The earliest ecommerce platforms were built for customers that shopped exclusively via desktops and web browsers. They were typically full-stack platforms where the website (front end) and ecommerce functionality (backend) were inseparable. Although this proved adequate, today's customers have different needs.
If current ecommerce trends are anything to go by, it's only a matter of time before shopping via desktop web browsers becomes near-obsolete. Customers now shop from their smartphones, social media, and many other IoT channels that were non-existent a decade or two ago. Ecommerce platforms that are not agile enough to adapt to this trend (and what's to come) run the risk of bowing to their competitors.
Since no one can predict what the exactly the future holds, the best approach to being as agile as possible is to build a more flexible ecommerce architecture. And that's where headless commerce comes in.
What is headless commerce?
Shopify defines headless commerce as "a reference to the architecture that underpins a commerce solution— it's the decoupling of the frontend customer experience from your backend technology infrastructure."
Headless commerce separates your frontend and backend and removes any potential constraints to selling
In simple terms, headless commerce separates your frontend and backend and removes any potential constraints to selling. With a well-executed headless commerce strategy, your customers can buy directly from Facebook, or their smartwatch, or their Alexa devices, or new touchpoints that emerge, and you won't need to make significant changes to your ecommerce architecture. Instead, you should be able to simply add a new ‘head’ - or sales channel - that speaks to your existing backend infrastructure.
Why should you care about headless commerce?
Headless commerce is widely tipped as the future of ecommerce, and rightly so. It eliminates the barriers between marketing and commerce and ensures your customers have the best shopping experience possible. Below are a few reasons why you need to pay more attention to headless commerce.
Speed up your ecommerce site
Headless commerce facilitates a seamless visiting experience for all your customers across all devices and sales channels. Since your content management system is separated from your website's building blocks, services and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) will connect faster. This significantly reduces loading times and ensures a smooth customer experience across the board. In essence, headless architecture guarantees a fast and efficient browsing experience for your customers and can help you meet your revenue goals more easily.
Headless architecture guarantees a fast and efficient browsing experience for your customers and can help you meet your revenue goals easily
Headless commerce allows for more customization and personalization
One of the main reasons why people adopt headless architecture is for the ability to adapt to customer behavior and preferences, going so far as to build personalized experiences, regardless of their device or preferred purchase channels. Headless enables you to not only create these experiences on the fly, you can also easily split test new features to optimize user experiences and conversion rates.
Drive more conversions
One of the things merchandising, ecommerce, and marketing teams love best about headless commerce is they're no longer beholden to long development lead times and cycles. With most headless setups, ecommerce team members can make changes, introduce new campaigns or features, and run experiments on the fly.
Headless commerce allows you to experiment with different approaches or templates before launching your features to your full audience. The more tests and optimization cycles you run, the better you can understand your customers and find the formula that drives the most conversions.
Let your developers use any programming language or framework
With a traditional ecommerce all-in-one platform, programmers have to use the specific programming language that platform is built in. Headless commerce guarantees boundless freedom for your developers since the frontend is decoupled from the backend.
Developers looking to build features for specific channels or touchpoints can make use of any programming language or framework of their choice, using API calls to sync up different elements of the ecommerce stack.
Headless commerce can potentially save you money
One of the most frequently cited knocks against headless commerce is the fact that it costs a lot to get set up out of the gate, because you're having to source every piece of your commerce stack independently, as opposed to a more cost-effective all-in-one platform. But in the long run, headless commerce can end up being extremely cost-efficient, as your company won't need to replatform every time you've outgrown a specific component of a traditional all-in-one ecommerce platform.
Not only that, headless commerce can help your business be more agile when it comes to opening up new revenue streams. Once it's set up properly, a headless framework reduces the time your developers need to come up with new features or implement changes since they don't have to meddle with frontend / backend modifications. Consequently, your ecommerce business is saved a lot of bottlenecks, and your features and products will hit the market quicker, giving you a much-desired advantage over competitors.
Integrate with any tool
Using a traditional all-in-one platform typically meant restrictions, as you were bound by what technologies, applications, and integrations were available on that platform. Headless architecture affords the freedom to seamlessly integrate additional features and functionalities without having to dismantle the existing build.
This integration capability can be crucial when trying to respond to new marketing opportunities or explore new sales channels. If there's a new tool that allows you to visualize customer data better or personalize for a better user experience, you do not have to modify your current architecture to make room for it. Again, because headless commerce relies on API calls, so long as you're able to make them between your 'source of truth' for commerce data, virtually any technology under the sun can be integrated into your headless commerce stack.
What's the difference between headless commerce and traditional commerce?
