Headless eCommerce takes the flexibility of modern eCommerce platforms to new heights by allowing developers to utilize frontend tools of their choice – as well as build custom frontend – on top of off-the-shelf eCommerce platforms’ backend. In other words, headless eCommerce separates concerns between the frontend and the backend part of your webstore so that you may freely choose the best-fit solution for each of the two.
A typical scenario for B2B companies is having a powerful B2B eCommerce platform under the hood while using modern headless CMS systems or PWA frameworks for best-of-class frontend experience. However, for an eCommerce platform to qualify as a headless-ready solution, there are lots of requirements to be addressed.
Headless eCommerce and eCommerce Platforms
A paradigm shift in the eCommerce industry
Headless eCommerce allows you to entirely reimagine the idea of eCommerce platforms. Traditionally, the majority of eCommerce platforms are single-stack solutions that come with a pre-set storefront to face customers and a backend that performs data processing. Two parts can hardly function without each other.
It works just fine for an average merchant who needs a single kit of sales-enabling features and a website building framework to open their eCommerce shop fast. These solutions provide all the necessary features for buyers and shop admins to get started almost effortlessly. Then why consider headless?
Because somewhere down the road the business requirements may change. You may find that particular frontend experience works best for your industry and you need to follow the suit. Or you open multiple webstores and want to test different frontend technologies before deciding on the final UX. Or you simply want one platform’s backend powers together with the UX provided by the other platform. In another scenario, you may want to have full control over frontend development and enhancements, in which case you should opt for custom-built storefront using vendor-agnostic frontend tools. In all these situations, you’ll have plenty of room for maneuver if your platform of choice supports headless eCommerce by design.
The concept behind the headless architecture
To run headless eCommerce, your platform must support the headless architecture, which decouples the frontend (content, presentation and interactive layers of customer experience) and the backend (the application’s tech stack, infrastructure, and business logic). This means that the customer-facing experience of your site is no longer driven by your eCommerce platform capabilities.
With a headless approach in B2B, you get all the freedom to build omnichannel, tailored storefront buyer experiences while still having a robust B2B eCommerce engine on the backend to facilitate complex transactions. Your B2B eCommerce platform will be your pivotal component that runs the backend data operations and manages integrations with external systems, such as ERP or CRM. The communication between front- and backend is carried out via RESTful API. The API feeds all the relevant data stored and managed in the backend to the frontend in a user-friendly way.
Headless Architecture Is The New Way to Build eCommerce
The headless approach is growing in popularity among eCommerce businesses for a reason.
In the early days of eCommerce, most of the seller’s website traffic originated in desktop web browsers, thus making a browser a single most important buyer touchpoint. The eCommerce solutions that dominated the market back then came as monolithic, single-stack platforms with the front and backend paired, and their single goal was to create a smooth buying experience in a typical web browser. It is different today as there are numerous buyer touchpoints and they aren’t even limited to desktop or mobile anymore.
Modern businesses trying to keep up with the omnichannel needs of their customers demand greater flexibility from their eCommerce solutions. However, because the front- and backend are inherently coupled in the architecture of single-stack eCommerce platforms, decoupling them is hard, if not impossible in many cases. As a result, every single change made in the frontend (e.g., changing the checkout design) requires you to immediately make respective changes in the backend to avoid any disruptions. This can be costly and prone to introducing more hardwired dependencies within the application. With headless architecture, making changes is such a breeze in comparison because the front- and backend layers can be handled virtually as separate applications.
With the advent of B2B eCommerce as a distinct technology, there is an increased interest in headless architecture for eCommerce. Gone are the days where the website was nothing more than an online catalog to showcase products, B2B must now sell online to remain relevant and meet customer needs. B2B companies can now take advantage of B2B eCommerce platforms, which address a greater variety of B2B-specific needs while keeping their favorite (or long-used) frontend tools. A headless eCommerce architecture helps them adopt B2B eCommerce at less time and effort, without disrupting their customers’ UX if they don’t want to.
Key Benefits of Headless Architecture for B2B Commerce
There are many advantages to going headless. You gain freedom, flexibility, and agility to start with. Those benefits lead to time and cost savings when renovating your eCommerce webstore.
More freedom for businesses in choosing solution providers
Because headless eCommerce keeps the front- and backend layers apart, businesses can choose the different solution providers for each. For example, if you’re satisfied with one solution’s backend features, but prefer another system for the frontend layer (other than provided), you’re free to do so. Let’s say you’re a B2B company that previously only used a website as a content repository instead of a sales channel. You can choose an eCommerce system with a decoupled content management module and keep your existing CMS. In this way, you separate the commerce and customer experiences, which allows you to enhance both independently whenever you want and however you want.
