October 13 2021
Consumer behavior has changed drastically over the years due to the explosion of eCommerce based businesses. In many areas it’s now possible to order an item and have it arrive at your doorstep in 24 hours or less with a few clicks.
This has created a highly competitive, consumer-focused environment among online retailers. With the evolution of on demand delivery, it’s important to make sure your digital eCommerce platform can stay ahead of the curve. One of the most effective ways to do that is to consider headless commerce.
Headless commerce is a term for when the front-end presentation layer (your web or mobile site) is decoupled with the back-end commerce management layer, giving developers the freedom to integrate with any platform through an API. In other words, headless commerce allows businesses to obtain technological and creative freedom. Through headless commerce, retailers will have the ability and flexibility to experiment with new functionalities to enhance overall customer experience and drive more sales, all in real time.
As a result, the ecommerce environment is highly competitive and more consumer-focused than ever. Organizations need to stay agile to meet new customer needs, but how?
Welcome to headless commerce, the newest frontier in ecommerce.
Before we begin we want to leave a table of contents so that you can skip ahead to the areas you want to read.
What is Headless Commerce
What is Headless Commerce Architecture?
How Headless Commerce Works
Differences Between Headless Commerce vs. Traditional Commerce
Benefits of Headless Commerce
Consistent and Personalized Customer Experience
Faster Time to Market
New Content Opportunities
Capitalizing on Trends
Customized Tech Stack
Optimized Speed and SEO
Headless Commerce Use Cases
Headless Commerce can Adapt to Different Locations
Headless Commerce Adjusts to Language Challenges
Headless Commerce Formats for Different Delivery
Headless Commerce Integrates with Other Systems
How to Choose a Modern Ecommerce Solution
Top Headless Commerce Platforms
Magento 2 Commerce
Take Control of the Ecommerce Experience
Headless Commerce Guide
Use Headless Commerce To Deliver Personalized Customer Experiences
How Urban Armor Gear Used Headless Commerce To Evolve Their Online Store
React To Evolving Customer Expectations, Capitalize On Trends And Maximize Profits
Mix And Match To Use The Best Tools
How Does Headless Commerce Support Omnichannel Retail?
How Vincit Can Improve Your User Interface and Refine Your Image
A Smart, Personalized Platform For Your Shopper Audience
Headless commerce is an ecommerce software development solution that stores, manages, and delivers content without a front-end delivery layer (your site and user interface). The frontend is decoupled and removed, leaving only the backend management layer. With this freedom, developers can integrate into any platform through the API, providing creative and technological flexibility to experiment with new possibilities and enhance customer experience.
The front-end, or “head” of a traditional eCommerce platform is the user interface - what you see on your screen when you open a webpage or application. This is usually intrinsically connected to the back-end, which is the data structure and information stored on the server.
Traditionally, the frontend is connected to the backend, which includes the information on the server and the data structure. Because of this, a traditional ecommerce platform can only work if it’s on a device that supports its front-end framework, leading to a disconnected user experience.
In addition, with traditional commerce architecture, this is done through a predefined front end that is required for consumers to be able to interact with the platform. This means that a traditional eCommerce platform will only work if it is used on a device that supports the front end framework. This leads to a disconnected user experience, as every platform is essentially isolated, with a unique front end and back end.
A common example of how the front end and back end work together is when a consumer clicks a button to purchase an item on a website. When the customer clicks the “buy” button, that action must first pass through the front end of the website in order to communicate with the back end.
Headless commerce architecture is decoupled architecture that’s designed to push content to any platform through APIs. With this approach, the architecture focuses on background processes to keep the data accessible to separate front-end applications with commerce APIs.
The backend, which includes infrastructure and security, runs in the background. These two parts communicate via API calls and allow developers to use any device or application for their product or service. This is vital, since customers place orders in new ways, such as televisions and digital home assistants.