There are several points of differentiation between traditional all-in-one ecommerce platforms and a headless ecommerce solution. Some of them include:
Front-end development for traditional ecommerce comes with numerous restrictions. The developers have to plan for development cycles which can mean small changes take a long time to implement based on scheduled code deployments and may be constrained by the potential of an edit to affect the whole architecture.
On the other hand, frontend development for headless commerce is more flexible since developers can create the user experience from scratch. Furthermore, they do not have to worry about edits affecting the overall architecture since frontend and backend features are clearly separated.
Flexibility and personalization
The front- and backend systems for traditional ecommerce platforms are strictly coupled together, leaving very little room for flexibility and personalization. Customers or visitors are treated to a one-size-fits-all experience, not taking into account their device or preferences. Developers have to wade through multiple layers of coding for any form of personalization to take place.
Flexibility and personalization are the core strengths of headless commerce
Flexibility and personalization are the core strengths of headless commerce. Frontend developers can personalize user experiences to suit each customer persona without tampering with the commerce architecture. Since the backend is decoupled from the frontend, there is limitless opportunity for flexibility and adaptation.
Traditional commerce does not require as much technical expertise as a headless system. If you have little tech knowledge and do not have the budget to hire developers, you can always opt for all-in-one ecommerce platforms that simplify the process of setting up your web store. Headless commerce, on the other hand, requires significant technical knowledge and development resources. Having skilled developers on hand is the only way to enjoy the endless customization and personalization possibilities. It’s worth noting that headless commerce generally requires a more significant upfront cost investment. Over time headless may actually create cost savings by allowing brands to swap out modular components of their ecommerce stack instead of having to invest in a pricy replatforming.
Why is headless commerce becoming more popular?
There's no overemphasizing that the future of ecommerce is headless. The numerous personalization and customization possibilities make headless platforms a dream for merchants and customers alike. Even if customers aren't aware of *how* an ecommerce experience is being delivered to them, they'll certainly be delighted to have their favorite brands available to shop with in a range of settings.
So why is headess on the upswing? For many years, the technical expertise required to manage headless platforms has been a bane to their widespread adoption. These days however, creating your own headless ecommerce solution isn't as challenging as it used to be, thanks to numerous API-enabled solutions that facilitate seamless integrations.
Examples of top headless commerce apps & platforms
Considering going headless? Here's a highlight of some of the top headless ecommerce platforms you should consider if you're thinking about decoupling your store's frontend from the backend architecture:
Nacelle is a headless platform that allows developers to build uber-functional Progressive Web Apps (PWA). The platform takes care of all your backend needs while facilitating seamless integration with your favorite frontend frameworks. Nacelle is famed for its high performance and scalability. The platform guarantees fast loading times and a crisp visiting experience for all your customers. What's more? Nacelle handles traffic surges with relative ease. Plus, its connectors ensure you do not have to learn a new workflow or migrate your data to a new system.
Shogun empowers merchants that want to go headless with the ability to create or operate frontend and backend pages across popular ecommerce platforms such as Magento, Shopify, Salesforce Commerce, etc. The platform relies on its two major tools - Page Builder and Frontend- to help merchants personalize customer experiences in a decoupled environment.
Through Page Builder, store owners can drag and drop their pages and personalize their store as much as they like. In the same vein, Frontend allows you to completely redesign your store to reflect your brand image. Interestingly, Shogun Frontend only concerns itself with the users' visiting experience. You'll still rely on the main ecommerce platform for backend features such as billing, financials, PIM, etc. With this approach, your buyers will enjoy the best of both worlds.
Fabric is a headless commerce platform that's specially designed for scalability and growth. The platform is popular for its open and modular designs, and merchants can get their store running within weeks without having to re-platform. Like other headless platforms, Fabric helps you decouple your user interface from your database.
Thus, you can easily edit your storefront without worrying about how it'll affect your backend architecture. If you want to create superior buying experiences for your customers and scale your store with microservices and APIs, Fabric is for you.
Shopify & Shopify Plus
Shopify is one of the few traditional ecommerce solutions that has successfully jumped on the headless train. Through the platform's headless commerce solution, Shopify Plus, merchants can separate their frontend design from backend infrastructure and deliver an immersive experience across all customer touchpoints. Importantly, your content management systems or business software continue to efficiently serve as customer engagement tools through custom storefronts.
Shopify Plus integrates seamlessly with relevant ecommerce apps and marketplaces alike. It also has a user-friendly dashboard that comes with an in-built CMS and excellent inventory and performance tracking capabilities.
BigCommerce gives merchants the room to implement a headless design because its commerce engine is decoupled from the presentation layer. Merchants can manage multiple stores simultaneously across several different frontend providers while relying on BigCommerce's backend interface.