Headless architecture makes it possible for business owners to control exactly how they want their business logic to work, what data they want to have at their fingertips, and completely control the user experience. With traditional eCommerce platforms, businesses often wind up adapting their needs to their tech stack instead of their tech adapting to their business needs. API-driven headless eCommerce allows the best business applications to work seamlessly together utilizing only the capabilities that serve specific business needs.
Rapid and non-codependent updates
Decoupled front- and backend systems enable you to make instant changes to either component without reconfiguring the entire system. For example, when your marketing team launches a new sales channel, you only need to add another integration to the backend, while the customer-facing content layer on the frontend remains the same. This allows cost-effective customizations and updates of required areas without changing the underlying infrastructure.
Fast and seamless integrations
Customizing solutions through integrations is now even faster. The headless approach uses API to let several systems communicate with each other, exchange data, and seamlessly integrate without constraints. Any additional functionality or system can be connected via the respective API.
More room for user experience optimizations
Because headless systems are separate, you can test and experiment with different initiatives for front- or backend with greater ease. Based on the results revealed by these tests, you can optimize and innovate consumer-facing and admin-facing experiences. Best of all, both frontend and backend can now scale independently.
More efficient development implementations
Legacy eCommerce platform frontend developers are constrained by the coupling with the backend. Even a minor change of data or user experience element necessitates alterations within the database and the code. It’s different with headless eCommerce. The headless approach makes it possible for developers to make modifications and customizations without having to re-write the whole system’s logic every time. Front- and backend layers can be handled by different IT teams that can utilize different development skills. These teams don’t need to be well versed with the technologies used on the side with which they do not work. This makes development easier and more cost-efficient.
Examples of Headless eCommerce
When should businesses opt for headless eCommerce? To begin with, headless eCommerce platforms are an ideal solution for larger businesses with a complex, or nuanced ordering. To better understand how business can benefit from embracing headless commerce as a strategy, let’s look at two real-life examples. Be sure to take a look at more real-life examples and a list of popular headless eCommerce solutions.
Amazon, the global commerce behemoth is a pioneer in innovative technology. The iconic shopping experience they provide definitely has lessons B2B businesses should learn. And one lesson is adopting headless eCommerce. A headless eCommerce system enables Amazon to offer customers instant ordering on Amazon’s mobile app and site with Dash Buttons available for tens of millions of products sold by various sellers. These frontend buttons are wi-fi connected devices – each paired with a specific product – that reorder in the backend the desired item with just one touch. Total Dash Button orders have increased by 70% in just three months, while more than half of Amazon orders were “dashed”.
Animal Supply Company (ASC), a leading US pet food manufacturer and distributor, provides 3PL (third-party logistics services) to its nationwide network of retailers across the United States. Their retailers take online orders on their sites using eCommerce portals and tools such as Amazon or hosted shopping carts, and ASC manages all warehousing, inventory, shipping, and order fulfillment operations. How does Animal Supply leverage headless eCommerce? The frontend layer is represented by multiple storefronts and is connected through API to OroCommerce, the #1 eCommerce platform for B2B. OroCommerce is used as a centralized order management system (OMS) for processing orders that are submitted through both external sales channels and different storefronts. Whenever customers order from an Animal Supply retailer’s site or through Amazon, all order-related data is automatically transmitted to ASC’s OroCommerce headless platform for further processing. This gives Animal Supply a single view of all the clean data on their customer journeys. As a result, they can easily provide a cohesive experience for customers across multiple channels. Read more about Animal Supply success story.
OroCommerce simplifies 3PL operations via Headless eCommerce model
Off with Its Head: Can Any Platform Serve Headless eCommerce?
In the years to come, headless eCommerce will grow in popularity among digital businesses because of its ability to deliver highly customizable technology for rapidly changing business environments. However, at the moment this type of architecture is only provided by a few eCommerce platforms, among which OroCommerce provides a unique proposition for headless B2B eCommerce. Most traditional monolithic eCommerce solutions can’t separate the front- and backend painlessly and thus have a lot to catch up with. So, do your own research and select eCommerce platforms wisely.
Interested to learn more about headless eCommerce with OroCommerce? Get in touch with us to discuss the pros and cons of headless eCommerce for your business.