What is headless commerce?
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What is Headless Commerce?
What is headless commerce? This is one of the most common questions we get asked. To many, it's still a very new development. A lot of people are discovering the term for the very first time, and a large portion of the population has yet to realize such a thing exists.
Headless commerce refers to setting up an eCommerce site in such a way that the front-end and back-end aren't permanently tethered together. Widespread recognition of the limits and constraints inherent in traditional eCommerce and subsequent mass adoption of headless frameworks represents an industry-wide paradigm shift.
Until recently, the front- and back-ends of websites were bound together by default. For a long time, this was the most useful, efficient, and complete option available for selling online. It was a convenient, complete, and pre-build system that retailers with any level of technical ability could learn to use.
Most people never questioned this model, let alone considered that there might be a better way. After all, that's just what an eCommerce website was — a user interface (UI) or "digital storefront" that displays products and information to shoppers connected to a server on the back-end where all that data is stored.
Headless architecture completely changed all that by demonstrating the advantages of decoupling the front- and back-end. Furthermore, by illustrating the limitless potential that headless B2B eCommerce represents, it changed how we think of eCommerce sites and what we believe is possible.
Its complexity, flexibility, and wide range of options make it attractive to some businesses and intimidating to others. For example, headless SaaS websites are more common than headless commerce startups as new businesses typically opt for a very basic set-up. To better understand the importance of these functions and benefits, let's go over some details and examples of exactly how the features compare between headless eCommerce vs previous frameworks.
Headless Commerce vs Traditional Commerce
Comparing the features, advantages, and benefits of headless commerce vs traditional commerce show that differences in composition are directly responsible for the disparity in utility, functionality, ease of use, and customization options.
The customer-facing digital storefront contains all the elements traditionally associated with a website's user experience (UX). The business-facing server-side stores and retrieves data from the digital store's "back room," acting like the storage area in a brick-and-mortar store.
When an online shopper clicks on a link or option, the back-end receives the request, locates the desired information, and presents it to the user on the front end. It's the digital equivalent of asking the attendant in a local shop if they have an item in another color and them going into the back to check before returning with your answer.
This data retrieval is essential to the functionality of the site. However, with the two sides directly connected, using the same software and resources, it becomes too bulky, inflexible, and slow. The advantage of utilizing headless commerce vs traditional commerce is the autonomy of separation.
Without the back-end weighing it down, the interface can become faster and more lightweight because it isn't sharing code and resources. Customization options explode without affecting back-end code and they can still communicate via API (Application Program Interface). Plus, APIs can connect all your business tools and software to your site as well, making the integration options infinite.
This opens up a ton of options. One of the most popular benefits is the ease of omnichannel selling, but that's hardly the only one. To expand sales while limiting hands-on involvement, you can use a tool like Commerce Layer or Shuup to create a headless multi-vendor marketplace. The commerce layer data model allows you to solve the issue of content vs commerce by integrating your CRM directly into your eCommerce store (along with any other integrations) to give them both the support they need. The possibilities and benefits are endless.
Examples of Headless Commerce
Examples of headless commerce are a great way to understand the tangible benefits of headless commerce architecture. Existing eCommerce giants are often the first to shift toward new technology. They have to keep up with changes and know the latest trends and advancements if they're going to remain at the top of the eCommerce food chain.
That's why it's no surprise that one of the early adopters of this online retail breakthrough was none other than Nike. This company is used to making bold moves and taking action in the name of progress. In true Nike fashion, the company decided to just do it and jumped head-first into the future of eCommerce.
Their customers are notorious for being active, busy athletes and professionals who are always on the move. This demographic is prone to accessing sites from their smartphones while on the go. Nike wanted to ensure that they were getting a top-tier customer experience, so to put their best foot forward, they invested in the Nike headless commerce site.
Mobile users a far more impatient and distractable than desktop users and websites that don't reach peak performance slow them down. Using headless eCommerce for API-based communication optimized it for mobile by allowing the site to be lightweight and lightning fast. This helped them dominate the market share and beat out competitors.
When it comes to finding the right platform using headless commerce, Shopify is the choice of top brands like Allbirds. Alternatively, Magento PWA Studio (now Adobe commerce) allows you to build progressive web apps (PWAs). PWAs are the best of both worlds. They provide the experience of a mobile site and can be downloaded to users' phones to act as a native app with push notifications. With headless commerce, you can do all of this and more!
Top Headless Commerce Platforms
Businesses with their finger on the pulse of business tech had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor when headless commerce was first emerging. They recognized how big this would be and jumped at the chance to lead the way. Many big names have already been successful enough to brand themselves as top headless commerce platforms.
As discussed in the headless commerce examples section, headless eCommerce for Shopify is a popular choice. Other large brands like McDonald's and Volvo use headless eCommerce for Fabric, an equally successful platform, but one that's less widely known to the general public. Individuals and small businesses are more associated with Shopify while Fabric is popular with bigger, more corporate sellers on average.
If you're looking for a headless eCommerce, API-enabled, open-source, platform-agnostic developer tool to create the perfect PWA and website to start using headless eCommerce, React is a great option in addition to the previously mentioned Magento PWA. There are tons of other options to choose from as well.
As the interest continues to grow and more and more people discover why this technology is nothing short of an eCommerce revelation, more options will become available. To keep up to date with new developments around headless eCommerce, GitHub is a great source of information and discussion.
Headless Commerce Wiki
If you want to learn more about the topic, there are plenty of resources available. You can find information through the platforms you're considering using to get specifics about their system. For example, for sellers considering headless commerce, Shopify has articles to explain the features and documentation to help users.
If you're looking to build your own headless eCommerce open-source solution, consider those mentioned in the section discussing developer tools and headless eCommerce examples. GitHub, for example, has many sections that act as a headless commerce wiki for different countries, use cases, and categories.
If you're here looking for an efficient way to create your own wiki website using a headless commerce framework, we'd recommend going with a headless CMS. That will allow you to have multiple users creating and publishing content to the same place. Integrating seamless workflows for the efficient creation, editing, and publishing of content by a large group is also a breeze.
Hopefully, we've not only answered the popular question, what is headless commerce, but we've also given you a pretty good idea of what it does, how it compares to the alternative, and why headless commerce was such a monumental shift for eCommerce.