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A Guide to Headless Commerce and How it Can Help Your Store

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Headless commerce sounds like it might be a horror movie about a business executive. But, it's actually a form of online commerce that's both helping companies and causing some hurdles along the way (we'll explain).

Overall, headless commerce involves ensuring the consumer is always happy — that customers are able to seamlessly purchase products and not experience a tedious process while doing so.

We'll talk about the basic definition of headless commerce, its advantages and how you can implement it for your own business.

What is Headless Commerce and Why Should You Care?

A simple description of headless commerce is the separation of the frontend, visual or presentation layer of your website from the backend, ecommerce elements. However, this decoupling of the two infrastructures should be flexible and seamless; the customer should get a great user experience without noticing anything strange when browsing and purchasing.

Essentially, we're talking about utilizing multiple tools to provide customers with ecommerce functionality and frontend content.

A good example of this would be making an online store with BigCommerce but installing WordPress to manage the blogging aspect of your business.

In short, the point of headless commerce is to allow developers a chance to plug their ecommerce solution into the most effective content management system, instead of relying on one platform to do everything for you.

With this model, the ecommerce platform does what it does best: inventory management, hosting, security and fraud detection. Then, you're able to integrate with other systems for a more content-friendly experience.

The headless commerce infrastructure is used by many brands, and sometimes they may not even realize it. But overall, it's most important for content-heavy brands that constantly make recommendations on social media, blogs and through advertisements.

How Did Headless Commerce Come About?

Headless commerce has actually been around for a bit now, but the actual "headless commerce" term may not have been attached to the conversation.

But that begs the question: Where did headless commerce come from and why has it become popular, if not the norm?

Customers Expect Much More

As consumers, today's ecommerce world spoils us. However, that means as business owners we have to adapt to what the customers are used to.

No longer are two-week delivery times acceptable. No longer is a five-to-10-second load time OK on a website.

The same can be said for content and product access. Consumers are accustomed to making a few clicks and getting the exact content they desire — this means no hiccups in the checkout process, no long shipping waits, quality blog posts and videos, and top-notch customer service.

Because of this, headless commerce is a requirement. Otherwise, your website won't be as efficient in some aspects.

There Are Many Selling and Support Channels

Building a strong brand typically involves pushing as many customers as possible to your own website. However, there are also plenty of other channels to sell on, so some of those potential VIP customers may not be willing to visit your website to buy.

From Amazon to Etsy, and eBay to social networks, getting your products on these channels is essential for reaching the maximum number of potential customers. Shopify, for example, has several sales channels built into its platform.

shopify sales channels

Luckily, headless commerce has the ability to reach customers on all of these channels without causing any problems on the frontend.

At one point, the only place people had to buy products online was through a desktop computer. That's obviously not the case anymore, so having a headless infrastructure allows merchants to sell on mobile, social and marketplaces, dramatically boosting sales.

Brands Want to Remain Ahead of the Competition

Older, traditional ecommerce platforms were rather inflexible when it came to adapting to consumer trends. For instance, they limited customer support channels, mobile device selling and content distribution.

All these areas offer potential for beating out the competition, but it's impossible to embrace if you're not utilizing the headless commerce model.

An ecommerce platform of the past may really struggle when it comes to offering mobile buying options. But the headless system ensures that you're using the best-of-the-best for every business requirement. So, you're able to integrate with a superior customer service app, blog and mobile responsive system.

Retailers are Converting to Direct-to-Consumer Models

Big-box retailers have slowly realized how inflexible a B2B wholesale model can be. They're seeing how many newer brands are creating strong communities around their products and building lasting relationships.

Therefore, we're seeing a decline in B2B wholesale as bigger brands embrace the direct-to-consumer model.

This isn't an easy transition for the behemoths with clunky ecommerce systems, but it's a reason we're starting to see more headless solutions. If anything, it's an advantage for small, newer brands to start off on the right foot and remain nimble.

Amazon Has an Effect

Amazon has consistently made the push to get third-party merchants to use Amazon Fulfillment Services. In addition, Amazon is known for repeatedly introducing its own native products, essentially competing with many of its third-party sellers.

amazon fulfillment services

Yes, Amazon is a decent channel for boosting sales, but it's in no way a friend for your own long-term profits and sustainability. That's why a headless commerce approach is so important to get your own brand's voice into the world, and reach consumers with rapid checkouts, top-notch content and superior customer support.

How Headless Commerce Compares to Traditional Commerce

As mentioned before, Amazon has quite a bit of effect on how brands are trying to make their own voices heard, instead of only selling on Amazon and losing brand identity and community.

So, the transition is either occurring from traditional to headless, or companies start with headless commerce from the beginning.

The basic differences are included in the comparison graph below. Here, you can see that traditional commerce causes inflexibility because of all systems packed into one solution. On the other hand, customization and mobility is far easier with headless commerce, partly because design limitations aren't there and brands don't have to worry about the frontend and backend being linked at all times.

traditional vs. headless commerce

What are some other differences between traditional and headless commerce?

