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emerging technology

Headless eCommerce may be the way of the future. Should your business make the switch?

Chris Powers
December 30th, 2020
8 MINUTE READ

As consumer online shopping habits shift and brands see increased competition in the digital space, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to drive organic traffic to their eCommerce sites across different platforms. This can be achieved by rolling out robust, dynamic, and engaging content that attracts visitors and ultimately converts them into paying customers. In order to stay competitive, this content needs to be flexible and able to respond to customer data, as well as stay consistent across the web, mobile, social, Internet of Things (IoT), and other touchpoints.

Traditionally, the front end—or customer-facing component—of an eCommerce site has been directly tied to its commerce back end, or the side that handles things like inventory management, security, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration. In this monolithic architecture, the back end limits the amount of front-end customization, constraining how much companies can tailor the user experience and slowing go-to-market time. This is what a headless eCommerce approach is designed to solve. Traditional eCommerce can’t match its flexibility and scalability.

What is headless eCommerce?

No, it’s not just another tech buzzword; headless eCommerce refers to an environment where the front end of a site is separated from the back-end eCommerce platform. Organizations can use a standalone content management system (CMS) like Contentful, Sitecore, or Prismic to create tailored content experiences for different touchpoints, then use application programming interface (API) calls to communicate with the back-end commerce layer. Instead of depending on a singular platform to deliver a flawless user experience and a dependable back end, organizations can develop the front end independently, while easily managing logistics and commerce separately through API calls.

Separating the front end from the commerce platform’s back end helps merchants to be more flexible and dynamic in how they develop and deploy tailored content and brand experiences. This improves overall content management, UX, and SEO, helping to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

man working in an office on computer drinking coffee

Transitioning to a headless eCommerce approach can allow your eCommerce business to rapidly develop and deploy content to attract new customers without having to play by the rules of an old-school, monolithic platform back end.

FLEXIBLE, EASILY CUSTOMIZABLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES

In a headless eCommerce setup, the decoupled front end integrates with the commerce platform’s back end through APIs. This means that companies can easily experiment with different designs for the front end without taxing their site with related changes to the back end. Companies can also take full advantage of content management systems (CMS) to create unique experiences tailored to their customers’ needs from scratch, without worrying about adjusting anything on the back end. This also helps to ensure that customers are receiving a consistent experience across different devices and touchpoints.

QUICKLY DEPLOYED UPDATES

Because companies can easily make changes to the front end without altering the back end in a headless system, they can deploy updates much faster. Your marketing team can make front-end changes to the UX/UI swiftly, ensuring your brand stays competitive and up-to-date with the various technologies and devices your consumers are using to make purchases.

REDUCED CUSTOMER ACQUISITION COSTS

Brands are facing increased eCommerce competition every day. From the rise of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach to the growth of eCommerce in social media, consumers have a wealth of opportunities to engage with brands and ultimately purchase products. Digitally-native brands are flooding the space with targeted ads, trying to get their piece of the growing pie and embodying the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.” As a result, paid advertising costs are rising, pushing brands to seek out more organic methods to drive consumers to purchase their products.

With a headless approach, your content is easily edited and manipulated in accordance with your strategies to drive organic traffic. Because you can be nimble with content, you can drive down your acquisition costs and ensure your tailored customer experiences increase conversion rates.

Headless eCommerce implementation

The benefits of an API-first eCommerce approach are clear-cut for brands looking to take a content-focused approach to drive traffic and increase sales. However, headless architecture isn’t for everyone. It’s important to consider how much you are willing to invest in front-end development within your CMS. A headless approach is ideal for organizations looking to get increased traffic and conversions from tailored content experiences. This involves a significant amount of resources, taking away from other, more pressing business matters. If your organization doesn’t want content to be king, a headless eCommerce architecture may not be for you. Your business may be better suited for a traditional eCommerce approach.