Essentially, headless commerce architecture disconnects the front end of a commerce website from the back end layer, allowing businesses and developers to use any device or application to deliver their product or service. This is especially important as it is becoming more common for people to place orders in new and alternative ways, such as using audio functions on their phones, digital home assistants, or televisions.
Headless commerce removes the front-end framework and allows requests to pass between the interface and application layers through API calls.
Without the strict framework, this allows for endless customization and the use of non-traditional platforms. We are seeing a sharp increase in platforms that require headless commerce to work, such as buttons to reorder products, as well as devices that exclusively use audio, such as Google Home or Alexa.
For example, a user can click a “Buy Now” button on a smartphone and the interface layer of the system sends an API call to the application layer for processing. When that’s completed, the application layer sends another API call to the interface layer to show the order status.
Ecommerce businesses have virtually limitless customization options and use of non-traditional platforms. It’s not only easier to customize the frontend of a platform, but you can use a single backend across multiple platforms.
The flexibility of headless commerce also means that you are able to not only change and customize the front end of an eCommerce platform more easily, you can also use a single eCommerce backend across multiple platforms and websites.
Headless commerce architecture is similar in many ways to traditional commerce, with a few key differences. While the technical aspects of a purchase of a service or product remain, with a headless commerce model the user experience is much more customizable, updates are able to be accomplished faster and easier than before, and the ability to integrate the back end across multiple platforms is now a simple process.
There are three main differences between headless commerce and traditional commerce:
With traditional commerce, front-end developers have to navigate constraints and obstacles with the development and design process. Each change requires editing the code, database, and front-end platform. In some cases, a developer’s changes can accidentally void a warranty or limit future updates and upgrades.
With headless commerce, front-end developers can focus on user experience that suits the platform and business goals. There’s no concern for back-end modifications, since all it takes is an API call. Development is not only flexible and more fluid, but faster.
Traditional commerce includes predefined front ends that have an experience built in for the customer and administrative user, which takes time and effort to develop. If you want to personalize the experience, it requires a front-end overhaul. Adapting to changes in user experience becomes even more challenging.
With headless commerce, developers can create customized user experience from the ground up with control over the way the platform looks and feels. This applies to both the customer and the administrative users.
Traditional commerce has a frontend and backend that are coupled with tight coding and infrastructure. To adjust or customize any aspect, the developer needs to edit multiple layers of coding between both the front- and backend.
Headless commerce is already decoupled, allowing for easier customization or changes on just the part of the front-end developer. In a market that demands agility, these rapid-fire changes offer a competitive advantage.
Some other notable differences of headless commerce and traditional commerce include:
Simple integration - Traditional commerce platforms have independent management and a disconnected user experience. Headless commerce integrates with a centralized backend for a seamless experience.
Front end updates - With headless commerce architecture, front end updates are able to be done quickly and without affecting the back end. This is a huge advantage over traditional commerce, where front end updates are arduous and can take a significant amount of time.
Easier A/B testing - With the flexibility of the frontend, headless commerce allows for faster, simpler A/B testing for optimal user experience. Developers can create two user experiences and test which one increases conversions. With traditional commerce, A/B testing is more arduous.
Scalability - The ability to scale quickly is another reason why many businesses choose a headless commerce model. Because all platforms lead back to a centralized back end framework, headless commerce allows brands to scale quickly, and at a much faster rate than a traditional commerce model.
Personalized user experience - Because headless commerce architecture isn’t linked to a rigid front end design and is able to blur the lines between multiple platforms, the user experience is able to be much more customized. Traditional commerce
Future proof – and most importantly – there’s a possibility that headless commerce architecture may become a requirement for ecommerce to adapt to customer needs. As more apps, devices, and platforms emerge, traditional commerce will struggle to keep up with creating, maintaining, and upgrading interfaces.
Most large businesses and tech experts agree that utilizing headless architecture will soon be required in eCommerce, in order to keep up with customer demand. It is simply too difficult to create, maintain and update a completely new user interface for every app, device, and platform that is released. The businesses that are adopting headless architecture early are seeing an increase in customer satisfaction, spending, and brand loyalty.
