Intense competition is driving rapid technological innovation in ecommerce. More and more brands are turning to cutting-edge tech to help them grow, evolve and aggressively pursue new customers.
One way brands are seeking to gain market share is by implementing headless ecommerce architectures. In a headless environment, the front-end presentation layer of an ecommerce store is decoupled from its back-end commerce layer. A headless architecture offers brands the freedom and agility necessary to deploy engaging front-end content and user experiences, without having to make significant changes to the back-end. This allows brands to quickly respond to shifting customer wants, needs, and desires to deploy front-end updates and changes that improve the overall shopping experience.
On paper, it may seem that a headless approach is more conducive to scrappy startups and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands — organizations that are flexible and nimble, and can quickly shift approaches to respond to customer behavior. However, numerous enterprise ecommerce companies are also reaping the benefits of a headless architecture.
Headless ecommerce setups are helping enterprises create more meaningful shopping experiences for their customers, build true omnichannel marketing and sales strategies, drive down customer acquisition costs and much more.
But what exactly does a headless ecommerce architecture look like? How does it differ from a traditional ecommerce setup? And what unique benefits does it offer enterprise ecommerce brands? Let’s take a closer look.
In a headless ecommerce setup, the front-end presentation layer of an ecommerce system (“the head”) is decoupled from its back-end commerce engine. The presentation layer refers to all of the customer-facing elements that make up a brand’s ecommerce presence, like UX/UI, progressive web apps (PWAs), promotional content and more. front-ends are the gateways customers use to engage with and purchase products from a brand.
Severing the front-end presentation layer from the back-end commerce layer opens up numerous opportunities for brands. Front-end developers can focus exclusively on adjusting the presentation layer to improve customer experience without having to worry about making changes to the back-end code base.
This back-end, which handles things like inventory, order management, payment gateways and shipping, uses application programming interface (API) calls to communicate with the front-end. The front-end can then be retooled for multiple different touchpoints, like IoT devices, mobile and more via API calls.
Traditional ecommerce architectures are monolithic. Monolithic platforms act as pillars, meaning they incorporate multiple components into a single code base. Everything from the database layer to business logic runs on the same code.
In a monolithic architecture, the front-end presentation layer is inextricably linked to the back-end components. In ecommerce, these individual components typically include services like payment authorization and inventory management. When a brand deploys a monolithic ecommerce setup, all changes made to the presentation layer must be replicated across the entire architecture. Things like basic content tweaks and UX/UI changes—even putting up a promotion banner — require coordination between both front-end and back-end teams. This can mean significant development time and effort.
In traditional ecommerce setups, there is very little room for flexibility to ensure other content forms or channels can successfully integrate with the back-end commerce layer. Headless ecommerce architectures provide for true flexibility in commerce, helping brands deliver superior customer experiences across touchpoints.
Because of their age and size, ecommerce enterprise companies are more likely to operate on legacy technologies — including monolithic architectures. Unfortunately, this means that making adjustments to improve efficiency in ecommerce and adapt to changing customer behavior can be difficult for enterprises — especially in an environment where staying competitive with more flexible startups is crucial.
Enterprise ecommerce businesses must be agile and responsive in order to remain competitive. But the reality is there are numerous factors that can prevent enterprises from being truly nimble and flexible. Whether it’s the burden of legacy technology, or the inefficiencies that come with layers of bureaucracy, enterprises face numerous challenges in driving ecommerce success. But if they’re willing to make the leap, enterprises can benefit immensely from a headless ecommerce approach. Let’s take a look at some of the key areas where headless ecommerce can benefit enterprises.
Creating on-brand customer experiences across all consumer touchpoints is the backbone of omnichannel ecommerce. From social media ecommerce to voice assistants, customers are using multiple channels to purchase products. And with more and more enterprises seeking to meet customers on their terms, drive more organic traffic and replicate customer experience across multiple touchpoints, having a truly flexible ecommerce solution is extremely important.
This is where headless ecommerce truly shines. Because the front-end is separate from the back-end commerce layer, it’s easy to manage multiple different customer-facing touchpoints. Any interface customers use to purchase products can easily be hooked up to the commerce engine through API calls. And if any changes or modifications to these touchpoints are made, they can easily be implemented without having to overhaul the entire system.
Because of headless ecommerce’s inherent flexibility, enterprises can easily deploy true omnichannel sales and marketing strategies — something organizations with traditional, monolithic architectures cannot.
Data enables better customer experiences. Full visibility into key data points helps ecommerce enterprises run more efficiently and drive more effective customer interactions. From bottom-of-the-funnel metrics like conversion rate to more advanced data points, enterprises crave full visibility into their ecommerce operations.
Due to its API-first nature, headless ecommerce architectures provide infinitely more opportunities to extract data. With each API call offering its own set of data, enterprises can glean valuable metrics — and insights — from each sales channel. This allows enterprises to put their entire ecommerce operation under a microscope, examining each channel for key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer engagement. This improved data visibility will help enterprises fully understand how customers engage with different channels and touchpoints — and how they can be modified or adjusted for superior experience and engagement.
From a development perspective, headless ecommerce offers the freedom to scale up or down as necessary, with minimal time and effort. Its API-first nature makes it easy to integrate technologies that would require significant development work in a monolithic environment. Need to implement a payments gateway that can support recurring payments across multiple front-ends? There’s an API for that. Want to create custom checkout processes for each of your sales channels? That’s easy.
In a headless setup, APIs act like building blocks, helping you to stand up a complete ecommerce environment without having to custom build components or commit to a singular codebase for disparate elements.
Headless ecommerce provides flexibility and convenience on the back-end development side, meaning enterprises can prevent and resolve common front-end issues more efficiently. Avoiding site outages and downtime becomes easier, as does the ability to implement new capabilities to easily respond to customer wants, needs and desires.
While headless ecommerce can be transformative for enterprises, it’s not ideal for all organizations. Many enterprise ecommerce organizations are resistant to relying on significant amounts of API calls to power their architectures — and instead prefer the stability that a traditional, monolithic setup provides. These same organizations also likely employ both front-end and back-end development teams that are closely entwined, meaning changes can be made relatively quickly and cheaply.
However, for enterprises looking to go all-in on omnichannel ecommerce, you’d be hard pressed to find a better solution. Headless ecommerce can help enterprises easily manage multiple sales channels and touchpoints, quickly deploy front-end updates, and prioritize the overall customer experience across their entire commerce footprint. Headless ecommerce is powering the next generation of cutting-edge online retailers. Maybe it’s time to consider getting on board.
Chris is a Content Marketing Specialist at Codal. With a background in journalism and marketing, Chris has written about a variety of tech topics, including eCommerce, open-source, fintech, cybersecurity, and more.