Is your eCommerce platform too cumbersome and too complicated?
The solution might be surprisingly simple: Off with its head.
We’re talking about headless commerce, which in simplest terms is the separation of the front-end and back-end platforms that make up your eCommerce store. You can then use APIs to manage your two platforms as you see fit, giving you more freedom and flexibility.
But there’s another advantage to approaching eCommerce this way: Consistency across channels.
This matters because today’s customers expect that consistency. According to Google, about 85% of people shopping online start on one device, but finish on another. That means that if there’s any disconnect between your front-end systems and the shopping experience (which happens through the back-end), customers are bound to notice–and this leads to friction and higher bounce rates.
Headless commerce might be new, but it’s already making waves. In fact, top brands like Amazon and Nike are already hopping on board with the trend.
But you don’t need an Amazon-level development budget to compete. That’s just one of the many myths about headless commerce we’re going to dispel for you.
Defining Headless Commerce
First, let’s get clear about what headless commerce is.
The old strategy was about two pillars. In one pillar, your eCommerce store had its front-end, which handles customer-facing content delivery, like product pages. The second pillar is more for the merchant side, in which the back-end functionality (like order tracking) takes place.
But today’s customer doesn’t care about how you do it. They want consistency. 98% of today’s customers will switch between devices throughout the day. They use as many as six touch-points throughout an interaction. And 90% of them expect that you deliver a consistent experience, no matter the channel.
In our Complete Guide to Headless eCommerce, we put it this way: “Building an online store used to mean either the eCommerce platform handled everything from content to storefront, or plugging eCommerce functionality into your content platform and hoping it would do everything you needed it to.” But that’s no longer the rule. Today, headless commerce allows merchants to strip away the front-end (also known as the “head”) and put the power of APIs in charge. This breaks the eCommerce solution into two parts: The front and back end.
Without the head and a predefined template, it’s up to your developers to deliver content your way. Yes, this puts the onus on your team to deliver a consistent experience. But thanks to robust APIs, application layers, and microservices, that’s an incredible opportunity–not a challenge. It opens the door to powerful advantages like flexibility, creativity, and versatility.
If you do any research into headless commerce platforms, you’re likely to come across several myths, from cost to technical limitations, that need dispelling.
Headless Commerce Myth #1:
Going Headless Will Require You to Redo Everything
Going headless? Then you’re going to have to tear everything down and work from scratch, right?
Fortunately, this isn’t the case. Headless implementations can be layered on top of an existing tech stack. You don’t have to rip out and replace everything you’ve worked so hard to create.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t proceed with caution. As Smart Insights notes, your “functionality may be limited to what your CMS supports and what it doesn’t.” Before you start implementing your headless format, check with your CMS to see what you can stack.
With headless commerce, when it comes time for you to redeploy a system, it’s easier than if you worked strictly through a platform. You won’t have to redeploy the entire system with every change.
Headless Commerce Myth #2:
The Headless Structure Slows Everything Down
Quite the opposite, actually. The customized approach lets your team implement each specific solution on its own. Amazon, using this system, lets its engineers redeploy code every 11.7 seconds. That kind of speed isn’t practical without the customization of headless commerce.
The headless setup actually allows you to build faster. Because you’re using just the data and functionality that’s needed, the developer can ask for only the necessary pieces while building (and don’t have an entire menu of options in front of them.)
The development team can use familiar tools, which makes for more efficient work. By leveraging a toolset they already know, developers get to move with ease as they build, design, and test from a technical perspective, all while simply pulling the data from a new place.
You can also use a modern approach to tech with the headless structure. The result: more customization. If you want to make speed a priority, you can.
Take IngMarson, a clothing store using headless commerce. A Pingdom speed test grades IngMarson’s performance with an “A.” Google’s PageSpeed Insights gives it a speed index of 2.1 seconds.
The headless strategy also makes for easier adaptability. Let’s take one use case: translation. Relying on software translations from English to French can be awkward, but headless eCommerce makes it possible to translate the content ahead of time. You can even encode the proper alphabet to suit the translation. When you’re in charge, you dictate the experience.
Headless Commerce Myth #3:
It’s Always More Expensive to Do Headless
On its face, the logic seems sound. Take on more of the development work yourself and your costs will go up. But is that really the case?
The short answer is: “It depends”, due to two important caveats:
1. “Headless eCommerce Takes Longer to Build”
This is a common criticism of headless commerce. And since time is money, the timeline of your build tends to increase expenses.
It’s true that developing the front-end is going to take more time and effort than a prebuilt solution. But here’s what the myth fails to get: That’s the point. Greater customization is often expensive because of the advantages it offers. And with headless commerce, it can lead to cost savings down the line, including:
Faster rollouts of important site updates
A customized experience without restrictions from the back-end
Making platform changes without lengthy/complex changes to the underlying platform
Fewer platform plugins, extensions, and workarounds required because of eCommerce platform restrictions
2. “The Server and Infrastructure Expenses are Too Great”
Here’s where you’ll have some wiggle room. Consider the issue of “dynamic scaling.” The idea is simple: the cost of hosting goes up as your platform requires it. In other words, expenses go up with success. As the platform improves, so do you–more orders, more traffic, and the bills go up. Not a bad deal.
This isn’t to say that headless commerce will be a cheaper alternative than eCommerce platforms on both the front and back ends. But the myth that headless commerce must be prohibitively expensive doesn’t hold up.
Headless Commerce Myth #4:
“It’s Definitely Going To Be…”
The word “definitely” and headless commerce don’t necessarily mix. You don’t know what the experience is going to be. Headless commerce is customizable. The way you approach its implementation will have a major impact on the process itself. That includes cost, length of implementation, and functionality.
But even if those variables depend on you, there are some advantages to going headless that you should expect:
The customization never ends. Free of a front-end platform and restrictions, the options for designers and developers become endless. Customization allows companies to create a unique experience(s) for both customers and admins.
The lack of design constraints. Developers only need to use APIs to incorporate their own ideas. This allows for branding that’s more consistent with your company.
Control over the result. What do you want the design to look like? If you want, there can be less bloat and more speed. You can roll out updates in a hurry. Overall, you’ll have greater control over what the end-user sees.
Separating Headless Commerce Myths from Facts
If you’re considering headless commerce, don’t let myths scare you away. From integrating your site with any Internet of Things device to customizing your brand across multiple channels, you’ll have everything you need to free yourself of design constraints. As long as you have the relevant API, your developers can make your front-end work.
With any new trend, there are bound to be myths. But with headless commerce, not every myth reflects the reality.
If you’re interested in dispelling a few of these myths yourself, learn how to start your headless eCommerce efforts. It just may reshape your future planning and strategy.
A new blog series about the critical eCommerce capabilities missing in most eCommerce platforms for B2B companies. #1: Quoting & Sales Support
A closer look from the Ultra perspective on what we really mean when we talk about headless commerce and why it may not be right for every company.