Furthermore, you can seamlessly deliver API-driven experiences through your content management system, custom frontend, or application device.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of BigCommerce over most of the competitors is that it provides an all-in-one solution for ecommerce business owners. The platform provides virtually all the tools you need to successfully run your ecommerce business, including but not limited to tools for checkout and payment processing, customer segmentation, and abandoned cart recovery.
Lightspeed primarily started as a POS system for retailers but has now incorporated a cloud-based headless commerce solution. Businesses can now create a fully-featured online store with Lightspeed's backend architecture and choose a suitable frontend. Lightspeed provides services like cash drawer control, inventory management, payment processing, customer profile access, retail store management, and more. Through the platform, you can manage your in-store and online inventory, analyze multi-channel sales data and have a single view of your customers.
Elastic Path is one of the more mature headless commerce platforms out there, and spending years in the industry has given them some key advantages - including having a simple interface coupled with unlimited scalability. Built on Java and Apache, the legacy headless platform has earned top marks for speed, ease of use for non-Java programmers, and for having plenty of built-in functionality from day one.
B2B ecommerce is a rapidly growing category, and OroCommerce is stepping up to service this specific niche with a rich set of features unique to the B2B market, such as a built-in CSM, price rules, and custom shipping and logistics rules. Their enterprise-level platform enables B2B brands to create headless experiences through a powerful set of APIs that can be presented seamlessly over a range of devices and customer touchpoints. And if a B2B brand decides to go consumer-facing, that platform can easily be reconfigured to service that market as well.
While many people associated headless commerce with complex setups, SnipCart is here to solve a very simple use case: Inserting a shopping cart anywhere, essentially enabling headless commerce through any touchpoint. SnipCart is revered as an ideal setup for brands that aren't looking for a full-stack Shopify or BigCommerce site, but also don't want to deal with the freeform management of WooCommerce bundled with Wordpress. While SnipCart can be used as a tool to edit the function of any website, it can also be used as part of any developer's headless commerce stack.
How headless commerce affects personalization
Headless commerce and personalization are two of the most buzzworthy topics in the ecommerce industry. And for good reason too. With a headless architecture, an ecommerce brand can scale their personalization efforts beyond their website.
Headless ecommerce makes personalization easier for companies in many ways. With your backend system linked to multiple channels and devices, you can give customers more personalized suggestions based on purchases and subscriptions they’ve made on other platforms. Finally, you can do better than suggesting items other people bought or viewed. Using backend data, you can customize offers and frontend features to better meet a repeat customer’s preferences, profile, and transaction history, resulting in a better customer experience.
If your ecommerce store opens up a new region-specific domain, you can easily integrate the preferred payment methods in the region without having to re-platform, interrupt established payment systems, or wait for their ecommerce platform to incorporate additional gateways.
FAQs about headless commerce
Below are answers to some common questions about headless commerce.
What is a headless commerce use case?
Headless commerce is a great option for ecommerce retailers looking to scale their operations. The headless architecture is much more flexible, guarantees speed agility when experimenting with new features, and ensures your customers enjoy increased performance across all your touchpoints.
What is a headless commerce platform?
A headless commerce platform is any platform that takes care of a business' backend architecture while making it possible to integrate all kinds of frontends. Such platforms have a flexible commerce API and are agile enough to accommodate integrations from various web apps. With the right headless platform, retailers can easily transform IoT devices or digital screens into sales channels while relying on the speed, power, and scalability of their backend architecture.
Is Shopify Plus headless?
Yes. Shopify Plus is one of the top headless commerce platforms. You can read more about Shopify Plus' headless commerce solution in the section above.
Is BigCommerce headless?
Yes. BigCommerce is one of the top headless commerce platforms. You can read more about Bigcommerce's headless commerce solution in the section above.
Make the transition to headless commerce easy with LimeSpot
LimeSpot is a leading personalization platform for Shopify Plus and BigCommerce stores. Thanks to our native integrations with each platform, merchants can implement LimeSpot easily through any headless touchpoint.
This means regardless of what platform you’re selling on, LimeSpot’s personalization capabilities still work. For example, if you’re a Shopify merchant, our personalization features will still work on any sales channel that your brand sells through, giving you flexibility to create personalized ecommerce experiences through any channels that you add.
Get started with headless commerce today
Going headless is an effective strategy for keeping up with emerging sales channels and other digital trends in the ecommerce space. Your web development teams will enjoy more speed, flexibility, and ease of testing new features. On their part, customers will be treated to a more wholesome and seamless visiting experience since you can personalize as much as you want. If you're yet to join the headless train, you should have no doubt that it's worth considering, as long as you have the technical capabilities required to migrate.