Traditional ecommerce platforms often leave something to be desired, with constant struggles between user experience, branding, and storefront functionality causing user experience issues. It isn't uncommon that in a typical ecommerce solution, trying to make small changes to something like the layout of the checkout page can lead to cascading issues with the page's functionality and headaches for the whole development team. On top of that, trying to make visual changes that don't negatively affect the capabilities of mobile devices can create even more issues.
Luckily, technology companies saw this struggle and came up with an innovative idea- headless commerce solutions. These revolutionary interfaces allow retailers to completely separate the front end of their websites (the part the customer sees or the presentation layer) from the back-end (which handles functionality and data). There are many benefits to this website design style, including a safer infrastructure, more accessibility to manipulate components, and more flexibility for companies to do what they want on their websites.
What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce platforms use a particular website design that allows the front-end and back-end systems to separate. These two separate website pieces then can communicate through an application programming interface (API), allowing them to integrate without interfering with each other's functions. Simply put, the front end and the back end (and any additional features) will all communicate through the API to send information to each other. Using headless architecture allows you more flexibility when making significant changes, such as to customer touchpoints and the user interface, without having to update both the back and front end to accommodate one small change.
For example, if your buyer clicks the "Checkout" button on your headless commerce store, the front end will send a message through the API to let the back end of the website know that it needs to start processing the order. The back end will then acknowledge this and send another message through the API to let the front end see that they can send an order summary to the buyer.
What problems does headless commerce aim to fix?
Traditional commerce systems often struggle when it comes to making changes. Merchants often are stuck within parameters due to their marketplace, back-end limitations, and lack of microservice architecture. This issue means that marketplaces often can't make highly unique design changes without extreme amounts of work that can disrupt the website's functionality as a whole. Headless ecommerce platforms aim to resolve this problem, making front end changes easier, more flexible, and more accessible.
By separating from a traditional front end, often restricted by a template or theme, you give your developers more freedom to use the framework that best fits your needs. Headless commerce also allows for more flexibility for what devices can display your website, from smartwatches to other more niche technology.
Benefits of headless commerce
While we have started talking about the benefits of headless commerce, an easy-to-change front end isn't the only reason this structure has become more popular.
A smaller learning curve means faster and better adoption
Development teams get to use the front end they are most comfortable with while choosing whatever base ecommerce platform they want to use to power their website. Often, this configuration leads developers to work in the spaces they feel most comfortable, lessening the learning curve for them as you make the transition.
Build custom experiences for better UX
When your front end is separated from your back end, you have significantly more control over UX changes and how they look for your buyers. With more traditional architectures, you often are pretty limited in what you can realistically change, meaning that significant branding overhauls can be fraught with parameters and limitations. With headless commerce, you have significantly more freedom to create and design a truly customized experience for your customers, improving their UX experience dramatically.
Save developer time
We previously mentioned the bonus of a lower learning curve for developers, meaning that their time will be saved in trying to learn a completely new, complex system. On top of that, developers don't have to wade through so many problems when the front and back end are separated, making small changes much easier and less time-consuming than in traditional models. In addition, it is less likely that changes will cause bugs to the same extreme with a headless commerce format, as the code base should be less complex and tangled.
Reduce time to market
We have talked about how switching to a headless model reduces developer time, but consider how it affects launching new products or brands. It is straightforward to recreate a headless solution for other purposes once it has been established, meaning that not only is your initial time to market faster, but any upcoming projects will be, too! Headless commerce means that you can be more receptive to agility, making new market rollouts as needed to keep up with the trends, whatever they may be. This flexibility is one of the best ways to stay far ahead of your competition and keep buyers interested in what you are doing.
Launch innovative marketing without back end limitations
Some of the most innovative websites are created with headless architectures. Traditional models mean that the parameters of your back end limit your front-end design and marketing. Many things become so difficult to do that they aren't worth the time or money investment, and some changes are even impossible due to back-end limitations. With headless commerce, these issues are no longer a problem, meaning that you can change your front end dramatically without worrying nearly as much about breaking functions within the separate back end. Headless commerce empowers you to create inventive campaigns and launch them without the fear of back-end limits.
