What Is Headless Commerce?

Why Headless Commerce is the Way to Accelerate your E-Commerce Ecosystem

e-Commerce is growing at a tremendous pace, with revenues worldwide hitting a whopping $4.2 trillion in 2020 from $527 billion in 2010. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the global eCommerce growth as more people are shopping and exchanging services via various types of e-commerce outlets and marketplaces.

The last decade saw a gradual decline in the retail e-commerce monopoly held by entities like Amazon and eBay. In the early years of the decade, the norm was that sellers, and small and medium businesses, had to depend on these marketplaces to sell their products and pay commissions and other cuts that these entities levied. Building and maintaining e-commerce websites was regarded as a Herculean affair during the start of the decade. The process was very expensive and demanded time and broad technology acumen. One of the prime reasons was the inherent built of traditional e-commerce websites where the user-facing side (front-end) rigidly meshed with the backend.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless Commerce Infographic

Headless commerce refers to a website architecture where the front-end is decoupled from the backend. This allows businesses to remodel the front-end as needed without affecting the backend coding. The front-end can stay seamlessly connected to the backend systems like ERPs  (Enterprise Resource Planning), PIM (Product Information Management), OMS (Order Management System), DAM (Digital Asset Management), and other applications through an API layer. This makes UI changes and website optimizations easier and faster. The developers have the freedom to make alterations to the front-end while maintaining the connection with the backend through APIs. Many vendors provide headless commerce solutions to small and medium businesses. 

Headless Commerce vs Traditional eCommerce

In traditional e-commerce or monolithic e-commerce, the front-end and backend are coupled together, making it hard to customize the e-commerce application or website. Any change in the front-end would affect the backend, introducing a lot of design constraints. It also involves a lot of code editing and restricted designers and developers from rapid prototyping and testing.

Headless commerce overcomes all these issues by decoupling the user experience side from the backend side. Designers do not have to talk to the DevOps or Engineering teams every time they want to update the front-end. 

Here are some advantages of headless commerce over its traditional counterpart.

Headless Allows for Faster Integration

e-commerce websites use multiple functionalities like CMS, payment gateway, online catalogs, personalization engines, shopping carts, email, mobile devices, FTP, and more. Integrating all these functionalities is a headache in traditional eCommerce architecture due to programming alterations in the backend. With headless commerce, all the functionalities are practically independent of each, thanks to the API layer. In addition, the modularity that comes with headless commerce platforms allows you to integrate functionalities faster and more efficiently and swap out vendors as your needs evolve without changing the customer’s experience.

Headless Commerce Provides a Greater Flexibility for Mobile

Traditional e-commerce websites are primarily built and optimized for desktops and are not, by default, optimized for mobile devices and vertical screens. The reason why some traditional e-commerce websites look good on laptop screens but are so cluttered on mobile devices is that it’s not easy to change their codebase in correspondence to the platform on which they are being viewed.

Although smartphone compatibility wasn’t a significant requirement during early 2010, the gradual prominence of mobile commerce changed the paradigm. Delivering a better eCommerce experience on mobile devices became a competitive advantage. And as the mobile versions of e-commerce websites need constant optimizations, headless commerce is the way to go.

Headless supports additional mobile shopping options, like native application development, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and evolving technology, allowing for the correct experience to be shipped to the user based on their device, connection speeds and other factors.

Omni-Channel Experience is improved through Headless Integration

Omnichannel experience has been the e-commerce norm, particularly in the last few years. A business that wishes to provide an omnichannel experience to its customers would focus on improving their shopping experience on every possible platform, including websites, marketplaces, social media, and even retail stores.

Websites built on headless platforms offer a true omnichannel experience as front-end changes such as prices, promotions, and inventory can be updated and synced in real-time across all online platforms pertaining to an e-commerce website.

Allows for Experiential Commerce

Future commerce will allow for a more experiential shopping experience, allowing consumers to buy products through augmented reality, virtual reality, and in-media based shopping.  Consider the trend with Virtual Try On. Under a traditional monolithic e-commerce platform, developers would need to maintain two sets of product images and models and separate ecosystems to support these emerging technologies. Similarly, our client, Dropp.tv is building an in-media shopping experience, allowing consumers to buy what they see in videos without needing to exit the video they are watching.

Headless Commerce Supports Personalized User Experience

Headless commerce allows businesses to build and implement e-commerce websites that, for instance, show personalized content to users in different geolocations, based on the users previous purchases, the ad campaign that brought them to the site, and other factors. That’s one of many advantages of leveraging the right APIs. This improves the customer experience by showcasing the right product at the right time based on what the customer is in-market for.

Enhanced Search Engine Optimization & Conversion Rate Optimization Options

It goes without saying that e-commerce websites need Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) for their competitive advantage. This often involves changes in the front end, like banner images, H-Tags, meta tags, button size and colors, and more. Only a headless commerce architecture can make these changes seamless, enabling appearance and marketing-related changes to reflect quickly on the front-end of the e-commerce website in question.

A Headless architecture can also significantly increase page speed, a core website vital measure that Google uses to help rank websites for organic search. Page speed is also shown to directly impact conversion rate

Through headless, it becomes easier to integrate microdata formats like Schema, support Google Tag Manager’s Data Layer, and run A/B tests on the user interface quickly to boost conversion rate.

Greater Flexibility

Today’s e-commerce world is very dynamic. There are cases where customer preferences and shopping behavior change overnight. e-commerce businesses witnessed this especially during the pandemic followed by lockdowns and increasing in remote working, where demand for some products increased way more than others. Changes in the website tone, inventory organization, or similar updates can be seamlessly possible only through flexibility offered like a headless commerce platform.

Final Thoughts

Headless commerce platforms have made e-commerce website development easier and more affordable for aspiring entrepreneurs and small to medium businesses, encouraging them to go online and generate better ROI.

Apart from the technical advantages, headless platforms save development time and publishing costs for businesses. Businesses that use a monolithic architecture can easily migrate to headless commerce with the help of a team of experienced developers.

Innovations around headless commerce aren’t stopping anytime soon, and the niche will witness a remarkable evolution in the coming years. So as far as going headless is concerned, better sooner than later!

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