“Off with their heads!”
You’d be forgiven for thinking we mean the Queen’s gardeners from Alice in Wonderland.
We’re actually talking about headless commerce.
As part of a move towards a faster, more agile shopping experience, commerce is going headless. Headless commerce aims to optimize online shopping by decoupling the back-end infrastructure from the front end of your eCommerce website.
If you’re still scratching your head at this, then keep reading to learn about the basics of headless commerce, pros and cons, and how to go headless.
What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce is a type of website architecture whereby the front end of your eCommerce platform (the head) is decoupled from the back-end commerce functionality. This decoupling allows external parties to update or edit the back end of your website without directly interfering with the front end.
This type of architecture opens up new possibilities for both developers and merchants. With headless commerce, back-end developers can update and edit the website infrastructure as they please without impacting the front end of the website. Meanwhile, merchants or front-end developers can present the back-end content using a framework of their choosing.
Since the back end and front end of the website aren’t tightly connected, eCommerce brands can use headless commerce to transform various devices and portals into a digital storefront with commerce functionality. Social media, smartwatches, voice-assisted technology, and mobile apps, for example, can all turn into digital, shoppable storefronts with headless commerce.
Headless commerce connects the front-end customer touchpoints with the back-end operations through application programming interfaces (APIs). Essentially, headless commerce is API-driven, allowing eCommerce businesses to connect with new touchpoints and expand the realms of possibility within commerce.
In contrast, traditional commerce relies on monolithic architecture in which a website’s front end and back end cannot be decoupled. Because of this, headless commerce offers a more flexible and adaptable solution in keeping with the agile ways of the IoT (Internet of Things).
Pros and cons of headless commerce
If you want to gain a competitive advantage in the eCommerce industry, consider transitioning to headless commerce. But first, let’s explore the pros and cons.
Pro: Increased flexibility, adaptability, and scalability
The most obvious benefit of headless commerce is that it provides your team greater flexibility, adaptability, and scalability.
While headless commerce may seem more complicated than traditional, it offers a more streamlined approach to managing your online store. Its decoupled style gives online retailers greater creativity and flexibility when designing their storefronts. This then allows retailers to develop a responsive online shopping experience that meets customer needs and exceeds their expectations.
Pro: Improved user experience
Improving the customer experience is potentially the greatest benefit of headless commerce. Research by Forrester found that every dollar invested in user experience delivers a potential ROI of 9,900%.
The second someone lands on your website, they’re at the mercy of your UX; it can be the difference between them making a purchase or leaving your site for good. Headless commerce helps merchants prioritize UX by easily updating and improving their storefront to satisfy customer complaints or market changes. Headless commerce empowers you to be responsive to changes, meaning you can make sure your storefront is consistently user friendly.
Pro: Omnichannel opportunities
With headless commerce, online retailers are no longer limited to selling through only a singular platform.
Rather than having one online storefront, retailers can use headless commerce to create a bridge between the back-end infrastructure of their online store and any customer-facing front-end solution of their liking. This means retailers can leverage the benefits of omnichannel retailing to allow customers to shop their products across various channels, including social media, wearables, apps, and more.
A majority of customers (73%) typically shop a mix of physical stores, eCommerce, digital apps, social commerce, and marketplace platforms to buy products. By linking digital shopping channels and physical stores, headless commerce creates a seamless buying experience wherever your customers shop.
Con: Requires technical maintenance
Headless commerce may seem like an online retailer’s dream. Yet, as we know, all dreams require hard work to make them a reality, and headless commerce is no exception.
The headless commerce architecture is far more complex than its traditional counterpart. Developing a headless commerce system often requires custom code. This means your traditional commerce architecture cannot simply be re-coded to work in a headless environment.
Traditional commerce is considered an out-of-the-box solution. Meanwhile, headless commerce is a complex solution that requires a lot of customization before it is usable.
