Headless Commerce Explained
Headless commerce allows businesses to provide a personalized and brand-consistent experience across channels using APIs that connect the front-end presentation layer with back-end infrastructure that enables the ecommerce experience.
New sales channels appear every day. Instagram now has a shopping tab, WhatsApp is getting one, and purchasing groceries from your smart fridge has become a reality.
If your eCommerce website is your only sales platform, then you’re seriously missing out.
Yes, I get it.
First, it’s creating content for your website. Then, it’s creating content for mobile. Now, it’s creating social media sales channels, smartwatches, and various other IoT devices. What’s more, 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.
In general, headless commerce and headless architecture have gained a lot of traction in the last couple of years. One of the key findings from a recent survey is that 90% of surveyed businesses plan to evaluate headless solutions over the next 12 months (check other findings here).
So, more and more businesses are looking towards making the shift to a headless solution. The simple reason for it. The benefits such as better website performance, 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 ecommerce 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 different cities - Computerville, Phone City, Instagram Shopping City, Smart Watchville, and the futuristic Smart Fridge Grocery 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 express interest, the salespeople pick up the product and deliver 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 frontend do not affect the backend 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 backend.
Usually, you’d have to implement a dedicated content management system (CMS) to use for the backend, such as Prismic or Contentful. With Crystallize, however, you get both PIM and CMS out-of-the-box.
On the frontend side, you have a couple of different technologies at your disposal. My advice is to talk 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 that rely on React js and static site generators notorious for their outstanding performance like Next js, GatsbyJS, and Vue js. Feel free to check and test out our open-source ecommerce boilerplates.
Traditional commerce 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 both lightweight and offers excellent customization options.
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 to be the ideal backend for frontend developers crafting shopping experiences in their favorite frontend 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.
Let’s be real, headless commerce wouldn’t become such a buzzword for anything, and it brings incredible benefits to the table.
Omnichannel sales - In contrast to the traditional commerce one-to-one model, headless commerce enables sharing one piece of content to multiple frontends, including social networks, wearables, and IoT devices. Simply put, the more channels you can cover, the more sales you get.
Faster content delivery - Whereas 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.
Higher security - 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 frontend, they will only be able to 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.
Future-proofing - Our tech evolves every day, existing channels change, and new ones appear. With headless, it’s quick and easy to edit or add heads without having to rework the backend system of your commerce platform completely. For your customers, that means you’ll be able to deliver them the same personalized experience they’ve used to on other channels.
Higher customization - With headless, you’re no longer limited by what the platform backend allows. You’ll be able to customize as you see fit. As a result, your customers spend more time exploring your brand, your website, and your conversion rate increases.
Better developer experience - Decoupling of the frontend and backend and the use of 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 first thing to get in place when you are adopting a headless eCommerce strategy is the team. The skill for working with headless is a bit different than the traditional monolithic approach. Tailor making the customer experience and customer journey is one of the key principles. This means that you have to make choices and need to get in place a team with a particular set of skills to execute the process.
The team for a successful headless eCommerce:
- UI/UX designer
- Frontend developer working with React, Vue, Gatsby, and GraphQL API
- Content strategist for information architecture and content modeling
- Architect for designing headless architecture
- Content creator
- 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
- Adding analytics to track the performance of customer journey
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 here to stay, and brands are already reaping up their benefits. 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.
Wait, drawbacks? Just as 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 a good way to start.
However, if you feel that your current ecommerce solution is limiting your ability to provide the type of product storytelling and customer experience you want, moving to headless might be an excellent option to consider.
We can help you with that.