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Home Thought Leadership Everything You Need to Know about Headless eCommerce | Opinion

Everything You Need to Know about Headless eCommerce | Opinion

eCommerce websites have been around for three decades now. They’ve evolved from simple online experiences for desktop users to complex ones designed for an intricate matrix of online and offline customer touchpoints.

The demand for personalized digital experiences has grown exponentially over the past decade. A 2017 survey by Epsilon Data Management found that 80% of consumers were more likely to purchase when brands offered them a personalized shopping experience.

But the traditional monolithic eCommerce architecture lacks the agility required to keep up with rapidly evolving customer needs. Therefore, businesses worldwide are now adopting a headless eCommerce approach. 

Here’s everything you need to know about headless eCommerce to help you prepare for the future of digital commerce.

Origins of Headless eCommerce

Until the first iPhone release in 2007, the primary digital touchpoint for customers was a desktop. After the iPhone launch, mobile phones became popular. Consumers started doing more on their smartphones instead of their desktops.

A 2013 report by Forrester Consulting was one of the first to highlight the emerging need for cohesive online customer experiences. The same report also presented a solution to the problem. They proposed coupling content management systems with ecommerce systems for a better user experience.

This facilitated the development of a new approach to ecommerce systems using microservices and APIs. This is now known as headless ecommerce.

An Introduction to Headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce is the decoupling of the backend business logic and frontend presentation layer of a website. This disconnected system creates an architecture that offers greater flexibility and allows businesses to design complex systems.

A headless approach to eCommerce uses separate frontend applications and backend systems that communicate via API calls. This allows a business to scale on demand without compromising performance.

The separation of the customer-facing presentation layer from the underlying commerce layer creates a robust system that can support powerful commerce applications. It allows businesses to chase customer-driven outcomes, improve obsolete processes, and execute changes. Traditional eCommerce technology cannot do this.

Now let’s look at how headless eCommerce stacks up against the traditional monolithic eCommerce approach.

Headless vs. Monolithic eCommerce

There’s nothing wrong with the traditional eCommerce architecture; it just isn’t designed to be future-proof. Monolithic architecture provides everything you need to run an online store in a single package. But you cannot scale a store based on a monolithic platform as efficiently as a store developed using headless eCommerce.

Additionally, eCommerce stores built using a monolithic platform are often slow. Each time customers load websites using a traditional architecture, they’re forced to wait for multiple backend processes and unoptimized code to execute before they can interact with the website.

Headless eCommerce gives you more agility to tackle a sudden increase in demand and doesn’t fall apart as quickly when things go wrong.

Here’s an analogy using two fictional companies to help you understand how headless eCommerce delivers unmatched resiliency.

Company A, representing a microservices-based headless architecture, employs a team of 10 individuals, each managing a unique department such as sales, marketing, accounting, and customer service. Company B, representing a monolithic architecture, employs a single expert to manage all their departments.

When an employee falls sick or decides to leave, which company do you think would be better equipped to cope with the change? The company that loses 10% of its staff or the one that loses its entire workforce?

No matter how you look at it, when it comes to performance, scalability, and resilience, headless eCommerce wins every single time. Moreover, it opens a new realm of possibilities for eCommerce businesses.

The Benefits of Adopting Headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce is superior to the traditional approach. Here are some benefits of adopting headless eCommerce for your business:

Greater control

The decoupling of the content management and delivery systems provides merchants with greater control over their business processes. You’re no longer constrained to a single platform or application and are free to incorporate new technologies without any downtime.

This control over the entire architecture is credited to the APIs that allow you to connect with different systems. It’s like trying to build a small fort using Legos. You can add or remove pieces and build whatever you need. Your imagination is the only limit with headless eCommerce.

Want a new PWA website? Install Vue Storefront. Need to sort out your product data? Connect your store with a product management system like Akeneo. The possibilities with headless eCommerce are endless.

More design freedom

Decoupled systems support rapid frontend changes without affecting backend systems. With an API-based approach to web design, developers aren’t restricted to the confines of a content management system.

Headless ecommerce allows business owners to migrate their website frontend from one technology to another without risking downtime. It empowers them to choose and experiment with layouts and templates.

Businesses can create customer-focused designs and connect them with a headless platform that houses content separately.

Better performance and security

Headless ecommerce setups decrease the risk of security breaches tremendously. The APIs used to deliver content between the frontend and backend systems allow you to check your content management system and prevent security breaches.

You have the added benefit of using a content management system hidden behind layers of code. Moreover, independently hosting systems increase the security benefits of headless ecommerce.

A decoupled frontend also improves performance. It allows you to deploy frontend updates consistently without impacting the backend system. You can deliver better design and functionality to your customers without any downtime.

Greater innovation and personalization

Innovation is crucial to achieving success in a competitive environment. But innovation requires experimentation, something that is only possible with a headless ecommerce system.

You need to experiment and understand what works for your target audience when it comes to personalization. A personalized shopping experience extends beyond the ancient “People who bought X also bought Y’ style recommendations.

Because headless ecommerce systems operate independently, it eliminates the risk of disrupting business processes during changes. You can experiment with greater confidence and introduce new functionalities to your website more efficiently.

Seamless integrations

APIs are at the core of every headless ecommerce system. They enable communication between the backend and frontend systems and allow businesses to streamline their operations. Headless ecommerce allows you to leverage APIs and integrate with various platforms and systems to simplify your system architecture.

An API-first architecture allows you to bring together several applications and organize them to increase your operational efficiency. Moreover, it will enable you to add, remove, and replace applications individually without disrupting existing integrations.

This flexibility is essential for creating a seamless omnichannel experience without restructuring the entire architecture each time you add a new touchpoint for your customers. It also reduces the time required to integrate new applications from weeks and months to hours and days.

Downsides of Headless eCommerce

Although headless ecommerce offers several benefits, it isn’t flawless. Here are the two primary issues that currently limit the adoption of headless ecommerce.

High costs of ownership

Most headless ecommerce platforms don’t ship with a frontend. So, merchants need to design their storefronts from scratch. They also need complex software, making them significantly more expensive than traditional ecommerce platforms.

Migrating from a monolithic platform to a headless solution is usually expensive and time-consuming. And once you’ve migrated, you will need help from a dedicated development team to maintain and manage all systems to ensure smooth operations.

Complexity

Headless ecommerce systems offer unparalleled flexibility with design and functionality. But those benefits make them extraordinarily complex to manage and run.

Although they facilitate rapid design changes, implementing updates and changes is usually a joint effort spanning multiple departments. Its reliance on multi-departmental cooperation limits the adoption of headless ecommerce by small businesses because it complicates a process that’s otherwise straightforward with traditional platforms.

Prepare for the Future of eCommerce

Headless ecommerce comes with a few downsides that currently limit its widespread adoption. However, as more businesses adopt a headless approach, the number of solutions on the market and the overall development costs should go down gradually.

Headless ecommerce offers several unique benefits. It helps businesses create an integrated ecosystem of applications that work in unison to drive business growth.

Headless ecommerce can cater to businesses in highly competitive industries seeking omnichannel solutions. Transitioning from your existing systems to a headless solution might seem daunting, but it’s worth the effort.

If you’re searching for a viable approach to help your business stay ahead of the curve, headless ecommerce is the way to go.

About the author

Jan Guardian
Jan is the Chief Business Development Officer at Staylime, a Magento design and development company headquartered in Redwood City, California. He is a Member of the Magento Association and an Adobe Sales Accredited Magento Commerce professional. Jan is responsible for developing and leading the sales and digital marketing strategies of the company.

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