Con: Managing tech stacks
Due to its complex nature, headless commerce also needs careful and continuous technical management. You regularly need to update the various elements, code, and APIs of your headless commerce back end to make sure everything works seamlessly and operates as it should.
In headless commerce, the front end and back end of your commerce platform are decoupled, so your site’s functionality relies upon API bridges and multiple layers. These layers and bridges contain numerous technical applications and software known as a tech stack.
Managing your tech stack is a careful operation. If one element of your tech stack stops working, it could sever communications with other layers within your headless commerce architecture. This breakdown in communication and usability could prove fatal to your storefront.
So, headless commerce needs constant management to ensure all the cogs in your system operate smoothly.
Why is headless vital in eCommerce?
As direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands continue to grow, online retailers recognize traditional eCommerce platforms no longer satisfy the needs of their customers. The limits of traditional commerce can’t properly serve consumers looking to shop seamlessly across various browsers and devices.
Headless commerce, however, breaks down these barriers. To keep up with the changing state of commerce, online retailers need to embrace headless commerce.
Separating the front end and back end of an online store gives online retailers greater control over the look and feel of their eCommerce store. As such, they can meet customer expectations, satisfy their needs, and seamlessly integrate with numerous platforms and plugins that adapt to customer shopping behaviors.
Headless commerce can be considered a future-proof solution for eCommerce that enables you to be reactive, agile, and flexible. With it, your online store can grow and scale in line with eCommerce trends and shopper behaviors. Staying responsive to these offers your store an advantage over competitors.
Headless commerce tools
If you’re looking to embrace headless commerce, you’ll need the right tech stack behind you.
The various headless APIs in your tech stack will need to work together flawlessly to create an exceptional customer-facing experience (which is the front end of your eCommerce system).
Within this tech stack, you should have APIs that sit at various layers in your headless architecture, including:
- Front-end tools
- API layer tools
- Headless commerce tools
- Headless CMS
- Back-end connectivity tools
- Page builder and revenue tools
Once you identify your customers’ needs and behaviors, you can build a headless commerce architecture that’s curated specifically for your audience. This stack should then be agile enough to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of eCommerce.
To help you get started, let’s explore some of the tools you could use in your headless commerce architecture.
Front-end headless commerce tools
At the front end of your headless commerce architecture, you’ll need a number of tools that create a flawless shopping experience. These front-end tools should transform your eCommerce business into a fluid commerce system that works across multiple channels.
Algolia is a powerful site search tool that can deliver relevant content in milliseconds. Incorporating Algolia into your front-end headless architecture gives your customers instant access to your product catalog through AI-powered search, discovery, and recommendation capabilities.
In today’s digital age, video is a powerful component of any online DTC experience. Live shopping is on the rise, and with it, video’s popularity will continue to grow as brands aim to add more interactivity to their digital experiences.
If you want to leverage video for your eCommerce business, Mux Video is a front-end API tool that lets brands create captivating live and on-demand video experiences. This fast-loading API intuitively produces the right renditions for any device and bandwidth so videos can be streamed anywhere. These functionalities offer a smooth viewer experience for your consumers, whether you’re serving a small number of streams or going live to millions.
Chord is online retailers’ answer to the omnichannel shopping experience. With Chord, merchants can build rich, custom commerce experiences that grow and evolve as their businesses scale. This multichannel customer engagement platform provides deep insights to help you craft an online experience that exceeds customer expectations and nurtures your community.
The front-end capabilities of headless commerce don’t stop there. You have a multitude of apps and software available to build a unique and powerful front-end experience. One such app is Snipcart, an API that lets users add a shopping cart to any website. Built using client-side code, snipcart turns any website into an eCommerce site with just a few lines of code.
Back-end headless commerce tools
The back end of your headless commerce architecture is just as important as the front end. In order for your back-end developers to build an advanced, modern eCommerce solution, they will first need to assemble a unique tech stack of future-ready solutions at various layers of the back-end architecture.
