Headless commerce is the current trend everyone in eCommerce is talking about. And we mean, everyone.
But before we get into the details, let’s understand what it means.
When eCommerce first started, the majority of the online traffic came from desktop computers. Therefore, eCommerce platforms adopted monolithic, full-stack platform architectures where the front and backend came tied together as a package.
However, shopping behavior is ever-evolving. Today, customers shop from different channels - desktop, mobile, tablets, social media, live streaming, video games, wearable technologies, IoT, etc. This means eCommerce brands have to evolve their platform architecture.
Enter: Headless Commerce
What Is Headless Commerce?
To put it simply, ‘Headless Commerce’ separates the front-end functionality of the website from the backend.
The platform architecture is made up of different components - product landing pages, product databases, checkout, order and fulfillment management, inventory, marketing, customer service, etc, and how all of this works together. In headless commerce, each part of the website behaves as an independent entity that can be developed separately.
Traditional Commerce vs Headless Commerce
Most eCommerce stores are hosted on traditional eCommerce platform architecture (we bet including yours, since you’re reading this article). So, before we go into the pros and cons, let’s understand the difference between traditional and headless commerce.
Pros & Cons Of Headless eCommerce
While headless commerce is a viable approach to resolve most of the issues faced by eCommerce stores, it certainly has some drawbacks too. If you are wondering whether going headless is the right approach for your site, avoid any mistakes by considering the advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Headless Commerce
Pro #1. Low Customer Acquisition Costs
One of the main reasons for the rising cost of acquisition is the saturation of paid advertising,
Thanks to a hyper-connected world, consumers’ non-stop exposure to digital content and shopping experiences has built up their expectations for the content and buying experience.
This, in turn, has driven brands to increase competition for customer attention in paid advertising, compelling them to spend more on paid advertising. As a result, every year, the cost to attract and convert customers (CAC) is rising, whether your store relies on organic search traffic or pay-per-click.
With headless, online merchants can meet consumer expectations of a seamless buying experience by integrating content marketing into their purchase journey. This turns out to be a more effective way to educate customers on the benefits of your products, build relationships, and drive demand. Therefore turning prospects into loyal consumers who’d come back for repeat purchases and lower your brand’s customer acquisition costs.
Pro #2. Increase in Conversion Rates
A direct benefit of the low customer acquisition cost is the increase in conversion rates. By separating the front-end from the back-end stores can perform a/b testing and other optimization checks more easily, which in turn helps them find the best approach to design and layout.
Headless enables you to learn which tools and designs customers respond to the most.
It eliminates the need for merchants to have their store on one domain and their blog on another domain, allowing them to unify the digital experience for their customers and provide the same look and feel throughout the purchasing journey. Doing so removes any friction points throughout the buyer's journey that could impact conversion.
Pro #3. Low Maintenance Costs
Many retailers are now opting to use headless commerce software because it is low maintenance. The primary reason is that headless commerce allows any retailer to focus more on marketing and customer service rather than worrying about the technical aspects of the company. This type of software does not require constant updates, which means there is no need for IT assistance.
Another appealing aspect of headless commerce solutions is the reduced cost burden post-launch. Headless commerce websites actually save money during development, launch, and monthly hosting. By creating a more customizable, less costly development process coupled with affordable headless-only or hybrid options, an online store can start small and then grow its eCommerce website as the business grows. With reduced build time, upgrades, and enhanced storefronts, stores will naturally end up spending less money on the development and maintenance process.
Pro #4. Less Strain on the Development Team
Traditional eCommerce solutions sites restrict online merchants by having them put their existing site structure and design before their customer’s needs. Moreover, due to a lack of capabilities for developing a unique personalized experience, online stores are unable to give their customers the experience they want.
By implementing headless commerce solutions, you can deliver products, blog posts, or customer reviews to any screen or device via the current front-end of your website. And that too in literally any framework your customers would need – all without the hassles of retraining your development team on a new CMS or system.
To bring any changes to the frontend in response to customer behavior, anyone on the team can use a simple CMS like WordPress to make content updates without reliance on developers to maintain the backend. This not only saves online stores from compromising on content, commerce, or digital experience but even frees up the developer’s time and resources.
Pro #5. Achieve Better Core Web Vitals
There are 3 ways in which adopting headless architecture leads to improved SEO and increased page load speed:
- Traditional e-commerce platforms like Shopify make you depend on the server they use as the hosting option for your commerce platform. This solution is not optimal for your site’s page speed when, for instance, you use a US-based server when operating in Europe. With a headless solution, you can use optimized servers for deployment to improve page delivery speed to the end-user.
- In traditional eCommerce platforms, when online merchants want a more customized setup, they resort to adding more plugins. This deteriorates page performance in the long run. With headless, you’ll achieve the same level of customizations with fewer plugins, thereby improving the load time.
