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Headless Commerce: The Move from Monolithic to Best-of-Breed

By: Ted Rogers
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In the competitive and ever-changing world of ecommerce, it’s crucial for brands to offer integrated and personalized shopping experiences. Customer expectations are constantly changing, and they expect seamless experiences across channels and touchpoints. This evolution has pushed many brands to rethink their ecommerce strategy and progress from full-stack models into best-of-breed technologies. One way brands are accomplishing this is with the help of headless commerce systems.

By now, you’ve probably the heard the term “headless.” After all, headless commerce has been, and continues to be, one of the biggest buzzwords in ecommerce today. But what is it, exactly? And what can a headless strategy do for your brand?

In this guide to headless commerce, we set the record straight and dive into the advantages of adopting headless ecommerce architecture.

What is headless commerce?

For starters, headless commerce can be described exactly as it sounds – the content management system (CMS) or digital experience platform (DXP) head is essentially cut off from the commerce platform body. That is, headless commerce separates the front-end and back-end of an ecommerce platform.

What does moving to headless ecommerce architecture do, though? After all, with a headless commerce market to reach $32 billion by 2027, there must be more to it than just a buzzworthy phrase.[1]

Crucially, the decoupling of the presentation layer from the commerce platform layer allows brands more flexibility and control over the buying experiences they offer. And, as we’ll explore, that flexibility and control is what brands need to stay ahead of the competition.

For many brands, CMS platforms like WordPress or DXPs such as BloomReach are used as front-end presentation layers to host products and content. Behind the scenes, ecommerce platforms are responsible for capturing orders, PCI compliance, tax calculation, fraud management, and payment processing. APIs are used to connect and communicate between these systems. When the two are completely separated in a headless architecture, brands can focus on innovating and creating differentiated customer experiences without worrying about disrupting back-end systems.

Headless commerce benefits

Now, more than ever before, there is a strong emphasis on combining best-of-breed capabilities to create seamless shopping experiences for today’s increasingly connected consumers. Headless commerce strategies allow brands to do just that.

Choosing the right CMS or DXP solution for your brand can result in unmatched content experiences that drive shoppers to the checkout page and enhance your overall brand perception. Pairing this with the best ecommerce platform for your specific needs can increase chances of cart conversion and fuel revenue growth.

Taking it even a step beyond headless, we’re seeing customer-centric brands combine three to five different providers to build their full commerce solution – for example, a CMS, with a commerce platform, and a payments provider. The ability to mix and match best-of-breed solutions allows brands to fully control shopping experiences and innovate like never before.

Traditional commerce vs. headless commerce

In the early days of ecommerce, leading providers offered fully managed, all-inclusive commerce capabilities. While these predefined, end-to-end solutions were simple in that brands didn’t have to manage multiple platforms and vendor relationships, they lacked the agility and heightened experiences that fully integrated headless models can offer. Here are three key differences between traditional commerce and headless commerce:

1. Development

Traditional: Developers run into their fair share of roadblocks with traditional commerce models. Because they are constrained to predefined designs and processes, development is complicated and maintenance is costly. Furthermore, nuanced development with many layers of code often leads to slow go-to-market timelines.

Headless: Headless platforms that decouple the front-end from the back-end offer faster development times and reduced costs. Developers can create new user experiences from scratch without worrying about reconfiguring back-end logic. And if a brand has an existing content management solution, simple API calls can connect this system to best-of-breed commerce technologies suited for their specific business needs.

2. Flexibility

Traditional: Traditional ecommerce models, often dependent on custom-built technologies, lack the flexibility and infrastructure needed to keep up with the speed of ecommerce innovation. The tightly coupled front- and back-end systems make it difficult and time-consuming to edit databases and layers of code.

Headless: Because headless solutions are completely decoupled, it is easy for front-end developers to make updates to the content layer of the platform. This increased flexibility allows brands to do anything from adding products and promotional campaigns to implementing a custom checkout flow without having to reconfigure back-end technology.

3. Customization

Traditional: End-to-end solutions with coupled infrastructure leave little room for customization and personalization. Brands are often constrained to using predefined experiences due to the high cost, the fear of disturbing back-end functions, and the amount of time needed to customize new user experiences.

Headless: Fully integrated headless models allow for infinite customization and complete control over the look and feel of the customer experience. Front-end developers can make rapid changes to headless platforms with simple API calls. As a result, brands can look forward to unique user experiences and more engaging ecommerce sites.

Benefits of headless commerce strategies

Headless commerce enables digital transformation and removes barriers associated with managing cross-channel user experiences. That’s why a headless ecommerce architecture drives customer-centric, experience-led strategies that have a multitude of benefits for developers and customers alike:

1. Unparalleled shopping experiences across channels

The ability to offer unmatched shopping experiences for customers is more important than ever. As shoppers use an increasing number of channels to search for and purchase products, brands feel more pressure to have a unified presence across devices and touchpoints. With a headless commerce platform, these brands don’t have to worry about re-architecting their platform when adding and selling across new channels.

Modern consumers look for superior brand experiences that they can’t always find through reseller channels or marketplaces like Amazon. As a result, direct-to-consumer channels continue to grow in popularity and allow brands to present customers with beautifully optimized shopping experiences. Headless commerce is the most future-proof strategy to deliver exactly what today’s shoppers are looking for.

2. Increased personalization and engagement

Headless commerce gives brands the opportunity to take advantage of the beauty and customization abilities of best-of-breed CMS or DXPs. Because headless solutions are decoupled, brands can test innovative personalization strategies without the worry of disrupting back-end capabilities. Engaging with consumers in a more personalized way can build lasting customer relationships and increase brand loyalty.

3. Decreased development and go-to-market time

To remain competitive, today’s brands are expected to deliver what their consumers want at the speed they want it. The ability to respond to new trends and technologies with fast changes that don’t impact back-end systems is crucial. Headless commerce strategies allow brands to rapidly develop and implement new solutions at a much lower cost and speed-to-market than traditional strategies. Furthermore, a decoupled architecture makes it easy to seamlessly integrate with any system and reach new customers faster.

Why now?

The future of ecommerce is all about providing superior, seamless (and localized) shopping experiences for your consumers and flexible solutions for your developers. Headless commerce empowers you to own the customer experience with full control over how your shoppers interact with and purchase your products.

Focus on what your brand does best

Consider WordPress as an example. WordPress is the most widely-used content management system because it allows developers to easily create beautiful front-end web experiences. Over 810 million websites (about 43% of all websites) utilize WordPress as their CMS of choice.[2] As ecommerce becomes more complicated, your brand can focus on creating the best products and experiences for your customers using a presentation layer like WordPress and you can leave the risky, back-end nuances to ecommerce experts.

Digital differentiation

We’re living in a world where experience is more important to many consumers than price. Now, more than ever before, these digital experiences are a key differentiator for ecommerce brands looking to deliver exactly what today’s consumers want across an ecosystem of touchpoints. Experience-led headless ecommerce models that combine best-of-breed technologies enable brands to innovate with speed and engage with their customers at a higher level.

Curious about how your brand can benefit from a headless commerce strategy? Explore our flexible, headless ecommerce API solution, and contact us today to learn more about how we can handle the complex and risky back-end services so you can focus on creating beautiful, differentiated shopping experiences for your customers, no matter where you’re take your business around the globe.