Managing your API layer
At the API layer, Nacelle is one tool that was designed specifically for headless commerce. Nacelle acts as a bridge between your systems, helping you build a powerful eCommerce tech stack where all of your systems communicate with one another in real time. With Nacelle, you can easily swap and change the other elements within your headless commerce architecture to create an eCommerce solution that’s adaptable and responsive.
If you’re looking to craft a commerce solution at scale, you may want to opt for Fabric. This headless eCommerce platform offers responsive storefronts you can easily edit, design, and manage without the need for any code.
Meanwhile, commercetools is a headless marketplace that offers a flexible connection between the customer-facing front end and technical back end of your commerce site. Built on modern MACH principles (Microservice-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and headless), commercetools lets you curate a commerce solution tailored to the exact needs of your business and customers.
In a similar vein, Commerce Layer empowers online retailers to optimize and scale their eCommerce business through its various commerce capabilities. Whether creating a new eCommerce website, adding a shopping cart to an existing site, integrating eCommerce into your shopping app, or being able to sell in store, Commerce Layer provides the functionality you need to produce a flexible commerce solution.
Finally, at the API layer, you can also benefit from Commerce.js. This innovative API tool acts as a headless eCommerce back end that offers flexible solutions for businesses that have outgrown the traditional system. Commerce.js’ innovation and flexibility lets you test, iterate, and optimize every aspect of your eCommerce business.
Headless commerce platforms
Each of these platforms offers its own set of unique benefits depending on your commerce needs. However, they all offer API-driven experiences to scale and optimize your eCommerce solution, meeting you where you are currently while also preparing you for future growth.
Headless content management systems
The CMS (content management system) is arguably the heart of any eCommerce site. Through a CMS platform, you can produce, edit, and publish new content to your site. With a headless CMS, however, you can create and store this content, but it can’t be displayed on its own. A headless CMS will store your content ready to be retrieved and displayed however you wish. This adds a deeper layer of flexibility to your eCommerce site so you can present your data in various formats.
Some headless CMS platforms to consider include:
Each of these platforms offers different deployment options, pricing tiers, features, and support, so be sure to do your research and choose a headless CMS that best suits your business.
For retailers that use Shopify, the Shopify Headless may be an obvious first choice. Using Shopify’s storefront API, you can now integrate Shopify’s CMS into your headless commerce solution.
Making sure all elements of your headless commerce site work together intuitively is key for running a successful eCommerce business.
If you’re in search of smooth connectivity that keeps your customers happy, look no further than Pipe17. Streamlining all your commerce processes, Pipe17 integrates with numerous commerce apps, services, and 3PLs without the need for any coding or technical management.
Alternatively, you could use Workato to integrate your tech stack and automate workflows throughout your product-based solution. Another back-end connectivity and automation option is Tray.io. Quickly integrating with your other software apps, tray.io can help connect all elements of your eCommerce site for a seamless operation.
Page builder/revenue tools
An eCommerce site is useless if it doesn’t drive revenue, so you need one that’s attractive and intuitive for visitors. Your headless commerce architecture will also benefit from incorporating a responsive page builder and tools that help drive revenue.
Offering drag-and-drop visual builders, these headless page builders let you create stunning and responsive storefronts for your business. The Shogun page builder can integrate into Shopify, letting you either build your page using a template or by editing an existing Shopify page.
Builder focuses on driving conversions and can provide a multifaceted drop-and-drop page builder with an optimization layer designed for driving growth. As another option, Outsmartly boasts software that can produce powerful storefronts with minimal time and cost.
All of these headless page builders are designed with one goal in mind: creating easy-to-use and beautifully designed storefronts that drive revenue for your website. And that’s the real beauty of embracing headless commerce.
Wrapping up — Headless commerce and the tools you need to make it work
Headless commerce, when executed well, can create a better experience for your buyers and your own team. It can help prepare your business infrastructure for future shifts in top apps, and ensure you’re always set up to integrate with the latest “best in class” tools.
Consider testing out some of the tools we’ve outlined above to get started.