Innovative ecommerce businesses have endless possibilities with headless commerce. One of the best examples of successful headless commerce is Amazon, which satisfies customers with seamless services like Amazon Prime.
Switching to headless commerce has numerous benefits, including:
Headless commerce allows for rapid updates without impacting the backend. As consumer technology changes and adapts, you can adjust your frontend to keep up with the demand.
With a traditional update, the frontend and backend are connected and an update affects the whole system. Traditional commerce platforms typically roll out updates in a few weeks. Headless commerce platforms, such as Amazon, roll out updates in a matter of seconds. This keeps the platform running efficiently with minimal downtime.
Consumer needs are always changing – and so is user experience – but customers expect a consistent, personalized experience across platforms and devices. Consumers are prioritizing brands that consider their needs and experiences on all channels.
With headless commerce, the backend already has the data stored and can inform personalization for a seamless user experience, no matter where the customer interacts with the brand.
Time to market can be slow with traditional commerce, especially with omnichannel experiences. Scaling is worse, and may require significant changes to the existing architecture.
Headless commerce helps brands get to market faster with an adaptable frontend and centralized backend that can be delivered via API. When a brand adopts new channels or new approaches, tailoring the frontend is faster and simpler.
With many traditional ecommerce platforms, brands have to rely on existing templates. Store ‘A’ looks just like Store ‘B’ with a different color palette. Other than some colors and graphics, most stores look the same. If you try to design your own template, you have to work within the confines of the vendor’s existing designs.
Headless commerce offers total control over the frontend for customized interfaces and designs that speak not only to your customers, but showcase your brand. Design and build your storefront based on your own design principles. Change your aesthetic in real time, without having to worry about how it will affect your back end.
You can use your own design principles to create an appealing storefront that stands out from the pack, nurturing brand recognition and increasing conversion rates.
Headless commerce enables you to use any content management system that you wish, rather than relying on a built-in system. Your team has the freedom to create, update, and maintain content without hampering the backend or the overall user experience. With traditional commerce, content teams typically need a backend developer to deliver new content, impacting workflow, costs, and productivity.
Because you’re free to use any CMS, you can select one that works best for you. Choosing a CMS that you and your team want to use and enjoy using will maximize productivity. This also means that your team can update and maintain content without impacting backend functionality. When you’re not restricted by the tools that ship with your commerce platform, the possibilities are endless.
Because headless architecture decouples your backend platform from your storefront, your team can create and deliver new content without touching the backend. Backend developers aren’t needed when delivering new content. This leads to a workflow that is both efficient and cost effective.
Trends come and go, but keeping up with them is a vital part of staying relevant and profitable in ecommerce. Traditional architecture is difficult to change and doesn’t allow for experimentation or real-time updates. By the time you have the updates worked out, the trend may have passed.
Headless architecture eliminates this problem by allowing your front-end development team to adapt to trends and tailor the customer experiences without impacting the backend. You can test new features, make adjustments, and stay ahead of the trends. The result is enhanced performance, improved conversion rates, and better bottom-line performance.
Traditional commerce forces you to work within existing tools, whether they suit your business or not. Headless commerce takes an a la carte approach with API-driven solutions for a customized tech stack that’s ideally suited for your individual business needs.
For example, the creative team may prefer a specific content management system that allows for content creation, back-office tasks, inventory management, pricing, and shipping. If you’re forced to use whatever system is included, your team may suffer a loss in productivity.
With the headless approach comes the potential to quickly adapt to the changes and disruptions in the tech landscape. Besides being able to take full advantage of new features emerging in web browsers and mobile devices, this at the same time gives developers new, better tools that improve developer experience and productivity.
Disruptive technologies emerge all the time, adding new features to mobile devices, browsers, and applications. Headless commerce enables you to adapt with technological changes and take advantage of the benefits of the new features.