But, if you’ve determined that a headless approach is the right one for your business, there are some key steps you’ll have to take to launch a solution.

man creating ux design templates

First, you’ll need to select an eCommerce platform provider that is compatible with a headless architecture. Both Shopify and BigCommerce, two of the most popular and extensive eCommerce platforms, offer a back end that is decoupled from its presentation layer.  More on these platforms later, but you’ll need to select the right platform for your business’ unique needs

Next comes your CMS. Decoupling the presentation layer of your site from the eCommerce backend allows you to use common CMS solutions to edit your store’s content without being tied to a monolithic solution. Popular CMS solutions like WordPress and Drupal can interact with your back end to allow for easy and timely customization of your site’s presentation layer. However, you’ll need to ensure your CMS is compatible with your eCommerce platform. While most of the big name CMS solutions can connect with popular eCommerce platforms, your business may currently use a non-traditional or custom solution that may not be compatible. You’ll need to evaluate your current solution, as well as your chosen eCommerce platform, to determine what is feasible.

Headless eCommerce platforms

Due to its decoupled, API-first nature, not every eCommerce platform provider is equipped to facilitate a headless setup. However, the industry leading SaaS providers—and Codal partners—BigCommerce and Shopify Plus can accommodate headless.

BIGCOMMERCE

BigCommerce has emerged as one the top eCommerce SaaS providers. It’s a flexible, feature-focused platform that is ideal for fast-growing, scalable businesses and brands. 

BigCommerce’s powerful back-end eCommerce engine allows your business to run an online store that’s focused on transformative content and design. It’s extensive native functionality and sophisticated APIs provide the perfect platform on which to build intuitive, engaging front-end experiences. BigCommerce’s platform seamlessly integrates with your existing CMS or digital experience platform (DXP), allowing you to prioritize your site’s user experience. BigCommerce has partnered with big-name CMS solutions like WordPress, Drupal, Bloomreach, Sitecore, and more. These headless integrations ensure seamless integration between your eCommerce platform and your front end, meaning you have the freedom to be flexible.

SHOPIFY PLUS

As a certified Shopify Plus partner, Codal has designed and engineered robust, scalable retail websites for clients of all sizes and sectors. Our expert analysts and designers are able to identify exactly how to tailor the Shopify Plus platform to your business goals. Shopify Plus has demonstrated itself as one of the premier enterprise eCommerce platforms.

Its comprehensive set of Storefront APIs and SDKs make Shopify Plus an attractive platform for businesses looking to go headless. Its APIs help integrate your existing CMS, while Shopify SDKs can help you create one-of-a-kind front-end experiences within the platform. This is conducive to creating unique touch points across web, mobile, and so much more. You can stay nimble and responsive to customer wants and needs on the front end, all the while ensuring that the back end will deliver with every transaction. Launch a superior UX/UI to lure customers in across platforms, all while knowing that you have the powerful back end to scale up as needed. 

Why go headless?

A headless eCommerce architecture is perfect for companies seeking to gain a competitive edge with an integrated content and commerce environment that allows for extensive customization and an improved speed-to-market. Codal’s experienced eCommerce specialists can help your organization evaluate if it’s an ideal candidate for a headless approach and, if so, migrate to a scalable platform that makes sense for your business. We’re a certified partner to both Shopify and BigCommerce who provide powerful headless backend capabilities. Codal has the technical know-how to ensure your brand finds the right platform, migrates successfully, and is prepared to reap the benefits of a truly headless approach to eCommerce.

We know online shoppers are fickle, and even the slightest flaw in the customer experience can send a buyer running. A headless eCommerce approach helps your storefront stay responsive to customer trends. By simultaneously maintaining the front end and back end of your eCommerce sites, you can make changes as you see fit to attract customers, enhance the shopping experience, and grow sales. With headless, every element of your website can be aligned to make conversion as seamless as possible and deliver an improved commerce experience.

Codal’s software engineers and developers are masters of their craft, and can build, launch, and maintain your headless solution using the best technologies for it. Armed with market-tested design principles, we cut cart abandonment, streamline path-to-purchase, and make your eCommerce store the most valuable tool in your arsenal for boosting sales.

Chris Powers
AUTHOR

Chris Powers

Chris is a Content Marketing Specialist at Codal. With a background in journalism and marketing, Chris has written about a variety of tech topics, including open source, fintech, and cybersecurity. Chris loves taking on new challenges with just a pen, paper, and his brain.

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