Players in the ecommerce industry constantly deal with a “keep up with the customer or get stuck in the past” situation. They strive to stay atop the dynamic market changes while simultaneously increasing their own efficiency and profits.
But legacy ecommerce architecture and subsequent lack of operational agility get closer and closer. They prevent companies from finding the perfect balance between customer satisfaction and profitability.
A game-changer appears to be right beneath our noses. Retailers can increase revenue, remove the friction between marketing and IT teams, and improve customer experience with headless commerce architecture.
Headless commerce is on everyone’s lips in the world of retail. According to State of the Headless CMS Market 2022, the awareness about headless architecture significantly increased amongst merchants in the last three years. In 2020, just above 40% of merchants were familiar with this term. In 2022, 65% knew what headless commerce is.
But what makes headless ecommerce such a promising technology vector? Let’s dig in!
- What is Headless Commerce?
- Why Leading Ecommerce Players Are Entering 2023 Headless
What is Headless Commerce?
Headless architecture allows companies to use several frontend layers for their ecommerce website. The API-first nature of headless architecture allows merchants to select best-of-breed technologies for building their store. By using custom front-ends, you rapidly bring new campaigns to multiple sales channels — mobile, web, smart devices, or self-service kiosks — without worrying about server-side code.
Headless stands for the H in MACH — a set of technology principles that underpin best-in-class technology platforms.
Why Do Headless Ecommerce Platforms Outperform Traditional Platforms?
Any ecommerce platform generally consists of three layers: the frontend, the backend + APIs. You can purchase the total package from a SaaS provider or hire a development team to create a custom ecommerce solution.
But what if you need more design templates and UI capabilities than those offered by your SaaS provider? Or there’s no extra time and money planned to build the required functionality from scratch? And, let’s assume, you need that campaign page/VR-powered page/mobile app as soon as possible.
That’s when headless architecture helps as you get:
- Pre-made backend: An open SaaS provider such as BigCommerce, supplies your store backend. Their ecommerce platform has ready-made features to manage orders, product catalogs, hosting, security, and so on.
- Frontend creative freedom: You select different frontend frameworks (instead of using standard store templates) and connect everything to the BigCommerce-handled backend. For this task, you might need to work with a BigCommerce-certified tech vendor.
In practice, headless architecture on BigCommerce looks the following way:
Headless architecture on BigCommerce
Examples of ecommerce platforms supporting headless architecture are:
- Shopify Plus
- Adobe Commerce
- Elastic Path
Ecommerce platforms that support headless architecture let you achieve maximum flexibility in terms of digital store design and development. This is something monolith systems often lack.
How Headless Commerce Differs From Monolithic Architecture
By design server-side and presentation components are tightly coupled in monolithic ecommerce platforms. Such rigidness makes it difficult to update user interfaces because the changes may:
- Need validation from the backend side
- Potentially interfere with other platform functionality such as the checkout page or shopping cart
- Require a bigger IT workforce to handle new functionality release
Since online shopping was mainly desktop-based, few merchants were bothered by the inflexibility of monolith systems. However, as people now shop through multiple channels and expect stellar CX, monolith architecture has become a hindrance to growth.
Let’s check how headless compares to monolith architecture.
Headless vs Monolith Architecture
Retailers seek to transition from monolith to headless architecture because of the benefits it offers. Per Kontent.ai report, adopters have found that headless architecture offers better frameworks flexibility (46%), content structuring (45%), and omnichannel capabilities (44%).
In 2023, the evolution of selling online continues and more ecommerce players will seek to adopt headless architecture.
Why Leading Ecommerce Players Are Entering 2023 Headless
According to Salesforce’s 2022 State of Commerce report, 80% of businesses plan to implement headless architecture by 2024.
Yes, store migration is a huge undertaking. But the dynamic nature of consumers’ demands will sooner or later force online retailers to go from a monolithic architecture to headless. And if a company aspires to be a leader in retail, it should be in a “sooner” team. Or else you risk losing the market share to more agile, tech-oriented players.
