Kunal Khullar
Kunal Khullar 9 August 2019
Categories Ecommerce

Headless Commerce - It's Time to Rethink Your eCommerce Strategy

Find out what a headless commerce is, the difference between monolithic CMS vs headless CMS, and the pros & cons of headless CMS. This article will also talk about a few popular platforms & which CMS supports headless commerce.

Ever since the introduction of eCommerce, it has been growing at a rapid pace. Let's have a quick view of some of the statistics:

"The total value of global retail eCommerce sales will reach $3.45T in 2019. - Source: Statista"
"E-commerce retail sales are expected to account for 13.7% of global retail sales in 2019. - Source: Statista"
"80% of Internet users in the US have made at least one purchase online. - Source: Statista"

From the above statistics, one thing is pretty much sure that we will be going to see tough competition among the popular eCommerce brands. So keeping this in mind, it becomes very crucial for brands to offer personalized and integrated shopping experiences.

In addition to this, customer expectations are also uniformly changing, and they expect more seamless experiences across all channels and touchpoints. This emerging trend has pushed many brands to rethink their eCommerce strategy & this is where "Headless Approach" gained the attention of eCommerce store owners.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is the approach in which the head is separated from the body. Now you must be wondering about what is a head & body in eCommerce. 

The front-end of the website which you usually see on your laptop/desktop and mobile is the head. Whereas, the body is the backend of the website (responsible for PCI compliance, payment processing & capturing orders). 

In simple words, if I have to define headless CMS, then I would say you can build your front-end design with any technology whether it is WordPress, Drupal (product showcase & content management) and for backend layer (payment processing), you can choose BigCommerce, Shopify & even Magento 2.

How Headless Commerce Works?

In headless commerce, both the front end layer and the back end layer is decoupled, thereby separating the content presentation layer & the functional layer.

How Headless Commerce Works?

For instance, when the user clicks a “Shop/Buy Now” button on their smartphone, laptop or desktop, the presentation layer of the headless eCommerce system sends an API call to the application layer to process the order. The application layer sends another API call to the application layer to show the customer the status of their order.

Pros of Headless Commerce over Monolithic Approach

#1 Seamless Integration

One of the significant benefits that headless E-commerce offers is that it is API driven and it integrates seamlessly with most of the other systems, such as ERPs, marketing automation tools, CRM, CMS and many more.

These integrations ensure that data is transferred quickly and easily, rather than going for a plugin that needs to be updated constantly, having security patches and other issues with partial integrations. Once the integration is set up, it is not required to be updated again as APIs allow software platforms to communicate with each other easily and foster seamless connections and transfer of data.

#2 Omni- Channel Capabilities

To understand this, let us consider an example of an American retail company, Walmart Inc. They possess an omnichannel presence both on and off-screen. This approach allows them to reach a maximum number of customers with multiple screen size. Walmart products can be accessed through any screen size like mobiles, tablets, desktops, laptop screens, and even from a physical store. This allows customers to compare the best available offers.

Since the main goal of headless commerce platforms is to offer a seamless UX across all channels, this where the headless approach empowered omnichannel retailing by letting the marketer showcase his stock, product information, prices, offers, etc. in realtime on multiple channels to his customer in a personalized & customized way.

It is also found in a 2017 study where over 40,000 participants were interviewed. Out of that, 7% were online-only shoppers, 20% were store-only shoppers, and the rest of the majority of 73% used multiple channels for their shopping journey. And this study concluded that the more channels customers use, the more valuable they are.

#3 Personalization

The underlying principle of personalization is to learn the preferential subtleties of your key markets and understand how best to deliver them. Headless approach avails marketers to provide a personalized experience to their customers. Marketers can get multiple front end layouts designed for their customers using different screen size. As headless systems are undisruptive and separate from one another, you can experiment without fear of slowing down your site.

#4 Flexibility

Headless Approach separates the front end and back end of a website allowing brands to update their customer-facing content layer without interrupting their business infrastructure.

Fulfilling the demands of modern customers who wish to have more online shopping capabilities in the form of a front-end that is easy to use, up to date, and seamless, while simultaneously a back end that is capable of the increasingly complex transactions.

#5 Speed

Decoupling allows new functionalism and integrations that are a good fit for a business that can be applied with much less time, energy and ultimately, cost because of the openness of the architecture.

Cons of Headless Commerce

#1 Cost at Higher End

Headless commerce platforms do not give you front-end, developers have to create their own. So, your business may need to spend extra in infrastructure or developer costs that can add up swiftly. If you aren’t looking for a big investment, headless commerce may not be for you.

#2 Certainly Missing Marketer-friendly environment

Again, because Headless commerce platforms do not give you a front-end presentation layer, so you’ll not be able to

  • Plan content in a WYSIWYG ecosystem.
  • Preview content section to see how & what it will look like exactly on the user’s end screen or device.

Instead, marketers are totally reliant on the IT team not only just to build the front-end presentation layer, but also to update it and populate it with content.

eCommerce Platforms that support a Headless Approach

Headless commerce is a prominent space and at the same time, we have a range of eCommerce platforms who are offering APIs that aid a decoupled or headless approach to eCommerce. Here are two names to consider in the emerging space:


BigCommerce - Headless eCommerce Platform

It is a highly extensible open SaaS platform. It has become one of the world’s best eCommerce platforms to support headless e-commerce implementations on leading third-party content management systems and digital experience platforms. Empowering the B2C and B2B e-commerce, it is currently used by numerous small as well as large brands such as Toyota, Kodak, Paul Mitchell.

