Web developers, designers, and eCommerce managers are addressing the problems of flexibility and scalability in eCommerce with the same solution as the Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland fame. “Off with their head”, they cry. But it’s not what you think. Headless eCommerce is making already powerful and flexible modern eCommerce platforms even more user and administrator friendly by combining the frontend tools of the developer’s choice with the backend of an off-the-shelf eCommerce platform.
Headless eCommerce is a solution that separates the concerns and needs of the customer-driven frontend from the company concerns and needs driving the backend part of the webstore. Finally, sellers can pick and choose freely to create the best-fit solution for each.
In a typical headless eCommerce scenario, the B2B company uses a powerful B2B eCommerce platform under the hood to power the site and utilizes another modern CMS system or PWA framework to deliver the best-of-class frontend experience. However, for an eCommerce platform to qualify as a headless-ready solution, it must be flexible and scale and decouple easily.
Headless Commerce and eCommerce Platforms
A Paradigm Shift in the eCommerce Industry
Headless Commerce, similar to composable commerce, allows you the freedom to completely reimagine the idea of eCommerce. Traditionally, most eCommerce platforms on the market are single-stack solutions. These come out of the box with customizable pre-set storefronts to face the customers and a backend that is used by the company to support the customer transactions. The two parts work so well together they can hardly function without each other.
This eCommerce solution works just fine for the average B2B seller who needs a set of simple but powerful sales-enabling features and a website building framework that gets their eCommerce shop open fast. These standard solutions provide all the necessary features for buyers and shop admins to get started almost effortlessly. So, what is the appeal of headless eCommerce?
Headless eCommerce is forward thinking and recognizes that somewhere down the road the business requirements will change. You may find that customers are demanding a particular frontend experience and you need to provide the new experience they want. Or perhaps your insights team has delivered several user journey scenarios and you must open multiple webstores to test the different frontend customer experiences and multichannel eCommerce before deciding on the final solution. Or perhaps you need the power of one platform’s backend together with the content management system that delivers the optimal user experience provided by another 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 to maneuver if your platform of choice supports headless eCommerce by design.
The Concept Behind Headless Architecture
To run headless eCommerce, your platform must support a headless architecture. This fusion of technology decouples the frontend where you provide your content in a customer-focused way that may use interactive layers to build the customer experience from the backend that’s the business end of the site providing the application’s tech stack, infrastructure, and business logic. The driving reason for the rise of headless eCommerce is to free the customer-facing experience of your site from the limitations of your eCommerce platform’s capabilities.
With a headless eCommerce 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 the complexities that come with B2B 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, eCommerce PIM, or CRM. The communication between front- and backend is carried out via RESTful APIs. It’s this API network that feeds all the relevant data stored and managed in the backend to the frontend in a user-friendly way.
Headless Architecture Builds eCommerce for the Future
The headless approach is growing in popularity among big eCommerce players like Amazon and eBay for a reason. It meets customers where, when, and how they want to shop.
In the early days of eCommerce, most of the seller’s website traffic originated in desktop web browsers, thus making the browser the single most important buyer touchpoint. The eCommerce platforms that dominated the market in those days were monolithic, single-stack platforms with the front and backend paired. Their single goal was to create a frictionless buying experience in a variety of web browsers. And that was great as long as everyone searched and purchased using desktop computers. But then came the smartphone and the tablet and now we have the Internet of Things. There are numerous buyer touchpoints that aren’t limited to desktop or mobile anymore. And the future holds touchpoints we haven’t even imagined yet.
Modern businesses trying to keep up with the omnichannel needs of their customers require greater flexibility from their eCommerce solutions. However, because the front- and backend are married until death 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 to improve customer experience) requires you to immediately make numerous changes to the backend to keep the application running smoothly. 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.
Similar to AI in eCommerce, Headless Commerce lets companies laser focus on customer experience. And now more than ever, customer experience is key to success in eCommerce. A survey of abandoned carts found that aside from hidden costs (a big no-no) the other reasons for abandonment could all be traced back to poor customer experience .
Now that B2B eCommerce has evolved to be a distinct technology, there is an increased interest in headless eCommerce. Looking to the future, B2B sellers know that a website that is nothing more than an online catalog that showcases products just isn’t practical or profitable. B2B must now sell online to remain relevant and meet customer needs. Forward-looking B2B sellers can now take advantage of B2B eCommerce platforms that address their B2B-specific needs while keeping their favorite (or long-used) frontend tools. For now, headless eCommerce architecture helps them adopt B2B eCommerce with less time and effort. And in the future, this same architecture will allow them to continue to adapt the customer experience to unimagined touchpoints.