Instead of having to search for new talent or train your team in new skills, you can access a much larger pool of talent that uses the newest technologies in the industry.
Site speed is a huge part of user experience, especially with an ecommerce site. According to a 2017 study by Akamai, a 2-second delay in load times increases bounce rates by 103 percent, 100 milliseconds of latency impacts conversion rates by 7 percent, and about 53 percent of users will click away from a page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
Given these implications, wouldn't you want to break free from limits set by legacy eCommerce solutions? Traditional commerce takes speed out of your hands, but with headless commerce, your development team can have control over site performance. They are able to implement fast and modern solutions that keep even the most impatient customers from clicking away
Site performance is also an important factor in Google search rankings. If you improve your site speed, your site’s SEO will perform better. Other SEO factors, like optimized content and mobile optimization, also benefit from the flexibility of headless commerce.
Page speed is one of Google's page ranking factors and improvements will directly translate into better SEO performance. What about the other important factors that affect page rank such as mobile friendliness, optimized content or links? Once again, headless commerce gives you the flexibility you need to implement beautiful mobile friendly pages and use any SEO strategy you want.
Different geo locations have different needs. The messaging behind your brand needs to match its target audience, which can be challenging if you’re dealing with vastly different locations or cultures.
Headless commerce gives you the freedom to create region-specific subsets of content. You can align the messaging with the intended audience easily for successful conversion and better bottom-line performance.
Google Translate and other translation applications are convenient, but may not be optimal for translating your brand’s content with the messaging intact. This is especially true of English, which has a lot of nuances and phrases that don’t translate well. Headless commerce allows creators to translate languages before the content is live to overcome these challenges. Content can also be encoded with the appropriate characters.
In the modern market, conversion opportunities are divided across multiple devices and applications. Conversion isn’t always a sale, however, and may mean a subscription or a social media follow. With headless commerce, the touchpoints can be adapted to the customer journey and provide the right messaging at the right time.
Depending on the business needs, brands can combine headless commerce with a traditional system or a coupled system on a specific channel. In some cases, it may be ideal to use a traditional system for a touchpoint and conversion. Headless commerce integrates with these systems for a seamless and customized approach.
Ecommerce solutions are plentiful, but not all offer the same features and capabilities. There are seemingly endless options when it comes to eCommerce solutions, so it can be difficult to discern which one is the best option for your company.
Some brands rely on legacy architecture because they have already made significant investments into their current, traditional eCommerce platform. This limits the options for ecommerce platforms.
Fortunately, headless commerce architecture integrates into an existing frontend. Brands can keep the same aesthetics and user experience on the frontend, yet benefit from the flexibility of headless architecture on the backend. Since a headless commerce back end can easily be integrated into any system or platform, with an experienced design team, the user experience on the current front end is able to remain the same.
Brands that specialize in retail sales will soon find that headless commerce is essential so that they are able to adapt quickly to an ever-changing market. There is a steady stream of new devices that are implementing retail and advertising tools, and the challenges of retail software development include developing user interfaces and back ends for each platform and piece of equipment that is released is not only costly, it’s an almost impossible task.
Without a headless system, retailers are vulnerable to the rapid market changes. Developing a new user interface and backend for each of these is not only expensive, but nearly impossible with time constraints.
That said, headless commerce is not without its drawbacks. As a newer option, it suffers from some of the same challenges as any emerging technology. Troubleshooting and security are more challenging than with traditional architecture.
Traditional platforms have been around so long that their support networks are huge, and new features are rolled out by the platform itself, rather than created by developers employed by retailers. There are also upfront design costs to be considered, which can be significant for small or micro businesses, however these are typically offset fairly quickly by increased returns.
Shopify Plus is a large platform that offers headless commerce options. Although Shopify is offering headless commerce options, most brands who use Spotify Plus aren’t taking advantage of the benefits of the independent back end. This is partly due to Shopify not advertising the available features, however.
