Mobile devices, social channels, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just some of the new technologies transforming how we shop online. They also introduced a new dimension to the e-commerce experience.
Traditional e-commerce platforms aren’t agile enough to adapt to these modern touchpoints in a reasonable time. That’s why you need savvier ways of navigating the dynamic topography of online shopping.
How can you extend your brand fast enough to ensure customer engagement and satisfaction? With the flexibility and agility of headless e-commerce.
Can’t get your head around it? This post will unpack:
- The meaning of headless e-commerce
- Benefits and potential drawbacks
- Examples of brands using headless e-commerce
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What Is Headless E-Commerce?
Any e-commerce website has a:
- Front end: The visible elements your customers see on their devices and interact with on your store
- Back end: The architecture where developers build, run, and update the commerce part of your store
Traditionally, the front end and back end were all on the same site or app in a monolithic or full-stack structure.
Headless e-commerce is a platform or solution that detaches the front end from the back end to create your digital flagship store and give customers a dynamic brand experience.
You have more freedom to determine how your store looks, works, and serves your customers. You can change the front end without interfering with the back end. This way, you can deliver a faster, more responsive experience to your customers than the traditional e-commerce app would.
Why Is Headless E-Commerce Trending?
E-commerce is growing. In 2020, online purchases accounted for 18% of global retail sales. Today, there are more than 2.14 billion digital buyers worldwide. In the United States, sales are projected to surpass $1 trillion in 2022 ― which comprises more than 20% of total retail sales by 2024.
As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates online purchases, companies are seeking ways to leverage this migration. That’s why headless e-commerce is trending ― it’s the answer to many challenges online store owners face today like:
- Poor performance
- Lack of customization options
- Poor SEO
- Weak security
- Slow page load speed
- Maintenance issues
Customers also enjoy many conveniences in the digital era of business. With only a few clicks and taps, they can access and enjoy anything they want.
Their expectations are also increasing. They want better product and service quality, frictionless shopping, flexibility, lower-cost options, and better performance.
This puts pressure on retailers and other businesses to deliver products and services as fast as possible, which headless e-commerce facilitates. You also want to reach more people through as many channels as possible. Headless e-commerce can deliver goods and services to your customers in any format without the limitations of traditional platforms.
With mobile commerce taking over, headless architecture will become more popular. It’s estimated that by 2024, there’ll be 187.5 million mobile users making digital purchases from their smartphones.
Headless e-commerce allows you to capture these purchases. Instead of using responsive themes, you can build a fully customized mobile website while moving nothing in the back end.
Plus, headless impacts core web vital metrics, which Google uses to determine your search engine rankings. Since the front end and back end are separated, only the front end needs to load for search engine crawlers and site visitors to access it.
Headless E-Commerce vs. Traditional Commerce
For some business owners, going headless may feel like a more complex process than the traditional templates and pre-packaged software they’re used to. But headless e-commerce opens the door of possibilities to delight customers and achieve your goals.
If you’re after a highly customized platform you can easily integrate with other third-party tools, go headless. But if you run an out-of-the-box store, where all architectural decisions are made for you, headless probably isn’t the right choice.
So what makes headless and traditional platforms different? Why should you pick one over the other? Here’s a comparison that highlights their differences:
Front-end design process
Traditional e-commerce platforms constrain front-end developers to the solution’s architecture and process. Headless allows them to create a unique and catered user experience tailored to your business’s needs.
Personalization and customization
Headless e-commerce lets you define the experience you want for administrative users and buyers. In contrast, traditional e-commerce platforms offer a predefined experience for administrative users and end-users.
With headless, you decide where and how to deliver your content. Traditional platforms don’t offer this freedom. Instead, you’re limited and constrained to delivering content to the channels the platform supports.
When switching vendors, traditional platforms are costlier and more time-consuming because developers have to learn new programming languages with each new change. Headless is application programming interface (API)-based, so you can switch from headless CMS to another without losing time, resources, or incurring any technical debt.
Traditional platforms are coupled together ― not separated ― making it harder to scale. Plus, any server downtime affects the whole site or app. Headless protects you from any unforeseen events like traffic spikes or data loss. It offers a reliable digital backup so you can go live quickly.
Content editing should be a seamless experience. But you won’t get that with traditional platforms because the front end, content, and codes are in one system.
Headless offers a simple, distraction-free user interface — makes it easy to upload, edit, search for, structure, and manage your content. You don’t need to wait until developers finish coding to complete your work.
Since the front end and back end are decoupled and there’s only one access point, headless platforms have a smaller surface area of security attacks. This makes them less susceptible to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Traditional platforms are database-driven and more vulnerable to security attacks.