Apart from creative freedom and pre-integrated backend functionality, other reasons why brands are transitioning to headless architecture include:
- Improved customer experience
- Streamlined omnichannel operations
- Faster time-to-market of products and services
- Freedom in selecting best-of-breed technologies
- Stable operations
Let’s explore these benefits in greater detail:
1. Better Customer Experience (CX)
In retail, the customer experience is a crucial competitive advantage. Salesforce reports that 84% of customers value customer satisfaction as much as the products and services of a company.
Consumers want their favorite brands to deliver personalized experiences, provide exceptional customer service, and constantly exceed their expectations. Per McKinsey 2020 report, 80% of surveyed consumers look for personalization from retailers. And according to the 2021 PWC report, 39% of customers want brands to always meet their needs and 38% expect customer service to be of high quality.
Headless architecture takes the CX to the next level as it allows to:
- Change the designs faster (with less dependency on development teams)
- Have a unique UI tailored to the specific markets or marketing campaigns, instead of relying on standard page templates
- Improve navigation and brand consistency of designs between the channels
2. Omnichannel retail
Over 60-70% of customers now shop through multiple channels – in-store and online. Yet, large brands are stepping up and investing in other platforms that combine the advantages of in-store and online shopping, such as self-service kiosks and live commerce. For instance, companies see a 20% rise in younger customers when they use live commerce.
As brands adopt new channels, they must also maintain their brand identity and keep the same level of customer experience. Customers want to prioritize great experiences at every touchpoint be it your website or a smart fridge interface. And that’s where headless architecture proves to be helpful.
Headless allows design consistency and content optimization tailored to each channel’s requirements. For instance, for mobile devices, the main buttons need to be bigger and for kiosks, there should be no long texts so as not to create queues. Headless enables you to delight users with a custom brand-tailored presentation layer on each channel and at the same time aggregate and process retail transactions from multiple channels into one backend system.
3. Speed to Market and Faster Growth
The ecommerce market grew on steroids in 2020/21 and is nowhere close to cooling off in 2022. This year, worldwide ecommerce sales will exceed $5 trillion for the first time. Such rapid sector growth means increasing competition. So if you want to dominate a customer segment or a new market, you have to move at cruising speed.
With headless, you can expand operations to new channels and markets faster. Here’s how:
- Headless architecture means that you are using backend features (core commerce capabilities) out of the box from your SaaS provider like BigCommerce. And only develop custom frontend. This speeds up the development process.
- With headless, you can cherry-pick and connect the best-of-breed frontend tools to gain the extra features you need (e.g., AR-powered landing pages). You can create different designs or use specific tools for each channel’s frontend layer
- Headless lets marketing teams create custom content and alter the page design without relying on IT.
With access to core commerce features and rapid interaction speed, you can rapidly expand to new channels and markets (ahead of your competitors).
4. Best-of-Breed Technology and APIs
Headless architecture relies heavily on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are like ‘glue’.
They help you connect your backend (ecommerce platform) with:
- Popular frontend frameworks
- Content management systems (CMSs)
- Digital experience platforms (DXPs)
- Progressive web apps (PWAs)
In monolith systems, developers were forced to use the same programming languages or a set number of supported frontend frameworks to develop custom designs. Or build things from scratch, which is always more expensive. Headless changed that.
Because headless architecture assumes using ‘composable blocks’ (microservices and APIs), you have the ability to cherry-pick and easily adopt best-of-breed frontend tools with ready-made solutions you need. At least 75% of customers now expect brands to embrace new technologies to improve their CX. Headless architecture gives you the room and agility to do so.
5. Stable Operations
Because you have a separate frontend and backend, you can adjust each without disrupting the other. Thus, your developers can optimize backend processes (e.g., add new integrations, maximize speed, improve security, scale the application easily) without worrying about the frontend.
Furthermore, with headless, the marketing team can use page builders without calling up the IT department. That means they can react to changing market conditions faster and personalize promotions accordingly.
Online retail is constantly evolving and giving retailers new ways to win customers. Whether a brand takes advantage of these ways or stays steadfast depends on its ability to innovate and change.
Often, it is leaders who capitalize on changes. According to McKinsey, 50 percent of companies with the top 10 percent revenue are more successful at testing ideas and changing products, services, and how they do business than their competitors.
In the race to win the customers, winners are those who make bold decisions to innovate just in time. Be amongst the front-runners.