What is headless e-commerce?

Updated: April 01, 2020 | Ilse Lauwens, Marketing Director

Headless e-commerce has been receiving a lot of attention lately and many people are switching to it as their basic approach to the way they showcase their products and product information.

And it’s not just the customers and companiesthat have been focusing on it. Headless e-commerce is also being implemented in different ways by companies like Prismic or Contentful (both - headless CMS), or even popular e-commerce platforms, like Magento, BigCommerce and others , which are opening up their API to more variations of headless implementation. As a result, there are now a lot of different platforms you can use to implement headless e-commerce and front-end de-coupling.

First, it is important to start with what headless e-commerce really is. Headless e-commerce is a state in which the front-end part of your site is separate from the rest, including the e-commerce platform, delivery engine, order management system and other elements. By separating the front-end and the back-end, you become more flexible when it comes to different, feature-rich content and satisfying user experience.

The most obvious use case for such an approach is brand-oriented content-heavy websites, but that does not mean it works the same way for every type of business. The classic approach to commerce experience implies that the storefront needs a way to retrieve an information from the platform and depending on the connection type that can get time-consuming. De-coupling those two means that the API gets the information from the back-end instead, allowing developers to have much easier time customizing websites on both front-end and back-end without to much relying on each other through code.

However, there are several benefits your company can get by implementing headless e-commerce:

  • Less time-to-market – the productive side of things is faster for developers because the front-end and back-end are not connected to begin with.
  • Headless sites can be customized more easily (changes in the layout of the templates, additional site properties, etc).
  • More flexibility when it comes to format and design.
  • Your company’s presentation layer (custom front-end or CMS) has only one goal – to deliver content, which improves performance and makes the development less complex.
  • Architecture that generally has fewer bindings will be less complex, making it easier to both protect and scale.

Of course, it’s only natural that headless e-commerce also has a number of problems or drawbacks:

  • Two different systems – since each system is now a standalone system, you have two databases, two different approaches, two code bases and so on.
  • Some of the more specific integrations should be connected to both the front-end and back-end.
  • Depending on the platform in question, separating front-end and back-end means that some of the previous functionalities would be lost for you. In some cases can be solved via different APIs and through other methods, but tools such as content change previews, page building, etc – which are basically unavailable if your front-end layer is separated from the back-end.
  • Since two different parts of the system would probably require twice as much development efforts - the cost of headless e-commerce implementations or platforms would most likely be higher than normal.

The problem with the current situation in the world is that you cannot just set up your store and not change it for months. The world is changing all the time and you will probably have to adaptmore frequently, going as far as to change your website weekly or daily. That’s the only way to keep your customer base interested and attract more customers at the same time.

It is not surprising that headless e-commerce has been the talking point of the year – it fits exactly into those tight customization requirements. By strengthening the links between the front-end and back-end of a website, you will be able to concentrate completely on optimizations, custom content variations and other new ways to sell your product.