what is headless commerce

What is Headless CMS and Should You Use One?

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By Ewen Finser

Last Updated on May 30, 2024 by Ewen Finser

If you’ve heard some “know it all” throw around the term “headless commerce” like they’re all that recently, but have no freakin clue what they actually mean, this article is for you!

What is Headless Commerce in a Netshell

At its core, headless commerce is an ecommerce model that separates the frontend presentation layer of a website from the backend functionality.

In simpler terms, it decouples the part of your website that users see and interact with (the “head”) from the part that handles processes like product management, customer orders, and security (the “body”).

This separation is facilitated via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which act as a bridge, transmitting data between the frontend and backend.

The result is a system that offers businesses the freedom to design and build their customer-facing website however they want, while still leveraging robust ecommerce functionality on the backend.

Why Use Headless Commerce Anyway?

Adopting a headless commerce architecture comes with a host of potential benefits. Here are some of the most compelling advantages that are driving businesses towards this innovative approach:

Full Creative Control

One of the most significant benefits of headless commerce is the level of creative freedom it provides.

Since the frontend is detached from the backend, businesses can design their storefront without any restrictions imposed by the backend system.

This allows brands to craft unique, engaging, and tailored customer experiences that can set them apart from the competition.

Enhanced Site Performance

In the online world, speed is king. Slow-loading pages can frustrate users and drive them away, harming conversion rates and bottom lines.

Headless commerce can help mitigate this issue. Since the frontend and backend are decoupled, changes to one will not affect the performance of the other. This can lead to faster loading times, a smoother user experience, and ultimately, happier customers.

Fabric is an example of one of a new breed of “headless CMS” frameworks.

Integration with Preferred Tools

Headless commerce architectures are built on APIs, which facilitate seamless integration with a wide array of tools and services. This means that businesses can pick and choose the best tools for their specific needs, creating a customized, best-of-breed tech stack.

Whether it’s a cutting-edge CMS for managing content, a powerful CRM for handling customer relationships, or a specialized analytics tool for tracking performance, headless commerce can accommodate it all.

Time Savings Across IT

In traditional ecommerce models, even small changes can require updates to both the frontend and backend, consuming valuable time and resources.

With headless commerce, changes to the frontend can be made independently, reducing the workload for developers and speeding up the time to market for new experiences and features.

Scalability & Future-Proofing

Headless commerce architectures are inherently scalable. They can easily accommodate growth, enabling businesses to add new features, expand into new channels, and serve more customers without straining the system.

Because the frontend and backend are decoupled, businesses can update or replace one without impacting the other. This makes it easier to adapt to future technological changes and trends, effectively future-proofing your ecommerce operations.

Sanity.io is another example of a performant headless commerce solution.

Who Should Leverage Headless Commerce

While headless commerce offers numerous advantages, it’s not the right solution for every business.

Implementing a headless architecture can require significant time, resources, and technical expertise. Therefore, it’s essential to carefully consider whether it aligns with your business needs, goals, and capabilities.

Headless commerce may be a good fit for your business if you:

  • Want to create a highly customized, unique shopping experience for your customers.
  • Need to integrate your ecommerce operations with specific tools or systems.
  • Plan to scale your business significantly and need an infrastructure that can grow with you.
  • Aim to future-proof your ecommerce operations against technological change.

On the flip side, if your ecommerce needs are relatively simple, your resources are limited, or you lack the technical expertise to manage a decoupled system, a traditional ecommerce model may be a better fit.

Taking the Leap into Headless Commerce

If you’ve decided that headless commerce aligns with your business needs and goals, the next step is to select the right tools and platforms to build your headless architecture.

There’ are many emerging headless commerce platforms and CMSs available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Before making a decision, take the time to research your options, consider your specific needs, and evaluate potential ecommerce platforms based on factors like their features, scalability, integration capabilities, and cost.

Remember, the goal is to create a system that not only meets your current needs but can also adapt and scale to meet your future needs.

Is Headless Commerce Worth the Hype?

By decoupling the frontend and backend of an ecommerce system, headless commerce offers businesses unprecedented control, flexibility, and scalability.

While it may not be the right solution for every business, for those with the right needs and resources, it CAN open up possibilities for new and engaging online shopping experiences.

Some Top Headless Commerce Options to Explore

I’ll have a more in depth deep dive on ALL of the leading headless commerce platforms currently worth trying, but here are a few names I have on my radar right now:

  • Shopify: The grand-daddy of them all and one of the most popular ecommerce platforms. Full stop.
  • BigCommerce: Similar to Shopify, but positioned more towards mid to large enterprise.
  • ElasticPath: A new up-and-coming headless ecommerce option.
  • Swell: An API forward option, aimed at simplifying the setup process compared to Shopify and BigCommerce.
  • OroCommerce: A headless ecommerce solution specifically for wholesalers.
  • Commerce Layer: A simple API based headless commerce option, ideal for smaller or single product stores that need a lightweight solution.
  • Fabric: Fabric is a flexible integrated ecommerce layer for companies who sell in a variety of places, but want to integrate in one universal platform.
  • Sanity.io: A fast, scalable and efficient platform used by brands like Cloudflare, Figma, Arc’teryx, and Sonos.

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