Let’s take an example of one case studies which will demonstrate how Bigcommerce integrated headless approach:

Carluccio’s - (BigCommerce +Wordpress)

Carluccio's - Official Website

Italian restaurant chain founded in London in 1999, headquartered in Covent Garden, London, UK. It aims to provide great quality, authentic Italian food, and excellent service to its customers at a sensible price.

Carluccio’s implemented the headless approach by having its front end layer already built in Wordpress and using BigCommerce as its headless commerce solution. The main reasons behind this integration were:

  1. To allow customers to stay on the same site (no subdomain) through-out the experience. Because having subdomains affects the site ranking. Subdomains are treated as different sites when it comes to determining rankings. These subdomains can not drive any SEO benefits from the parent domain.
  2. Offer 1-page checkout to get users quickly into and out of the buying funnel which reduces the chances of cart abandonment.

Benefits Carluccio’s drew from this integration:

  • Industry-Leading E-commerce scalability: With this, merchants can enjoy a more efficient experience that is not available in backend bloat of WordPress. They can easily scale eCommerce functionality as per their requirements.
  • Out of the box commerce functionality: By using BigCommerce’s ecosystem of apps and sizable catalog of fully integrated payment and shipping methods, WP developers can integrate end to end commerce capabilities to the existing themes and site experience.
  • Enhanced E-commerce security and peace of mind: It also guarantees secured PCI compliant checkout, enabling merchants to deliver a superior website experience, without having a concern of managing and maintaining PCI compliance.

Shopify Plus

Shopify Plus - Headless eCommerce Platform

It is a Cloud-based, multichannel E-Commerce platform that offers a wide range of customizable features for your storefronts.

It deals with marketing, payments, shipping and customer engagement like services to simplify the process of running an online store for small merchants.

Shopify Plus’s Features:

  • No need to reboot your system to comply with the third-Party operating systems, It makes quick updates to do the task.
  • Ability to engage customers through innovative and creative storefronts like kiosks, billboards, smart mirrors, wearables, and a vending machine.
  • For campaigns, Agile marketing and A/B testing can be implemented. Accelerates your site performance with a Progressive Website App (PWA) that responds like a native mobile app.
  • Helps in creating a beautiful UI for web, mobile, gaming, or any platform with Shopify SDKs and delivering highly personalized experiences to each customer segment, based on the criteria you have chosen.
  • Works simultaneously on the front end and back end development or on the same files across multiple sites, in any programming language.

Let’s take an example of one case studies which will demonstrate how Shopify Plus integrated headless approach - (GatsbyJS + Shopify Plus)

Rachio - Official Website+

Rachio deals in intelligent sprinkler controllers that enable users to water their landscapes smartly by offering Iro, wifi-enabled device that turns sprinklers on and off remotely. It also enables users to schedule irrigation automatically depending upon the factors like water budgets, local weather, soil characteristics, and more. It was founded in 2013 by Franz Garsombke and Christopher Klien.

They switched from a traditional approach to headless one so that they can offer excellent user experience and shopping experience to their customers by having very clean content based landing pages and content-rich product detailed pages.

Benefits Rachio received from this integration:

  • Highly customized theme and settings
  • Made it easy to automatically source and manage genuine micro-influencers from the customer base
  • Made it hassle-free and easy to launch any campaign and keep a record of it with Shopify's world-class analytical features.
  • Made it easy to keep a check on shipping and payment methods

Popular CMS that supports Headless Approach

# 1. Headless Wordpress or Drupal

Headless CMS: Wordpress or Drupal

WordPress as a headless CMS offers better CMS performance on a varied range of hardware and software combinations. If you personally like WordPress, then with the help of WordPress REST API, you can make it headless. WordPress cuts down the overhead costs and cloud storage bills compared to other CMSes which might have a bulkier set of requirements.

Drupal is a very flexible and extremely agile CMS. Making Drupal headless is indeed much easier since Drupal 8 already comes packaged with the RESTful Web Services module. One of the key benefits of headless Drupal is the “Speed” it offers. JavaScript frameworks like React.js, used by headless drupal are known for their speed and ease of use.

# 2. Contentful

Contentful - Headless CMS

It is API- First Headless CMS, known for having the industry’s leading management API which allows any engineering team to organize and manage even the most complex digital ecosystems with own Content Delivery API.

Contentful is content infrastructure and only cloud-native vendor to be featured in the latest Forrester Wave (FICO is the leading analytics software company helping businesses to make better decisions that drive the higher level of growth, profitability and customer satisfaction).

One of its strengths is being presentation layer agnostic, means you can reuse your content across any platform. Being tested to achieve the best results, it provides uncluttered UI and the content can be received as soon as it gets published.

Future of eCommerce is Headless

Headless provides customized and time-saving experience for the customers while also giving the brand the freedom to deliver content to different devices, applications, and touchpoints through API. And I believe in today’s time where this IT Industry has grown so much that with the presence of multiple touchpoints around the world, everybody is more driven to online shopping than store-shopping, moving to Headless approach will serve merchants the best of both worlds, can say best of both front and back world’s.

However, this approach is beneficial for all kinds of businesses but as per my opinion following are the businesses which are excellent candidates for this approach:

  • Businesses with an existing content management solution either already having heavy content which is quickly or constantly changing or that want the growth their eCommerce is offering.
  • Creators of digital experiences who are seeking for an optimized choice of multichannel content publishing.
  • Organizations that seek more control in marketing and content management.

The only downside is the absence of the front end layer but that can also be used as its strength. The customization which headless offers further gave retailers flexibility in serving rich content and brand experience, as well as overall user experience. Seeing the popularity and reach of headless I can conclude that the future of eCommerce is for sure Headless.

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