  • Traditional systems combine all processes, while headless commerce decouples items like content management tools and commerce platforms.
  • Traditional platforms are typically required to stick with the technology it started with, whereas headless commerce systems can choose the best for all tasks.
  • Traditional models have full control over their IT infrastructures, while headless models have less control because of multiple integrations.
  • Headless commerce usually has faster go-to-market timelines and lower development costs.

Advantages of Headless Commerce

Traditional commerce still has many advantages, which is why some larger corporations are sticking to the model. But it's becoming more and more clear that the headless model is taking the lead. Here are four advantages:

1. Improved Conversion Rates and Customer Acquisition Costs

As we've already established, consumers are getting both pickier and smarter. This involves advertising as well. In short, advertising effectiveness is decreasing, but advertising costs are increasing. Therefore, customer acquisition costs are increasing. That's why content and experience-oriented marketing is more important than advertising for many companies. Headless commerce is the best way to conquer this.

2. It's Easier to Launch a Product or Business

Whether taking a new product or business to market, it requires flexibility and speed. We'll cover how both of those are advantages of headless commerce below, but it's important to know that this system is easy to duplicate for new products and brands. You also know that each touchpoint in your sales funnel is optimized and ready for launch.

3. Better Marketing Speed and Effectiveness

Today, marketing teams need to A/B test a campaign, decide what works and scrap what doesn't at a rapid pace. Headless means that everyone is working in a familiar content management system, and the ecommerce tools are optimized and ready for increases in sales. Therefore, marketing campaigns typically run smoother with the headless model.

headless commerce a/b testing

4. Superior Flexibility and Customization

Some closed, traditional ecommerce platforms use proprietary coding language, while others are open for anyone to play around with. When limitations are forced upon developers it often means working with unfamiliar systems. However, a headless system means that you can typically reach out to freelancers and contractors that are well-versed in common programming languages and ecommerce platforms.

Should Your Company Consider Headless Commerce?

The big question is whether or not your business should embrace the headless commerce infrastructure. Does it matter if you take actionable steps to make headless part of your organization? The answer to that it mixed, but we'd argue it's a good idea most of the time, unless you're running a multinational conglomerate.

Here are some suggestions on when a merchant should consider headless commerce:

  • If you're currently selling online and also have a different website with content, like a blog or video page, you can merge the two together with headless commerce.
  • If you're already running a successful blog or content management system and you'd like to add the ecommerce element.
  • If your brand sells in multiple international markets or on multiple websites, headless allows for unique frontends powered by a unified backend.
  • If you'd like to provide a seamless digital experience for customers while still embracing multiple device types and channels.
  • If your brand is strictly based around content.
  • If you'd like to create more of a community around your brand and engage customers better.

How Headless Commerce Works for Well-Known Platforms

The good news: You can opt for a prebuilt solution, consider an API connection or even make a completely custom-built platform for your business. In short, you're attempting to pair a frontend content manager with an ecommerce platform.

Here are some solutions that either bring together several systems or have somewhat of a headless interface for a more efficient sales process.

WordPress

Seeing as WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world, it makes sense to consider it as part of your headless commerce solution. In the past, combining the content management prowess of WordPress with another platform has been difficult.

That has changed a bit in the recent past.

One of the most common ways to separate ecommerce and content is to utilize the WooCommerce plugin. This is an entirely separate plugin that you can install on WordPress. It's not a perfect option (potential speed and security issues) but, with the right amount of customization and money, it works for many brands.

WordPress homepage

Shopify and BigCommerce

Shopify and BigCommerce are incredible for launching an ecommerce store, dealing with hosting, and handling security and speed. You can't go wrong if your focus is on selling products.

But what if you want better customer service, content management and other solutions?

shopify homepage

Well, the headless infrastructure can be utilized with the help of BigCommerce and Shopify apps. Shogun is a great choice for page building and content creation, while a wide range of other apps are provided for things like customer support, social media and email marketing.

Not to mention, you can always create a sub-domain on BigCommerce or Shopify and add a WordPress blog on that.

Drupal

Drupal is similar to WordPress, but it has a better reputation for security and custom-built plugins. Essentially, WordPress is designed so that you have the best possible CMS, then you can add prebuilt plugins to round out your headless interface.

Drupal homepage

However, the Drupal community truly embraces the open-source infrastructure by focusing more on custom creations.

Because of this preference for custom-built integrations, Drupal sites can typically support far more articles and media elements. In addition, it's easier to establish a faster website with Drupal.

So, is your company ready for the headless commerce movement? Not every company is, but most of them should embrace some aspects of it.

When you peel back the layers, your company may already be utilizing certain headless commerce processes — a step in the right direction!

Shogun is the visual CMS trusted by the top eCommerce brands like Leesa Mattresses, Chubbies Shorts, and K-Swiss.

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