Key Benefits of Headless Architecture
Going headless brings quite a number of benefits. You gain freedom, flexibility, and agility to start with. It’s much easier to personalize your implementation when the front-and backend are decoupled. The frontend design isn’t inhibited by the backend engine and the backend is free to integrate with other solutions without impacting the user experience. The result is an eCommerce solution that gets to market faster and provides a true omnichannel experience. And today’s world, buyers want to interact with your brand on multiple channels. According to Google, 6 in 10 shoppers begin their journey on one device and finish it on another. That’s a lot of channel surfing! Whether you are upgrading your existing website or looking at eCommerce for the first time, you should consider the benefits of headless Commerce.
More Freedom for Businesses in Choosing Solution Providers
Because headless eCommerce keeps the front- and backend layers apart, businesses are free to choose different solution providers for each. It’s like a digital buffet for B2B eCommerce. For example, say you’re satisfied with one solution’s backend features but aren’t sold on the frontend experience, that’s okay. You can use your preferred frontend while harnessing the power of the preferred backend. Or maybe you’re a B2B company that previously only used a website as a content repository instead of a sales channel. You’ve got a wealth of content that your customers are using regularly but you want to add the flexibility of online ordering. In this instance, you 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. Or perhaps you love the look and feel of your existing WordPress site but WooCommerce just isn’t up to the task of handling your orders or integration with your ERP has become a nightmare. In that situation, you might keep your WordPress frontend and look to a backend with a powerful workflow automation engine. It might be the easiest solution to scale your current site to meet your current and future demands.
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 have complete control over 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. eCommerce API-driven headless Commerce 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. You also have more freedom for A/B testing of frontend experiences.
Fast and Seamless Integrations
Customizing solutions through integration is now even faster. The headless approach uses APIs to let multiple 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. So, as customer needs change, your user interface can adapt to meet these changing needs without affecting the backend. As a bonus, you are saving time and money on backend development because these top layer changes don’t impact the backend. Now backend developers can focus on site performance.
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.
Decreased Load Times
When someone lands on your website, you have only seconds to gain their attention. If your website isn’t loading quickly, they aren’t going to wait around for you. The average load time for websites associated with business and industrial markets is 8.3 seconds in the United States. With the customer facing frontend freed from the constrictions of the backend, smaller and more specific chunks of data are carried via the APIs and the eCommerce platform isn’t left like Atlas carrying the weight of all the data on its shoulders[CK2] . Increasing your site speed increases not only your conversions, it decreases the number of visitors that bounce away to your competitors. And in a cascading effect, this decreased bounce rate may boost your organic SEO. Google is cagey about their algorithms, but almost everyone agrees bounce rates, time on page, and number of pages visited are positive signals for ranking.
Examples of Headless eCommerce
What kind of businesses opt for headless eCommerce? To begin with, headless eCommerce platforms are an ideal solution for large businesses with a complex, or nuanced ordering process. To better understand how businesses are benefiting 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 that 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 an 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.
Is Headless eCommerce Right for Your Company?
Does your company operate in an ever-changing ecosystem? If so, headless eCommerce might be right for you. It would give you the flexibility to change the content presentation layer without affecting the backend layer. When speed and agility count, headless eCommerce delivers with the flexibility you need.
If your strategy includes digitizing every touchpoint, a headless solution allows additional channels to be easily added on an as needed basis. As new devices are released and adopted, new channels are created. The headless eCommerce option lets you be ready for the rise of future channels, no matter what they may be. As the Internet of Things grows, unthought of channels are created.
And this Internet of Things isn’t just for retailers. According to Gartner, Enterprise spending on “Things” will be huge by 2020. Just think, where printers once told you if they were low on ink, they can now monitor their ink levels, monitor the amount of ink in stock, and reorder ink when the stock falls below a certain level. If you’re in the office products business, that’s a new channel you can’t ignore. But with headless eCommerce, you’re ready to adapt.
If your brand demands maximum control, headless eCommerce may be the path to take. eCommerce platform upgrades won’t take the customer interface down.
Finally, if you find yourself saying “we’d love to do “X” but our platform is so limiting” or if you think “we’ve got such great content but our site just can’t handle the volume of our products or orders,” then a headless eCommerce solution might be right for you.
Off with Its Head: Can Any Platform Serve Headless Architecture?
In the years to come, the use of headless eCommerce will continue to grow in popularity with digital businesses because of its ability to deliver highly customizable technology for rapidly changing business environments. However, at the moment this type of architecture only works with 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. Trying to break up that marriage of front- and backend is like an ugly divorce. It’s costly and everyone suffers in the process. But it’s easily avoided by selecting a solution that decouples easily and is built with an open source. So, do your own research and select your eCommerce platform wisely and with an eye to the future.
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.