May 5th, 2022 | 3 MIN READ

The Myth of Headless Commerce

Written by Julie Mall

Julie Mall is the Global Director of Solution Engineering, leading a team focused on guiding customers and prospects towards achieving their eCommerce goals. She brings a wealth of knowledge from startups and consulting in the tech space since the first bubble in 2000.

headless_commerce

Headless Commerce is the buzz word that just won’t go away. So much talk about being headless evokes the image of the headless horseman for me. And so, I finally looked him up, to satisfy my curiosity about what he represents. The headless horseman symbolizes a past that never dies and continues to haunt the living. That sounds a lot like what Headless Commerce has turned into lately.

Over my last several years supporting organizations and brands looking to modernize their customer experience, the first qualifier seems to be “are you headless”? But what does that really mean? When a brand asks a commerce vendor if they are “headless”, the answer will always be YES! Every eCommerce Platform available today makes a claim that they can operate in a headless manner.

Let’s pause for a moment. What are brands really looking for when they are asking for headless? A read through of the past several (dozen or so) RFPs that have come across my desk indicate that organizations, whether they realize it or not, want the headless horseman. The “head” separated from the body, but still haunted by the past. What do I mean by that?

Organizations want headless, ostensibly to create a more flexible and extensible commerce architecture that will support long term growth. They want more engaging experiences that drive more conversion. They want blazing fast site speed. They want a commerce architecture that will support the rapidly changing nature of commerce.

But simply removing the “head” (or frontend) will not accomplish any of that. When I read an RFP asking for Headless Commerce typically what follows is a ridiculously long checklist of the features from the monolithic platform the customer is currently on. If this approach sounds familiar, then you are inviting the headless horseman into your organization. You will be haunted by a commerce architecture that’s as inflexible and rigid as it has always been. Being “headless” just isn’t enough to help brands drive revenue growth.

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So, what is the alternative? How does an organization respond to the pace of change in the market? How do you prepare for the expansion of commerce to touchpoints we haven’t even imagined yet? To fully realize the promise of ‘Commerce Everywhere’ (more on that in an upcoming post), brands should consider each part of their customer experience independently.

For example, how important is search to how your customers experience your brand? If search experience is important to you, consider it independently from your eCommerce platform, against the requirements and KPI’s relevant for your organization. Do you have a large content management team that has robust requirements around driving engaging content? You won’t be able to satisfy those requirements with a built-in CMS in a monolithic commerce platform.

Instead, you should consider separating your content management and your commerce platform. This ‘composable’ approach to commerce allows organizations to fit solutions to their requirements, instead of having to fit their requirements to the technology.

External composability is important however, this ‘composable’ approach should also be applied to your evaluation of a Commerce vendor’s solution. While every Commerce vendor can reasonably claim to be Headless, few are truly composable. And even fewer have designed their own architecture from that same composable viewpoint. At Elastic Path our APIs are built around packaged business capabilities, each of which is easily composable both with each other and external capabilities (like search, content management, etc.).

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