Headless commerce in short is an eCommerce solution that houses, manages, and provides content without a front-end layer. For context, the front end is also called the head. It is normally a CMS, template or theme which is decoupled and removed. This leaves only the backend. Developers make use of APIs to deliver content like product information, blogs or consumer reviews to any device. The front-end developers on the other hand, can work on how to present that content using any framework they want. All functional elements of the system can be programmatically managed. Including the creation and management of the content components.

Headless vs. Traditional eCommerce

The traditional eCommerce model is considered to be monolithic and numerous online brands still use a monolithic strategy. Furthermore many digital agencies and systems integrators still recommend it for enterprise customers. The main disadvantage of this model is the slow go-to-market timelines. For the finance department it is the often expensive development costs. This has obvious limitations for business strategy and operations. Otherwise a monolithic model gives the tech department full control of the eCommerce platform. This has upsides in certain situations. For example, if the eCommerce strategy or site experience needs significant customization

Like BigCommerce would say “Headless commerce meets businesses where they need commerce functionality”. It allows companies to deliver API-driven experiences. This is usually through a Content Management System (CMS), Digital Experience Platform (DXP), application, device, or a custom frontend solution. BigCommerce does this by powering the eCommerce engine. It allows companies to create commerce experiences in other platforms using powerful APIs.

Choosing a Headless Platform

The popularity of the “headless” approach is due to the flexibility it provides.  There are two types of headless solutions, one of which is the retrofitted headless solutions. Retrofitted headless solutions are designed to fix the issue of a coupled architecture in the traditional approach. To address the issue, they have modified their platform to remove (rip) the frontend experience from the already established platform. This change created design freedom and provided flexibility to developers to customize their user interface (UI) experiences in line with eCommerce strategy. Although teams still lack freedom to change the rigid business processes of the platform.

The other type of headless is headless microservices solution. This is designed to be headless from the ground up. As a result, it does not connect to a rigid platform in the back end. It actually connects to a web of independent componentized services via APIs. A truly headless commerce solution allows development teams to unlock both design freedom and business process freedom. Elastic Path‘s headless solution for example allows users to customize and deploy differentiated commerce experiences.

Advantages of Headless

The most obvious one is flexibility. It facilitates flexibility which allows the front end and the back end to work independently. This creates new user experiences without risking existing ones. Accelerated innovation is another one. You achieve accelerated innovation to experiment with new ideas and touch points to keep up with customer expectations without disrupting the IT teams that handle the back end. It also helps with a more personalized experience for the customer. 

Headless eCommerce uses customer data, like past purchases, to facilitate personalized customer experiences. These also include promotions, offers, and browsing capabilities relevant to each customer. Lastly, headless is a good way to have a unified commerce experience. Businesses can power all customer touchpoints on a single platform. Headless eCommerce also enables users to make a unified commerce experience. This allows customers to start a purchase journey at one point and finish it on another. 

Commerce-led or a content-led Strategy

Consumers prioritize convenience first and customer experience next. They expect to purchase anywhere, anytime and seamlessly. There are multiple benefits to using both a commerce-led or a content-led eCommerce strategy. Content- and experience-led strategies using headless commerce can provide businesses with a lot of benefits. With headless, businesses can test new technology. Because the front-end is decoupled from the back-end, developers have the freedom to create as opposed to being tied to the confines of a traditional CMS. The front-end for several eCommerce websites make use of themes or templates that determine what customers see.

With BigCommerce’s headless approach,  the GraphQL Storefront API is why it is possible to query storefront data from a Stencil theme or even from a remote site. This means information that was restricted to the backend via Stencil’s template logic is accessible through the front-end JavaScript. Since headless eCommerce houses content centrally it is capable of delivering it anywhere through APIs. This method makes for a faster delivery than legacy ecommerce platforms.  This facilitates a better customer experience.

Flexibility for developers

Headless commerce allows businesses to pick the eCommerce platform that works best for their online store. Doing this while working with the front-end of their choice, be it a CMS, a DXP, a PWA or a custom solution. BigCommerce for example facilitates developers in creating custom headless solutions that make it easier for merchants to discover and onboard them with their channels toolkit. It allows merchants to locate and manage headless storefronts from the BigCommerce control panel. This reduces the technical list and saves developer’s resources.  Headless enables developers to work with the programming language of their choice. 

Customer acquisition costs

Increased advertising costs are increasing the cost of customer acquisition. Headless reduces these costs by allowing businesses use a content- or experience-led strategy that draws in organic traffic as opposed to depending on paid advertising. A robust and seamless customer experience helps increase conversion rates.

Ownership of site architecture

In conclusion, the main benefits for headless is it gives flexibility ownership of the site architecture. With headless commerce, businesses choose the feature sets they want to use and integrate into their digital environment. In practice the content management application and content delivery application environments are separate to provide greater control. Some businesses choose headless as they already have front end solutions that satisfy their business needs. The case is they just need more flexibility for their backend system. Headless eCommerce can enable them to keep what works and upgrade what needs to be improved.