Apr 20, 2023
Headless eCommerce: A Beginner’s Guide
If you are familiar with the eCommerce industry, you may have heard of the headless eCommerce technology that helps businesses stay competitive.
With headless technology, you can deliver seamless digital experiences for your clients. More than 60% of organizations agree that headless commerce can significantly improve engagement and conversions.
With this in mind, this article will explain what exactly headless commerce is, how it differs from traditional eCommerce, and its benefits and drawbacks. Furthermore, we will share the five best platforms for headless eCommerce you can choose for your business.
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What Is Headless eCommerce?
Headless eCommerce is an architecture solution that separates the front-end from the back-end of an eCommerce platform. It makes the back-end headless and allows both layers to work independently through an application programming interface (API).
Even without a “head”, the back-end can still function properly by plugging it into the selected front-end. Thus, you can update or change the “head” without interrupting the back-end code.
Furthermore, a headless solution enables you to store, manage, and deliver content on multiple platforms without a front-end delivery layer. As a result, your developers can focus on creating content using any framework they are comfortable with.
Similar to a headless CMS, headless commerce uses an API to deliver content from the front-end or the presentation layer to users. For example, when a customer purchases a product using a mobile application and clicks the checkout button, the front-end will send an API request to the back-end. Then, it will process the order and inform the customer that the purchase was successful.
Big brands, such as Amazon, have adopted headless eCommerce solutions. It allows them to develop a new storefront on different platforms and devices. You can access and shop their products across multiple channels, such as mobile apps, smartwatches, and Amazon Dash.
Amazon can continuously improve its site performance, speed to the market, and target its products to the right market by using a headless commerce system and a microservices-based architecture. In 2020, Amazon had 39% of total retail in online sales and became the top eCommerce business in the US.
More importantly, as you’re working with a CMS, it’s important to find a hosting solution optimized for this platform. CMS hosting will be a suitable choice as it comes with user-friendly tools to launch and manage your headless eCommerce site.
Headless eCommerce vs Traditional Commerce
Unlike headless architecture, most traditional commerce platforms use a monolith architecture, where the front-end system is strongly tied to the back-end. Thus, you may need some knowledge of both frameworks to ensure they’re working correctly.
For example, if you want to change your commerce platform’s check-out function or layout, you need to modify your database, code, and front-end. That’s why traditional eCommerce stores have limitations in functionality since any changes or updates can break the entire system.
To see the general differences between headless and traditional eCommerce, check out the comparison table below:
|Headless Commerce||Traditional Commerce|
|Front-end development||Flexible front-end development||Limited customization options since the front-end and back-end are tied to each other|
|Customization level||High customization and personalization||Pre-defined themes|
|Time||It may take more time to configure your online store as you need to create it from scratch, yet you can more focus on the front-end development||It is faster to launch your online store, yet any changes require more time to edit the code, database, and front-end|
The points above show that traditional eCommerce platforms offer less freedom in customization and personalization. As a result, your visitors’ shopping experience might be less compelling. However, the traditional eCommerce solution makes the architecture relatively easier to set up and run as it provides various pre-designed theme options.
Meanwhile, headless eCommerce platforms require experienced developers to build their initial architecture. On the other hand, this allows them to create a personalized customer experience. By using an application programming interface (API), developers can focus on creating a rich user interface (UI) to help your site to stand out from the crowd.
Flexible front-end development in headless architecture allows you to tailor the user interface to customer needs. For instance, you can add promotion campaigns or product rating capabilities to your eCommerce site without disrupting any back-end customization.
Headless Commerce Benefits
We’ve discovered the difference between traditional and headless commerce platforms. As a modern system, headless commerce offers more capabilities for improving online stores.
This section will discuss the benefits of headless commerce for your business in more detail.
As eCommerce systems change from time to time, headless commerce platforms have an advantage in supporting new technologies and allowing you to create a unique front-end experience following market trends.
A headless eCommerce solution uses an API, like GraphQL, which allows a website to integrate and communicate smoothly with other systems. For example, you can easily combine headless eCommerce platforms with various automation systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM), product information management (PIM), and a content management system (CMS).
Moreover, you can create a tech stack that allows you to choose the best-of-breed features for your business, as it ensures that your application meets your business goals.
API integration helps transfer your data faster after the initial connection since you don’t have to use a plugin that requires constant updates and security patches.
To sum up, integrating headless eCommerce platforms with new technologies will help a business to scale up and increase customer engagement.
Provide Omnichannel Strategy
The omnichannel strategy helps customers see and buy your products across several channels, including social media platforms.
Some businesses may have more than one brand to manage and update their content. It makes them need to leverage the same eCommerce functionality with a flexible implementation across multiple online stores. For example, you may have different procedures and policies for each brand. One brand may only require a receipt to get a refund, while others need some proof of the defect.
