Headless Commerce Guide

How to Evaluate a Headless Commerce Platform

Not all headless commerce platforms are made equal. Choosing a headless commerce platform is an investment in the future. Consider your business needs now and what you think you’ll need as you scale before evaluating the benefits of each headless approach.

Finding The Best Commerce Platform Fit

Headless commerce platform selection is a function of your budget (naturally), which options are feasible for your system, and what you want to achieve – both today and in the future. Let’s go over the selection process and line out who may be best suited to each option.

Start With Your Goals

Before going through your available options, look inward, and decide what you want to achieve with your headless integration. In other words, defining the scope of your project.

How do you want your headless platform to change your business processes? Typically, businesses go for a headless solution when they’ve acknowledged that their content presentation and storefront management goals aren’t compatible with their existing platform. Either your content functionality is limited, your plugins lack the necessary capabilities or your website connections are non-existent.

Look at your system and consider how headless may benefit your operation, given these limitations. Do you want to speed up any necessary changes to your storefront? Do you need a new way to manage upcoming promotions? Or do you simply need an easier way to manage your product catalog to sell in a way that makes sense for your company

Make a wishlist of your desired outcomes, but remember, your headless platform is an investment in the future. Consider your needs now but balance them against what you think you’ll need as you scale. One of the great things about headless commerce is its adaptability, so you’ll be able to make adjustments to your platform in the future, as needed.

Your Headless Commerce Platform Options

Headless platforms come in several styles, based on the way they’re set up and integrated. Though the options share features in common, they each have advantages that make them better suited to specific applications.

Headless Only

In a headless-only integration, all frontend development work is done through your CMS. This approach offers significant benefits from a customization standpoint, but given its technical nature, it’s a bit restrictive for marketers. There’s an unavoidable level of technical proficiency required to make backend changes that will appear in frontend content. However, for businesses with limited content presentation needs, it’s an excellent choice for up-leveling your system.

CMS Plugin

The second approach is adding eCommerce functionality through a specially-designed plugin. Users can keep the CMS they know and love but add new levels of eCommerce functionality right on top through an integrated CMS specific plugin. Note that the plugin is specific to a single CMS and may not work outside of that environment.

Hybrid Solutions

Hybrid platforms take features from each of the above frameworks to create a flexible system where business owners can sell exactly how they want, whether that means running their storefronts through a headless integration or a platform-based CMS. In essence, hybrid platforms offer the best of both worlds in terms of adaptability.

The Benefits of Each Headless Approach

You have your wishlist of features, and you’ve reviewed the different headless approaches; it’s time to bring the two together. Which headless platform approach best aligns with your project goals and scope?

Benefits of Headless Only

The headless only approach works best for those who are fully invested in their existing CMS, who need to go live quickly with new marketing promotions, or those who want to test out their eCommerce options before investing in a more extensive project.

Generally, it’s best for companies that don’t need extensive eCommerce features right out of the gate (although those can come later, if necessary). It’s also the right choice for companies that don’t routinely have their marketers get involved in platform management. As headless only is a more technical approach, it’s less suited to those who don’t have the technical expertise required to manage it.

Benefits of CMS Plugin

We typically recommend the CMS plugin option for companies who love and have invested heavily in their existing CMS. A tightly-integrated plugin-based platform offers a great way to quickly integrate eCommerce functions into a system that your team is familiar with, but, of course, it comes with the drawback of being the least feature-rich of all headless options. That said, It can be effective for bringing in certain functionalities, such as creating new landing pages, displaying product information, and linking into specific eCommerce functions. It’s not restrictive – but its applications in the long-term are limited compared with the more involved approaches.

Benefits of Hybrid

Hybrid platforms offer a great middle-ground when the above two options don’t fit the bill. Having the opportunity to launch quickly and then migrate to a headless approach may offer a substantial benefit in the short term. Additionally, the functionality and feature-set of the platform may also be more robust and complete than limited, headless only options. Because of the build flexibility, hybrid platforms are ideal for designing customized eCommerce experiences across each of your marketing channels, which helps to support a genuine omnichannel marketing strategy. Thanks to its unique architecture, hybrid commerce platforms are best positioned for future migrations and growing alongside companies as they scale.

Consider the Costs

The above rundown lines out features, but it doesn’t account for your company’s budgetary restrictions. As such, you’ll need to balance each provider’s costs with your needs and resources. To put that another way, what are you getting for your investment? Are you looking for a complete eCommerce platform? Or something that’s a bit more limited and workable for a specific function?

While it’s difficult to assess pricing across providers, one thing that business owners can do is look for providers who offer scalable pricing models. While some eCommerce vendors charge a flat rate for services, others offer more flexible pricing models that let you pay-as-you-use. In most cases, these providers will be more willing to work with you and come up with a solution that fits your financial constraints.

Key questions to ask at this step:

  • What is the total cost of platform SaaS services at our current revenue and traffic volume?
  • Are there any extra fees and licensing we should be aware of?
  • Are there any charges for emergency support?

Is There Ongoing Support?

Don’t base the decision on costs alone! There’s a lot more that goes into the eCommerce development cycle than how much money you throw at it. Alongside costs, look for providers who will support you throughout the project lifecycle. This obviously means keeping you in the loop throughout development, but also assisting you during launch, providing starter templates to work from, helping with testing, and offering emergency support, should things go wrong. Ideally, this provider will have a framework in place from the very beginning and will walk you through these details at the outset of the project. Make sure they provide technical documentation on their APIs and have a robust administrative management system for keeping track of everything.

Overall, you’ll want to find a partner vendor in the process who will consult with you on your goals and help you identify emerging opportunities from within your production environment. This, more than anything else, is the secret to headless eCommerce success. With the right platform technology leveraged alongside a strategic partner, your business will get an entirely new perspective on how to manage its eCommerce experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Platform selection begins with an audit of your goals, project scope, available resources, and existing eCommerce infrastructure.
  • Companies will need to choose between several architectures for their headless platform implementation – headless only, CMS plugin, and hybrid.
  • The architecture selected will depend on your company’s desired feature set alongside your budgetary restrictions. Headless only, CMS plugin, and hybrid platforms each offer unique benefits that may make them suitable for implementation.
  • Manage project costs by going with a vendor partner who offers transparent, scalable pricing across the headless implementation lifecycle.
  • Keep in mind the importance of ongoing support. Look for a partner who offers guidance across design, launch, testing, and emergency support