What is Headless e-commerce or decoupled e-commerce?
Headless or decoupled e-commerce is the modern approach to e-commerce using services accessible via APIs allowing you to make tailor made user experiences. You have a back-end with services that delivers the functionality required to build an e-commerce website or App. The main services for e-commerce are typically product information management, order management and reporting. Each service is accessible via the API and has a single responsibility. If properly built the API is super-fast, scalable and uses a serveless approach with microservices in the core.
Product Information Management
This is the part which is headless, there is no publishing, front-end templates or similar. The product information is simply available as an API, GraphQL is a great query language for PIM APIs.
The core of any e-commerce service is product information management or PIM. PIM is centralized management of product data that are typically stored in a structured way. Even if an e-commerce service is headless you typically have an administration interface to manage the product catalogue as an editor in addition to the API. Once the product information is stored it is easily accessible via the API.
Fast APIs Matter
Having a headless e-commerce service is great. But make sure the API is blazing fast as milliseconds matter in e-commerce. To stack with the best today your webshop or e-commerce App needs to be fast. A fast shopping experience delivers both a better user experience, better ecommerce conversions and better search engine ranking - you simply need fast APIs.
Tailor made front ends
Building an e-commerce experience today for us means custom or tailor made front-ends. You have to tune the user experience continuously and suit your customer base and products. With a headless e-commerce service as a back-end you have no constraints in the front-end. You can implement using whatever language and toolset you prefer if it is React, React Native, Angular, PHP, Objective-C or other. With no constraints in the front-end you can also easily customize processes like checkout. And more importantly you can continuously test and optimize the user experience for maximized conversion.
Better developer experience
When working with a good headless e-commerce service the developers can work more efficient as they do not have to worry about the back-end functionalities. The required services are already available via the API and they just have to stitch it together in the front-end. In our experience this delivers a faster time to market and quicker iterations of releases.
Serverless API architecture
For us with software engineering background this is really the fun part. A properly built headless e-commerce service is based on modern best practices. The infrastructure is typically serverless, yes, no servers involved. Communication between services are message based and message queues are used for managing spikes of traffic in a graceful way. It is scales horizontally so you can cope with any number of requests for product information or tackle any number of orders being sent at you - even black friday is handled with ease.
Bottom line here is that we as a product company worry less (nothing) about server maintenance and more about service functionality and product value. Delivering a better product with less engineering and maintenance hours. This is a topic we will dive more into later, for now: serverless message driven architectures are great.