Headless Commerce: A Complete Guide to the Future of Online Selling
Headless commerce is transforming the eCommerce landscape. It's a paradigm shift that offers unprecedented flexibility, scalability, and customization for businesses while improving the customer experience.
- What Is Headless Commerce?
- Major Headless Commerce Benefits
- Use Cases for Headless Commerce
- How Do You Get Started with Headless Commerce?
- Unlocking Flexibility: Is Headless Commerce Right for Your Business?
New sales channels appear every day. Instagram now has a shopping tab, WhatsApp is getting one, TikTok is jumping onto the eCommerce wagon, and purchasing groceries from your smart fridge has become a reality. If your online store is your only sales platform, then you’re seriously missing out.
Yes, we get it.
First, it’s creating content for your website. Then, it’s creating content for mobile. It’s creating social media sales channels, smartwatches, and other IoT devices. Moreover, the number of these will only increase in the future.
And who has a team that large? Not many! But hey, that’s why you’re here because this is where headless commerce shines.
Headless commerce and headless architecture have gained much traction lately, so the market for headless commerce is projected to expand to around USD 2.2 billion by 2023. Over six in ten retail companies plan to migrate to headless commerce platforms by 2024, while over 20 percent already use them (source: headless commerce stats 2024).
So, more and more businesses are looking towards shifting to a headless solution. The benefits, such as better website performance, the ability to use best-in-breed tech stacks, flexibility and easier scaling, personalization and better support for unique customer experiences, etc., are just too good to ignore.
With that in mind, let’s talk about What? Why? and How? Of headless commerce.
The simplest definition of headless commerce is that it is an ecommerce solution where the webshop frontend and the backend are decoupled, and the connection between the frontend and backend eCommerce service is an eCommerce API.
The front end, or the head, is what the users see and interact with your online store. And the backend is where the content, product information, orders, etc., are kept and managed.
Content from the backend is delivered through APIs to however many heads you define. To tie into what I said in the introduction, the presentation layers are entirely independent of the backend layer, meaning that one piece of content can be delivered to multiple frontend environments, automatically optimized using the parameters set by your team.
Say you’re selling a product and have five customers interested. Still, they live in five cities - Computerville, Phone City, Instagram Shopping City, Smart Watchville, and the futuristic Smart Fridge Shopping City.
Traditional commerce would be you visiting all five customers to try to sell your product. The first customer would most likely have a satisfactory user experience, but it would seriously deteriorate with the next customers.
With headless commerce, you rely on APIs. Think of them as your salespeople. Five customers expressed interest, and the salespeople picked up the product and delivered it right away. The process is quick and optimized so that each of the customers gets a great experience.
Now that you get the gist of the concept itself, let’s talk about what headless commerce means in practice.
Headless commerce means faster eCommerce websites with a great user experience, constantly optimized for the given platform from the end user’s perspective.
From the web development team’s perspective, headless commerce means higher flexibility and freedom of design since changes in the front end do not affect the back end in any way.
From the company’s perspective, headless commerce means higher efficiency for everyone involved, cost-effectiveness, an omnichannel sales presence, future-proofing the store, and staying competitive in the industry.
A headless commerce platform is an eCommerce solution that supports the headless architecture by providing APIs to communicate between the front and back.
Today, in the age of product storytelling, it is not enough to list a product; you need to tell the story behind it as well. Integrating a dedicated content management system (CMS) such as DatoCMS, Prismic, or Contentful alongside your eCommerce solution is the best way to do that. With Crystallize, however, you get both PIM and CMS out of the box.
On the front side, you have a couple of different technologies at your disposal. We suggest talking to your web development team. Weigh your needs against your resources, and then make your decision.
We at Crystallize, for example, provide storefront application examples for modern frontend frameworks such as Next,js, Remix.run, Astro, Svelte, Vue, etc. Feel free to check and test out our open-source ecommerce boilerplates.
The main difference between headless and traditional commerce is the principles or the architecture used to build them, monolithic vs. headless. So, before diving into the myriad benefits of headless commerce, let's shed light on this first.
Traditional commerce, the monolith setup, is easy to implement. The majority of platforms come with pre-set tools, templates, and plugins that anyone can use to set up their store.
However, because these technologies are so robust, your customization options are limited, the loading times become very slow, and since any change you make in one is reflected in the other, you can break your eCommerce website easily.
On the other hand, headless is lightweight, offers excellent customization options, and takes decupled commerce (a middle solution) a step further. The backend doesn’t limit the frontend design, and the relationship between them allows for a one-to-many structure in contrast to the traditional one-to-one model. All the customization requires actual technical knowledge, i.e., you will need a dedicated web development team.
Crystallize was designed from its inception as a headless service. Powered by our super-fast GraphQL API, we created the service as the ideal backend for front-end developers crafting shopping experiences in their favorite front-end framework.
We focus on freedom when designing Crystallize:
- Freedom to choose your favorite frontend framework
- Freedom to plan the composable stack of services that fits your business
- all wrapped in a delightful editorial experience for crafting the product stories.
Headless commerce probably wouldn’t become such a buzzword for anything, right? OK, but why headless in the in the first place? A couple of reasons, so let’s break them down.
