What is Headless Commerce and Why is it the Future of eCommerce?

If you’re not implementing headless commerce, your online eCommerce platform isn’t optimized to convert for sales.

2020 saw a massive shift from traditional retail to digital retail. Many retailers are investing more into their online commerce platforms, while smaller entrepreneurs are starting to shift to move their businesses online. Data suggests that there will be a 169% increase in eCommerce purchases moving forward.

This data shouldn’t be surprising. As the gig economy ramps up to accommodate more and more workers, tertiary economy roles, such as couriers and delivery drivers, have risen in tandem.

To meet these changing retail and consumer demands, businesses have pivoted towards Content Management Systems such as WordPress and Wix to set up their own stores. While these commerce platforms are great, they also leave much to be desired.

Instead, big retailers and tech-savvy entrepreneurs are implementing headless eCommerce or headless commerce solutions. The differences between a headless eCommerce platform and a traditional commerce platform aren’t many, but they offer significant advantages over the conventional eCommerce experience.

So, what is headless commerce? Is a headless eCommerce platform right for you? How do you implement one? To help you decide the best course of action for your business, we’ll answer all these questions and more in this post.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is Headless Commerce?

A headless commerce platform is an eCommerce system that separates its front-facing, customer ‘head’ from its back-facing, developer-controlled ‘body.’

This strategy is in contrast to eCommerce solutions, such as WordPress and Shopify, which also function as Content Management Systems (CMS). CMS solutions offer excellent customization options and can be set up relatively quickly. All business owners have to do is purchase domain space and a server and install the CMS online. From there, they can personalize it to their liking.

CMS commerce platforms will often have themes, too. Businesses are free to customize the ‘head,’ or the layout of their website, their product pages, and the user experience to some degree, so long as it’s within the confines of the front-facing ‘head’ or CMS.

However, any edits to the customer-facing front-end will also require substantial modifications to the platform’s back end since developers are working within the confines of a pre-existing system and theme, which can substantial development time.

A headless commerce system, on the other hand, will eliminate the head entirely. Hence the name ‘headless.’ Essentially, headless eCommerce platforms will remove the front-end portion of an eCommerce platform and leave only the back-end platform behind.

With the head removed, developers can develop a user experience free from the constraints of a theme or pre-defined layouts. Through the use of custom development, APIs, and apps, businesses can create an eCommerce platform uniquely tailored for their brand and its customers.

What are the Benefits of Headless Commerce Platform?

Headless commerce allows for the creation of a more personalized digital experience. While many headless commerce platforms are eCommerce solutions, it would be more apt to describe it as a digital experience platform since the consumer approach is so customizable.

Here are some other benefits that a headless commerce solution can offer your business:

Personalized Customer Experience
sephora virtual artist AR
Sephora's use of Augmented Reality allows customers to preview products in real-time. (Sephora)

While the number of eCommerce platforms is growing, many will rely on prefabbed Content Management Systems that resemble all the rest. Browse enough eCommerce sites, and you’ll start to notice patterns and themes that continue to pop up. While they might not be completely identical, the digital experience they provide is markedly similar.

Since headless commerce is created from scratch and custom-coded to fit your unique needs, you have complete authority over the user experience. Everything from how your customers interact with your store to how your admin users run the platform can be changed to your specifications.

This customizability can allow you to further refine your sales funnel and take advantage of user trends and data to convert more visitors. Custom checkout flows or new user data fields could mean the difference between your visitor converting or bouncing.

Flexible and Agile

Headless commerce can give you a faster time to market for your product by keeping you flexible and agile. Traditional eCommerce platforms that use a Content Management System will require developers to edit both the front-end presentation layer and the back-end before any substantial changes can be made.

Comparatively, a headless CMS can be edited and improved upon as needed without as large of a time investment. A headless approach focuses on the platform as a whole, so there’s no separation between the front or the back. Developers can develop the code directly without having to sync any databases or scripts together.

eCommerce platforms aren’t the only thing that needs to be agile. Content Marketing Strategy needs to be fast, too. Be sure to read our guide on Agile Content – Content Marketing Strategy Made Simple.”

Omnichannel Opportunities
omnichannel marketing example
Disney streamlines the vacation planning experience through various sites, apps and packages to deliver an omnichannel marketing experience at all stages of the sales funnel (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/en_CA/plan/my-disney-experience/)

While commerce is increasingly becoming digitized, there are other channels available where you can place and promote your content. Social media, retail, and non-native web apps are all avenues where a headless approach will excel.

When it comes to omnichannel opportunities, think Internet of Things devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and more yet to come. The eCommerce world is ruthless, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on an omnichannel early adopter opportunity because your CMS isn’t headless.

What are the Negatives?

A headless commerce approach isn’t a panacea for all of your eCommerce woes. Here are some of the drawbacks of using a headless CMS.

Heavy Upfront Development
small-business-website-design-guide-and-tips
WordPress is a free website builder that has a variety of themes you can choose from. (https://wordpress.com/)

While a headless CMS allows you to completely customize your digital experience, it also means you need to build it completely from scratch. For larger businesses, this might not be a huge factor. For smaller eCommerce stores and entrepreneurs, the costs to custom develop a platform and the required time to market could prove immense.

Picking the right CMS could be the deciding factor in a successful eCommerce store. Here’s 9 Reasons to Choose WordPress as Your CMS for SEO.” 

Regular Maintenance Required

A traditional eCommerce solution built with a Content Management System will be ready to go out of the box. Since these platforms often require you to subscribe under a SaaS business model, they will also help you maintain your platform’s security, functionality, and uptime.

Comparatively, a headless approach will require you to perform all of these tasks yourself. Since a headless CMS isn’t integrated into an overarching system, there won’t be any systematic updates available.

Headless Commerce Architecture Requires Management

Traditional commerce platforms will require almost no oversight at all in order to function. 

They’re designed to be a “set and forget” kind of deal. On the other hand, headless commerce architecture will require attention to function to the best of its capabilities. Hiring developers and UX designers and managing them are additional elements that need to be factored into the cost.

How to Implement a Headless Commerce Solution

A headless commerce platform will need to be built from the ground up. The creation of any web platform requires web developers, designers, and user experience specialists. You might also need branding services to market your store online effectively. You’ll also need data and trends on your user flows, your sales funnel, and other user metrics to maximize the potential of your headless commerce platform.

Figuring out your game plan, hiring the right people, and overseeing their work can be arduous and time-intensive.

The good news is that with a digital agency such as Advesa, headless commerce platforms can be built entirely around your scope, budget, and vision. In addition to developing your commerce platform, we’ll also take care of the maintenance, management, and upkeep so you can focus on growing your business.

If you’re ready to scale your business, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation!

Key Takeaways

A headless commerce solution offers many benefits in terms of customization and user flows, but it ultimately may not right for you. Budding entrepreneurs and smaller eCommerce stores will benefit greatly from a headless CMS, but a traditional commerce platform will serve just as well.

For businesses that want to promote their products through omnichannel marketing or ready to scale their business, a headless approach is not only recommended. It’s required.

A decoupled CMS is undeniably the best approach for the future of eCommerce, but whether or not you should implement it sooner rather than later is dependent upon you and your business.

Vincent Lee

Written By Vincent Lee

The Managing Editor at Advesa, Vincent is a mechanical keyboard enthusiast, a lover of cats, and a purveyor of fine roasted matcha teas. When not writing, he enjoys exercising and biking around his beautiful hometown of Vancouver. He is also a strong supporter of the oxford comma.