February 29, 2024

Headless Commerce: A Complete Guide for Ecommerce Merchants

Headless commerce has quickly become a hot topic among eCommerce merchants and is now the talk of the town. Find out what going headless means, how it works, and how it can benefit businesses in the long run.

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What Is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is an approach that separates the front-end section of an eCommerce platform from its back-end. So you decouple the body (backend) where content is stored from the head (front-end) where it is presented. In business terms, the customer-facing front is not directly attached to the processes, tools, and applications that run in the background. 

As a result, you can make changes and offer a better customer experience without affecting the other end of your eCommerce store.

Since the backend is not coupled with the front-end (or the head) and acts as an independent layer, hence the term headless. These two sides work autonomously and use APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces) to communicate with each other.

headless commerce backend and frontend

Such a headless commerce architecture enables online retailers to develop features however they want. They can build and add functionalities that they deem fit for their business.

Thus, brands can employ a backend solution of their choice that allows them to manage commerce functionalities with ease. Whereas on the front-end, they can use a technology that provides a high-quality content experience to their users.

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A Little About Headless Commerce Architecture

Headless architecture commerce, like monolithic commerce, consists of two layers,  front-end and back-end. However, these two layers are not combined but separate from each other.

Front-end is the presentation layer of your business which is shown to customers. This is the storefront of your website that users see and where they browse products. It can be your own website, mobile app, third-party marketplaces, social media platforms, etc.

Front-end lets you customize your store theme, text color, buttons, and images to offer a better user experience. 

The back-end is the place where the real magic happens and operations are managed to ensure your business runs smoothly. This is where brands handle all the processes and workflows through tools and programming. All these technologies help you integrate different operations and third-party technologies. You get to manage inventory, orders, digital payments, and checkout activities.

Below is a clear picture of the headless commerce architecture. This will help you understand what features are managed by the front-end and what functionalities are controlled by the back-end.

headless commerce architecture

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How Headless Commerce Works

Headless commerce works with the help of APIs that connect the front-end and back-end layers. These APIs send information in real-time and customer-facing content is managed on the back-end.

Thanks to headless architecture, you can connect multiple storefronts and similarly can leverage multiple backend systems. This, however, depends on your business needs and the number of marketplaces. The most common back-end platforms are:

  • Content management system (CMS)
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Progressive web app (PWA)
  • Digital experience platform (DXP)

You can also attach SaaS technologies such as an inventory and order management system. Online stores can also attach a hyper-local business platform to engage customers within their local area or an omnichannel payment solution for a better customer experience.

When a customer connects with the storefront, information is sent through an API to your backend. The process is quick and delivers an ultimate shopping experience.

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Headless Commerce Vs Traditional Commerce

We hope you are now fully aware of the concept behind headless commerce. We have also elaborated on the difference between traditional commerce and headless commerce.

Traditional Commerce

In the digital world, traditional commerce is synonymous with customary eCommerce. This represents a traditional website with coupled front-end and back-end layers which is easy to set up. However, such eCommerce platforms are difficult to build from a design perspective. These come with template designs and offer limited options for interaction with customers.

Since both the front-end and back-end are interdependent, most functionalities are also interconnected. As a result, a minor change in website layout, CMS, or cart page can affect other features as well. Changing design for a better user experience is further harder on traditional commerce platforms.

Headless Commerce

Compared to traditional commerce, headless architecture offers more freedom. Setting up a headless commerce platform is a breeze. Moreover, you can integrate desired front-end or back-end solutions and technologies as per your business requirements. The big upside is again the customization as you quickly update your storefront without changing the back-end layer. 

The key difference between traditional and headless commerce is that it:

  • Delivers a more personalized experience
  • Offers limitless customization
  • Does not limit front-end developers
  • Improves interaction and reduces response time

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Headless Commerce Is the Future

Many online businesses are following the full-stack or monolithic eCommerce approach. It’s good for desktop buyers, but the world has gone mobile now. Today’s customers are now longer hooked on computers and do shopping using smartphones or apps. In fact, in the US alone mobile retail e-commerce sales will surpass 431 billion USD in 2022.

That’s why tech giants, eCommerce brands and retailers are all eager to invest in this new type of commerce architecture. In 2020-21, headless technologies raised over 1.65 billion USD in funding. Because in its true essence, headless commerce is a tool that offers online retailers an advantage over competitors.