By implementing a headless eCommerce solution, each brand doesn’t need to re-platform the storefront to improve its functionality. Furthermore, its content can be more efficiently shared across channels. As a result, you can streamline omnichannel distribution and create a unified customer experience across all your sales channels.
Furthermore, a headless platform allows customers to make transactions outside the store’s website. For example, you can add the Shop Now feature to your Instagram posts, transforming your account into a mobile shop.
A different selection of channels for customers will help your online business reach more customers. Also, it allows marketing teams to analyze each channel and improve their strategy.
Better Customer Experience
Compared to traditional commerce, a headless commerce approach helps an eCommerce website provide a personalized customer experience more easily. By presenting it, your business can get more customers and increase sales.
80% of customers are more likely to buy from a brand that offers personalized experiences. With a headless eCommerce platform, you can leverage data from the back-end system to deliver unique shopping experiences to engage more customers and drive sales. For example, you can analyze your customer needs by using CRM data so that you can craft personalized messages for them.
You can also implement the latest eCommerce trends and new offers faster. Customize call-to-action (CTA) buttons, like “Buy now” or “Sign up now” and product recommendations to build an interactive experience.
In addition, you can create a customized presentation layer freely since headless storefronts are decoupled from the back-end. For example, you can create a custom page layout, widgets, and menu to create a unique experience.
Drawbacks of Headless Commerce
We’ve discussed the benefits of headless commerce that help you enhance your customer shopping experience and grow your business.
Now, let’s take a look at the disadvantages of using headless eCommerce.
Having a headless eCommerce platform requires building a custom front-end presentation layer from scratch. It also means there will be additional expenses for developing a new theme and a user interface, not to mention adding various system integrations.
When your eCommerce platform connects to third-party integrations, like a content management system (CMS), an order management system (OMS), and enterprise resource planning (ERP), it is all billed as extra costs.
Besides the initial setup price, there will be an extra cost for maintaining and updating the front-end system. You may also need to hire a dedicated front-end or WordPress developer to build a headless CMS and manage multiple tech stacks.
A headless commerce solution allows you to experiment with a custom front-end, such as adding new features and payment options across multiple sites. However, it requires complex development and maintenance. That’s why not every business is suitable to adopt a headless system.
When implementing the headless commerce architecture, you might need a large development team of dedicated developers to test your APIs. Note that it takes a strong team collaboration between front-end and back-end developers to ensure there are no issues with the system.
Alternatively, you can use a third-party service to help you to manage your headless platform if you have a small team and limited capabilities.
When using a headless eCommerce, you will be dealing with multiple vendors and various teams to manage your content and distribute it to several channels. It indicates that your platform will require high maintenance, mainly if you combine two platforms.
For instance, if you have WordPress as headless and Magento as your eCommerce service, you will need to maintain two systems. That means you will need more people to continuously supervise the various elements, like payment security, check-out process, and web speed performance on eCommerce sites.
Without an adequate and robust team to implement a headless commerce solution, your headless storefront can be challenging to develop because it may not be optimized correctly. Thus, you must pay attention to the team’s capabilities when handling multiple tech stacks.
Best Platforms for Headless eCommerce
Nowadays, most eCommerce platforms offer features and integration, enabling you to implement a headless solution.
Let’s see the five best platform options as selected by our experts.
1. WordPress + WooCommerce
WooCommerce is an open-source eCommerce platform that implements eCommerce features to a WordPress website. It provides more than 500 extensions for your eCommerce solutions and has built-in analytics that can be helpful when developing marketing strategies.
Meanwhile, WordPress offers over 50,000 free plugins that give you the flexibility to make custom functionality and features. Also, you can add unlimited products to your site as WooCommerce technically does not impose a limit. However, adding more products will affect your site speed.
If your plan reaches its limits, issues like downtime may surface. Thus, choose a web hosting provider and a web hosting plan suitable for your business site.
Moreover, you can make these integrations without making significant changes to the platform’s functionality, as WordPress and WooCommerce have extensive RestAPI capabilities. By switching the eCommerce platform to headless WordPress, your developers can create the front-end layer using any modern technology with more flexibility.
2. Magento 2 + PWA Studio
Magento is a headless eCommerce platform offering high flexibility to create a front-end layer. Meanwhile, a PWA studio is a development tool for building and deploying progressive web apps (PWA). In other words, it is a decoupled front-end that is optimized for Magento’s back-end.
Combining these platforms into a headless system allows developers to build an innovative design and help them experiment with it. As a result, you can deliver a personalized experience for your customers. Also, you can improve your eCommerce store to be a more mobile-friendly website and help your customers visit your site without having to install your app by using PWA.