- While traditional website generators only generate a page when requested by the user, headless enables stores to create static web pages (consisting of HTML, CSS, and frontend JS) that can be hosted directly on a CDN. The use of a static site generator (SSG) helps improve page load speed and provides a much better user experience.
Pro #6. Improve Time-to-Market
Headless enables faster scale-ups. Because of an independent front-end, developers now have fewer constraints when it comes to making updates. They can now ship and iterate 10x faster, accelerating your ability to deliver new content, campaigns, and experiments. This leads to potentially lower operating costs, all the while increasing your time to market.
Pro #7. Reach Customers Directly
Headless commerce enables online store owners to directly interact with consumers as they go on with their daily lives. In contrast to traditional commerce which requires consumers to visit a website in order to purchase products, headless allows shoppers to order products in a familiar environment.
Also, by powering omnichannel solutions, headless allows online store owners to share content across a broad range of platforms. That means better marketing opportunities, more outlets for consumers to discover you, and an improved conversion rate.
Pro #8. Deliver a More Personal Experience
Headless allows retailers to provide a coherent customer shopping experience across various devices and platforms. Given the availability of backend user behavior data, with headless your eCommerce platform delivers a more personalized experience by signifying interests based on apps and other content management systems.
Marketers can leverage customer data to build targeted marketing campaigns that highlight promotional offers based on user activity and build personalization into the shopper’s overall buying journey.
Moreover, while designing the user experience in the headless structure, developers are free from a coupled front-end and back-end. This increases the customization capacity and paves the way for a more customizable interface that is tailored to the customer's experience.
Pro #9. Increase Brand Exposure
Retailers are no longer limited to selling products only on their own websites. Headless expands a store’s exposure by adding commerce capabilities to more digital touchpoints. It exposes products and brands to potential customers who may have never even heard of the merchant's website.
Customers can now connect with the brand on any medium: social media pages, smartwatches, connected cars, and more, enjoying a tailored experience on each medium. Products can be discovered virtually anywhere, ushering in a truly omnichannel experience.
Pro #10. Enhances Agility and Competitiveness
With headless platforms, merchants can update products and other information almost instantaneously, without making any changes to the backend platform. Moreover, changes don't have to be scheduled -- they can be implemented as soon as the need to change user experience arises, or when products are enhanced. This improves the platform’s agility and helps retailers stay on top of rapid market changes.
Cons of Headless Commerce
Con #1. Initial Setup Costs
The cost of implementing Headless Commerce in your online store is huge. Since the front-end and the backend parts of your site are decoupled, each would need its own development and maintenance. Moreover, headless commerce platforms do not provide you with a front end, so developers will have to build their own. This can raise your total operating cost for your site.
The cost of going headless entirely depends on the complexity of your build. The budget for an enterprise headless project could lie in the range of $50,000–$500,000 (excluding maintenance costs). Where you’d end up in this range depends on the functionality, supporting tools, and the level of customization you go for.
In addition to building and implementing, headless also incurs additional costs like fees paid to external agencies and monthly costs to CMS platforms.
Con #2. Potentially Less Control
Con #3. Steep Learning Curve
Headless commerce comes with an additional cost of adding more management to the team; training current team members to adopt the changes or maintain your online store site for upgrades, design templates, security, bugs, and other troubleshooting needs with the help of specialists.
Con #4. Managing Multiple Tech Stacks
Since headless commerce decouples the front-end architecture from the back-end, brands end up maintaining various tech stacks (i.e the tools and solutions used) for managing both separately. This would take up more time and resources of the team and increase their workload.
Con #5. Not Marketing-friendly
By having the front-end separated from the back-end, marketing teams will need to heavily rely on their IT team to launch and update the site content. Unless the concerned teams work closely and in sync, this extra step can potentially cause delays in time-sensitive marketing campaigns.
Con #6. No Performance Guarantees
Any site’s usability can be determined by two major factors: speed and performance. While headless promises a high-performing site, it’s not a guarantee. Whether your online store goes headless or not, ensure that your site is built by a team of quality-driven developers and designers who know the ins and outs of creating a high-performing site.
Con #7. Not Suitable for Newer eCommerce Stores
Most businesses that go online, at first need just a basic eCommerce functionality: display products, enable the purchase and get paid for it. On the other hand, headless commerce is less suited for brands that want to take the business online in a small period of time because it takes some time to create workflows and align tech stacks. So brands wanting a standardized storefront in their early days may not benefit a lot from headless.
Con #8. Time-Consuming Efforts
Brands that adopt headless commerce architecture do not get the benefit of continuous systemic updates. While traditional eCommerce systems get updated via APIs, this approach doesn’t work with headless. Lack of automated updates and security features makes it high maintenance, time-consuming and cost-consuming solution.
Con #9. Dependence on In-House Technical Team
Headless commerce is hard to maintain for brands that lack the in-house technical expertise to run and maintain multiple tech stacks. In case of any issues, brands will have to rely on third-party external expertise, making it a costly solution for small businesses looking for a cost-friendly solution.
