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Once a niche trend in eCommerce, headless commerce is gaining popularity. From Nike to Lancôme, it seems like everyone’s going headless these days, which is unsurprising given the overwhelmingly positive results and higher buyer conversion rates top brands experienced after making the switch!

Here is our guide to understanding the basics of headless commerce…

What Is Headless Commerce?

In its simplest form, headless commerce is an approach to eCommerce that allows businesses to become more agile by taking all the usual features of eCommerce websites and striping out the need for a front-end, hence ‘headless.’

Think of a traditional storefront as being a body. Once the head is removed, the front-end platform added on top becomes the head.

A headless e-store allows these two distinct parts to operate separately and interact using APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces), experience managers, IT partners, and tools such as REST/JSON/SOAP.

Because the front end and back end work separately, headless commerce allows businesses to adapt their online storefront to better serve their consumers on their buying journey without affecting or requiring changes to the back end.

How Does It Work?

As an eCommerce method, Headless commerce decouples the front end and back end of a businesses’ web store by inserting an application programming interface (API) between them to handle data flow.

Although headless commerce’s front and back end are decoupled, this doesn’t mean that they are fully unconnected; they may be experimented with individually.

They stay linked via web services or API calls, maintaining data interaction between the decoupled systems even while the company explores both settings.

Why are Brands Going Headless?

To understand why headless eCommerce has become so popular, it helps to look at the status quo.

Traditionally, online purchases were made by an eCommerce system with a monolithic architecture. A monolithic application is composed of a single, indivisible unit.

A typical solution might include a client-side user interface, a server-side program, and a database. That is, the CMS (Content Management System), cart, checkout, subscription function, and site layout or design are all interconnected.

If you need to update or adjust one element of the website, you’d need to make changes elsewhere too, which may make updates time-consuming and inconvenient.

Using a traditional, monolithic design has the advantage of being relatively easy to implement.

You have everything you need straight out of the box to set up a shop, display items, and process payments. This made sense given that years ago, the world of eCommerce was only focused on one experience: the desktop.

But businesses today need the ability to tailor experiences across channels (such as mobile devices) while maintaining a consistent buying experience throughout their brand.

This need has created the ideal opportunity for headless commerce to become a tool for businesses seeking to gain a competitive edge by providing customers personalized and connected digital experiences across all channels: desktop, tablet, smartphone, mobile apps, and mobile web.

The Benefits of Separation

By seamlessly blending content and commerce, headless commerce websites and applications benefit from the following:

1. Headless Commerce offers blazing fast site speeds

One of the most significant benefits of going headless is having blazing fast page-to-page load times.

When a customer visits your website, you have less than three seconds, especially on mobile, for your pages to load to keep their attention.

But traditional eCommerce systems were not designed with site speed in mind. They tend to be cumbersome and may slow down site performance.

Think heavy checkout pages, third-party reviews, large images, and clunky forms. These elements make eCommerce sites drag, which blights on a customer’s user experience.

The result is most visitors will either abandon their cart or leave the site in sheer frustration.

Using a PWA to implement a headless shop can help you reach sub-second load speeds across all channels, not just mobile. Heavy backend functions are kept entirely separated from the consumer experience when your business is created as a progressive web app.

Your consumer won’t see the difference in architecture, but they will notice how quickly your site transitions from the homepage to product page to basket.

Furthermore, you’ll observe how this performance improvement affects your store’s bottom line.

2. Headless commerce is fully customizable and offers an adaptable storefront

Although traditional eCommerce systems are quicker to set up, retailers often find the visual themes available restricting. You’d have to sacrifice the on-brand look and feel you want in the process.

There’s no need to compromise with headless commerce. Your web store isn’t limited to a single template, providing your brand complete freedom over the front end.

You can fully customize any element of the website, which helps provide customers with innovative experiences in your online business.

Also, you can make as many front-end changes as you want without causing too much backend workload while maintaining a consistent brand experience across all customer touchpoints.

3. Headless Commerce allows for flexible and faster integrations.

Integrations and updates for an eCommerce website can take hours or several weeks in a typical commerce setup. But in a headless commerce environment, integrations are API driven, allowing data to be transmitted faster.

This means that when a business adds new content to its front end, the changes are reflected immediately.

The Limitations

All its advantages come with a cost. Headless systems frequently discard years of know-how and proven off-the-shelf technology in favor of letting developers “reinvent the wheel,” which can lead to issues such as:

1. Headless Commerce can be costly.

When you separate your front end from your back end, you now have two distinct environments that must be hosted and managed separately.

That’s double the cost, with no assurance of twice the traffic and conversion to cover these expenses.

In addition to monthly infrastructure expenses, there are one-time costs to set up or migrate to a headless platform environment and ongoing fees to test and deploy all the additional consumer touchpoint options.

2. Headless Commerce is complex.

Although it enables customization, headless commerce adds more complexity to your website.

Instead of dealing with a single interdependent, traditional eCommerce platform, you now must deal with multiple vendors and technologies, each with its own set of bugs and security vulnerabilities and its own method of installation, configuration, troubleshooting, and support.

And all these headless independent projects running simultaneously need separate development teams, separate test cases, separate QA teams, etc.

3. Headless Commerce can lead to the potential loss of native eCommerce functionality.

Depending on your existing eCommerce platform, you might lose some native front-end commerce capability when you separate it from the back end.

Page building, merchandising, and reviewing (WYSIWYG) may no longer be accessible.

You might also be limited in what may be edited or updated without the risk of voiding a warranty or preventing any future upgrades.

Questions To Ask Before You Go Headless?

Remember, a complete overhaul and transition to headless technology will affect every aspect of your business. For some, the large investment necessary for headless commerce makes sense, but it may be ambitious for others. Here are some questions to ask yourself before diving in:

  • What new customer-facing experiences do you have planned?
  • What features would you need to create these experiences?
  • How complex is your current eCommerce setup?
  • How much time and effort do you put into your existing CMS?
  • What are the existing IT and development resources available to you?
  • How many systems do you currently have that would need to be connected to a headless environment?

Customers care about how they experience your brand, and they’ll undoubtedly notice faster speeds and the smoother navigation of a headless storefront.

Therefore, we tend to suggest if your website strongly focuses on content and/or site speed or performance is crucial to your brand, headless may be a good choice for you.

I Am Going To Go Headless, How Do I Build Out The Team?

If Headless Commerce is your platform of choice, you’ll need individuals who understand not just how it works, but how to maximize the use of its many features.

Jarvis have access to candidates with expert knowledge of and experience with Headless Commerce, who can help your business grow.

Get in touch today.

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