Headless Magento can save development costs and speed up time to market through PWA studio as it is equipped with modern tools. Besides, it helps marketers update or change content quickly with the drag-and-drop tool.
Moreover, Magento provides seamless integration and marketing tools for catalog management that help optimize your conversion rate. Its analytics tools dashboard can visualize key data points to assist marketers in implementing marketing strategies.
With Magento’s store management features, you can track your products in different locations, such as dropshippers and warehouses. Plus, you can get a real-time count of the stock to have more control of your global inventory accurately.
BigCommerce is a SaaS eCommerce platform suitable for medium to large-sized businesses. It comes with a user-friendly interface and omnichannel solutions for a business to drive more sales.
This omnichannel helps integrate your site seamlessly into multiple platforms, such as advertising channels, social media, and marketplaces. It is also used when optimizing product catalogs in different channels. Moreover, you can manage the products from each channel under one account.
Since BigCommerce uses a robust API to sync inventory from third-party channels, it helps you avoid inventory errors, which can lead to a loss of customer loyalty. Also, it allows you to automatically sync brick-and-mortar transactions, inventory, and orders to your back-end with a point of sales solution.
This headless eCommerce platform also provides you with various API use cases, which can be helpful in enhancing your site’s functionality. For example, developers can create a fully customizable checkout solution with a checkout and payment API.
Over 92% of BigCommerce’s platform is accessible through an API, allowing you to include their commerce service into your headless platform. It also offers a faster API that can process over 400 calls/second.
Additionally, BigCommerce can adopt headless solutions with popular CMS, DXP, or custom front-end frameworks. By using it, developers can deliver unique experiences with your selected front-end.
4. Shopify Plus
Shopify Plus is a headless commerce platform with a wide range of integration and extension options suitable for fast-growing businesses. This platform is known for its simplicity, enabling you to set up an online store without having deep technical knowledge.
The most notable feature of this platform is that it can handle high traffic by using a content delivery network (CDN) that increases the bandwidth. It allows you to accept over 10,000 transactions within a minute, preventing downtime during peak seasons.
Besides that, Shopify flow helps you automate your daily tasks, including purchase tracking, sending email campaigns, and customer segmentation. You can select pre-made workflow templates or build a new one based on your preferences.
This headless commerce platform has a user-friendly dashboard. The inventory management features can be easily used and provide you to export or import product data using CSV files and adjust them. Its payment features also help you to sell products in different currencies.
Using Shopify headless eCommerce will protect your data in the PCI DSS level 1 compliance, the highest level of verifying security standards for online payments. Moreover, Shopify will handle your assessment and risk management compliance to ensure site security without requiring a business owner to check it.
In addition, you can connect to other systems like ERP, CRM, PIM, and CMS to engage customers and scale your business.
Commercetools is a headless eCommerce platform built on the MACH stack, an acronym for microservices, API-first, cloud-based, and headless.
With microservices-based development, you can build and customize applications independently to accommodate your business goals. It has a modular and flexible architecture that allows you to modify a specific service rather than update the entire application.
Also, you can use various programming languages, technology, and environments that are suitable for each service. It can also be deployed on multiple servers, which will help your business have a faster time to market.
As it is a cloud-based eCommerce platform, you can manage, develop, and upgrade your services on a cloud server. It also means you can efficiently operate your business and improve its scalability. For instance, you can add or remove resources when the demand increases or decreases.
This headless commerce has over 300 API endpoints that can integrate with many features and functions, such as adjusting inventory, multi-payment options, and multistore management. It gives your eCommerce website the flexibility to implement your project.
Moreover, it integrates well with many technology platforms, such as Cybersource, Frontastic, and Contentstack. Besides, you can also pair it with a digital experience platform (DXP), like Bloomreach, to help you create an engaging experience for your customer journey across multiple platforms.
Headless eCommerce is a solution that separates the front-end from the back-end function so that you can optimize your content and create a personalized experience for customers.
Moreover, headless commerce can improve your marketing strategy and eCommerce site capabilities by creating seamless integration and providing omnichannel experiences. As a result, you will get more leads to help scale your business.
While most eCommerce platforms support a headless approach, let’s recap the best five platforms for headless eCommerce as selected by our experts:
- WordPress + WooCommerce – best for providing a variety of plugins and products for businesses of any size.
- Magento 2 + PWA Studio – best for enhancing mobile store apps and providing data visualization for medium to large businesses.
- BigCommerce – best for providing omnichannel experiences with a faster API for medium to large businesses.
- Shopify Plus – best for handling high traffic and offering high-security service for medium-sized businesses that are rapidly growing.
- Commercetools – best for providing a robust architecture and high scalability under a suitable cloud-based system for large enterprises.
We hope this article has given you a better insight into headless eCommerce. Feel free to ask questions and share your thoughts in the comments section below.