How To Set Up a Headless E-commerce Site


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The nature of e-commerce has shifted. Consumers want to control when, how, and where they purchase products. They expect a more fluid and personalized shopping experience.

Key takeaways: 

  • Using a headline e-commerce website can improve the customer shopping experience. It may reduce your store’s abandoned cart rate.
  • It allows you to update and add custom features quickly. Your site may load faster, too.
  • A headless site can offer your customers a better brand experience, which may boost sales and reputation.
  • Your development team may appreciate the speedier updates and the ability to collaborate from anywhere instantly.

What Is Headless E-commerce?

A headless e-commerce solution separates the presentation layer — the front-end — from the commerce layer — the back-end:

  • Front-end: The presentation layer customers interact with that contains the visible elements they see and work with from their devices, like a shopping cart.
  • Back-end: Hosts the commerce functionality and background processes, which developers continuously build upon, run, and update.
API diagram
Source: Fabric

By detaching the front-end, you can:

  • Connect multiple heads to one back-end
  • Scale up multichannel commerce to customers across all channels ― brick-and-mortar store, online store, social media, and more ― and devices
  • Support new technology more comfortably as it emerges
  • Adapt and integrate into any system easily and quickly
  • Meet consumers where and when they want to purchase

In a conventional e-commerce store (also known as monolithic e-commerce), you’d have to update both the head and back-end if you need to apply some changes to the design or user interface. It’s not only time-consuming but tedious.

Headless commerce gives you more control over the user experience and streamlines the digital experiences you offer your customers. Since the code is separate, you can change the front-end quickly and keep the back-end systems separate.

You don’t have to worry about possibly breaking something in the back-end, and you have more flexibility, nearly limitless customizations, and freedom to grow.

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

A good example of headless e-commerce is ILIA. This award-winning clean beauty brand wanted to showcase its stunning and diverse product imagery without creating a slow and clunky web experience for its customers.

For better customization, the company looked to headless e-commerce software to help shoppers find the exact shade and color for their skin.

The results:

  • Its developers had more freedom to experiment with content types and formats, resulting in 20% more efficiency in deployments.
  • The site had faster page loads and a 10% improvement in bounce rate.
  • Customers enjoyed a better shopping experience, 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. Building creative solutions for your brand is easier 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 updated versions. That way, you can provide better multiplatform shopping experiences.
  • It makes optimization easier: Consumer behavior changes fast. Your business will suffer if you can’t keep pace with their needs. 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 website, 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 anywhere. They can use any programming language or framework they’re familiar with.

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

Headless commerce offers speed and flexibility, among many other benefits. It’s best suited for companies 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 developer workloads

Pros and Cons of Headless Commerce

Review some of the key benefits and challenges to expect if you go headless.

Pros of Headless E-commerce

  1. Business relevance: Going headless can help your business stay relevant as new channels and devices emerge and get an edge over your competitors.
  2. Improved user experience: Customers can make a purchase on your website using a voice assistant or using their smartwatch.
  3. Omnichannel selling: You can create custom experiences and deliver your content and products to multiple sales channels.
  4. Faster content delivery: With headless commerce, the front end pulls data from the backend quickly without causing performance issues and delivers your content faster.
  5. Flexibility: Your development team can use any programming language or technology they prefer in a headless system and make changes independently without breaking anything.
  6. Rapid updates: You can make quicker updates on any part of the system without changing the whole or affecting your system’s functionality.
  7. Speed to market: Once you set up a headless commerce system, you can replicate and optimize it for international SEO.
  8. Enhanced security: Headless systems deliver content via application programming interfaces (APIs), which are often more secure. You can roll out security updates quickly at any time.
  9. Lower costs: Headless reduces conversion rate and customer acquisition costs because you can draw in organic traffic through dynamic and smooth customer experiences ― not just paid ads.
  10. Greater control over the platform: Headless commerce lets you keep the front-end solution that works for you and add to or upgrade what doesn’t work in your backend.

Cons of Headless E-commerce

  1. Costs: A headless system is more complex, making it costlier to set up, maintain and update continuously with new features.
  2. Resource intensive: Depending on the complexity of your headless system, you may need to employ more strong technical talent to get it up and running smoothly.
  3. Potential downtime: You could experience serious downtime when implementing a headless system because you have to set up backend apps and create many front-end experiences.

How To Set Up Headless E-commerce

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

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 mid-market or enterprise company may opt for a service-oriented architecture that offers more flexibility and scalability as its business grows.

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 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.

You can use two types of headless CMS programs:

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

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 architecture to avoid any customer experience disruptions. I recommend integrating a ready-to-use headless commerce API from a reputable SaaS provider.“APIs power headless e-commerce solutions, making them far easier to integrate with new and current systems than other solutions. For example, a headless e-commerce website can 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 plug-in, 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.

FAQs About Setting Up a Headless E-Commerce Site

How much does headless e-commerce cost?

It varies. It may cost less than a traditional monolithic e-commerce platform. Either way, the benefits may allow you to recoup the expense quickly.

What are some examples of brands that use headless e-commerce sites?

Many major retail brands use headless solutions: Nike, Target, Under Armour, and United Airlines are among the best known.

Is headless e-commerce more secure?

Yes. Because they use a highly sophisticated architecture, headless e-commerce is more secure than traditional commerce platforms.

Elise Biage Avatar
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