The nature of e-commerce has shifted.

Consumers want to control when, how, and where to purchase products from. They expect a more fluid and personalized shopping experience.

Traditional monolithic structures may have worked in the past, but they’re not designed to extend to other touchpoints easily. Worse still, shopping cart abandonment rates are hovering near 70% because of overly complicated checkout experiences.

As new shoppable touchpoints emerge, demand for headless e-commerce is gaining traction.

Brands and retailers are getting more creative with their spaces to compete in a digital-first economy and meet consumers’ demands.

If want to create a headless e-commerce setup, this guide shows you:

  • How a headless e-commerce site helps your business
  • How you can set up headless e-commerce
  • Whether a headless ecommerce approach is right for your business

How Can a Headless E-Commerce Site Help Your Business?


A headless e-commerce solution separates the two main layers of your site:

  • Front end: Presentation layer customers interact with that contains the visible elements they see and interact with from their devices
  • Back end: Hosts the commerce functionality and background processes, which developers continuously build upon, run, and update

A good example is ILIA, an award-winning clean beauty brand, which wanted to serve its stunning and diverse product imagery without creating a slow and clunky web experience for its customers.

To unlock better customization, the company looked to a headless e-commerce solution to help shoppers find the exact shade and color for their skin type.

The results:

  • Its developers had more freedom to experiment with various content types or formats, resulting in 20% more efficiency in its deployments
  • The site had faster page load speeds and 10% improvement in bounce rate
  • Its customers enjoy better shopping experiences, leading to an 18% decrease in exit rate
ILIA site
Source: ILIA

Like ILIA, a headless e-commerce site can benefit your business in multiple ways:

  • It allows you to make rapid changes and innovate quickly: You don’t have to redeploy your e-commerce platform each time consumer technology changes. You can keep up with the demand and release new touchpoints quickly.
  • It offers more customization and personalization:Headless e-commerce isn’t limited like its traditional monolithic counterpart. It’s easier to build creative solutions for your brand without theme or template restrictions.
  • It can integrate your tech stack with the tools of your choice: You can have separate tools for different parts of your site and swap out or replace them with more updated or modern versions later on. This way, you can provide better multiplatform shopping experiences.
  • It makes optimization easier: Consumer behavior changes fast. If you can’t keep pace with their needs, your business suffers. A headless e-commerce site makes it easier to run multiple tests, optimize, and iterate to improve the shopping experience.
  • It helps improve your site’s performance: Headless e-commerce separates the front end and back end of your site, making it faster, more responsive, and easier to update or maintain.
  • It gives your developers peace of mind: Your web development and design teams can collaborate in real-time from any location around the world. They can use any programming language or framework they’re familiar with.

How Can You Set Up Headless E-Commerce?

You can switch from a traditional e-commerce system to a headless solution without overhauling your entire site. Here’s how:

Step 1: Determine What Platform Suits Your Needs

There’s no one-size-fits-all e-commerce platform for your business.

Your choice depends on the size of your business. For example, a small business can add an application programming interface (API) from a platform like Shopify Plus to adopt a headless solution without needing to migrate.

A midmarket or enterprise company may opt for a service-oriented architecture that offers more flexibility and scalability as your business grows.

Step 2: Choose a Headless Content Management System

You have a headless solution. The next step is to pick a headless content management system (CMS), especially if you want to deliver content to multiple presentation channels.

In a traditional CMS, you’ll need multiple platforms to distribute your content to different channels. A headless CMS uses a single platform to create content optimized for each channel, and the APIs spread the content across multiple touchpoints.

There are two types of headless CMS solutions you can use:

  • Open-source solution: This type requires a greater level of technical knowledge but provides access to the software’s codebase and offers maximum customization.
  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution: This solution offers powerful customization abilities and allows you to set up your headless CMS faster without technical complexities.

Step 3: Sync Your APIs With the Headless CMS

Next, you’ll need to sync your APIs with the headless CMS. This ensures easier and smoother data flow.

Headless APIs connect new components to your current site’s architecture to avoid any disruptions to your customer experience. We recommend integrating a ready-to-use headless commerce API from a reputable SaaS provider.

“APIs power headless eCommerce solutions, making them far easier to integrate with new and current systems than other solutions. For example, a headless e-commerce website can simply be integrated with marketing automation systems such as a CMS or CRM. If you don’t use an API, you’ll have to rely on a plugin, which requires frequent upgrades and security patches. An API integration ensures that your data is sent fast and efficiently, and these solutions typically don’t require modifications after the initial connection is established.” ― Dan Close, founder and CEO, Buy Houses in Kentucky.

If you’re switching from a monolith platform, you can divide the migration into phases and replace your legacy system piece by piece.

Is a Headless E-Commerce Approach Right for Your Business?

man staring at the monitor
Source: Pexels

Customers don’t care whether you use a headless solution. In most cases, they can’t tell that you’ve gone headless. What they do care about is how they experience your brand. So, they’ll recognize things like smoother site navigation and fast-loading pages.

A headless e-commerce approach can help your business, but it may not always be the best solution. Some common concerns are:

  • Ongoing costs: The budget for a headless solution may vary based on the complexity of your build – functionality, level of customization, supporting tools, and annual maintenance costs.
  • Time: Creating many frontend experiences and setting up backend applications can slow down how fast you implement a headless solution. After all, replatforming can lead to serious downtime, which you might not be prepared to handle.
  • Talent: Most companies ship new features continuously with a headless platform. Such changes need strong technical talent to manage such responsibilities.

Headless commerce offers speed, flexibility, and complete control over flexibility, among many other benefits. However, it’s best suited for particular types of companies, including those that want to:

  • Sell through multiple channels
  • Create world-class customer shopping experiences
  • Add commerce capabilities to their existing CMS
  • Ease Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance
  • Increase checkout security
  • Partner with a SaaS provider to reduce the workload for their developers

Headless solutions also work for business-to-business (B2B) companies, allowing them to design content-rich pages and spread them across touchpoints, add new features, and offer better personalization opportunities.

A headless approach is a good way to optimize known operational and customer pain points for your business. Before investing, make sure you have the means and the return on investment (ROI) timeline is clear.

You can start by building out a small part of your site, such as a blog post or landing page, on a headless solution to get a sense of whether headless e-commerce is right for you.

What Should You Do Next?

Headless commerce offers many benefits. Yet, the simple thought of replatforming can discourage many businesses from adopting a headless solution.

With the right service, you can eliminate the hard decisions and challenges involved in switching from your current system to a headless approach.

All you need now is to:

  • Find a suitable headless solution from a reputable SaaS provider
  • Choose a headless CMS and sync it with your APIs
  • Integrate piece by piece on top of your current platform
  • Create winning shopping experiences for your customers