Headless commerce is when you separate the presentation of your shop (the front-end) from its functionality (the back-end) - e.g., keeping the colors, text styles, images, and tables independent from the pricing, security, or checkout architecture. Headless commerce has been growing in popularity, particularly over the last decade, as more entrepreneurs are choosing a more flexible approach.
One of the main advantages of this technology is that it can enable brands to enrich the customer experience more easily. Another is back-end flexibility. Developers can focus on high-quality content and eCommerce solutions that manage all the commerce functionality behind the scenes.
Since both ends of a headless commerce solution are decoupled, you can create powerful experiences using different APIs and integrating technologies like customized React.js, DXP, or Internet of Things devices (IoT). The result is beautiful websites with agile, flexible eCommerce capabilities that are freer to innovate.
But let's take a look at headless commerce technology and how it works first.
Common Components of a Headless Commerce System
Headless commerce uses presentation and application layers and passes requests between them using web services or API calls. For example, when a user clicks on a "Buy Now" button, the system sends a call to the application layer to process the order. Then, the application layer replies to the presentation layer to show the customer the site has received their order.
A headless commerce solution has, by definition, an API (for example, GraphQL) that makes it easier to communicate and work with other platforms. The API is a bridge that transfers data between the front-end, the back-end, and any third-party services. The system's architecture combines loosely coupled elements like headless payments, searches, checkout, and loyalty programs that merchants can freely add, remove or alter. These components can then communicate with each other while remaining distinct entities, making such platforms perfect for omnichannel enterprises.
Many well-known companies use headless commerce solutions. For example, Netflix was one of the first to use this technology, fueled by the platform's need to avoid costly downtime. Because of its large scale of operations and long deployments, Amazon also needed to add new features without slowing down growth, choosing headless commerce as well. And fashion brand Zalando switched from monoliths to speed innovation and A/B testing.
What Are the Benefits of Headless Commerce?
There are several benefits to using a headless commerce platform, which is why many large enterprises choose this solution for their business. For example, development teams can work with more flexibility and complete ownership of the site's architecture, while customers can engage with websites that are repeatedly tested and optimized for usability. But there is more.
Rapidly Test and Deploy New Ideas
Having separate front and back-end reliability can help teams test new tools, interfaces, and content more easily. For example, the back-end team can try different APIs and frameworks as they see fit, treating each functionality individually and integrating new ones as the site grows. On the other hand, the front-end team can change the design and deploy new features by doing continuous testing - and quickly roll back anything that doesn't work. This means that both teams are able to react to the market more efficiently, saving companies time and expenses.
Improve Employee Adoption
When you don't require advanced skills to access and update the front-end of an eCommerce site, everyone in the team can make changes to an eCommerce shop without learning new technologies with steep curves. Instead, all they need to do is log in, and they can begin to edit products using a friendly and easy interface. And on the back-end, developers can test new technologies without being tied to traditional CMS capabilities. As a decentralized solution, headless commerce can help engage whole development teams in a modern framework.
Consistency Across Channels
Because the back-end is an independent component, having standard coordinated services such as inventory, promotions, and product information can ensure brand-consistent experiences across different channels and markets, for example, in new regions, IoT environments, or by launching micro-brands. You only need to set up the system once, and you can replicate the experience across the board. The customer experience can also be improved by headless commerce. If a customer has bought something, the system can use this data to understand their needs and provide powerful personalization across CMS, mobile apps, and social channels.
Headless commerce allows developers to swap out the front-end without affecting the back-end. This can help front-end specialists focus on improving things like site loading speeds and engine search optimization. Unlike traditional eCommerce platforms, the method can also facilitate the delivery of relevant changes and updates. You just keep the features that work and remove those that don't quickly.
An eCommerce site built on headless commerce technology can help marketing teams adapt to trends as they arise. For example, marketers can innovate and build multiple experiences across different devices and channels without affecting back-end processes for social media, email marketing, customer loyalty programs, etc. This puts marketing teams into the driving seat, helping them roll out multiple sites across different divisions, brands, and portfolios in just days.
Headless Commerce vs. Traditional Ecommerce
There are some key differences between headless commerce and traditional eCommerce, the main one being that a decoupled commerce system is probably in the cards for most trading companies. Let's go through the rest in detail.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Traditional commerce systems require a lot of effort to change the code, the databases, and the front-end. In many cases, there are limitations to what developers can update or edit and a lot of risks associated with cascading and unexpected consequences. For example, a change in the back-end can bring an entire site offline. This leaves little room for modifications as developers might need to make edits to multiple layers of coding between the front-end and the back-end.
On the other hand, headless commerce systems can enable developers to test changes in the front-end without worrying about modifying databases; all they need is a simple API call. So, for example, developers can implement the checkout flow or add new fields to a form without worrying about the decoupled back-end.
Traditional systems provide little room for personalization because they have a predefined experience for both administrators and customers. This is not a problem if you are familiar with and comfortable using traditional platforms. But if you require more customization to your platform, traditional headless can be a better idea.
Headless systems allow developers to create user experiences from scratch and easily test them. They have complete control over the look and feel so that the entire user journey can be adapted to different requirements and discoveries.
The headless commerce structure can be a good choice for those planning to build advanced eCommerce platforms. As mentioned above, this structure provides more flexibility when making changes to your storefront. Not only that, you need a development team to build your front-end from scratch.
However, if you need an online store to sell regular goods and services, and don’t have the time, resources (or even desire) to invest in a whole development team, traditional eCommerce is the way to go. Instead of building your store from scratch, opting for a website builder like Ucraft can significantly speed up the creation and launch of your store. It also makes it easier for you to start up and manage your store in the first place - no development team necessary!