May 12th, 2020 | 4 MIN READ

Headless commerce + headless CMS: the perfect combination?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Online merchants have embraced experience-driven commerce for over a decade, using headless commerce and APIs to allow content management systems (CMS) and digital experience platforms (DXP) to power the front end, rather than be restricted to the features and functionality offered out-of-the-box with commercial commerce platforms.

Why use a CMS with your headless commerce platform?

In addition to more robust content capabilities, CMS-powered commerce:

  • Supports rich, interactive experiences that showcase the brand
  • Unifies websites -- brands no longer need to use a sub-domain for the “e-store” that requires its own systems (with the cost, maintenance and user friction a separate e-store entails)
  • Enables business users to make content updates independent of IT and schedule cutovers
  • Enables back-end developers to make updates without worrying if it might break something “up front”
  • May extend content to flexible, mobile-first front end frameworks such as React.js, Vue.js, Ember.js et al for Single Page Applications (SPAs) and Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) -- depending on your environment

Since the rise of content-driven commerce, both commerce and content management platforms have continued to evolve. Today’s modern commerce platforms go beyond simply decoupling the front end to enable CMS-driven commerce to embrace multi-touchpoint extensibility and support any touchpoint -- and to make life easier for developers. Content management solutions have gone headless for the same reasons.

Decoupled versus headless CMS

Like legacy ecommerce platforms, content management systems were traditionally developed and deployed as monoliths with all components tightly coupled within a single code base, making development, scalability and extensibility challenging and complex. And as with digital commerce, such CMSes were built primarily for the Web, before the advent of mobile, wearables, IoT, voice and other modern touchpoints.

Decoupled content management

Many CMS vendors have taken the first step towards headless architecture by decoupling the front end from the back end content repository, thus separating content creation from delivery. With a decoupled CMS, the head is provided with the solution, but its use is optional. The CMS’ API can connect to any front end in place of or alongside the application’s head.

This decoupling enables content to be deployed to multiple front end environments, and also allows a website to be redesigned or significantly updated without reimplementing or restarting the CMS.

True headless content management

True headless content management applications don’t provide any head, assuming the organization using the CMS wants to deploy content to their own, customized heads with the flexibility to swap-in and swap-out best-of-breed solutions over time.

But the key differentiator between decoupled and headless content management is flexibility and control. True headless allows custom content and experiences to be served from the same content hub to multiple front ends and devices, tailored to their context. Content assets can be remixed and recomposed based on what makes the most sense for the experience and device form factors.

For example, mobile apps can have their own look and feel, show or hide custom content, reformat content or support their own user journeys. Or, touch screen applications can show selective content, formatted for their location, purpose and screen resolution. Similarly, you can reuse a buy button, form, banner or any design element across any experience.

It’s not uncommon for an enterprise to run multiple, siloed CMSes to cover their channels and touchpoints. With headless content management, virtually any experience can be powered from a single CMS without restrictions or sacrificing custom content to satisfy all channels.

Better together: how headless commerce + content management support the agile enterprise

Deliver truly unique and contextual experiences across touchpoints

Enterprises that embrace headless commerce and ecommerce microservices to quickly spin up new and innovative experiences shouldn’t be held back by monolithic content platforms! Headless content-plus-content ensures omnitouchpoint experiences are optimized for both form and function.

Support greenfield projects without a legacy rip-and-replace

The best part of an agile technology environment is the ability to launch new projects -- even experimental or greenfield projects -- without investing in separate, siloed platforms, introducing risk into the legacy environment, or taking months or years to deploy.

Future-proof your environment

API-driven solutions provide the flexibility to swap-in and swap-out best of breed solutions. For headless commerce, today this means leveraging lightning-fast front end frameworks like React.js and its cousins to serve mobile-friendly single page applications (SPAs) and progressive web apps (PWAs). As new technologies and devices come down the pike, they can simply bolt-on to what you’ve built on your back end.

When headless content management isn’t right for you

As with headless commerce, headless content isn’t right for every organization. Headless CMS is best for teams with seasoned developers, the appetite to deploy unique experiences across touchpoints, and the need for agility.

However, in today’s mobile-first, multi-touchpoint world, a decoupled CMS at minimum is suitable for most enterprises and ensures modern front ends such as SPAs and PWAs are supported.


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