What is Headless Commerce? Get Answers to Your FAQs

Your top 6 questions easily explained

Chances are, you’re here because you’re researching Headless Commerce.

You’d like to understand whether it's right for your organization, if it's worth investing in, or if there are inherent risks no one is openly talking about. Unfortunately, what you’re typically finding out there is content steeped in buzzwords, positioning Headless Commerce as the ultimate silver bullet for any and every organization.

What you’re not finding is an objective explanation of what it is, and why it matters. Here, we answer the six most commonly asked questions about Headless Commerce (and try our best to spare you the marketing jargon):

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless Commerce is the complete separation of the front-end, where the customer experience happens, from the back-end commerce functionality and business logic, think things like the shopping cart, product catalog, promotions, payments, etc. This separation allows the two to work, and change, independently of one another at their own pace, allowing businesses to create new experiences without risking existing ones.

By communicating with the back-end through the use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), Headless Commerce allows existing customer experiences to evolve quickly and new experiences to be created without affecting the back-end, or business logic. In other words, you can create or change experiences without having to impact or change the other customer experiences you already have in place. This gives organizations the flexibility to create the experiences their customers want, however, and whenever they choose.

What is Headless Architecture: Why is it better?

A headless architecture is achieved by adding application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing commerce functions to be accessed by any front end. Front-end developers can use these APIs to deliver customer experiences to any screen or connected device with any technology or customer experience platform they desire.

A headless architecture puts the creative and innovation power back in the hands of those responsible for the customer experience by enabling front-end developers to continuously iterate and evolve the customer experience without any dependency or impact on the back-end commerce platform.

This means faster release cycles with less regression testing and minimal risk of changes having unintended consequences somewhere else. Conversely, enhancements to back-end commerce functions can be deployed without fear of “breaking” the customer experience.

What are E-commerce APIs?

APIs or Application Programming Interfaces are designed to enable one application (such as your e-commerce platform) to expose services (like order management, pricing information, catalog content, customer profile data) to other applications.

In a sense, the API helps systems “talk” and relay information to each other.

APIs or Application Programming Interfaces are designed to enable one application (such as your e-commerce platform) to expose services (like order management, pricing information, catalog content, customer profile data) to other applications.

How does Headless Commerce Work?

A Headless Commerce platform provides all the commerce services an organization needs to commerce-enable any application or customer experience. However, organizations must decide how they will build and deliver those customer experiences. Fortunately, a headless architecture provides the flexibility to use any application like a CMS (Content Management System), DXP (Digital Experience Platform) or, use any technology like Angular or React front-end frameworks to create compelling experiences.

The front-end application or technology of your choice will communicate with the Headless Commerce platform through its APIs to access commerce data and services like catalog content, pricing, and customer profile information.

Organizations using Headless Commerce aren’t forced to use any one front-end approach and can select the best customer experience application or technology based on the experience being delivered and organizational skillset. For example, the mobile application team may choose to use React Native while the web team may opt to use a CMS application to create and deliver their online store.

Why Headless Commerce vs Traditional Commerce?

When e-commerce was born, most customers browsed and placed orders online through a desktop browser experience. Then came the explosion of smartphones, which forced organizations to find workarounds to deliver buying experiences through these new mobile devices. The trouble was, the all-in-one commerce platforms they were using were built specifically for the web.

Fast forward a decade and this same challenge continues to play out as organizations struggle to keep up with all the channels and touchpoints their customers use. Since traditional monolithic commerce platforms were built with a specific channel in mind, customer experiences are tightly coupled to back-end commerce functions. This makes it difficult for organizations to create the social, voice, or chatbot-based buying experiences their customers want today. Now, it’s like the launch of the smartphone is happening all the time.

With Headless Commerce, organizations aren’t limited to any one channel. They can easily commerce enable any experience and, since all customer experiences leverage the same back-end commerce services and customer data, they are seamless as customers traverse touchpoints.

To put it simply, Headless Commerce makes the customer experience fluid between any channel, device or touchpoint.

What is an Example of a Headless Commerce Use Case?

Any situation where it makes sense for a transaction to be part of the customer experience is a good use case for Headless Commerce. It is applicable across any business model or level of digital maturity within an organization. This includes anything from a traditional web-based storefront to a connected car scenario where the vehicle orders its own replacement parts and schedules service.

Here are a couple of specific scenarios where Headless Commerce delivers exceptional value:

1. A sneaker manufacturer maintains a fitness app that lets customers track their workouts, log miles run, access health, and nutritional information, and even interact with virtual personal trainers. This app is the perfect environment to recommend new running shoes or workout gear based on miles logged, the location of the customer and the weather conditions they run in, etc.

With Headless Commerce, the manufacturer can easily tap into commerce services like product catalogs, pricing, and product recommendations to embed buy buttons directly in the “fitness” experience.

What is Headless Commerce? It's what allows your customer to complete a purchase without ever having to leave a device, channel, or experience.

On the other hand, a monolithic commerce platform would require the fitness app user to be redirected to an entirely separate storefront and experience to make purchases.

2. A cruise line takes frictionless commerce to a new level by enabling vacationers to make purchases and receive recommendations anywhere on the ship with an IoT enabled wrist band, or medallion device (here is a more concrete example).

The medallions are connected to a digital ecosystem on board the ship that includes the Headless Commerce platform. The network of thousands of sensors and smart devices work to identify where the guests are, what they’re doing, and what they might want to do next. When the guest wants to make a purchase, they simply waive their medallion across a reader and the Headless Commerce platform processes the transaction.

To end, let’s refute what is perhaps the biggest misconception about Headless Commerce: it is NOT the “next big thing”. It was, nearly a decade ago when we released the world’s first and only purpose-built Headless Commerce technology.

In 2020 Headless Commerce is the “right now thing” and it will be the “only thing” as we look into the future of e-commerce. At this moment, countless businesses are using Headless Commerce technology to create the purchase experiences their customers want easier than ever before and, increasing revenue through channels they otherwise would’ve never been able to monetize.

Conversely, we’ll be the first to say, despite all the challenges it solves for businesses, not all Headless Commerce technology is created equal and there are some use-cases Headless Commerce is not a good fit for.

For that information and, a deeper dive into what we discussed here, check out our free Guide to Headless Commerce.