Headless commerce allows retailers to offer customized user experiences across all channels. Brands can ensure a seamless experience across desktops, mobiles, and other devices while ensuring brand consistency. This is why headless commerce is considered the future of eCommerce because it offers a true omnichannel commerce experience.

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What Is The Biggest Challenge With Headless Commerce?

The biggest challenge with headless commerce is perhaps the lack of out-of-the-box functionalities. Headless commerce provides retailers with customized solutions needs but it falls short in terms of built-in features. This can be overwhelming for companies that need an all-in-one commerce solution for their business needs.

But you can inquire about features and can let the service provider know about the built-in functionalities that your business needs. The right headless commerce platform will cover your needs beforehand.

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Benefits of Headless Commerce Strategy

The benefits of headless commerce are plenty and beat the traditional commerce approach in almost all fields. Be it agility and speed or customization and integration, headless commerce is the way forward.

Below are some key benefits that it provides across various departments within your business.

Complete Customization Control

Unlike traditional commerce, the headless approach allows businesses to build their websites the way they want. Retailers can achieve the exact look and feel they want their brand to represent. This allows them to control the customization process and offer an on-brand experience to online consumers.

Another good thing is that you don’t have to make design sacrifices. You can customize everything and make changes the way you want without listening to how much time it’ll take. Since the back-end architecture is separated, there’s no risk involved when you are making changes on the front-end side.

Not only can you make changes quickly but can also test them in real-time. With headless commerce, you can instantly do split testing to optimize customer experience and analyze your conversion rates.

Faster Page Loading Times

Online stores need fast page speed to engage users and increase their sales. Customers don’t like to wait and research has shown that loading time affects the decision of 70% of consumers. With headless commerce, you can ensure that your website loads faster. Since fast loading is an SEO factor, your eCommerce website will also achieve a higher ranking on Google.

According to Crazy Egg, faster page loading also improves sales and conversion rates.

second makes in ecommerce - shopify

You can generate 7% more revenue by only making your website load one second faster. And this is where headless commerce can help you out.

Flexibility for Developers

Since front-end and back-end are not coupled, your business can choose the best technological platforms. You can choose a CMS or build a custom solution to manage the front-end of your website. This provides flexibility for developers to ensure a more customized experience for the customers.

Developers can manage different sales channels and integrate them with a headless backend. This allows businesses to handle all storefronts from a single platform. Also, you can save resources as your development team won’t have to worry about technicalities. Developers can work with the programming language or technology they are comfortable with.

Testing and Integrating New Technologies

Having headless architecture commerce means you can integrate new technologies without affecting the rest of your website. You can try new solutions and tools at the back-end to improve website performance and management. Similarly, you can easily change colors and buttons to test customers’ feedback. 

Scalability with Less Management Costs

Another benefit of headless commerce for brands is that it makes your business future-proof. You can add new technologies or upgrade to new solutions without affecting user experience. New features and functionalities can be added using APIs to your existing architecture. So you won’t have to rebuild the whole website every time you want to update it.

Since changes can be made easily, you won’t have to pay much to developers. You can make changes and add new features without hiring extra hands for programming.

Effective Marketing

Headless commerce allows retailers and eCommerce brands to take advantage of new marketing trends. You can sell across multiple channels and can do experiments through changes in user experiences. Above all, your marketing team can segment the audience on the sales platform to offer a better customer experience and run campaigns.

You can manage customer records and segment your audience based on their buying behavior and demographic details. You can target the right audience using third-party apps with respect to their location, gender, age, and/or income.

Below are some marketing tools that you can use after integrating them with a headless commerce solution. 

  • Email marketing
  • Abandoned shopping cart saver.
  • Social media sharing
  • Built-in blog
  • Customer loyalty program

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Examples of Headless Commerce Platforms

With the rise in popularity, we are seeing new headless commerce platforms popping up. It’s true that each headless architecture has a unique set of features but not all are the same. Below are the top three headless commerce back-end platforms that offer the best functionalities to their users.

Headless With XStak 

XStak is a headless commerce platform that provides businesses with a complete back-end solution. This is an all-in-one retail operating system that offers omnichannel solutions for commerce, payments, marketing, and business intelligence operations.

Its technology stack includes an inventory and order management system, a cloud-based point of sales (POS) system, a hyper-local (quick commerce) management system, and a loyalty management system. The headless commerce platform also comes with over 50+ integrations that you can add whenever needed. All in all, this is a complete package for mid to large enterprises that want to establish a strong online presence in less time.

