Headless commerce: to the future and beyond… of eCommerce platforms

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Shoppers be shoppin’.

And over the last few years since that virus dropped – what was it called again?  Oh yeah… COVID-19.  

Since COVID became a ‘thing’ in 2019, we’ve seen the number of people who engage in online shopping grow from 17.8% to 23% of all global sales in 2022.  

And it’s not slowing down – expect it to hit 24.5% by 2025.

So it seems eCommerce marketers have a golden opportunity on their hands.  

But will traditional eCommerce platforms suffice for marketers to claim their piece of the pie?

Maybe.

The ones who’ll clean up, though, are those who take a headless commerce approach.

But before we rip into the topic of headless commerce, headless eCommerce or headless commerce platforms (whatever you choose to call it), let’s look at why a shift to headless commerce is even necessary. 

The problem with traditional eCommerce platforms

eCommerce platforms.  You know them well.

Shopify, Wix and Magento are probably among the first few eCommerce platforms that come to mind.

So when we’ve seen so much growth using traditional eCommerce platforms, why do we need headless commerce?

Well, it seems traditional eCommerce platforms have some competitive problems that hold them back from capitalising on the growth:

  1. Limited design options
  2. Database management and coding is a huge time suck
  3. Dictated experience for both the user and the admin
  4. Limited room for customisation.  

Using a traditional eCommerce platform means your site is losing the race against any site with a better UX.  

And considering 74% of customers will return to a site with a great UX, you’d be Kanye crazy not to care about that!

Enter headless commerce

Because no one likes to ride the jargon wagon, let’s use the analogy of buying a home to explain the difference between traditional eCommerce and headless commerce.

Traditional eCommerce: This is like purchasing a project home.  

You might have the option to change a few features here and there or pick different cupboard handles, but at the end of the day, you have the plan, and you work within the parameters. 

It’s hardly what you’d call custom made.

Headless commerce: Building a headless technology site means starting with a clean slate.  What you design will be limited only by your imagination.

In headless commerce, you lay your “cement” foundations (or your backend system) how you want by choosing which platform suits your business the most. 

Example: Starting with an ERP or CMS like Word Press.

Then you’ll work with a developer to help bring your frontend (the structure of your house) to life with a series of handpicked custom windows, fixtures, fittings, and bespoke flooring. Or, in our context, APIs. 

I believe Walt Disney put it best when he said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Caption: headless commerce allows you to have independent front and back end systems connected by APIs.

In a nutshell, headless commerce architecture is the separation between the front-end look and feel of your website and back-end systems like content management system (CMS), product inventory, customer relationship management (CRM) system, payment processing, digital asset management (DAM) and more.

When you build your site with a headless commerce solution, you can design and create customer experiences that fit your brand and strategy whilst keeping vital functions of the backend (security, inventory management etc.) intact.

We’re talking about the almighty UX here, people – Customer experience.

API: The secret sauce of a headless architecture

A headless commerce approach doesn’t work without APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).

In the context of headless commerce, an API is a unique code that allows two platforms to talk to each other.  

Think of it as the middle man between the front and back end of the site.

So how does an API work?

It’s like this…

You desperately want a beer, but alas, the fridge is empty.  

It’s too comfy on the couch to consider walking down to the local liquor store.

Luckily, you have a well-trained dog ready for such a time as this. 

Fido.

You give the command, and off goes Fido down the street.

At the liquor store, your dog wastes no time. He knows the fridge with the exact beer brand you like.

No one flinches at the dog in the store – you’ve previously asked the store owner’s permission, and you’ve got a tab.

Fido paws open the fridge, takes the beer in his mouth and winks at the clerk as he makes his exit.

Returning straight home, Fido places the ice-cold beer in your lap. 

In case you didn’t pick up on it.  It’s the dog.  The dog is an API.

And the store is the backend of the site, while your couch is the platform.

Here’s a more formal representation of how an API works:

What else can a headless commerce solution do for you?

While you might think having a backend and front end system working independently of each other would make for a slower eCommerce solution, the truth is that headless eCommerce platforms are faster, more agile, adaptable and consistent for the end-user.

  • Page loading times: an independent front and back end means your pages load much quicker.
  • Better SEO: Google rankings favour faster websites.  So building with a headless platform sets you on a path to better meet customer expectations and rank higher.
  • Keep up with digital trends: with your front and backend systems sticking to their strengths, you can jump on any digital marketing trend without having to wait for back-end updates to catch up. 
  • Create a unique customer experience: with so many opportunities to customise, you can create a truly unique experience for your customer that sets your brand apart from the pack.
  • Simplified scaling: a streamlined headless CMS avoids the limitations within a native eCommerce platform. You’ll be making significant frontend changes at scale, quickly.  And headless systems grow with you on an operational and financial level.
  • Bringing your vision to life: quickly and effortlessly realise the vision for your online store in a matter of days, as opposed to traditional eCommerce sites that can take months.
  • Increased global reach: adjust your messaging based on where a customer is located with multi-language functions and simplified currency conversions.
  • Lower customer acquisition costs: as content ranks better with headless solutions, you can supplement advertising costs and bring down your cost of customer acquisition.
  • Web content management system: as your eCommerce website grows, inevitably, so will the number of pages, collections and data within it.  A web content management system via headless eCommerce gives a level of flexibility not possible with traditional eCommerce platforms.

The end result of headless commerce platforms:

Conclusion: Headless commerce

Headless technology has the power to position your brand at the forefront of UX.

And with user experience playing such a vital part in the build of any modern website, headless eCommerce offers a world of potential for creating low-cost customer experiences that generate more conversions and keep them coming back.

Headless commerce isn’t the only way online shopping is evolving:  Find out how the big players in eCommerce are using multi-product landing pages to lift customer acquisition by (at least) 30%.  Click here to see the strategy in action.

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