If you’re already using Shopify or Shopify Plus, transitioning to headless architecture should be smooth and easy. Shopify Plus also offers integrations to improve the user experience. That said, the platform is new to the architecture and may suffer from some technical hiccups.
You will lose many of the functionalities that draw businesses to Shopify Plus, should you choose to use the platform to venture into headless commerce architecture. The theme customizer will not work with headless architecture; neither will many of the plugins and applications that create an attractive virtual storefront. Each brand bears not only the responsibility of creating a new front end, but also of keeping their customers’ data safe and secure during checkout.
Brands that switch to Shopify Plus will need to create their own frontend and take on the responsibility of data security for their customers during checkout. Many of the attractive themes and plugins for Shopify won’t work with headless architecture. Shopify Plus can also be a larger investment starting at $2,000 per month, and may be cost-prohibitive for small businesses.
However, despite the cons, Shopify Plus can be a good headless eCommerce option for mid- to large-sized brands. Once the initial framework has been established, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Headless eCommerce on Shopify Plus gives businesses the ability to completely customize the user experience, store performance, and functionality of their website and brand across all online platforms.
BigCommerce is designed for more experienced brands, but it does have some upsides that are important to think about if you haven’t settled on an eCommerce platform. This platform was designed to handle high volumes of API calls, whereas Shopify Plus was not.
When you begin to look into the features of each platform, it certainly seems as though BigCommerce has been considering the future of eCommerce and how headless architecture would be used. BigCommerce prioritizes front-end customization early on, helping it stand out from the competition. Because it’s been offering headless architecture for a while, it’s less expensive than some new solutions.
BigCommerce also made front-end customization a priority, so when there was a push for more platforms to offer headless architecture, they quickly stood out from the crowd. In addition, BigCommerce tends to be less expensive than Shopify Plus, but it also doesn’t have the large, global ecosystem that Shopify has.
Another differentiating factor for BigCommerce is its capabilities in the B2B space. BigCommerce is focused on B2B and it shows, but because it’s not intended only for consumers, it’s not as intuitive. For brands with a desire to move to headless architecture and a development team or familiarity with coding, BigCommerce is a great choice. If ease-of-use and scalability are more important, Shopify Plus is the better choice.
BigCommerce is a good choice for businesses that want to focus on headless architecture and are familiar with coding, or have a development team. For scalability, ease of use, and a larger global ecosystem, Shopify Plus is a better choice.
Magento 2 Commerce struggled with interface issues in its early stages, but its performance has improved significantly. Regarded as an industry leader, Magento 2 Commerce has more flexibility than a lot of its competitors and focuses on B2B brands. It also uses an open-source platform and offers a massive community of users.
However, Magento 2 Commerce is not an intuitive platform, and requires coding knowledge to be able to understand and use. Since Shopify Plus offers so many native integrations and features, Magento feels cumbersome in comparison. Even though Magento has a robust network of support, because of its steep learning curve and emphasis on B2B it is difficult to compete with Shopify Plus as a headless commerce platform for business to consumer retailers.
Delivering a seamless and memorable customer experience is a sharp competitive edge in modern business. When you make the switch to headless commerce architecture, you’ll have the flexibility to tailor your platform to your audience for stellar user experience without the restrictions of traditional commerce models.
Just like the rest of the business landscape, ecommerce is changing and evolving. The COVID-19 pandemic put that change into overdrive and altered each part of the buyer journey. In just a few clicks, customers can place an order and have it delivered within 24 hours.
As a result, the ecommerce environment is highly competitive and more consumer-focused than ever. Organizations need to stay agile to meet new customer needs, but how?
Let us explain.
With focus moving from brick and mortar stores to online storefronts, it’s important to be able to build and deliver unique and personalized online shopping experiences.
Since your team isn’t limited to your ecommerce platform’s ecosystem with headless architecture, you can use everything at your disposal to create bespoke customer experiences.
Calling external APIs allows businesses to get impactful information like real time shipping estimates and/or product reviews. It also becomes much easier to generate curated product recommendations. Headless commerce architecture lets companies create an experience that empowers their customers to make informed, confident purchases.
