Headless Commerce: The Evolution of Selling

Understand how headless commerce helps manage changing customer demand by building optimized technological solutions.

Ecommerce is changing, and headless commerce represents the next stage in its evolution.

Consumers are getting accustomed to browsing content and making purchases via non-traditional channels – smart watches, IoT devices, voice assistants, etc. – and conventional ecommerce businesses are finding it difficult to be where the customer wants them to be. Add to this the increasing dominance of Amazon in ecommerce, and it’s easy to see why ecommerce brands are pushed to explore new selling strategies, such as headless commerce.

To help you understand what headless commerce is, how it works, what are its benefits, and why you should consider using it, we made a short primer on the topic which you can find in the paragraphs below. After reading, you will be equipped with the knowledge needed to take your ecommerce business to the next level.

The Difference Between Headless and Traditional Ecommerce

A typical ecommerce system can be divided into two parts, the frontend and the backend.

The frontend is the customer-facing part of the system, typically a website or an app. The frontend is concerned with displaying content and keeping track of customer actions such as placing items in the shopping cart.

The back-end is the part of the system that contains the business logic, usually deployed as a server application. The backend responds to requests coming from the frontend and performs the appropriate actions in response, such as removing an item from an inventory database and triggering the sending of a purchase confirmation email to the customer.

The front-end and the backend are designed to work together as one system. If you remove either part, the remaining one simply can’t work on its own. The problem with this is that once you choose one of the many available frontend-backend combos, you are stuck with using both, even if one of them doesn’t entirely match your needs in terms of functionality. This means that you can run into scenarios where the way your ecommerce storefront looks is limited by your business logic in the backend, even though the two perform completely unrelated functions.

Headless commerce is an attempt to solve this and similar issues. It does so by utilizing a headless system architecture, which simply means that the frontend and the backend are decoupled by design, leaving only the backend as the core of the system. The “headless” part of the name comes from the fact that the backend no longer needs a specific “head” or frontend to work, and vice versa.

Headless commerce enables businesses to design and customize their frontend and backend independently of each other while preserving the same functionality as integrated frontend-backend solutions.

what is headless commerce?

Technical Aspects of Headless Commerce

In terms of technical implementation, headless commerce shares a lot in common with headless content management. In headless content management, the content management system works as a content database. The content can be displayed on any device by making an API call to the system’s REST interface. In an ecommerce context, the same procedure can also be used for activities besides displaying content, such as placing orders, displaying ads, etc.

Headless commerce relies on microservices as core units of functionality. Microservices encapsulate parts of business logic in convenient, lightweight packages that can work independently of each other. Instead of having a unified, interdependent codebase for everything from processing payments, to managing inventory and placing orders, microservices enable developers to work on each function separately, without needing to worry whether it will impact what other developers are doing.

Why Headless Commerce is Beneficial For Business

There are distinct technical advantages to running your ecommerce operations via headless model. But the same can be said for traditional ecommerce models. What we’re interested in here is what headless commerce can offer in terms of business outcomes. Here are 7 outcomes you can hope to achieve by switching over to headless commerce.

1. Painless Omnichannel Reach

A headless ecommerce storefront ensures that you can consistently interact with customers through any channel of their choosing without needing to adapt your content first. This means you can re-optimize old content, including newsletters, products videos, ebooks, blog posts, and everything in between, to fit any channel. This includes services such as Alexa Skills, native mobile apps, IoT devices in smart homes and smart vehicles, social media chatbots, and more. Different headless commerce platforms offer different levels of support for these channels, but from a technical perspective there are no barriers to publishing anywhere for a full omnichannel ecommerce experience.

2. Seamless Updates and Upgrades

Thanks to their distributed, microservice-based architecture, headless commerce systems are built with rapid deployment in mind. You can roll out updates without fear of compromising your system as a whole – if anything breaks you can simply roll back updates targeting those microservices that are causing problems. You can also be selective with your updates if you’re concerned with legacy support, since each service works as a self-contained unit. Finally, you can really go to town with your frontend design and have it work out of the box without the need to touch the backend.

3. Agile Marketing

The agile approach in marketing is defined by short content development cycles and constant iteration – you design and publish a piece of content, gauge its performance, gather feedback, do some fine-tuning, and publish again. Headless commerce supports this strategy by making the content layer and the presentation layer decoupled from each other, giving marketers the space to try out different types of content and receive instant feedback regarding their effectiveness. Marketers can design a whole website-worth of content, and then reuse it across other channels such as email or social media without needing to adapt it. This also shortens the content development cycle by a significant margin.

agile marketing

4. Consistent Multichannel Customer Experience

Consistent customer experience across different channels and devices is the foundation of modern ecommerce. The foundation of every successful customer experience strategy is consistent customer service, i.e. your ability as a business to treat customers fairly and equitably irrespective of their channel or platform of choice. On a technical level, this means being where your customers are at all times, and keeping them engaged with the highest level of content and service you can provide. Headless commerce facilitates this approach by keeping all your customer-facing systems in the backend and firmly under your control, while the choice of frontend is up to the customers themselves. This has the effect of allowing customers to choose the way information and services are presented to them, while the backend ensures uniformity behind the presentation layers.

5. Flexible Integration With Other Business Systems

Even though traditional ecommerce platforms are marketed as self-contained systems, the reality is that they often need third-party addons, plugins, and integrations to work reliably. The difficulty is that due to their self-contained nature, such systems don’t always integrate well with the aforementioned extensions. Headless commerce systems don’t have the same issue thanks to their modular, integration-first design. By leveraging an architecture based on message-passing between functionally independent services and APIs, headless commerce systems work equally well with native and third-party extensions. Moreover, a service-based architecture makes it easier to chain together business functions you actually need instead of relying on predefined pipelines with features you never actually use.

6. Continuous Conversion Rate Optimization

Headless commerce has the potential to revolutionize digital tactics such as conversion rate optimization. As an iterative process, conversion rate optimization produces better results the more optimization cycles there are. And thanks to the separation between the frontend and the backend, headless commerce can facilitate continuous conversion rate optimization. You can try out different frontend designs for things like forms, banners, buttons, etc. while running a lightweight backend focused on speed, or you can try out different search algorithms to see which one works best with your website search function.

7. Improved Time to Market

Sales, product launches, limited product runs, and other sales tactics require businesses to constantly tweak their ecommerce storefronts to match currently running campaigns, which can increase time to market by a significant margin, unless you’re Amazon and can handle the cost in terms of resources and labor-power. Headless commerce offers another way to reduce your time to market thanks to its decoupled architecture. A headless commerce platform enables businesses to focus their efforts on creating frontend experiences for different touchpoints, while content and products are hosted centrally and delivered via APIs to where they’re needed. This improves time to market when adopting new sales channels.

Towards The Future of Commerce

If you want to build a strong omni channel brand experience, if you’re selling products and services on multiple channels, and if you want to reduce the resources and manpower spent on keeping your sales funnel consistent and organized, headless commerce is the solution you’re looking for. A headless commerce system will help you deal with changing customer demand in record time with optimized technological solutions. You will also be in the position to freely scale up your operation without having to redesign your ecommerce system from scratch, or pursue another system vendor.