Headless Commerce Explained in 5 Minutes

Headless Commerce Explained in 5 Minutes

The world of eCommerce is changing. You might even say that it has lost its head.

With consumers getting used to consuming content and making purchases through various touch points — from IoT devices to progressive web apps — legacy eCommerce platforms are struggling to keep up with the demands of the customer.

Amazon Dash buttons, smart voice assistants and in-store interfaces are giving consumers new ways to explore product information, read reviews and place orders. In other words, consumers are embracing the IoT era, even if most retailers haven’t (yet).

eCommerce brands moving with this trend are reaping the rewards (hi there, Amazon), while others are scratching their heads, wondering how they can get in on the action without having to invent their own IoT device or build back-end solutions from scratch. The answer is headless content management — and by extension, headless commerce.

 

What is headless commerce architecture?

Headless commerce architecture underpins an eCommerce solution with headless content management capabilities. In a nutshell, that means a CMS that stores, manages and delivers content without a front-end delivery layer.

With a headless platform, the front end (or the “head”) — which in most cases is a template or theme — has been decoupled and removed, leaving only the backend. Developers can then use APIs to deliver things like products, blog posts or customer reviews to any screen or device, while front-end developers can get to work on how to present that content using any framework they desire.

In other words, headless commerce architecture is built for the IoT age.

In contrast, traditional commerce platforms have their head screwed on tight. That means they have a predefined front-end that is tightly coupled with the back-end, so even if there are plenty of customization features and unrestricted access to code, the platform is only designed to deliver content in the form of websites and maybe native mobile apps.

A headless commerce architecture delivers a platform via a RESTful API that comprises of a back-end data model and a cloud-based infrastructure. Since the platform is not tightly coupled with the back-end, eCommerce brands can deliver things like content, products and payment gateways to smartwatches, kiosk screens, Alexa Skills, and everything in between.

Need more information on headless commerce? We've put together a short eBook on why Headless Commerce should be a top priority for eCommerce brands in 2019 and beyond.

 

Headless commerce vs traditional commerce

If you’re still scratching your head *ahem*, here’s a comparison between headless commerce and traditional commerce. I’d say there are three key differences:

Headless vs traditional commerce

1. Flexible front-end development

Traditional commerce

Front-end developers working on a traditional commerce system encounter a number of constraints when it comes to design and the overall process. Any changes made would require a great deal of time to edit the database, the code, and the front-end platform as well. Developers are also limited to what can be updated and/or edited without the risk of voiding a warranty or preventing any future upgrades.

Headless commerce

With the removal of the predefined front-end platform, headless commerce enables front-end developers to create a user experience from scratch which fits nicely with their core business needs. Front-end developers don’t need to worry about modifying databases in the backend as all they have to do is make a simple API call. In other words, front-end developers are set free from the shackles usually associated with a traditional commerce platform.

The only drawback is that, with no front-end presentation layer at all, front-end developers are marketers are left to build everything from scratch, from product pages to landing pages. And getting eCommerce web design right is no mean feat.

That’s why a decoupled solution is superior to a headless solution, but more on that later.

2. Customization and personalization

Traditional commerce

Traditional platforms are equipped with a predefined experience for both your customer and for the administrative user. But these platforms provide little room for customization or personalization. If you are happy with the experience provided by these traditional platforms, then more power to you.

Headless commerce

Traditional commerce platforms constrain developers and users to what they define as the correct user experience. With headless platforms, since there is no front-end, developers can create their own user experience from scratch. You have more control over the look and feel of your commerce platform and you also have control over the user experience for both your customer and your admin users.

3. Flexibility and adaptability

Traditional commerce

In traditional solutions, the front-end is tightly coupled with the back-end coding and infrastructure. This leaves little or no room for flexibility to make any desired customizations. To make a single customization, developers need to edit multiple layers of coding between the front-end right through to the database layer that is buried in the back-end.

Headless commerce

Since headless commerce has already decoupled the front-end and the back-end, this creates endless possibilities for customization as and when required. To make any changes, you simply need to have a front-end developer. You can make changes either big or small, from implementing a custom checkout flow to adding a new field to customer account — both are very straightforward to execute with a headless commerce architecture.

Why headless, and why now?

Amazon is at the forefront in showing us the true value of incorporating a headless commerce platform and how it can help retailers avoid experiencing the hair-pulling frustration associated with a traditional commerce platform. A study by Salmon reported that 60 percent of consumers want an Amazon Prime-like service — but you can’t achieve that with a traditional eCommerce solution.

