What Is Headless Commerce and Why It Matters in 2021

Guides & Advice
July 26, 2021
Guides & Advice
What Is Headless Commerce and Why It Matters in 2021

Headless commerce has been around since 2013. But the concept has been the odd one out in ecommerce circles until recently. 

Merchants preferred buying fully packaged suites, like Shopify or BigCommerce, to start an ecommerce business fast and save themselves the trouble of coding. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world and made those same merchants realize they’d been sacrificing user experience all this time. In the words of McKinsey Quarterly, “we just jumped 10 years forward in 90 days time”.

Consumers embraced new ways of interaction with a brand much faster than retailers could offer it. Shopping across different touchpoints — on websites, in apps, via smart voice assistants — has become the new normal. Now the only thing retailers can do to keep customers interested in their brand is catch up with headless commerce — fast!

If you still can’t make head or tail of headless commerce definition, this article is for you. As an ecommerce development company delivering headless Magento solutions, we’ll explain what is headless commerce in simple terms and why it should be on your agenda for 2021.

What Is Headless eCommerce?

Imagine that your website presentation layer is the head. The back-end operations are the body. And the neck that connects them is the application programming interface (API). There you have your basic headless commerce definition.

Headless ecommerce is when your website front-end (the one that delivers user interface a customer interacts with, e.g. a Product Detail Page in a browser) is separated from the back-end (the one responsible for business logic, e.g. fulfilling an order). All commerce data is stored in a single place and is pulled to different storefronts and customer touchpoints via APIs.

Which problems does headless commerce solve? Now you can write an iPhone app for shopping. Or create unique short-term marketing campaigns. Or add chatbots, voice search, and other AI-powered tools to your website. You get to innovate without slogging through tangled legacy code.

Traditional Commerce vs Headless Commerce 

The main difference between headless commerce vs traditional commerce is architecture. 

Monolithic models give full control over platform features but come with design and engineering constraints. Because all your functionality (content, images, HTML) lies in the same basket, it will take more time and money to develop a mobile app and connect it to your store. 

With headless commerce, you get more flexibility to customize the front-end and faster time-to-market in case of new CX and advertising campaigns.

traditional commerce vs headless commerce

In short, headless commerce is all about APIs. Traditional or monolithic commerce relies on internal dependencies between a single user interface and back-end processes.

What Are the Benefits of Headless Commerce?

Because you can swap the “head” of your website without changing its back-end logic, headless commerce brings many advantages to the business.

Benefit #1: Boosted CX Across Touchpoints

Headless commerce was born with the idea of perfected CX in the first place. Each module in the presentation layer is isolated, so you can modify them, integrate third-party systems, and align them with the customer needs, ensuring personalized UX. 

You can unify shoppers’ checkout experiences and history across all shopping channels. Or add social login to your website. Or revamp your web interface to fit the size of your users’ devices. Whatever the change, you can be sure your website won’t experience any downtimes.

Most common customer touchpoints for headless commerce
Most common customer touchpoints. Source: The Headless Commerce Primer for Growing Merchants.

Benefit #2: Agile Marketing

Imagine you run a clothing store, and one of your warehouses gets flooded during heavy rainfall. A part of your stock gets wet, and you decide to launch a flash sale to save the day. With a monolithic system, you’d have to spend a few weeks to create a webpage announcing your sale. With headless, on the other hand, you can prepare and launch a campaign in a matter of minutes. On top of that, you can leverage your existing customer data and share the hot promotion in personalized emails.

Adobe Experience Manager is an advanced platform created specifically for such campaigns in mind. Check out its main features and benefits in a related article.
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Adobe AEM Magento Integration: A Tandem of CMS and Ecommerce

Benefit #3: Effective Omnichannel Strategy

Headless will allow you to meet your customers across various touchpoints. Well, duh! After all, you’ve got the possibility to create multiple storefronts. So it becomes easier to implement the lifecycle ecommerce marketing model; for instance, you can take the following steps: 

→ reach out to your potential customer with a PPC campaign;

→ redirect them to a product page on a website;

→ convince them to make a purchase via a LiveChat;

→ nurture relationships with your customer on their mobile devices;

→ turn them into brand advocates with a personalized loyalty program.

Lifecycle ecommerce marketing model.
Lifecycle ecommerce marketing model. Source: Smart Insights.

Benefit #4: Unlimited Scalability

In monolithic store architecture, scaling means slowing down your website in a zillion times. With headless, the front-end and the back-end can be scaled individually. So if the presentation layer receives much traffic, the back-end is not affected because they are only loosely coupled. That means no downtimes during heavy sales seasons and lower operational costs on server providers.

Benefit #5: Extra Security and Fewer Outages

Is headless commerce secure? You bet! First, because the front-end and the back-end are decoupled, data breaches or cyberattacks never bring down the whole system. The system is much easier to monitor and control, and you can fix all security-related issues in the background while your store is up and running. 

Second, APIs act as an application and security layer. So you don’t have to wait for security patches and upgrades as in the case of SaaS platforms. Thanks to APIs, you can roll them out on your own (or with the help of an ecommerce development company). 

