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eCommerce

A review of BigCommerce headless commerce

Gibson Toombs
January 15th, 2021
10 MINUTE READ

By the year 2022, annual retail eCommerce sales are expected to reach $6.5 trillion. As the number of consumers who prefer to do their shopping via online stores over brick and mortar shops increases, brands are pressed to create beautiful, engaging websites, platforms, and applications that facilitate smooth user experiences. Online merchants working under a traditional eCommerce model, however, often run into issues with innovation and scalability. Enter headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce is the process of decoupling an online store’s front-end presentation layer from its back-end eCommerce platform. This allows for greater flexibility when adding new content and making modifications to websites, mobile apps, and other digital channels that collectively make up a brand’s customer experience. BigCommerce, a pioneer in the headless commerce space, provides eCommerce functionality for many well-known brands using headless systems. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the main differences between traditional and headless commerce, why so many businesses are switching to headless, the main benefits of headless commerce architecture, and how BigCommerce sets itself apart from the other headless eCommerce solutions out there. We’ll also look at a few well-known brands that have experienced success by leveraging headless BigCommerce. 

So if your company is considering losing your legacy eCommerce platform and adopting a headless system, keep reading!

What’s the difference between traditional and headless eCommerce?

Traditional eCommerce systems are built as a single monolithic structure, which leaves little room for customization and personalization on the front end—also referred to as the presentation layer. The most common presentation-layer channels are websites, social platforms, and mobile applications. Under a monolithic system, any modifications made to the front end, such as design changes or updates to the customer flow, can create a domino effect that disrupts back-end performance. The eCommerce back end handles tasks like order management, payment authorization, product information, shipping, and inventory. 

The traditional monolithic system comes with many limitations and complexities with regards to changing or adding elements to the presentation layer. This might be fine for certain niche businesses with a well-established IT department. But for brands in highly-competitive industries that want to streamline their development cycles, perfect their customer journey, and leverage new technologies, going headless is a step in the right direction. 

Under a headless model, the front and back end operate independently of one another, giving front-end developers the ability to make changes to their presentation-layer, without the stress of creating additional work for back-end developers. This ultimately puts more power in the hands of marketing teams, who are constantly responding to ever-evolving industry trends and customer needs. 

The front-end customer-experience layer is still able to communicate with the back-end commerce engine through application programming interface (API) calls. Every customer interaction, such as creating a login, entering payment information, or clicking on a push notification, triggers a specific API call. For this reason, headless solutions are often referred to as API-driven or API-first. 

Why are so many brands switching to headless?

The logic behind headless commerce’s growing popularity is simple. Online merchants want scalable eCommerce solutions that help improve user engagement and generate more revenue. Let’s get more specific by looking at some of the top benefits that come with switching to headless:

Instantaneous optimization

The ability to respond to new trends and customer needs in real time is essential for brands that want to maintain a competitive edge. Brand managers, marketers, and creative strategists are constantly analyzing data to find new ways of optimizing their front end customer-experience. 

With a traditional eCommerce platform, implementing new designs and content can take hours, even days. But with a headless system, these front-end changes can be made almost instantly. This gives brands the freedom to put different designs, layouts, and features to the test until they land on an optimal user experience for all customers. 

Omnichannel capabilities

Omnichannel sales and marketing strategies—which aim to create a seamless, unified customer shopping experience across various platforms and devices—can be taken to another level with headless commerce. We’ve come a long way since the early days of eCommerce when people either shopped in stores or on merchant websites. Now, consumers shop for products on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, smartphones and smartwatches, and even smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. 

Including these non-traditional channels in the customer journey is increasingly necessary for competitive brands. Voice commerce, in particular, is rapidly becoming more mainstream. People rely on their voice assistants to complete all kinds of tasks, from waking up in the morning to buying birthday presents for loved ones. And according to Loup Ventures, three out of four US households will have smart speakers by the year 2025. 

Headless architecture allows brands to create a true omnichannel experience for consumers. You can add more channels to expand your reach, while also maintaining complete control and flexibility over those channels’ content and design. Through the use of flexible APIs, every digital touchpoint will stay connected—with the support of a central, underlying commerce platform managing all transactions, inventory, etc. This means that consumers can shop for and buy your products on whatever platform or device they prefer, whether it’s a social media page, smartphone app, airport kiosk, voice assistant, or some other new technology that hasn’t been released yet.

Efficient development workflow 

As discussed above, headless architecture allows developers to make swift changes and additions to the front end without having to also update the back-end code. Let’s say your marketing team wants to start presenting webinars on your brand’s website and social channels—a trend that many businesses are hopping on to. Front-end developers can easily make it happen without any negative impacts on the eCommerce side of things. This kind of streamlined system facilitates faster development cycles, making life much easier for both developers and marketers. 

Headless architecture also allows developers to write in any programming language they prefer, which is often not the case under a monolithic system. This too leads to quicker development cycles and greater productivity. With simpler developer workflows and fewer tickets being created for IT teams, you can lower the overall cost of your development needs. 

Personalization

Personalization in eCommerce comes in many different forms, from offering coupons to first-time site visitors to recommending specific products based on a customer’s browsing behavior. The idea is to create a unique, cohesive shopping experience for every individual customer that engages with your brand. Headless commerce gives you the creative freedom to build custom storefronts that are intuitive and meaningful for different types of customers. 

Personalization plays an important role in omnichannel sales and marketing. Let’s say a customer is checking out your products on their smartphone via your brand’s Facebook page. Then, they open up their laptop and go to your website. Immediately, they are presented with a “continue shopping” feature that displays the products they were previously viewing on Facebook. Going headless can help your brand offer this level of personalization to customers. 

