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What is Headless Ecommerce?

April 13, 2022
What is headless ecommerce

The future of ecommerce is headless. So, you may be wondering, “What is headless ecommerce?” This post will explain.

As more enterprise companies switch to headless ecommerce platforms, businesses of all sizes may want to consider if a headless approach could work for them. To help you decide what works for your business, this post aims to address some common questions about headless ecommerce, including:

What is Headless Ecommerce?

A headless ecommerce setup separates the frontend customer-facing portion of an ecommerce application from the backend ecommerce functions.

Think of it like an interchangeable screwdriver, the kind with the different heads you can swap out. The base of the screwdriver remains the same; that's the backend. The head can change to fit your needs, whether you need a flathead, Phillips, Allen, or another type. The same ecommerce engine or backend can power different frontend applications such as mobile apps, websites, or marketplace integrations.

How Does Headless Ecommerce Work?

Headless ecommerce works through Application Programming Interfaces (API) and web services. Developers can use whatever technology or platforms they want to design the frontend customer-facing interface. Then, they make an API call to tie into the commerce system on the backend.

The ecommerce system stores data such as product information and orders and handles functions like checkout or tax or shipping calculations. One ecommerce system can serve multiple customer endpoints such as different websites or apps.

Headless Ecommerce vs. Traditional Ecommerce

The difference between headless and traditional ecommerce is a lot like ordering from a prix fixe menu or ordering your meal à la carte.

With a traditional ecommerce architecture, the backend and frontends are so closely linked, developers may find it difficult to customize things exactly the way they want. It's like a prix fixe menu. Yes, you can build your own meal by selecting an appetizer, entree, and dessert. But, you can only pick from a small number of selections. There's a limited number of combinations.

Features of Traditional Ecommerce Include:

  • All-In-One Architecture. In this monolithic structure, the backend and frontend systems are coupled together.
  • Predefined Experiences. While some options typically can be customized, the system uses predefined templates and setups for customer-facing and admin experiences.
  • Frontend and Backend Editing Dependencies. To make changes, developers may have to edit the frontend code as well as the backend database and code.

In a headless architecture, developers aren't bound by the limitations of the platform. They can choose to build websites or applications however they want and pull the data and functionality from the ecommerce engine via APIs.

Headless setups are like ordering à la carte. There are no restraints on how you want to order your meal. Want to skip an entree and order two appetizers and a dessert? Not a problem. Headless ecommerce systems give the same flexibility to frontend developers to deliver the user experience they think is best.

Features of Headless Ecommerce Include:

  • Separate Backend and Frontends. In a headless setup, developers build a frontend from scratch and then tie it into the ecommerce backend with an API.
  • Customized User Experiences. You can create a unique user experience for both customers and users.
  • Independent Editing of Frontend and Backend. Developers can quickly make frontend changes without messing with the ecommerce backend system.

What are the Benefits of Headless Ecommerce?

Headless commerce offers many benefits to enterprises looking for flexibility, security, and a competitive edge. If you're considering adopting a headless ecommerce approach, you'll want to take advantage of these seven benefits of headless ecommerce.

1. Leveraging Microservices Architecture

Headless ecommerce uses a microservices architecture where individual systems only handle a limited number of functions. This structure allows each system to "stay in its own lane" and limits the chances of conflicting processes or applications causing issues. It makes managing and troubleshooting each system faster and easier.

2. Better Security

Headless systems also provide better security against unauthorized access. For example, if you use a headless ecommerce platform to enable commerce on two websites and a mobile application, if someone manages to breach the WordPress admin for one of your websites, they still won't have access to your ecommerce backend or the other website and app. But in a traditional ecommerce system, the frontend and backend are the same, so one security breach threatens everything from your website layout to your customer and payment data.

3. More Options and Flexibility for User Experience

Headless ecommerce gives retailers a blank slate to build new customer touchpoints. Without the constraints of a traditional ecommerce platform, designers and developers can decide how to build frontend applications based on delivering the best user experience instead of trying to fit into the constraints of their traditional ecommerce platform.

4. Improved Conversion Rates

Since headless ecommerce systems can more easily adapt to customers' preferences and implement more modern and innovative user experiences, channels using headless architecture often experience better conversion rates. When you give developers and designers the freedom to build the best experience, you can solve many of the common issues with ecommerce conversion rate optimization.

5. Easier Integrations with Other Business Systems

Headless commerce can easily integrate with your other business systems such as ERPs and CRMs. The API connections between the ecommerce engine, frontend applications, and other business systems ensure your customer and sales data stays up-to-date. Real-time connections enable you to process orders more quickly and see inventory availability without having to wait for data to sync across systems overnight.

