With rapidly changing customer expectations and market demands, it’s more important than ever for businesses to deliver unique, omnichannel experiences—and to do so quickly. Headless commerce is a particularly attractive solution for businesses looking to extend their brand and to meet customers across multiple channels and touchpoints.
In the simplest sense, headless commerce decouples the front-end and back-end experiences so businesses can easily make changes to (and experiment with) the customer-facing elements of their store.
Below, we’ll explore how headless commerce benefits businesses, the differences between headless and traditional ecommerce, and how companies can implement a headless commerce strategy to create performant storefronts that deliver a truly omnichannel experience.
Table of contents
- What is headless commerce?
- How does headless commerce differ from legacy ecommerce?
- How does headless commerce work?
- The 6 key benefits of headless commerce
What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce refers to an ecommerce architecture where the front-end presentation layer (storefront templates or themes) is decoupled from the back-end infrastructure (database with pricing, inventory management, and so on) that powers a store’s commerce functionalities.
Headless commerce allows teams to make changes to the front-end, without having to make changes to the back-end. Since it enables teams to build what they want, with whatever framework and tools they want, brands have more freedom to deliver rich content experiences across touchpoints and channels—all supported by a single platform.
How does headless commerce differ from legacy ecommerce?
Headless commerce and legacy ecommerce platforms differ in the way that the front-end and back-end of an online store are connected.
The most common example of a legacy ecommerce platform is the all-in-one monolithic model, which offers customers end-to-end business functionality in a self-embedded system. That is, the front-end and the back-end are tightly integrated, so changes to one requires making changes to the other.
While these all-in-one platforms are great for businesses that don’t have complex technical needs and who value convenience and ease-of-use, they can impose creative constraints for complex brands, multi-brand businesses, and any business that needs to deploy content-rich experiences.
Decoupling the front-end and back-end enables brands to focus on the customer interaction element without impacting any of the data or logic that backs it up. This allows for greater flexibility in terms of design and functionality, as well as more options for integrations that can deliver unique customer experiences.
How does headless commerce work?
In a headless commerce architecture, the front-end communicates with the back-end through application programming interfaces (APIs).
With headless commerce, retailers can offer a dynamic customer experience as front-end alterations such as product catalogs, prices, discounts, images, and other templates are updated and synced in real-time across all online platforms, all while ensuring a unified user experience across the board.
One of the key benefits of headless commerce is that it’s technology agnostic, which means you can build your front-end website using whatever tools or languages you like—all while leveraging a commerce platform for your underlying infrastructure and back office logistics.
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The 6 key benefits of headless commerce
It’s important to note that the absence of a head is not the point. The real advantages of a headless commerce architecture come down to the fact that headless opens up optionality for omnichannel implementation without being prescriptive on specific tools or tied-in legacy.
There are six key advantages of headless commerce:
- Omnichannel experience
- Rich personalization
- Agility and speed-to-market
- Best-of-breed integrations
- Scalability and performance
1. Omnichannel experiences
Adopting a headless commerce architecture allows brands to introduce new innovative and digital channels for creating an enriching customer experience. The headless design allows for a more exploratory shopping experience by allowing consumers to buy products through interactive shopping channels created by AR/VR and social media, engaging user experiences without changing the back-end systems.
Headless commerce allows brands to introduce new customer touchpoints powered by the API layer to ensure data consistency and functionalities. For instance, brands can convert their Instagram accounts into mobile storefronts by adding the Shop Now functionality to their posts.
2. Rich personalization
With centralized customer information, retailers can build and implement ecommerce websites that show personalized content to users in different geolocations based on the user’s earlier purchases, the targeted ad campaign, and other factors.
Headless commerce allows for more flexibility in creating the front-end of an ecommerce site, as developers can use any programming language or technology stack they want to build the front-end.
Specifically, separation of concerns is a major advantage. When the front-end and back-end of the online store are separated, it allows for a more modular development process. This means front-end and back-end teams can work independently without worrying about affecting each other's work.
4. Agility and speed-to-market
By separating the front-end from the back-end, development teams can work on both areas independently and in parallel. This leads to faster development times for new features and updates, a more efficient workflow, and faster speed to market.
Moreover, teams can repurpose data for any number of channels (mobile apps, smart watches, voice apps, and so on), thus “future-proofing” their content: developers only need to build the new front-end interface for each new interface, so multiple websites can be managed using a single back-end. This is ideal for multi-brand businesses.
5. Best-of-breed integrations
Enterprise retailers have multiple heads, each with unique delivery requirements. They need a flexible and extensible data model that spans channels, a robust API that enables them to retrieve and manipulate it, and a coherent ecosystem of apps and integrations that enable them to move quickly and with a high degree of flexibility. Headless commerce enables this. Businesses can easily integrate with key third-party technologies, like chatbots, voice assistants, and artificial intelligence, leading to a more personalized customer experience and better alignment with the brand’s identity.
6. Scalability and performance
Headless commerce allows for more scalable systems, as changes to the front-end can be made without affecting the back-end commerce functionality. This means that businesses can scale their ecommerce site as needed without worrying about disrupting their core commerce operations.
From a performance standpoint, headless commerce can dramatically improve page load times, which is incredibly important for businesses with content-rich storefronts.
Benefits of headless commerce FAQ
What are the benefits of headless commerce over legacy commerce platforms?
A headless commerce solution offers several benefits over legacy commerce platforms, including flexibility in the front-end and back-end technologies that can be used, scalability to handle unexpected traffic spikes or increases in sales, better performance with faster page load times, and the ability to create a fully customized and personalized experience for customers, as well as easy integration with other technologies.
How does a headless commerce approach impact your customer experience?
A headless commerce platform can offer personalized user experiences, a seamless experience across multiple channels, easy integration with other technologies, faster page-load times, and a mobile-friendly experience for customers, which can lead to increased engagement and loyalty.
What is an example of headless commerce?
An example of headless commerce is a business that uses Shopify as the back end in conjunction with a custom-built front end that communicates with the back end through APIs for an omnichannel user experience. Allbirds is an example of a brand using Shopify Hydrogen and Oxygen stack to build its headless commerce store.