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What is Headless Commerce ?

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is a trending topic today in e-commerce and a leading force in optimum digital consumer experience. “Shopify, a company that offers e-commerce solutions, had reported astounding growth in 2020, with revenues growing 86% year over year and GMV growing 96%.” Shopify is one such example of a headless commerce solutions provider. “According to research by the advisory company Gartner, one of the top strategic technology trends for 2021 and beyond has been coined the “total experience,” or TX.” Headless commerce has the capacity and capabilities to offer TX. 

Headless commerce essentially decouples the front end from the back end of e-commerce applications. The front end of an ecommerce application is the visual form that a customer experiences, such as the presentation layout on a mobile app, an online shop or an interactive screen at a shopping mall, whereas the back end of an e-commerce application is functional, namely the database infrastructure. Back end operations include merchandising, order checkout and fulfilling orders. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are utilized to link the front end and back end softwares. Whereas traditional e-commerce applications are described as having monolithic architecture, headless e-commerce applications are based on API driven architecture. 

Headless commerce offers four key benefits over traditional e-commerce as follows: 

  • Time to optimize the presentation layer for customer experience - No longer do ecommerce platforms require time to roll out features that can smoothen customer experience by updating the entire e-commerce applications. Without impacting the back end functionality, features can be added to the front end swiftly in short phases rather than disrupting consumer experience. Concurrently, if there was any maintenance occurring at the back end of the e-commerce application, it would not affect the front end. 

  • Scalability and customization - headless commerce allows retailers to scale and customize features of e-commerce platforms across media devices instead of having to rework the look for each device. This also provides a seamless experience when customers switch between devices, which are growing in types and proliferating the daily lives of consumers. For retailers, this flexibility allows them to adopt newer technologies, whether they are at the front end or back end of the applications. 

  • Third party integrations - With this new concept, online retailers do not have to relegate to one software application vendor to develop and implement their

    • e-commerce platforms. They can choose various third party developers and use APIs to integrate them into the existing application. The impact is that front end and back end developers have to stay competitive by offering rich features to attract online retailers. 

  • Security - Delineating the e-commerce application into front end and back end simplifies the security process and access protocols for administrators to implement across various levels of users. The impact of security breach diminishes as the architecture is delineated and decentralized if headless commerce has been implemented.

Headless commerce has seen rapid growth in leaps and bounds leading to initiatives such as the MACH Alliance, a group of technology companies that aim to educate consumers on open tech ecosystems. MACH stands for Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless and includes companies such as Big Commerce, Bold Commerce, EPAM and more. 

There are certain disadvantages to headless commerce that online retailers should pay heed to before deciding to switch to this type of solution. First, it may be expensive to buy and implement various front end and back end third party solutions. Costs can quickly balloon when online retailers go after scalability. Second, by decoupling front end and back end applications, it is possible that developers working on these different ends can drift apart and work in isolation, which can lead to problems in the future. Lastly, keeping track of the latest iterations of third party solutions can become cumbersome if many are interlinked to the platform. 

Apart from online retailers, direct-to-consumer brands, small and medium enterprises,, bloggers, tech startups and sports teams have benefited from the availability of headless commerce solutions. With over $1.65 billion in funding raised for headless technologies over the last two years and a large company like Salesforce recently acquiring Modify for $60 million, companies in the e-commerce solutions ecosystem are definitely placing their bets on the future of headless commerce.


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