Traditional platforms provide websites as their content delivery channel. With headless, you have more channels to create new digital experiences, interact with your audience, and stay relevant. Headless also reaches them on any device they use with limitless digital experiences.
With traditional platforms, you’re forced to work with legacy software — a bloated system. Headless eliminates all that and lets you pick the tools you want to integrate into your products, so they’re less disruptive and boost productivity.
Headless platforms are API-driven, making it easier to integrate, manipulate, and distribute your content. And you can target new channels since the content isn’t bound to the front end, reducing time-to-market significantly.
On a traditional platform, it takes more time to adapt your content to fit new channels. That’s because you have to build a front end and re-author content for every new channel you deliver content to.
Traditional platforms don’t offer automatic updates. You’re responsible for keeping themes, plug-ins, and software updated.
Plus, test each update to ensure it works with other themes and plug-ins, so you regularly create backups before updating. But this can be time-consuming and expensive.
With headless e-commerce, you don’t have to worry about regular updates. The platform keeps your systems updates automated, so you can work without distractions.
It’s easy to see why e-commerce store owners today prefer headless e-commerce compared to its traditional counterpart. Next, let’s see how you and your customers gain from headless e-commerce and the potential drawbacks of the solution.
Benefits of Headless E-Commerce
Ready to switch to headless e-commerce? Here are the biggest benefits it brings to your business:
- Omnichannel marketing: Publish content or sell on any channel and add publishing destinations in the future without worrying about back-end functions
- Customization: There’s no front end, so define and develop the user experience, customize it however you want, and create personalized user experiences
- Seamless integration and scalability: It’s easy to integrate and communicate with any third-party software or platform, so your system is highly agile, flexible, and scalable
- Better employee adoption rate: Anyone in your team can access and update the front end without advanced skills
- Time savings: Make front-end changes quickly while developers can jumpstart conversion-increasing apps with a few clicks or light coding
- Time-to-market: Launch new front-end experiences agilely to react to recent e-commerce trends without impacting your back-end system
- Conversion rates and lower customer acquisition costs: Dynamic and smooth user experiences increase conversion rates and reduce customer acquisition costs by using a content-led or experience-led strategy — not paid ads
Implementing headless e-commerce doesn’t just benefit your business — it’s your customers’ gain too. They enjoy a rich user experience and interface on your store
Headless e-commerce saves you the headache and delights your customers. But it’s not without its drawbacks. Here are the main ones:
- Time-consuming and costly: Developers have to keep building a new front end with each new channel, which is time-consuming and comes with several ongoing costs beyond the initial build
- Not marketer-friendly: In a pure headless e-commerce system, developers build the front-end layer, update, and populate it with content; this isolates marketers who ideally create the content, preview, ideate, approve, and publish it without relying on information technology (IT)
Examples of Headless E-Commerce
Amazon, the e-commerce giant, drives industry trends and shows us the value of using a headless approach. But you can’t achieve an Amazon Prime-like service the old way — you need to switch to headless e-commerce. Here’s some inspiration from brands that have gone headless.
Business-to-business (B2B) brand Bosch wanted to create a tailored digital experience for its Bosch Power Tools global sites. Their key challenge was creating unique experiences at the country level and promoting and aligning holistic user experiences globally. But they also struggled to scale and manage features and updates at the regional level with multiple infrastructures and CMS platforms.
In the past, the company took a local-level approach to meet the varied needs of their customers and users. However, that didn’t scale, and it proved costly and inefficient to manage. They had to find a solution to eliminate the disconnect between local, regional, and global experiences and create business efficiencies.
Bosch implemented headless e-commerce, and here’s what they gained:
- A quicker way to move forward without waiting to change things in the back end
- Easier creation and customization of blog features and functionalities for different locations
- Faster to replace the front-end system without bringing operations to a halt, maximizing efficiencies
- More value from development, cost, and scale perspectives
Today, Bosch can build features on a global scale to speed up its initiatives while delivering personalized experiences across locations.
Babylist’s site has two customer experiences: Expectant parents who create and share wish lists and gift-givers who buy the gifts on those lists.
So, it would almost be impossible to recreate it on a traditional ecommerce platform. The online store went headless and incorporated an order management system, content management system (CMS), and checkout, among other platforms. The results:
- Increased order volumes
- More iOS app checkouts after the first month
- Gifts given through the site grew 102% year-on-year
Future-proof Your E-Commerce Business
Customers’ behaviors and preferences are quickly evolving, so to scale in today’s digital environment, you need agile methods to keep up with demand. With headless e-commerce, you can adopt new technologies and integrate new systems to create great user experiences for your customers and accelerate your business.