As far as buzz terms go in the digital commerce world, ‘headless commerce’ has well and truly secured its spot as one of the most-talked about trends in the industry this year.
But what does headless commerce really mean, and should retailers and merchants be hopping on this shiny new bandwagon?*
*Full disclosure – Kooomo isn’t a headless commerce platform, so you can probably guess how this post is going to pan out. However, we can absolutely appreciate the merits of headless commerce and how it may be a good fit for certain merchants.
Ok, let’s begin!
What exactly is Headless Commerce?
Headless commerce is essentially the conscious uncoupling of the front and back end of an eCommerce solution. When these two are separated and are run by different systems, you’ve essentially got headless commerce on your hands.
Great, now in plain English please…
The back end is all of the cogs and bolts that are moving in the background that allow an online store to function. It’s what manages a website in terms of functionality.
The front end is what the user sees – so the storefront of a website, which is generally powered by a Content Management System (CMS).
With headless commerce, the front-end (aka storefront) is completely disconnected from the cogs and bolts of the back end, which manages all of your data and keeps the operational wheels turning. These two systems communicate through APIs passing requests through various layers, so as a result, your website or storefront isn’t predefined by a particular design or user experience. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Total front end freedom. Headless commerce sounds like a no-brainer for retailers, right?
Well, a headless commerce model certainly does have its advantages, there’s no question or doubt.
Because the back end doesn’t have to flex its muscles to provide the front end with the bells and whistles its looking for, it means that merchants can essentially go to town with the look and feel, as well as customisation of their online stores. But with that typically comes a hefty price tag, because you are essentially building and designing everything from scratch – we’re talking category pages, product pages, landing pages, the whole kit and caboodle. Which isn’t always necessary, considering that traditional eCommerce platforms have the capabilities within their built-in CMS to create the user-experience that you’re after. Or, at least, they should!
Are traditional eCommerce platforms rigid?
With headless commerce, you’re not dealing with a rigid platform. You can make any changes or updates that you deem necessary, without the need for backend development (which obviously takes time and resources). However, let’s keep in mind that not all traditional digital commerce platforms are rigid, either. If your platform is consistently and routinely updated, and more importantly, is primarily influenced by customer feedback and requirements, you’ve still got yourself an agile solution to power your online store.
Dealing with traffic
Load speed is another reason why merchants often veer in the direction of headless commerce, since server resources are freed up significantly. However, if your online store can’t keep up with customer demand during peak times, you might just be working with a digital commerce platform that’s not robust enough to handle spikes in traffic and sales. Determine what the average uptime is of the traditional platform of your choice, versus load speeds within a headless commerce model, and you may just be surprised how on-par they are.
Synced-up sales channels
Headless commerce is omnichannel friendly. We all know about the importance of providing an omnichannel experience to customers by connecting all sales (and marketing) channels. And many traditional eCommerce platforms struggle to do this, resulting in multiple systems needing to be managed in order to process as well as push sales through the funnel. Yet digital commerce platforms with a full stack of technology can easily support an omnichannel strategy, without the need for APIs to trigger the back end to process orders from multiple sales channels.
The time that it takes to migrate a website onto a new CMS and connect it into an eCommerce platform is usually significantly higher than switching from one traditional platform to another. It’s also worth mentioning that the maintenance that’s needed to maintain a headless commerce setup typically means requiring more resources, as well as a much higher ongoing development budget.
Have you noticed a common thread, here?
While headless commerce undoubtedly has its merits, the jury’s still out as to whether headless is really the way forward for retailers.
Our two cents? Ultimately, if you’re a retailer whose focus is primarily on the commercial performance of your site, headless is likely to be an unsuitable fit.
However, if, on the other hand, you’re heavily brand-focused and need to invest in the ‘experience’ of the site – outside of typical best practice, then headless will offer true flexibility.
And for retailers who are considering new eCommerce solutions, it’s worth exploring the possibility that it might not be that headless commerce is the right fit for your business, but rather that your current digital commerce solution is not.