Less reliance on paid advertising (lower acquisition costs)
Traditional websites often rely heavily on paid advertising to bring in more traffic. The prices of paid ads are only rising as companies like Apple have moved to block the gathering of personal data, making targeted marketing more difficult. Headless commerce allows you to move away from the more traditional customer acquisition methods such as paid ads and focus on more robust marketing strategies, such as website experiences, to bring in traffic organically.
In fact, headless websites are almost always faster, meaning that the website's overall experience will lead to a better customer experience, ultimately driving more sales. Your website will also have fewer issues across desktop or mobile platforms and a more unified, smooth experience for buyers. The better your website functionality, the happier customers will be (and the better your organic SEO rates will as well).
Complete site ownership
It isn't uncommon to hear that traditional website owners struggle with some parts of maintaining their site. With headless configuration, you have the freedom to make changes to either side of your website without issue, preventing you from being stuck with a plugin or service that you aren't happy with. You gain complete site ownership with the ability to try new things as needed and as your company's needs grow.
Improved Site Experience
On top of building more custom UX design, your site experience is improved in other ways, too. Fast loading is a must for customers, and a slow website can quickly drive would-be buyers away from your site. In addition, many websites struggle with inter-page navigation. Mobile devices suffer significantly from this issue in particular. With headless commerce, you can use progressive web apps (PWA) to cut that load time down to under a second regardless of the device used. Using headless also means that your page-to-page navigation will be smoother across devices, keeping customers from getting frustrated trying to click between areas of your website.
Frequently Asked Questions
You may have a few questions now that you know more about how headless ecommerce works. Here are a few of the most common questions.
Is Shopify headless?
Yes, it can be! Shopify is a widespread platform for ecommerce sellers. When people create their first storefront website, they will make a site using the Shopify CMS and their front-end themes. While perfectly functional, like other traditional methods, this setup can be hard to customize to your liking. However, did you know that Shopify has a storefront API that allows you to use their CMS in headless architecture? The GraphQL powered API lets you create your custom storefront, still powered by the same Shopify API you are familiar with.
Is Salesforce Commerce Cloud headless?
Yes, it can be as well! Salesforce Commerce Cloud offers a Commerce API that helps your team build a flexible, scalable commerce solution for your company. In-between, they also have low-code alternatives that allow companies to go almost headless without as much development time or other concerns. This low-code solution means that you still won't have the full benefit of a headless commerce solution, but it may be suitable for smaller teams that cannot make the complete switch yet.
Is headless CMS the same as headless commerce?
While almost synonymous, headless CMS and headless commerce are not the same. Headless commerce is specifically the separation of your front and back end, connected through some API. A headless CMS is often used in conjunction with headless commerce, handling all of the content on the back end.
Traditionally, content management systems held all of the content, from CSS to images, in one place. Like traditional commerce, these systems combined the front end and the content. Headless CMS becomes a separate storage solution for your content, sending it to different front-end devices more elegantly through APIs.
It is often seen that headless commerce and headless CMS are used together on a project, as an entirely headless website will function more smoothly and with more flexibility than one that is only partially headless. Note that there is also a similar concept called a "decoupled CMS," which, while not headless, does have a separate back end that still does have to integrate with a fuller front end architecture.
Many companies feel stuck in a website architecture that is extremely difficult to break away from. Luckily, with headless ecommerce solutions, you can help empower your team to make significant changes to your website without harming the back-end. Making the change isn't even as daunting as it sounds, with less steep learning curves leading to saved developer time in the long run. Switching to headless commerce means that you can make more significant marketing moves, more easily make big branding decisions, and improve your customer experience significantly.
Many large platforms already have headless integration that they have made available to customers as the movement has grown. Shopify, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, WooCommerce, PrestaShop, Magento, Swell, Shopware 6, and BigCommerce all have options to help make the switch easy, especially for those already using their functionality.
While the concept may be surrounded by jargon that makes it difficult to follow, headless commerce ultimately will simplify your website architecture, making it easier for teams to collaborate and create change without having to tiptoe around website limitations. Drive more customers to your site, save money on development costs, and improve your site experience by making the switch to headless.
Re-Envision Your Post-Purchase Experience
With Malomo, you can create beautiful branded tracking experiences that help you grow repeat orders by 2-3% within customer segments who are still waiting for their first order. Re-envision your customer journey. Request a demo today.