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Sep 20, 2023 | 6 minute read

Composable Commerce Buzzwords Demystified, Part One: “Headless”

written by James Luterek, Seamus Roddy

It’s a reality of the commerce industry. A new technology or capability is developed, named, and introduced to the market. Eventually, the new technology becomes popular, the phrase enters the lexicon of the commerce industry, everyone slaps the phrase on their website and marketing materials and… the term becomes a buzzword – fashionable, jargony, and devoid of real meaning for a business-side audience.

Composable commerce has only been around since 2020, but composable technology is full of terms that generate excitement for technical users and draw blank stares – or even eyerolls – from business users. How are business professionals who aren’t immersed in the commerce industry’s technology – but who do want an innovative commerce solution – supposed to grasp the promise of composable commerce if that promise is shrouded in buzzwords they don’t understand?

The answer is to break down composable commerce buzzwords, so that a business audience has a basic understanding of the technology and business impacts.

In this series, we’ll demystify composable commerce technology buzzwords. To start, we’ll look at an often-used term: “headless.” What are commerce pros talking about when they go on about “headless” technology?

Headless commerce and headless architecture: The technology

Imagine a puzzle. In the right arrangement, the pieces fit together to make a complete, pretty picture. Nothing special, right?

Now, imagine that the pieces of this puzzle could somehow come together into a complete picture without needing to physically touch or be arranged in a certain order. Even better, the pieces of this puzzle are customizable – you can bring in a new piece that didn’t come from the original puzzle, and it will fit into the new picture.

This puzzle analogy explains the promise of headless commerce and a headless architecture.

Headless commerce or headless architecture refers to an eCommerce architecture in which the frontend and backend are decoupled.

The backend of a commerce architecture is the business logic layer – think data, logic, systems, site structure, and functionality. The frontend of a commerce architecture is what’s customer-facing: the user interface customers experience on websites, apps, and other commerce channels.

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With headless commerce, what you present on the frontend isn’t tied to what you’ve programmed into the backend. The software you use for your frontend and backend are separate. You can swap into your frontend new puzzle pieces from different technologies and business solutions without rearranging the entire puzzle on the backend.

With a traditional commerce platform, your frontend and backend use the same platform and same software. Frontend changes mean backend changes, and vice versa, and you only leverage the puzzle pieces your commerce platform provides.

A headless commerce platform is made possible by headless commerce APIs. API stands for application programming interface. APIs are a software intermediary between two disconnected applications. In the case of headless commerce, APIs are what allow the frontend and backend to communicate. A headless commerce provider that doesn’t mention APIs isn’t really practicing headless commerce.

Headless commerce and headless architecture: The business impact and benefit

For businesses, the impact of headless commerce and headless architecture is the ability to create unique customer experiences.

In traditional, monolithic commerce architectures, changing the frontend experience required backend development. In the analogy of the puzzle, changing one piece of the monolithic puzzle requires changing many or all of the other pieces – which disincentivizes building new experiences. And even when your frontend interface is successfully altered, it often manifests more as a theme of the same software solution – not a new, unique experience. You may have painted over the puzzle piece, but it fits into the picture the same way. Your customers may be getting a “personalized” experience, but it feels virtually the same as it would with one of your competitors, as you’re using the same software.

Headless commerce offers more. A split backend and frontend unleashes creativity for you to design websites and commerce experiences that represent your unique brand identity. For example, your business may use Shopify as your commerce backend. But if you’re growing and want to offer customized shoppable landing pages that increase conversion and drive revenue, Shopify’s out-of-the-box options just don’t cut it. With a headless architecture, you can keep Shopify as a backend and use a no-code frontend solution, such as CX Studio, to create personalized customer experiences and landing pages. Your APIs will communicate to your chosen frontend commerce data and services that are stored in the backend, such as catalog content, pricing, and customer information.

Better yet, you aren’t shoehorned into using just one frontend solution or technology. Your product merchandisers can work out of CX Studio while your web team works out of a content management system (CMS) while your mobile application team uses React Native. This way, your individual business units can use the tools they’re most comfortable with to deliver top-tier customer experiences on different commerce channels.

Along with the flexibility to create unique customer experiences is the reality that you may need to hire additional developers and other staff to select, customize, and manage both frontend and backend technologies. On the other hand, headless commerce typically requires less dedicated IT support than a monolithic architecture, as your team spends less time fixing bugs.

Every brand wants to put together the pieces of their commerce puzzle. Headless commerce is more than just a buzzword. It’s a way to get access to a customizable commerce puzzle that empowers your team to create exceptional commerce experiences.

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