Consumers today demand full control over when and how they purchase. The days of just either going into a store or going onto a website via a desktop computer to make a purchase are long gone. People want to buy on the go - via their mobile phones, through kiosks, voice-controlled IoT devices, wearables, or even via games consoles.
Overtime, technology changes with new methods and trends emerging constantly. In the era of eCommerce, we’ve seen many techniques for building a digital store, the latest being the headless approach. You can dive into the history of purchasing and how we've arrived at where we are today in our blog, Headless 101.
This post aims to give you a brief overview of what headless commerce is and why you should care about it.
What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce basically describes the decoupling of the frontend of your eCommerce experience from the backend. This unchained logic allows for more architectural flexibility, so it’s easier for you to design a system you want. The commerce logic behind your store, delivered through an eCommerce API, serves as a core body to which you can attach as many heads as you want ( heads being customer touch-points where transactions take place, or even the systems you need in place to help support employees like merchandisers, warehouse staff and customer service representatives). It completely separates the presentation layer of your store from the business-critical processes like order and inventory management, payment processing, or shipping.
Separating the frontend (which you control) from the backend (the eCommerce logic provided by a headless commerce solution like Elastic Path) allows you to decouple development and solely focus on customer interaction without worrying about the impact on critical backend systems.
8 reasons to consider a headless commerce solution
The idea behind the headless approach is that you are able to add or swap out a head seamlessly without needing to change any of the logic that backs it up. This is almost impossible to do with traditional, monolithic platforms like Magento or Salesforce Commerce Cloud, where the frontend and backend are heavily tied together, and are designed to serve a single channel (usually a website).
1. Headless commerce lets you move lightning fast
As your backend and frontend are no longer so tightly connected, and you only have to worry about updating the frontend, you’re able to make rapid changes and innovate quickly without impacting the eCommerce logic. This means as soon as consumer technology changes, you can keep up with demand and release new transactional touch-points quickly without having to redeploy your entire eCommerce platform.
The learning curve is much lower with APIs too, meaning your developers, no matter their experience level are empowered to make a difference to your eCommerce strategy.
2. Headless commerce allows for more customization and personalization
Many monolithic platforms restrict you to templates and themes for the frontend. If you want to have a custom experience which includes your own brand’s look-and-feel, a headless solution makes it much easier to actually build those creative visions of your designer without finding yourself hitting restrictions.
3. Headless commerce lets your developer use any programming language or framework
Unlike some traditional eCommerce platforms who impose a specific programming language, headless commerce allows your developer to build using any language or framework they are familiar with. This cuts down the learning curve to picking up and using a headless solution, and empowers your developers to be more confident in their ability to build exactly what you envision for your eCommerce experience.
4. Headless commerce can be cheaper
Some headless solutions may be much cheaper to run on scale that traditional platforms because each microservice scales to meet demand. For example, during a flash sale where you may see traffic spikes, your carts and payment systems would scale independently to meet the demand, and then scale back down during quieter periods,
5. Headless commerce lets you integrate with any tools
Being able to seamlessly tailor your architecture to meet your own business circumstances is often the key to a successful eCommerce strategy.
Introducing the headless approach allows you to choose best-of-breed tools for different parts of your eCommerce project and easily glue them together and orchestrate them in a way that they work seamlessly.
Having separate tools for different parts of your overall architecture makes it easier in future to swap parts out and replace with more modern versions without having to make changes to your full eCommerce stack.
6. Headless commerce makes optimization easier
With legacy, monolithic platforms, it can often take weeks or even months to be able to make updates and changes to your eCommerce store meaning the ability to easily react to changes in the consumer technology landscape is limited. Consumer behavior moves fast, and if you can’t keep up with what they want, your eCommerce business may suffer.
These days, testing and optimizing your experience is key to winning customers. Amazon and Netflix are two prime examples of companies constantly iterating on their user experience to see what works for their market, and you should be able to do the same for your business. Headless commerce makes it really easy to deploy changes; you can run multiple tests at once and optimize based on these as quickly as you like to constantly improve your commerce experiences.
7. Headless commerce lets you add transactional functionality to existing user interfaces
If you already have a content site for your products but it’s not yet transactional for example, with headless commerce, your separate user interface layer can be plugged into commerce backend logic without having to disrupt your overall technology stack. A good example of this is Elastic Path Shopkit which allows you to embed commerce into any existing website or blog, fast and then scale to new experiences when you need to.
8. Headless commerce can help improve website performance
Due to the separation of front and backend architecture, headless commerce solutions tend to work faster, be more responsive and easier to maintain or update.
Is headless commerce right for me?
If any of the above reasons are on your eCommerce strategy wish list, then a move to a headless commerce architecture is probably right for you. In addition to choosing between a headless and non-headless solution, there are also other tradeoffs to consider when switching from your current platform. We've provided a detailed guide that comprises of all other major considerations that should be taken into account in our ultimate eCommerce buyer's guide.
However, the headless commerce approach isn’t the right one for everyone. If you’re looking for an all-in-one generic solution where you get everything you need for an eCommerce store in one box or you need to run your data and store it on your own internal servers, then a more traditional platform might still be a good choice for you.
It all comes down to what your individual and business needs are and what your long term eCommerce vision looks like.