Urban Armor Gear (UAG), a top international brand for protective device cases, experienced limited capabilities with their previous commerce platform. They continuously experimented and optimized, and saw that with every new feature came increased conversion rates and sales. Eventually, they started to feel the weight of the limitations and constraints imposed by their traditional commerce platform. It was time to evolve.
Vincit was chosen to reimagine and modernize UAG’s online storefront. Without the restrictions of a traditional commerce platform, Vincit was able to increase usability and improve storytelling, brand expression, and performance.
Vincit’s team of experts redeveloped a new online platform that is as much branding and marketing as it is a storefront. Customers benefited from a frictionless shopping flow as well as content that is actionable and designed to drive sales. On top of this, the website is quick with improved responsiveness, scaling and reliability.
As customer expectations evolve, you want to be able to innovate without restraints and experiment without fear. Traditional commerce architecture is rigid, and doesn’t allow for real-time updates or experimenting with different user experiences.
You can’t adapt and capitalize on market trends if you’re worried about whether or not your back-end platform can keep up. Headless architecture removes this constraint. With headless commerce, your front end team can continue to create new customer experiences without worrying about your back end.
Being able to quickly and easily A/B test new features and make quantitative assessments allows you to be ahead of the curve. This means improving conversion rates, enhancing performance and maximizing profits.
A significant advantage of headless commerce is the ability it brings to mix and match different API-driven solutions to create a tech stack. This is where each tool and technology can be individually chosen to best fit today's business requirements.
A common example of this is giving the creative team and the content creators a state of the art CMS so that they can manage the user experience and the content, while keeping the key eCommerce back-office tasks focused on product inventory management, pricing and shipping in a dedicated eCommerce platform.
Perhaps even more significantly, not being locked into a single monolithic system means that the yet unknown future needs can be met with incremental changes without ever needing to re-platform the whole commerce solution all at once.
Omnichannel retail uses a centralized data management system across many platforms and sales channels. This may include brick and mortar stores, websites, apps, social media, among many others. Headless commerce architecture fits this model perfectly, with a centralized back end system that can be used in any number of ways by using API calls rather than a single integrated front end system.
Omnichannel retail is starting to get more attention because retailers noticed that consumers spend more money when they used multiple channels to shop. For instance, someone may notice a product online, but decide to wait before purchasing. Later, they see an advertisement for the same product on social media, and purchase the item, choosing to pick it up in the local brick and mortar store. With traditional retail, this would require several independently managed channels. However, with headless commerce, everything works with a single back-end system, making the experience much more user friendly, as all of the platforms work together seamlessly.
Headless commerce architecture is becoming more and more necessary as eCommerce and retail evolves to keep up with new technologies and customer demand. Brick and mortar stores and various online platforms are also becoming more and more interlinked, so the more that the user experience is able to stay consistent and seamless, the more retailers will be able to blur the lines between online and in-person shopping.
Not only does improving the consumer experience increase the amount of money they spend in each transaction, it also makes it more likely that they will become repeat customers. Headless commerce increases brand loyalty by making it easier for customers throughout the entire shopping experience.
If you don’t have a development team, Vincit is able to fill in the gaps to take your company to the next level. Vincit is able to assist with:
While headless commerce has a lot of moving parts, the talented Vincit team is able to help with every challenge that this presents, from brand development to digital commerce plans and strategies, to full-service solutions.
Being able to deliver a memorable customer experience is a huge competitive advantage for your business. By selecting headless commerce architecture, you have the flexibility to create a unique platform for your visitors without the technical and creative restrictions that traditional eCommerce models have.
Contact our experienced Vincit team to learn more about how we can help you strategize and drive sales with a future-proof foundation. Our unique approach at Vincit offers expert advice, state of the art technology solutions and agile teams that produce the best results for your business.
Drop us a message, we'll be happy to discuss with you!