Decoupling the front and back end and using third-party API solutions for added functionality results in more focused development. The headless approach puts developers first in your commerce setup—the craftsmen behind successful brands and businesses.
The faster a company can launch or update its digital offerings, the better it can capitalize on market opportunities, respond to consumer trends, and outpace competitors.
With the separation of frontend and backend, dev teams can work simultaneously on different aspects of the platform, eliminating bottlenecks and allowing for rapid iterations and deployments. Moreover, relying on API-first architecture means businesses can effortlessly integrate with other systems, tools, or platforms, enabling businesses to quickly leverage new technologies or channels without extensive redevelopment.
The headless approach enables faster load times, improves website performance, and enhances user experience. Reduced latency and faster content delivery improve SEO rankings and increase customer engagement.
Traditional commerce can be overburdened with different plugins and functionalities; frontends don’t share any backend resources so that APIs can load responsive content in lighting times. In today’s speed-obsessed culture, having a fast-loading website means a much more satisfactory and high-converting user experience.
Headless commerce provides businesses with the robustness and scalability necessary to accommodate future growth. The independent scaling of front-end and back-end components ensures the platform can handle increased traffic, changes in demand, and expanding product lines.
For your customers, that means you’ll be able to deliver them the same personalized experience they’ve used to on other channels.
With headless, you’re no longer limited by what the platform's backend allows. You’ll be able to customize as you see fit. You can tweak, add, or modify the front-end's functionalities without impacting the back-end operations, offering a more personalized and engaging customer experience.
As a result, your customers spend more time exploring your brand and your website, and your conversion rate increases.
Businesses must engage customers across various touchpoints as the line between online and offline retail blurs. With its API-driven architecture, headless commerce seamlessly integrates with diverse channels such as websites, mobile apps, IoT devices, social media platforms, and even emerging channels like AR/VR without reinventing the wheel for each. The more channels you can cover, the more sales you get.
The traditional commerce backend and frontend are interlocked. If a hacker finds a hole in your front end, they will also access your and your users’ sensitive data.
If they find a hole in your headless front, they can only take the website down for some time, but the sensitive data will remain secure in your backend. On top of that, your customers will profit from knowing their data is safe and secure with you.
The number of brands transforming their business with headless eCommerce is rising. Nike, Venus, Target, Lancôme, United Airlines, and many other industry brands are already headless.
Bertel O. Steen, Norsk Gjenvinning, Cappelen Damm, Sweef, iSekk, Jaxxon etc. made with Crystallize by our partners as well.
Headless commerce is not merely a trend; it's becoming a strategic approach that addresses the multifaceted challenges of modern digital commerce. Whether crafting unique customer experiences, integrating emerging technologies, or ensuring scalability during peak events, headless commerce offers businesses the flexibility and agility to thrive in a competitive landscape, making it a perfect solution for pretty much any industry/brand.
The skillset for working with headless is different from the traditional monolithic approach. Tailor making the customer experience and journey is a key principle. This means you must make choices and get a team with particular skills to execute the process.
The team for a successful headless eCommerce:
- UI/UX designer.
- The frontend developer working with a frontend framework of your choice and GraphQL API.
- Content strategist for information architecture and content modeling.
- Architect for designing headless architecture.
- Content creator/s.
- Data analyst to enable data-driven continuous improvement.
Overview of a successful headless eCommerce process:
- Content strategy.
- Information architecture and content modeling.
- Headless architecture with best-of-breed stack.
- UI/UX design.
- Frontend and/or App development.
- Integrations and business logic development in service API, i.e., connect your headless commerce platform with other systems like CRM, ERP, PIM, and more.
- Adding analytics to track the performance of customer journeys.
In addition, a successful headless commerce strategy should adopt a continuous development process where analytics and insights are used to make decisions for future improvements.
Headless commerce is a game-changer, reshaping how businesses operate and engage with customers. With its myriad benefits, from greater customization to improved performance and scalability, headless commerce is leading the future of eCommerce.
Still, a straightforward answer is not something we can give you, and it falls on you to assess both benefits and drawbacks from your business perspective.
Like any tech, headless comes with certain disadvantages, most notably in the form of developer dependency. Having those in mind when planning your tech stack is an excellent way to start.
However, if your current ecommerce solution limits your ability to provide the type of product storytelling and customer experience you want, moving to headless is an excellent option.
We can help you with that.
Follow the Rabbit🐰
Are you considering going headless with your project/business? Good🤘
The headless commerce surge continues redefining the eCommerce landscape, offering enhanced flexibility, better performance, and tailored customer experiences. However, getting all stakeholders on board with the idea of adopting headless architecture (or rather moving away from known monolith solutions) is not always easy.
To help you plead the case to your team, we did in-depth research on the current state and trends in adopting headless and gathered statistics that underscore the momentum headless commerce is gaining. We'll lay it all here and let you asses and interpret the stats.
Let’s dive in!
The benefits and competitive advantages of headless commerce are many. When done right, of course. Let’s look at some of the primary advantages that a proper headless commerce buildout can provide.
Gartner magic quadrant view, business expectations, industry leaders' opinions, most popular solutions… best of articles come in all shapes and sizes. This one of ours about eCommerce platforms is a bit different… we hope.