XStak 2nd layer

With XStak, you can integrate multiple sales channels including an eCommerce website, mobile app, and third-party marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Daraz. Furthermore, you can integrate it with your inventory and can also allocate all or specific stock to each marketing channel. The headless retail platform can also automate the whole order management process for you from order placement to shipping.

Shopify Plus

Shopify Plus is another headless commerce platform with some powerful capabilities. You can add it to any CRM and its APIs will help you build an online storefront with desired features and functionalities. There is not much technical knowledge required to integrate it with front-end or other eCommerce solutions.

You can easily integrate it with other business systems like ERP or POS just like XStak. It’s expandable and you can also customize it as your mid-size continues to grow.

Magento Commerce 

Magento 2 is also a great headless commerce option for the front-end. It allows retailers to build a fast-loading eCommerce store which is easy to customize. You can offer a better and mobile-friendly experience to users and can also integrate third-party marketplaces into Magento CMS.

However, Magento Commerce requires more development efforts to build a storefront. This involves developing a custom theme, integrating API, and building custom functionalities. Another drawback of Magneto is that it may take more time than XStak and Shopify Plus.

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How Do You Get Started With Headless Commerce?

Getting started is arguably the most challenging part when it comes to implementing headless commerce. You have to decide which front-end solution suits your customers while selecting the right headless commerce architecture for your business needs. This becomes more confusing if you already have a running eCommerce store.

Here are three key steps that you should follow while incorporating a headless commerce solution into your business.

Determine Your Front-End Headless Commerce Platform

The front-end layer of an eCommerce store is crucial for creating a strong first impression. It is the storefront of your retail business where customers interact with your business. So, you should have an impressive website design that represents the vision and personality of your brand. More importantly, it should have a look or feel that can engage the visitors.

You can start new or keep the existing front-end platform while opting for headless commerce. You don’t have to switch the front-end technology if it's Integratable and meets your business needs. However, make sure it provides a blazing-fast and on-brand experience that your customers can remember.

Select a Suitable Backend Headless Commerce Platform

The next step is choosing the appropriate headless commerce solution for the back-end. We recommend you pick one that meets your current retail needs and has the ability to expand as your eCommerce business continues to thrive. Also, if you are selling on multiple marketplaces, go with a platform that can integrate with all of them.

Moreover, it’s better to select an open-source platform for ultimate flexibility and customization. This way you will be able to add more features and functionalities in the coming years. Make sure it offers data security as well as third-party integration and APIs for a comprehensive commerce experience.

Sync Your Headless Architecture 

Now that you have decided on the front-end and backend technology and chosen the headless commerce architecture, it’s time to sync them. This is more like connecting a head to the headless commerce platform for completing the setup. This is where you will be connecting both layers (front and back end) using APIs.

Instead of going all, you should start connecting small sections first. For example, you can sync landing pages or a few categories to see whether the sync works. After synching, do testing and optimizing for assurance and then scale up.

By partnering with a headless commerce service provider, you can exclude uncertainty and avoid anxiety. All you have to do is:

  • Choose an appropriate backend headless solution
  • Select your front-end technology
  • Synchronize frond-end and back-end using APIs
  • Add functionalities to offer winning shopping to customers

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Headless Commerce FAQs

What is a headless approach?

A headless approach is a technical method in website development, mainly for eCommerce stores. In a headless framework, the software running the frontend part of the website is not directly attached to the software running the backend administration.

Is headless CMS the same as headless commerce?

Yes, the headless CMS is the same and synonymous with headless commerce. It enables businesses and companies to create desired front-end experiences for precise channels. Retailers and eCommerce websites can manage content such as product catalogs and their website design (themes and colors) through headless CMS.

Does every eCommerce store need a headless solution?

No, not all eCommerce websites and online retailers need a headless solution. In fact, many brands are still using the same traditional monolithic model for eCommerce today. The reason small businesses are choosing headless eCommerce is that it enables them to build a customized front-end or back-end. They can develop and integrate a new digital sales channel whenever needed without having to wait.

Do I need a developer for headless commerce?

Yes, you’ll need a developer for headless commerce to take care of small yet essential issues. You’ll need a developer to give or change the front-end look of your website. This includes adding a brand tone, desired colors, images, styles, and buttons.

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Final Note

Headless commerce offers the flexibility and customization that gives eCommerce businesses the edge over competitors. On one hand, it provides them with speed while on the other, provides the tools to manage operational workflow effectively. With headless commerce architecture, businesses can make changes to the storefront without affecting their backend codes. It enables brands to scale up and offer the best user experience with little technical help.

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