughly done with the scaling and the optimization. 

As for headless commerce solutions, it enables the brand to focus on building a user-centric frontend on different devices and touchpoints; meanwhile, you house the products and content centrally, delivering results via an API call as and when required. In time, it facilitates a faster time-to-market metric, especially when adopting new channels, exploring new locales, and expanding into new customer markets. 

Headless commerce: the drawbacks

Headless Commerce platforms like Magento are not one without their cons. And some issues need addressing. 

Building a frontend from scratch is time-consuming & costly:

While headless commerce solutions do not come with a frontend, developers need to develop a bespoke experience for every device, and touchpoint from scratch, which is exciting but building those templates and user experiences is tedious and costly. Plus, developers will have to troubleshoot their frontend, leading to an overall increase in the cost. 

A huge dependence for the marketing team:

On the other hand, the marketing team highly depends on the developers to launch landing pages and content to different devices because a headless commerce platform offers no frontend. 

It restricts the freedom of marketers to ideate, create, approve, preview, and publish content without relying on another department. So, it might be a developer-friendly environment, but it isn’t so much marketer-friendly.

The road ahead

Let’s agree on one thing: the future of commerce is headless. 

Headless commerce platforms solve several problems with their decoupled frontend. It is the perfect alternative to traditional commerce that no longer meets the needs of modern shoppers. It allows brands to gain greater control over the design of the eCommerce store and customer experiences. It will enable easy and quick updates, seamless integrations with plugins or platforms, and saves a lot of money in the long run. 

As a brand, if you’re just starting into the eCommerce market, go headless. 

And for those already neck-deep into the eCommerce maze, it’s time for you to go headless. 

Want to know more about headless commerce?

Get a free consultation today.

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