A traditional e-commerce option has an interdependent relationship between the site’s front ends and back ends. This makes it fast to set up and launch but limits customization. So it affects the customer experience and how you operate your website.
This article explores the pros and cons of headless and traditional ecommerce solutions so you can make the best choice for your small business.
- Headless e-commerce uncouples the front ends and back ends to allow for more customization and flexibility in the design.
- Headless e-commerce allows your small business to provide a dynamic customer experience and keep up with technology and marketing trends.
- Traditional e-commerce can’t integrate with new software easily, but its low startup cost still makes it an appealing option for small businesses on a tight budget.
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What’s the Difference Between Traditional and Headless E-Commerce?
Every website has two sides. There’s the customer-facing side (front end) and the side used to design and manage the website (back end).
Traditional and headless e-commerce refers to the way these two sides work together to create the design and functionality of your e-commerce store.
We’ll explain how each option works below, but to give you a quick visualization of the differences between traditional and headless e-commerce, think about them in terms of houses.
Traditional e-commerce is like buying a home and adding the final changes to suit your tastes.
Headless e-commerce is like designing and building a house with every feature exactly the way you want it.
What Is Traditional E-Commerce?
In traditional e-commerce solutions, the programming logic of the site’s front ends and back ends are linked. Any changes made to one side impact the other, sometimes in unexpected ways.
For example, you might tweak a design element on the digital storefront and unintentionally break a back-end function, such as the payment processing.
To prevent these types of issues, traditional e-commerce platforms create predetermined front-end solutions that work in harmony with the back end. This limits customization, but it ensures your site runs smoothly.
It also enables you to make minor modifications, such as font size or background colors, without any coding skills or the help of a developer.
What Is Headless E-Commerce?
Headless e-commerce provides nearly endless options for customization because it decouples the front ends and back ends of the site. It was created to adapt to customers’ ever-growing demands for an exceptional user experience, especially one that provides personalized content.
Updates to the site code are relayed through an application programming interface (API) rather than directly impacting the front end. This means developers can focus on the front-end modifications without worrying about breaking the logic and function layers of the whole website.
There are no templated storefronts for headless e-commerce solutions. The site pages are built from scratch.
This is a more time-consuming approach than traditional e-commerce, but it allows developers to design a digital storefront that looks and functions exactly the way you want them to design it for you.
Traditional vs. Headless E-Commerce: Pros and Cons
There’s no clear winner when it comes to the best e-commerce option. It all depends on the needs of your business and the resources available to you.
Traditional E-Commerce Pros
It’s easy to create your digital storefront on your own. This is a big draw for small businesses that don’t have developers on staff or the budget to hire them. For many traditional e-commerce platforms, you can create your site with a user-friendly drag-and-drop approach that doesn’t require any coding skills.
You can launch your store quickly. The templated front-end designs mean that your site is prebuilt. You add the final changes, such as your product photos, brand colors, and site copy. You can have your e-commerce site up and running within a couple of hours.
You don’t have to know web design best practices. Traditional e-commerce providers create storefront themes using tried-and-true web design practices, so you don’t have to understand the subtleties of how design choices impact the user experience. The plug-and-play storefronts are created to provide the online shopping experience customers are familiar with. It’s static ― not personalized ― but has all the basics customers need to shop your site.
Traditional E-Commerce Cons
Customization is limited and can be expensive to add. Forcing customization into a traditional e-commerce website requires time-consuming workarounds and extensive site testing to ensure nothing breaks. If you decide you want to make changes that your chosen template doesn’t support, you’ll need to hire a skilled professional to do the work. What seems like a simple change can end up being quite costly.
You can’t create a rich user experience. Content personalization is becoming increasingly important to consumers. It provides a great user experience that makes customers feel catered to and more connected to your brand. Traditional e-commerce can’t accommodate this or other innovative features due to the limitations imposed by the front-end themes. This can put your brand at a disadvantage if your competitors provide a more dynamic customer experience.
You can’t adopt new software integrations easily, if at all. Tech companies release impressive new software at an astounding pace, but you’ll have trouble benefiting from these new integrations if you use traditional e-commerce. Depending on the technology, a developer may find workarounds for your site, which may be difficult for them and expensive for you.
The site doesn’t always display correctly on different devices. The rigidity of traditional e-commerce means it’s difficult to fully optimize a site for a variety of devices. Distorted page displays, missing buttons, and truncated drop-down menus are a few of the things customers might experience when using different devices. Customers have no patience for these types of issues and will usually leave your site.
Headless E-Commerce Pros
You can adopt new technologies as they come out. The flexibility of a headless ecommerce solution means you can incorporate new technologies without any trouble. This is a significant advantage considering how often new and improved software hits the market.
You have innumerable options for customization. There’s no predefined front-end experience, so you can build one that’s tailored to the needs of your business. Want to add a countdown timer to carts? No problem. How about translating your site automatically to a user’s local language? Can do. The options for headless customization are only limited to your imagination.
You can provide a better customer experience. Building the front end from scratch gives you the potential to develop an innovative experience that delights customers and makes you stand out from the competition. You can offer product personalization based on each customer’s purchase history, customize your site to a user’s geography, or make it easy for a customer to switch between shopping on their computer and their phone.
It’s easy to make changes to the site. Once the site’s framework is built, you can control it using a content management system (CMS). A CMS allows users to update the site’s design or functionality with an easy-to-use interface that requires little to no coding in most cases.
It works well with any device. Whether your customers are using a laptop or a cellphone, your headless e-commerce site works without common issues, such as buttons disappearing or features not displaying properly.
Headless E-Commerce Cons
The initial cost can be prohibitive for small businesses. A headless e-commerce solution doesn’t come prebuilt like a traditional one, so you have to create it from scratch. This takes time and skill, making it a more expensive up-front investment.
It takes longer to launch your e-commerce store. A traditional e-commerce solution is basically a plug-and-play option that you can launch in a few hours. A headless approach requires more time to plan out the perfect front end and implement it.
You’ll likely need a developer to build the site. Once the infrastructure is in place, you and your team can update and manage it using a customized CMS, but it’s best to leave the initial build to an expert.
Which One Is Right for Your Small Business?
It’s important to understand that every small business is different. What’s right for one company, or even the majority of companies, may not be right for yours.
The best way to determine the right e-commerce solution for you is to understand your business situation clearly and the resources at your disposal.
- What’s your budget?
- Do you have a developer on staff?
- What’s your timeline for launching the site?
- How important is it that your business adopt the latest technology solutions or innovate the customer experience?
Once you have your answers to these questions, you can review the pros and cons of traditional and headless e-commerce to find the most appropriate solution for your company’s unique needs.
From there, our guide to the best e-commerce platforms can help you find the ideal place to launch your digital store.