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How Headless Commerce Can Transform the Retail Industry

November 04, 2019

Headless commerce has started to gain attention across all the major e-commerce platforms. This article discusses what a headless system is, as well as some of its advantages and disadvantages. If your company has a robust technical staff and sufficient funds, headless commerce can deliver much-needed flexibility. 

E-commerce is not a new term in the digital world. The e-commerce giant Amazon was the first company to offer online shopping services to its users. Since then, the e-commerce industry has influenced many changes in how we buy products: 

  • A sharp rise in online marketplaces
  • Shifting focus from desktop to mobile for online shopping
  • Huge rise in digital marketing and advertising

According to a Statista report, retail e-commerce sales in the past 6 years has increased 2.6 times over the past six years. 

3.6 times growth for retail e-commerce sales

It’s also expected to hit $5 trillion by the year 2021. Considering this tremendous growth in sales revenue, retail industries are leaving no stone unturned. 

Even though it’s impossible to take advantage of every new technology, trying to adapt to as many as possible is a beneficial tactic. It will help you survive in the competitive e-commerce world. 

Out of all the technologies that have emerged recently (payment gateways, mobile-responsive sites, one-page checkout, etc.), headless commerce has generated the most buzz and been adopted the most widely. 

E-commerce platforms that have integrated headless commerce include: 

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. Magento

This proves that headless commerce is on the brink of widespread adoption.

What Is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce gives you the freedom to design the frontend of a website with any CMS (WordPress, Drupal, Contentful, etc.) and connect it to an e-commerce backend like BigCommerce or Shopify. 

Over the past few years, buyers have come to expect refined experiences across all touchpoints and channels. This changing trend has forced e-commerce platforms to rethink their existing retail strategy.  

A headless system lets you easily manage the content section of your e-commerce site while also introducing more customization to your product listings.

You’re no longer forced to stick with pre-customized themes offered by your e-commerce platform.

How Does Headless Commerce Technology Work?

In a headless system, the frontend layer and the backend layer are separate, but the API acts as a bridge of communication between them. 

Suppose a buyer finds a specific product on your store that they like. They would then click on the yellow “Buy Now” button.

how headless commerce technology works

The presentation layer (frontend) will send an API request to the application layer (the backend) to process the order. At the same time, the application layer will send another API request to the presentation layer to showcase the status of the order to the buyer. 

Benefits of Headless Commerce

Headless commerce systems offer improved flexibility across multiple areas of business. Technically, they simplify updates and help you release them quicker. This speed then allows a greater variety of A/B tests, which leads to more accurate user data. 

Finally, from a business competition standpoint, integrating new technology is much easier for a headless system than a traditional frontend and backend solution.  

Endless Customization

With the headless approach, you can design the frontend UI of your choice from scratch. This will lend you superior control over the UI for both customers (users) and admins (employees). 

When the frontend is decoupled from the backend, you can develop a customized checkout flow that best fits your niche, products, and brand. 

Better A/B testing for Conversion Optimization

Headless commerce gives you more opportunities to experiment with conversion optimization as well. You can try out different combinations of frontend designs and e-commerce backends. 

This unlocks endless tests and optimization rounds, which will help you clarify your image of your potential customers.

Stay Up to Date in the Competitive World

A headless approach empowers you to integrate updates rapidly into your frontend design without affecting the backend. On their AWS platform, Amazon traditionally rolls out an update every 11.7 seconds.

Retailers that are still using traditional e-commerce platforms tend to integrate updates bi-weekly or monthly.

In traditional commerce, the frontend and backend are coupled, so you have to roll out an update to the entire system. If you’re running a headless system, there’ll be no effect on the backend if you roll out an update to the UI. 
    
Being able to give customers what they’re looking for quickly will keep you ahead of the competition. 

Drawbacks of Headless Commerce

With the flexibility of a headless setup comes increased costs and complexity. Make sure to evaluate your financial and technical readiness before moving to headless commerce. 

Higher Costs

To tackle a headless approach, you need a team of expert front-end developers in-house that can design a UI from scratch. 

Generally, this is a time-consuming process and leads to higher costs. Further complicating the matter, your developers will have to troubleshoot their own errors. 

If you have a tightly regimented budget, headless commerce may not be the ideal approach for your business.

The Headache of Managing Multiple Platforms

As we know, the headless approach features a separate platform for the frontend and the backend layer. This means you have to simultaneously manage two platforms, leading to higher costs and, possibly, increased headaches.

E-Commerce Platform Supporting Headless Commerce

Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento 2 have become to go-to e-commerce platforms. These popular solutions adapted themselves to changing technology, including headless commerce, in a timely manner. 

Shopify

Shopify doesn’t come with inbuilt headless functionality. But, they have various pricing plans, including Shopify Plus, which does offer headless functionality.  

Shopify Plus offers you a lot of unique features, including:

  • Multi-store capability
  • Scalability
  • Higher volume capacity
  • Wholesale management
  • Advanced security
  • Complete customization

Shopify Plus is the best option for merchants who have large budgets and are ready to commit significant resources more to see a huge rise in sales revenue. 

Here’s a Shopify store that has integrated Headless commerce successfully: 

Yoga Girl: Everyone can be a Yoga Girl

Frontend: Contentful

This brand is not purely an e-commerce store. Yoga Girl provides tips on how yoga can change one’s life. At the same time, they’ve also integrated the shop section on their site for users that are looking to buy products after viewing their tips and tutorials. Shopify development streamlined Yoga Girl's online operations.

Big Commerce 

BigCommerce is working very hard on their platform to provide its users with a unique and premium e-commerce experience. 

Just like its competitor, Shopify, it also comes with price plan packages. This includes customized headless solutions in its enterprise package featuring unlimited API calls, premium account services, and custom facets (product filtering). 

To this end, they’ve successfully partnered with various CMSs like WordPress, Drupal, Bloomreach, and Sitecore. 

Here are a few examples of headless BigCommerce stores: 

1. Bindertek: Binder & Office Supplies

Frontend: WordPress

Bindertek offers you a collection of top-quality binders, binder-friendly shelving, office supplies, and executive desk accessories. WordPress manages the content section of this website, whereas BigCommerce manages the e-commerce functionality.

2. Duxiana: The Best Mattress & Luxury Bed

Frontend: Sitecore

Duxiana offers you the collection of Luxury beds, bedding, and sleep accessories.  

Magento 2

Magento is the 3rd most popular e-commerce platform. It is an open-source solution composed in PHP. Magento 2 is the latest upgrade for Magento store owners, and it offers more scalability, speed, and security than its predecessor. 

At the moment, Magento offers you three solutions:

The price varies for each platform depending upon your initial requirements. Magento also offers a headless commerce solution with great performance and higher security. For example: 

Oliver Bonas: Independent British lifestyle store

Frontend: Angular.js

Oliver Bonas is an independent British lifestyle store that offers a wide collection of products ranging from fashion and jewelry to homeware. 

Headless Commerce Is Here to Stay 

Technology in the retail industry is constantly changing, but only a select few stick. Based on Google search data from the last five years, headless commerce is well on its way to becoming a staple in the industry: 

google trends search data headless commerce

Source

It’s easy to see why. It offers enhanced flexibility, allows for more in-depth conversion optimization testing, and acts as a springboard for innovation, keeping your competition at bay. 

As long as you have the necessary financial and technical resources, now is a great time to lace up your boots and adapt to this booming technology.