Headless Commerce Solutions You Can Try

Since the public-facing interface of your webstore is separated from the commerce on the back end, you can have various types of headless storefront. Let’s see some common headless commerce solutions you can try for your store.

Content Management System (CMS)

A CMS on the front-end and the ecommerce platform on the back-end forms a powerful combination for those merchants driven by a heavy content marketing strategy. 

The ecommerce platform will act as a core of your system addressing all your inventory management and security concerns (like PCI compliance, for example). You can further integrate third-party software like ERP, PIM, or OMS via APIs. Meanwhile, the CMS presentation layer will allow you to distribute, edit, and update content across multiple sales channels without affecting your store usability.

The tandem of Drupal Commerce vs Magento 2 is an illustrative example of the CMS headless approach. The CMS + ecommerce platform model should be a perfect fit for those who 

  • Want to implement deeper content personalization (including ad targeting on social media or paid promotions on Google).
  • Have an omnichannel marketing strategy
  • Have a multisite eCommerce store and want to merge them.

Progressive Web Application (PWA)

A PWA headless storefront is your way to create a responsive app without complex coding. The solution combines the features of both an application and a website and operates in a browser (hence no need for App or Play Store downloads). Your storefront is secured with HTTPS, can rank on Google, but still feels like a native app. You can see the PWA headless model on the examples of Amazon, Netflix, or Uber.

With the PWA headless model, your core operations on the back-end stay intact. You can process orders on a traditional, dynamic website, or even on a traditional, native app. Still, you get to experiment with the UI for different devices, be it a mobile phone, a tablet, or a 49-inch gaming monitor.

Who should use PWA + ecommerce platform headless model? Those retailers who

  • Care about the loading website speed: PWAs apply device-level caching, so the data loads lightning fast.
  • Wish to embrace AI/ML in ecommerce: you can talk to the app via Alexa, scan QR codes, or apply device-specific capabilities like camera or GPS for the later use of augmented reality (AR).
  • Plan on delivering multimodal UI experiences.
There are two competing projects with PWA building capabilities: Vue Storefront and Magento PWA Studio. Read a related article on their differences and choose the one that best meets your needs.
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Vue Storefront vs Magento PWA Studio: What’s Better For Your Store?

Digital Experience Platform (DXP)

A DXP may be your headless commerce software to digitize brand’s marketing campaigns and enhance customer experience (CX). DXP solutions can come as a full package (as in the case of Salesforce Cloud or Adobe Experience Manager) or as a suite of separate solutions (for instance, HubSpot for CRM + Mixpanel for Analytics + VWO for A/B testing, and so on).

When coupled with a headless ecommerce platform, a DXP works similarly to a CRM but with a focus on CX. It will collect customer data across digital channels, including websites, apps, wearables, etc., and enable brands to personalize content to their audiences. The system will also add to the consistency of your communication with customers and save time on tedious tasks for your marketing team.

A DXP + headless ecommerce platform works best for customer-obsessed businesses who

  • Have already embraced digital transformation in their company and want to benefit from a fully connected experience.
  • Look for ways to augment their current content-driven strategy and offer more personalized content based on a customer’s journey.
  • Have multiple customer touchpoints with diverse audiences and want to break down functional silos.

Ecommerce Platforms

A commerce-led approach is by far the most common in the ecommerce mid-market. This model uses an ecommerce platform for UI and checkout, while a robust commerce infrastructure is created with the help of APIs. 

Many of our clients at Elogic are using commerce-led approach. They integrate ERPs, CRMs, OMSs with their Magento store to manage products, orders, and customers more efficiently. Such was the case with Benum and Visma ERP integration or Glassmania and Magic ERP. This way, the brands expand their commercial reach and improve efficiency of their teams.

You should try a commerce-led headless model if you

  • Seek to start a new scalable, flexible store or improve the back-end infrastructure of an existing one.
  • Don’t focus on marketing and content creation too much. 

How Do You Start With Headless Commerce?

In a nutshell, headless commerce stands for a decoupled approach to a store, whereby the front-end and the back-end website layers are connected via APIs. Think of headless architecture as of a LEGO puzzle: you get to add any building block – be it a new storefront or a third-party system – to improve CX and your commerce operation efficiency.

Mind though that headless isn’t for everyone. Customer experience is central to a headless commerce strategy. Your business should reach a certain level of digital maturity to implement the approach. 

If you’re ready to invest in a headless setup and compete with the business sharks in the market, go with the experience-led model and try CMS, DXP, and PWA for your headless storefronts.

If you stand on solid ground in your business but still haven’t had any experience digitalizing it, start with a commerce-led approach (keep in mind Elogic for Magento integration services in case you choose this platform).

If you’re a complete newbie in this topic and are still searching for options, read on to learn more about some best headless commerce platforms you can try for your business.
Guides & Advice
Best Headless Ecommerce Platforms for Your Cutting-Edge Website

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Dai Software

This was a very meaningful post, so informative and encouraging information, Thank you for this post.

Billy Begum

Awesome points such a beautiful full post, thanks for sharing this post.

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