Further reading: Headless Commerce 101: Ultimate Guide
How Will Headless Commerce Impact “Omnichannel Retail”
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought changed how everyone did theirs in some unprecedented conditions that forced retailers to adopt a trend that has been prevailing for over a decade: omnichannel.
Omnichannel retail is more than a brand having its presence in multiple channels, it also implies integration of inventory, customer service, and sales to offer a seamless transition between channels based on what the consumer finds most convenient.
Consumers now expect to hop back and forth across channels before making a purchase decision. With the pandemic enforcing new consumer behaviors, brands need to collaborate with shoppers at different digital touchpoints.
Headless commerce is helping eCommerce brands embrace omnichannel retail. Here is how:
1. Content-driven sales
In omnichannel, content plays a major role in uniting the customer with the company. Regardless of the channel, a company should be able to maintain a personalized relationship with the customer in real-time. Also, to appeal to a global multilingual audience, content needs to be expansive and diverse, encompassing more channels and formats. Headless CMS can support such rapid changes in content processes.
2. Mobile-first approach
With an increasing number of shoppers preferring to purchase on mobile, a critical element of an omnichannel ecosystem is mobile devices. However, due to long load times and performance issues, this channel discourages potential customers who may drop off from the brand and not return.
Therefore, eCommerce brands need to have a mobile-first design. To drive conversion, a front-end with performance-oriented architecture that addresses performance issues is key to a brand’s success on mobile devices. Thankfully, headless commerce helps with this. Using PWA (progressive web applications), the front-end design is created keeping the mobile experience first in mind. This enables websites to run on mobile or any other device effortlessly.
3. Coherent loyal strategies
Omnichannel creates unified loyalty programs - by combining the customer’s purchase activity across multiple sales channels and allowing them to collect points whether they buy online or offline. This increases the customer’s loyalty to the brand and allows the brand to offer cross-channel promotions,
Headless commerce plays an essential role here. For omnichannel loyalty programs to provide the best shopping experience across all channels, headless provides meaningful engagement across every touchpoint, whether online or offline stores. Customers can engage with your brand across a variety of platforms, devices, and channels, that work out together seamlessly, all thanks to headless.
Factors to Consider While Choosing A Headless Commerce Platform
If you want to get a sense of whether headless commerce is right for you, start with building out a small section of your website on a headless platform (e.g. a new product landing page or implementing headless checkout).
This test can cost much lower than moving the entire site to headless architecture, depending on the developer resources you have access to. Once you decide to take the headless commerce route, it might be daunting to choose the right platform for your online store.
Especially, because once you choose a platform, you would need to stick with it for a longer time. Here’s what you should look for in a headless commerce platform:
- User experience and Interface - It should be easy for you or your team to pick up on; the more complex the interface, the longer it will take for you to set up headless commerce.
- Capacity for personalization - The platform should give you the ability to not just personalize shopping experiences now, but also as you scale in the future.
- API Integration - As an eCommerce business, you could be using several solutions like a CRM, inventory planner, and other tools; make sure the platform offers easy integration with them.
- The ability to push content to a variety of platforms and devices - You want to ensure that the headless platform you choose can create seamless shopping experiences across all the primary channels your target audience is on.
- Offer content modeling and designing - The platform should enable you to break different content types into components, describe them and create a map of how they connect.
- Works with a variety of frameworks - A good headless platform allows you to work with different frameworks like React, Vue, Angular, Gust, and more.
- Workflow integration - The only way to ensure your headless commerce storefront works seamlessly is when it offers workflow integrations between different departments.
- Multilingual support - It’s important that your headless commerce platform supports multiple languages so that it becomes easier for you to scale to different markets as well.
- Easy management of all digital assets - The platform should offer features that help you organize all your digital aspects despite the separate frontend and backend operations.
- Easily scalable - You should keep in mind your future capabilities and ensure the headless commerce platform will be easy to scale.
- Offers Customization - You may require further customizing your headless commerce platform to suit your business needs; make sure that the platform is flexible.
- Service and Support - Headless commerce is complex and may take time to understand; the platform should offer you customer service and support that’s proactive.
Headless Commerce is the Future of E-Commerce
For brands looking to perform at the same level as Amazon, headless commerce is the way to go. As more customers spend time in a hyper-connected digital world, how eCommerce brands connect with customers at different digital touchpoints will redefine their shopping experience. eCommerce brands are looking for new ways to delight their customers need to look at the headless approach for gaining flexibility in how they deliver their customer experience.
By implementing headless commerce, eCommerce brands will:
- gain a competitive advantage
- create unique experiences
- build customer loyalty, and
- generate new avenues of revenue.
eCommerce brands can utilize headless technology to identify where consumers are most engaged.
Looking for examples of headless commerce to inspire your journey? Here’s a list of brands leveraging the potential of headless commerce.