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Feb 25, 2022 | 7 minute read

What Is A Frontend And How Does It Work With Elastic Path?

written by Shaneil Lafayette

When you first visit a website, what’s the first thing you notice? It’s not the available payment providers, it’s not the security measures, it’s not even the products. It’s the design! And as an eCommerce brand, if your design isn’t aesthetically appealing to your customers, you stand the risk of losing your website visitors quickly. This design is hosted in what we call the frontend of your eCommerce experience. Therefore, understanding what your frontend will look like is equally as important as understanding the eCommerce solution that will power your eCommerce experiences. In this article we will break down exactly what a frontend is, your frontend options, and how it works with Elastic Path.


What Is a frontend?

The frontend refers to the all the elements that your users see and interact with when they visit your website. These elements include features such as font, color themes, drop down menus, search bars, imagery, click interactions and more. This is why the frontend is most commonly referred to as the customer-facing portion of your eCommerce experience. As the customer-facing portion of your website, your team has the opportunity to use these elements to “wow” your customers, make an impact and create an overall appealing experience while they shop.

The frontend is not to be confused with the backend of your eCommerce experience. The backend, otherwise known as the server side of your eCommerce experience, refers the data access layer that holds all your information and powers the functionality for your store. It works by processing, storing, and delivering all the data and functionality to and from the frontend. Therefore, your backend is essentially responsible for bringing your frontend elements to life so that your customers may interact with your store and complete their transaction.


What To Expect From Your Frontend In Traditional Legacy Platforms?

Since the emergence of eCommerce, traditional legacy platforms such as Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Oracle ATG, and SAP Hybris have been built as all-in-one systems, where the frontend and backend were constructed in tightly coupled architectures. Coupling the frontend and the backend brought tremendous benefits at first, as it allowed brands to quickly deploy online stores and manage them with ease using templates that were provided by their vendors.

However, as technology advanced over the years, customers were demanding more unique and engaging experiences. This posed a problem for brands utilizing these coupled architectures because they lacked the flexibility be able to customize their unique solution. And even if they did find workarounds for their customizations, they were still time consuming, costly, and had the potential of breaking their eCommerce store, slowing down their website, and leaving customers with a bad experience. Therefore, this type of hyper dependent architecture has not been ideal for brands who want to continuously innovate and update their frontend experiences to keep up with customer expectations.

Over the years, the eCommerce landscape has evolved to overcome the rigidity of this type of architecture. Around 2013, a new approach called Headless Commerce emerged, which decoupled the frontend presentation layer from the backend functionality layer, to allow for more creative freedom. Headless Commerce vendors today include Elastic Path, Big Commerce, Commercetools and more.


What To Expect From Your Frontend In Headless Commerce Solutions?

The Headless Commerce approach allowed for the frontend and backend systems to exist independently. This meant development teams no longer had to worry about the interdependencies between the two layers, and brands and their teams had more freedom to create and update their frontend presentation layer without the fear of anything breaking. Additionally, as the backend was now able to communicate via APIs, brands were now able to create one frontend layer and have that be utilized across multiple touchpoints such as mobile, and IoT to reach customers in different places.


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What Frontend Options Do I Have If I Want a Headless Commerce Solution?

Customers are oftentimes confused by Headless Commerce because they have only been accustomed to working with all-in-one solutions. So, we often get asked, “If Headless Commerce removes the “head” and decouples the frontend from the backend, does the eCommerce solution still come with a frontend? What are my options?” And well the answer to that is, “Well, it depends.” As you can imagine, more frontend freedom comes with more options, and depending on a company’s current state, there will be different frontend options that will be better suited for them.

The frontend option you choose will usually differ based on:

● The size of your business

● The level of in-house resources you want to utilize

● Current skill set of your dev team

● The number of stores you have across your business

● The number of channels you want to deploy across

● The type of products you carry (simple/complex)

● The level of churn

● The size of your marketing/merchandising team

● The level of innovation you want


Based on the assessment of these criteria there are 3 possible routes you could take.

1. Leverage a Frontend-as-a-Service

A Frontend-as-a-Service (FEaaS) allows you to build and design your features, and their functionality such as grid layouts and carousels for your product, using minimal coding. If you choose this option, you will utilize an agency or your FEaaS team to carry out your first-time implementation of your frontend with your commerce solution. Once that is completed, your team of marketers, content creators, and merchandisers will have the flexibility to innovate and make updates without reliance on your engineering teams. Examples of FEaaS include Frontastic, Mobify, Moovweb and Mason.


2. Utilize a Digital Experience Platform

A Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is a more advanced and fully integrated experience designed to enable the composition, management, and delivery of digital experience across different journeys. DXPs have expanded from traditional CMS to focus on more connected and consistent experiences both across internal teams and consumers. If you choose this option, you will utilize an agency, SI partner, and/or in-house technical team to build and carry out the first-time implementation of your frontend with your commerce solution. From there, it is usually best that you have a dedicated in-house team to manage the frontend solution. Examples of DXPs include: Bloomreach, Acquia, and Adobe Experience Manager.


3. Build Your Custom Frontend

A custom built frontend tends to be built from scratch by in-house frontend developers who leverage popular frontend frameworks such as ReactJS, Angular JS, Next JS, VueJS, and follow JAMStack architecture and philosophy. Of course, if you choose this option you will you will require your in-house team or hired agency to build and manage it for you.

To learn more about how the aforementioned criteria connects to each frontend option, please take a look at Chapter 3 in our Headless Commerce Guide.


How Do These Frontends Work with Elastic Path?

Elastic Path provides industry leading API-First, Headless Commerce solutions to allow you to rapidly build, deploy, and continuously optimize highly differentiated commerce experiences. However, we do not sell frontends for your Headless Commerce Solution. You can think about Elastic Path as the core commerce engine that powers the backend of your eCommerce solution.

This means that you will be able to work with your agency, system integrator and/or Elastic Path to determine the right frontend option for your business and deploy its right on top of Elastic Path services. As we mentioned before, as Elastic Path is a Headless Commerce solution, it can be connected to any frontend via APIs, and we will work with your team to fully integrate the two. Therefore, you can have the frontend of your choice that will allow you to create your unique presentation layer that will keep your customers engaged and propel your revenue growth.

We hope this was helpful but if you have any more questions or you’re just interested in learning more about our Headless Commerce solution and how we get your solution up and running, feel free to reach out to us.