What is headless commerce and why does your e-commerce business need it?
Headless commerce is booming in popularity in 2021, and with good reason. It’s an e-commerce strategy that’s designed to let your business remain fluid, dynamic and agile in an increasingly turbulent and fast-paced landscape.
If your business is making the transition to e-commerce, a so-called ‘headless platform’ is the easiest way to ensure that you’re able to stay competitive and move with the times. But what is headless commerce and how does it work?
Businesses aren’t static. They exist in a fast-moving landscape where rapid digital transformation often leads to dramatic changes in consumer demands and expectations. Nobody sets up an e-commerce business without plans to scale and grow, but the wrong technology can hold you back.
Even simple things like adding new payment methods or updating the product catalog on your website can become a chore if you have a clunky legacy platform, often resulting in hours of downtime. Headless commerce gets around that problem by allowing - or even encouraging - constant innovation.
What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce offers a flexible, scalable and fully integrated e-commerce platform that allows you to add, remove and update functions with zero downtime. This ‘open architecture’ virtually renders your business future-proof, allowing you to add services and functions years into the future without needing to worry about replacing entire platforms or tearing things down to start again.
Your online business has a frontend and a backend, both of which work together to create the online shopping experience you deliver to your customers.
- The frontend consists of customer-facing elements like your app or website, including everything the customer sees and interacts with.
- The backend is what goes on behind the curtain, such as processing payments, managing inventory and the code that holds your website together.
In traditional e-commerce platforms, the frontend and backend would be intertwined. That means if you want to make any changes to your backend processes, such as adding new functions or capabilities, the frontend would be impacted too.
This is why some sites go ‘down for maintenance’ occasionally. If you encounter an error or the checkout screen fails to load for a customer, the chances are that something is being updated or something has gone wrong in the backend. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience that could easily drive your customers to a competitor.
A headless platform, however, uncouples the frontend of a business from the backend entirely. That means any changes made to background operations and functions can be done independently of the customer experience. Want to add a new payment method? Change the layout of the website? Add a new button for a particular feature? This can all be done using a headless platform without any need for downtime.
Microservices and headless commerce
You rarely hear about headless commerce without the term ‘microservices’ mentioned. A microservices architecture can work hand-in-hand with a headless platform to make your business the most agile it can be. A microservice is basically an individual piece of software that serves one function or purpose.
Multiple microservices can be strung together with APIs to create a fully functioning experience for the end-user. Each microservice works independently of those it is connected to. That means each microservice can be updated or edited as needed, and new microservices can be ‘plugged in’ to add value and enhance the experience or function of a particular channel.
What are the benefits of headless commerce?
Online retail has been soaring in popularity in recent years, and the fallout from the pandemic has only increased the rate at which people are shopping online. Not only are shoppers moving online, they’re also expecting a particular experience when they do shop online, usually involving the blending of several different channels to form one, cohesive brand experience.
For instance, a customer might jump onto your website to start their shopping journey, but want to check out at a later time on their smartphone via your app. Headless commerce lends itself extremely well to this omnichannel approach, allowing you to effectively ‘bolt on’ new service elements that can integrate seamlessly with existing ones.
Retail operations that have multiple touchpoints and complicated offerings, such as grocery chains, stand to gain a great deal from headless commerce. A grocer will want to update its catalog and introduce new products, deals and features more than a fashion retailer, for instance, and a headless commerce platform will allow them to do this without pulling their entire web platform down.
A headless platform is also completely cloud-based, meaning there’s no investment whatsoever in hardware or physical infrastructure. For that reason, you’ll never experience the kind of downtime that’s associated with server crashes and you’ll rarely need heavy-duty IT support as many of the security updates and patches will be taken care of remotely.
It may be tempting to rush through the digital transformation process and get your goods online as soon as possible in order to take advantage of current events, but remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Investing in a headless strategy now will ensure that your business is able to scale and adapt to whatever changes come next.