6. Support for Omnichannel Commerce Strategies

The real-time connections between ecommerce applications and backend business systems also enable companies to more effectively and easily adopt an omnichannel commerce strategy. The goal of an omnichannel approach is to make the shopping experience seamless across all channels, including websites, apps, and traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Here's how headless commerce can deliver an omnichannel shopping experience. Sally browses a clothing retailer's website looking for a new shirt. She finds one she wants but needs it tomorrow and can't wait for two-day shipping. She clicks on the button to find it in a store near her. That click initiates an API call between the website and the ecommerce system.

The ecommerce system taps into the store inventory system and feeds back a list of the available quantities at each of the stores near Sally. Seeing that the store closest to her house has her size in stock, Sally adds the shirt to her cart and checks out by selecting the in-store pickup option. The ecommerce system handles the checkout and payment processes via API and then pushes the order into the local store's system for fulfillment.

7. Faster Deployment and Time to Market

With headless ecommerce, companies can adapt to changing preferences or market conditions by deploying new channels or features in less time. For example, in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic increased consumer demand for online shopping with curbside pickup, companies with headless systems were faster to deploy changes.

In our example of Sally shopping for her shirt, setting up API connections between the different systems to enable that experience was much faster than trying to modify a traditional ecommerce platform to handle an entirely new delivery method. With a headless system, companies can quickly develop new frontend experiences and then tap into the ecommerce backend.

What are the Drawbacks of Headless Ecommerce?

Headless ecommerce does have some disadvantages, though, mainly the costs and technical learning curve.

Costs

Headless ecommerce systems often require more development resources than traditional ecommerce systems. The flexibility offered by headless comes at a price. Yes, you can build any frontend application or website you desire, but you'll need the developers to do it.

More traditional ecommerce systems, like an online store creator, offer all-in-one solutions that allow people to deploy an ecommerce storefront without writing a single line of code. Your development costs will likely increase with a headless ecommerce solution.

Technical Learning Curve

Many headless platforms lack user-friendly editing interfaces. For example, since product information and photos could be displayed in many combinations across different websites, applications, and devices, you lose the ability to use a WYSIWYG editor and preview the product page on mobile and desktop. Creating and testing content requires a different approach. If you're used to a traditional ecommerce platform, you may struggle at first with the learning curve of editing things in different systems.

How Headless Ecommerce Impacts Your Customers

While headless ecommerce systems may be more difficult to manage on the backend, customers experience the opposite. Headless ecommerce can reduce friction in your digital commerce channels. The benefits for customers include more personalization, faster sites, and more channels.

More Personalization

Since headless ecommerce enables connections between multiple systems, a headless system can pull up customer preferences from a CRM or utilize in-store purchase histories to make more tailored product recommendations.

Faster Apps and Sites

Traditional ecommerce platforms often include extraneous CSS and JavaScript for features you might never use. This additional code bloats the site and slows it down. With a headless approach, developers can use the latest technology and best practices to deliver lightning-fast frontend websites.

More Channels

In addition to making in-store pickup channels easier to implement, headless commerce can enable nearly endless possibilities of customer touchpoints. As we enter the golden age of the Internet of Things, commerce is becoming an essential part of an increasing number of smart devices. You can already use Alexa to order things from Amazon. Headless commerce enables adding new channels like voice commerce a possibility.

Headless commerce also simplifies the process of adding new online channels. For example, do you want to expand into international markets? With headless commerce, you can easily enable cross-border ecommerce by building new frontend websites in the native language of each country you want to target.

Instead of trying to serve international customers from the same website and experience as your domestic customers, you can build an experience that better meets their expectations.

How Do You Get Started with Headless Ecommerce?

The first step in getting started with ecommerce is picking the right host for all your ecommerce applications and websites.

At Nexcess, we specialize in offering quality hosting for ecommerce companies. We offer dedicated and customized infrastructure with a high-performance server cluster. Our PCI-compliant hosting exceeds the security standards set by the payment card industry, and with 99.99% uptime, you won't have to worry about your servers going down.

Talk to one of our pre-sales cluster architects to help you find the right setup for your business.

If you're not ready to take the leap to headless ecommerce, consider one of our managed WooCommerce hosting plans or our site-building tool StoreBuilder by Nexcess.

Lindsey Miller
Lindsey Miller

Lindsey Miller knows WordPress inside and out. She has been working with WordPress since 2010 when she started her first WordPress blog. Since then she has attended WordCamps all over the world and had the honor of speaking at many WordCamps and other WordPress events such as WooSesh and WordFest. She is currently the owner of Content Journey, a content marketing agency that focuses on increasing organic website traffic for their clients through SEO and blogging.