It is imperative for brands to make the switch to headless commerce and here are 6 reasons why:

1. To go truly omnichannel (without the pain)

First things first, a headless content management system will help propel your content anywhere and everywhere. For an eCommerce brand, that means delivering your products, product videos or blog posts to any channel that has emerged — or will emerge.

So, get ready to sell through Alexa Skills, digital signage, progressive web apps, and even through refrigerators with screens (yes, they exist).

The best news is that with a natively headless commerce platform — like Core dna — you don’t have to re-architect your platform to publish across channels. It’s all just part of the same, future-proof package.

2. To remain competitive

A headless commerce platform enables you to deploy rapid updates without impacting your back-end system. And you can easily make any changes to your front-end to coincide with the speed of consumer technology.

Major commerce brands using a traditional platform usually roll out an update every few weeks. In comparison to the likes of Amazon; they deploy updates on average of every 11.7 seconds — reducing both the number and duration length of outages.

When a front-end system is not tightly coupled to the back-end, you don’t have to roll out an update to the entire system, only part of the system. So you can deliver what your consumers want more quickly and still remain competitive.

3. For agile marketing

A headless commerce system can support new technology as and when they arise. This is perfect for when designing new customer experiences. This puts marketing teams back into the driving seat where they can roll out multiple sites across different brands, divisions and portfolios.

Finally, thanks to the flexibility provided by a headless commerce system, marketing teams can set up a new site in days instead of not months — much like our client Tivoli Audio, a global brand that reduced the time it takes to launch a campaign from a few weeks to a few days.

4. To make the customer experience more personal and consistent

Even though customer needs change over time, they should still receive a consistent customer experience across all devices and channels.

In addition, people want to buy from eCommerce brands that understand their needs across all channels. This goes beyond the usual “people who bought X also purchased Y”. The back-end already knows what a consumer has bought. It uses this data to power the personalization engines on CMS, mobile apps and social channels.

5. For seamless integrations

Headless commerce allows you to integrate with any system. You can add your brand to any new device, expanding your opportunities and outreach to more customers at the same time. Also, it won’t take you months to integrate your commerce platform to a new device, just hours.

Core dna customer Stanley PMI experienced this first hand, using our headless commerce platform to integrate with Oracle and Slack, an integration which helped streamline their customer service workflows. Without delving too deep into this particular integration, Stanley leveraged Core dna to we integrate with OSCV. Here, they collect customer support requests, warranty claims and other questions while simultaneously executing a customer lookup to ensure it isn’t a duplicate request. It if is, the system appends the request, otherwise, it creates a new customer record. This is all done with the Hooks Engine.

Integration made easy with Headless Commerce

For Slack, the Stanley support team uses the Core dna hooks engine once again to monitor all new transactions. They’re on the lookout for orders that are over a certain limit, or from a certain location, or order which contain certain products. The Core dna hooks engine automatically checks the contents of each purchase and if it meets a certain criterion, it’s shared on the relevant Slack channel.

6. For even better conversion optimization

With a headless commerce in place, you can try and test different templates and approaches. For example, you could experiment with a different back-end search solution whilst running the same front-end search.

As a result, a headless commerce allows you to run continuous tests and optimization cycles which will help you get a better understanding of your customer, whilst improving your rate of learning faster than most retailers.

Need more information on headless commerce? We've put together a short eBook on why Headless Commerce should be a top priority for eCommerce brands in 2019 and beyond.

 

The future of commerce is decoupled

Remember us mentioning the drawback of headless solutions when it comes to front-end development? If you’ve read our headless vs decoupled article, you’ll know why the future is decoupled, not just headless.

That’s because, even though the future of eCommerce is headless too, there is one major setback to a headless commerce platform: there is no front-end. For marketers, this is a major disadvantage since they will need technical assistance to create a front-end platform from scratch that meets their business requirements.

The alternative is to look at a decoupled system. Decoupled commerce systems are similar to headless systems in a sense that both front-end and back-end are not coupled together. It also offers the same advantages over a traditional commerce system.

But the difference between a headless commerce system and a decoupled commerce system is that a decoupled system comes with a front-end platform that is equipped with tools and templates so that marketers are not left in the dark when it comes to creating their own system. The front-end communicates with the back-end through API, thus giving the same flexibility as a headless system.

So you could say eCommerce has lost its head. But for those who are not tech-savvy, a decoupled commerce system provides the ease-of-use similar to traditional commerce system but with the flexibility of a headless system. It’s the best of both worlds.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Saltis

Sam Saltis

An entrepreneur at heart with over 20+ years of experience in building internet software, growing online companies and managing product development.

Loves all things SaaS, technology, and startups.

You can find him feeding his beloved fish when he's back in Australia.

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