Benefits of going headless with BigCommerce

BigCommerce stands out as an innovator in—not just in eCommerce—but in headless commerce specifically. In addition to the high-level benefits discussed above, these are some of the things businesses enjoy most about working with BigCommerce’s headless platform:

Compatibility with other solutions 

BigCommerce can integrate with all kinds of headless front-end solutions, giving you the freedom to choose your preferred content management system (CMS), progressive web application (PWA), digital experience platform (DXP), or custom solution. Whatever tools you need to create the perfect customer journey can be implemented without compromise. With BigCommerce powering their back-end eCommerce engine, these are some of the most common front-end solutions that brands utilize: 

  • WordPress
  • Drupal
  • Bloomreach
  • Adobe Experience Manager
  • Sitecore

High-performance APIs

With a sophisticated API architecture, BigCommerce provides many homegrown tools—as well as the ability to build custom solutions—for solving complex front-end issues. Here are a few examples of APIs that BigCommerce merchants use to develop their presentation-layer:

  • Checkout API: Enables developers to create customized checkout processes for customers.
  • Cart API: Allows merchants to access cart data from shoppers, which can be used to improve marketing initiatives and business decisions.
  • Customers API: Helps developers build experiences based on specific customer attributes to increase personalization.
  • Shipping Provider API: Connects online storefronts to third-party shipping services, allowing customers to see real-time shipping quotes as they shop.
  • Widgets API: Gives developers the freedom to integrate all kinds of apps and custom content across multiple channels. 

Enterprise-grade security

BigCommerce’s headless commerce platform comes with a robust, multi-layered checkout security system, which means you won’t have to worry about cyber criminals gaining access to sensitive data like your customers’ credit card information. Its headless digital commerce capabilities also include:

  • Protection against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: These attacks aim to disrupt an online store’s operations by overloading the servers or network with more traffic than they are built to handle. 
  • Payment card industry (PCI) compliance: This refers to a set of technical and operational rules that online businesses must follow to protect their customers’ payment information.

Simplicity and scalability

Merchants love the intuitive interface that comes with BigCommerce’s headless platform. The control panel allows you to manage front-end channels, from social media platforms to mobile apps, all from a single location. You don’t need a developer’s background to navigate through this control panel, which opens the door for more streamlined development cycles and scalability.

Customer service

Another awesome thing about working with BigCommerce is its customer service. The company offers 24/7 support, so when something isn’t working right, a representative is always there to step in and help. 

BigCommerce headless success stories

Looking for some inspiration? Here are three brands that saw exceptional results by employing BigCommerce’s headless platform. 

Burrow

Burrow, an online furniture store, saw immediate success upon launching in 2017. Though, they quickly realized that their eCommerce platform couldn’t scale with their growth. Burrow tasked BigCommerce with handling customer transactions, inventory, etc. This allowed Burrow to focus its development efforts on site-related marketing initiatives, as opposed to back-end maintenance.

Louise Kennedy

Fashion giant Louise Kennedy needed a way to increase security and provide flexible payment options for its customer checkout experience. BigCommerce provided PCI compliance and the ability to integrate additional payment options like Amazon Pay and PayPal, helping Louise Kennedy cut costs and save time.

K2 Sports

K2 Sports, a global collection of outdoor brands, was spending lots of time and money on managing its eCommerce platform, which was stifling the company’s growth and innovation. K2 traded in its legacy solution for BigCommerce’s headless platform, which provided the flexible APIs it needed to streamline their customer shopping experience. With this new setup, K2 was able to launch 16 new websites in under 9 months. And with the help of Contentstack as their CMS, it can deliver content to these sites at a 90% faster rate.

Steps to adopting a headless commerce approach

When you’re ready to abandon your traditional eCommerce setup and adopt a headless approach, there are many factors to consider. What kind of technology will you be implementing? Who will be in charge of planning and carrying out the transition? With countless ways to move forward here, it’s important to prioritize your brand’s needs, review the many solutions available, and seek guidance from real eCommerce experts.

Choose your eCommerce platform

BigCommerce’s headless eCommerce platform is a great choice for online merchants seeking front-end freedom and flexibility. However, it’s not the best fit for everyone. If you’re considering going with BigCommerce, it’ll be worth looking into some of its competitors as well:

Choose your front-end technologies

As discussed earlier, BigCommerce can integrate with a wide variety of headless solutions. From the traditional CMS to the increasingly popular PWA, there are many front-end technologies you can adopt to create your ideal customer journey. Oftentimes, picking the right solutions for both the front and back end requires help from experienced professionals in the eCommerce space

Team up with Codal

As a web development and UX design agency that specializes in eCommerce, we can build and implement a headless architecture for your brand that leads to stronger customer engagement and higher conversion rates. We’ll use cutting-edge technologies and superior design methods to develop a headless system that facilitates smoother experiences for both customers and admins. 

Codal is a trusted partner of BigCommerce. So if we feel like they are the best fit for your eCommerce needs, we’ll work closely with BigCommerce to bring your brand’s vision to life—as we’ve done with many of our clients in the past. 

Ready to go headless? Reach out to Codal today!

Gibson Toombs
AUTHOR

Gibson Toombs

Gibson Toombs is a Technical Content Writer at Codal. His writing career began in 2015 after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Since then, he has worked on many projects, covering a wide range of technical topics, from solar energy to cybersecurity. When he’s not taking complex ideas and turning them into easily-digestible pieces of content, Gibson can be found playing guitar and writing songs at his apartment in Chicago.

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