What is Headless eCommerce?

May 10, 2022
9-minute read
eCommerce
Content

By definition, eCommerce is a fast-paced marketplace. Working in eCommerce requires adapting quickly to stay up to date with the latest and greatest trends, which means that eCommerce stores need to be flexible and change with the times as easily as possible.  

Enter headless eCommerce. It’s a buzzword that is being thrown around in the world of eCommerce. But don’t take for granted that everyone will know what it means—it’s actually an often-misunderstood term. So, if you’re searching ‘what is headless eCommerce’ in Google, you are not alone.  

In this article, you’ll find out the very definition of headless eCommerce, what the benefits are for this eCommerce architecture, how it works, and whether there are any potential drawbacks. Headless eCommerce could be your golden ticket to eCommerce success, and it’s time you found out why!  

Headless eCommerce Defined

Headless eCommerce essentially means that the back end and front end of an eCommerce website operate separately. Why would companies want this disconnect? Well, it allows for interesting customizations that improve the look and feel of a website, along with the customer experience.  

Headless eCommerce enables the use of APIs, which allows applications and software to talk to one another and get a job done without human interference in the process.  

Basically, headless eCommerce allows the implementation of functionality that is designed to engage the user and stay ahead of the user’s expectations—which is something you always need to do in the world of eCommerce.

How Does Headless eCommerce Work?

When working on a website, you generally have to coordinate a designer and developer to work together to create the final product. This can be challenging as they both have very different objectives, which brings up many hurdles along the way.  

But headless eCommerce allows developers to work on the back of the site, creating brand-consistent experiences sitewide with ease, while design teams focus on what they do best—optimizing the site for user experience, improving the interface to encourage user engagement, and ultimately bringing in conversions.  

It works by sending signals from the front end to the back end of your site (and vice versa) via APIs. For instance, if someone were to click on the “buy now” button on the front end of your website, an API sends a signal to the application layer of your website to process the order. The application layer of your website then sends a signal back so that the customer can see the status of their order.

How Does Headless eCommerce Impact Your Customer?

Customers are interacting directly with brands more than ever before in history. This means that brands have the ability to fully customize the customer experience. It’s becoming more and more important to not only create a seamless customer experience but one that is memorable too.  

So how does using a headless eCommerce platform affect the customers using your eCommerce website?

  • Instant Optimization
    Customers get the added benefit of an instantly optimized site. So, when new content or experiences are added to the site, ALL users will have access to it immediately. This is a huge step up in comparison to traditional eCommerce stores that can take anywhere between a few minutes and a few hours for users to see the changes. In this case, the headless platform is creating a better, smoother user experience.

  • Excellent User Experience
    Headless eCommerce platforms allow developers to control every single element that a user interacts with, meaning that developers and designers can get a little more creative, pushing experimental designs live to their site.

The fact that headless eCommerce platforms use APIs for compatibility with any platform and device means that there will never be incompatibility issues like there often can be with traditional eCommerce stores. The APIs ensure that all elements display correctly and work optimally no matter the device or channel the user is making use of.

8 Benefits of Headless eCommerce

1. Flexible Front-End Development

When it comes to traditional eCommerce sites, there is a limit to just how much a developer can customize before it starts preventing future upgrades. It also takes a long time for developers to edit the code as well as the front-end platform.  

But with headless eCommerce, things run a little differently. Front-end developers can create a user experience from scratch, ensuring that it fits precisely with their business’ needs. They don’t have to stress about the back end. All they need to do is make an API call. The only potential issue is that everything on the front end needs to be built from scratch, including landing pages and product pages. This shouldn’t be a problem if you have an experienced developer on your team, but it is something to keep in mind.

2. Advanced Customization

Traditional eCommerce utilizes a predefined experience for both the customer and the administrator. These were designed to make running and owning an eCommerce store easy, but it doesn’t allow for a whole lot of customization. Headless eCommerce means there is no front end of your website, so developers can build absolutely everything from scratch. While this may seem like a difficult task, it allows you to create something completely different from your competitors, curating the user experience each step of the way. 

3. Omnichannel Experience

Because the front end and back end of a headless eCommerce website are naturally decoupled, your eCommerce website will be able to seamlessly deliver content and product information to any channel (that currently exists and will exist in the future). By using a headless platform, you are essentially future-proofing your business for many years to come. No matter what new channels arise, you will be able to integrate them easily into your processes without having to rearchitect your entire platform.

4. Regular Updates

Because the back-end system and front-end system are decoupled in headless eCommerce, you can roll out updates to part of a system rather than the entire system. This allows you to run updates more frequently without any disruption to your operation. For example, stores using a traditional eCommerce system generally roll out their updates every couple of weeks, and it means that their system goes down for a period of time. When you compare that to headless eCommerce stores such as Amazon, which rolls out an update every 11.7 seconds, the difference is huge! 

The ability to continuously roll updates and not disrupt your operations means there is no period of time when your store is unable to make sales. It also means that you can always be up to date with the latest technology and user experience functionality, so customers will love visiting your eCommerce site.

5. Unified Customer Experience

Headless eCommerce systems allow you to create a unique and personalized customer experience that remains consistent with the brand across all channels and devices. Consumers are also set on using eCommerce sites that understand their very personal wants and needs. The back end of your headless eCommerce store is already aware of what a customer has purchased before. It is capable of using this to power personalization engines on CMS, social channels, and mobile applications.

6. Easy Integration

Headless eCommerce systems must make use of APIs. This makes it easier to integrate other channels and platforms into your business processes, and every time a new device is released, you can add it to your platform with ease (taking your developers just hours rather than days or weeks). Expanding and reaching new devices and platforms as they are released means reaching a wider audience instantly, allowing you to expand your customer base.

7. Better Conversion Optimization

Using a headless eCommerce system allows you to test and trial different approaches and solutions. If you want to trial a new search solution, for example, you can test a different back-end search solution while keeping the front-end exactly the same. Functions such as this allow you to better understand your customer, learning faster than many other eCommerce retailers—effectively keeping you well ahead of your competitors.

8. Accelerated Time to Market

If you have a traditional eCommerce platform with multi-channel integration, implementing a new product will be a long and painful process, making your products slow to get to market. Headless eCommerce, however, allows developers to create interesting and unique front-end experiences that are housed centrally. These can then be pushed to different platforms and devices via API, accelerating the timeline to market.

Are There Drawbacks to Headless eCommerce?

While there are many perks to headless eCommerce platforms, they do come with two issues that need to be considered. Just like everything in life, with the perks come a few drawbacks, but neither of these need to put you off as there are simple ways to address them.

  • Continuous Costs
    Traditional eCommerce platforms provide you with a front-end, while headless eCommerce platforms do not. This means that developers can customize the front end as they wish, but the process can be both costly and time-consuming. It also means that the front-end system will need to be tested in-house continuously as new updates are rolled out, which creates new ongoing costs.

  • Isolated Marketing
    Because there is no front-end for marketers to make use of in a headless eCommerce platform, it means that they are limited in their ability to create, edit, preview, and publish content without a developer. Marketers then depend fully on the developer team to build the front-end of the website, populate it with content, and keep it up to date.

How to Strategically Expand and Advance Your eCommerce Business

Headless eCommerce is still very much a developing market. In fact, we are still in production with our headless eCommerce solution—trust us, it’s worth the wait. But before you jump into the deep end, we want to make sure you have a clear eCommerce strategy and the right software to succeed online. Our team has developed a step-by-step guide on building, launching, and maintaining a successful eCommerce store. This guide will help you prepare your business and people for the transformative journey of eCommerce no matter what technology you choose.