August 31st, 2021 | 5 MIN READ

Top 10 Headless Commerce FAQs

Written by Pranav Bahadur

Pranav Bahadur is a Product Marketing Manager at Elastic Path living in the Boston area.

1. What Is Headless Commerce? 

Simply put Headless Commerce is the complete separation of the front-end code/ UI layer from the back-end engine where commerce functionality and business logic exist. This separation is essential to the flexibility of a Headless Commerce platform.

It allows the rapid evolution of the omnichannel front-end customer experiences (whether that is across touchpoints or geos) while keeping the business logic for things like product catalogs, shopping cart, promotions, payments, etc. in place. Check out our comprehensive review a more in-depth breakdown of Headless Commerce.

2. What Are eCommerce APIs? And, How Do They Relate to Headless Commerce?

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are designed to enable an application to expose specific services (like order management, pricing information, catalogs, etc.) to other applications. In a Headless Commerce context, an API is what allows backend systems to “talk” and relay information to any front-end/ heads (think customer touch-points like mobile storefronts or IoT devices). 

3. What Is the Difference between Traditional & Headless eCommerce?

A traditional eCommerce approach, or monolith platform, was built with a strong ‘coupling’ between the front-end experience and the back-end commerce functions. A monolith approach delivers value by offering a multitude of out-of-the-box functionality directly connected to a frontend to quickly stand up a web-based/ desktop browser experience. Fast forward to now, monolithic systems are inflexible when it comes to adding new channels or updating customer experiences. 

On the other hand, a Headless Commerce ‘decoupled’ approach allows for the flexibility to implement front-end changes, add new channels, and generate quicker release cycles (for example: testing solely the new addition in a Headless architecture vs. testing the entire tightly coupled systems pre-launch). The differences are tangible in your company’s Total Cost of Ownership.  

Ready to Get Started with Headless Commerce?

Discover the steps for getting started, how to implement your front-end, considerations for choosing the right platform and more with our full guide.

Read the Guide

4. How Much Does It Cost to Run a Headless Commerce Solution?

While exact pricing will vary based on the details of implementation and your specific business goals, the cost of your core Headless Commerce software generally depends on order volume and GMV.

In addition to your core Headless Commerce software cost, you will also have to consider the cost of any third-party software (like search, personalization, etc.), the cost to build your front end (this may be completed using internal resources for not extra cost), and the cost of integrating all these pieces together. Similar to your core commerce software price, this all depends on your goals, timeline, and scope.

That being said, when evaluating the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), a Headless Commerce solution will result in savings from a resource allocation and potentially partner implementation perspective. For a detailed look at TCO, check out our comprehensive guide here.

5. Where Is the ‘Head’ in a Headless Commerce Solution?

The flexibility of a Headless Commerce solution extends to the choice of ‘head’ or the customer-facing front-end. While some businesses will choose to build the front-end from scratch, leveraging the APIs of a Headless solution. Others choose to use a separate Content Management System (CMS) to attach one of the many heads (think customer touchpoints or desktop vs. in-store mobile check-out).

A Headless solution allows for the freedom to choose which option aligns with your business-centric goals best. 

6. Is Headless Commerce Future-Proof? 

While no life cycle is infinite, the short answer is yes! While eCommerce trends- and more importantly- customer expectations change rapidly, a Headless Commerce approach allows you to quickly launch a new experience on the front-end (adding curbside pickup or voice-enabled chatbots for example) without impacting the core business logic in the back-end.

In contrast to a rigid traditional monolith approach that can take months to implement costly changes, a Headless Commerce approach will allow your business to evolve with customer expectations and experiment with new experiences at an unparalleled pace. 

7. How Does Headless Commerce Support Omnichannel? 

By removing the traditional ‘middle layer’ that connects the front and back-ends in a tightly coupled monolith solution. A Headless Commerce approach relies on a single source of truth to simplify the architecture by removing the middle layer. Enabling each customer touchpoint to connect back to the same core logic & business functions in a ‘decoupled’ back-end. 

8. Why Should You Care about Headless? Are Customers Going to Notice a Difference? 

Most customers won’t necessarily notice a difference between a traditional storefront vs. a Headless Commerce experience. What a Headless Commerce approach does allow is a brand to regain control of their customer experience and dramatically speed up experimentation cycles to keep up with customer expectations and company growth. This scalability also impacts overall site speed, a crucial factor according to Google as “53% of mobile visitors abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load”. 

Why Is Headless Commerce Being Talked about More? The short answer: customer expectations!

While the pandemic fundamentally changed how many businesses operate, it was essentially an exacerbation of the rapid change of pace in customer expectations in today’s world. A Headless Commerce approach’s flexibility, extensibility, and rapid time to market in order to better align with customer expectations and staying one step ahead of your competitors are what is driving the conversations around Headless. 

10. How Can I Switch to Headless Commerce Solutions?

A complete re-platforming to a Headless commerce approach can be achieved in weeks rather than months with Elastic Path’s Pre-Composed Solutions™. There are a few other options for making the switch as well. A popular approach has been a staggered implementation if you are replacing a monolith solution. Where pieces will progressively be replaced while maintaining business-critical functions.

For a more in-depth look at re-platforming, check out our whitepaper on re-platforming.

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