What is headless commerce, and should you care?
Written by Debra Weinryb, Content Strategist at diff agency
Headless commerce is getting more attention because of its added customizability, speed, scale and control. And best of all, you don’t need to replatform to go headless. But before committing you need to determine whether a headless approach to ecommerce will benefit your business.
Shopify’s headless definition
Before we dive in, here’s how Shopify defines headless:
“Headless commerce is a reference to the architecture that underpins a commerce solution — it’s the decoupling of the front-end customer experience from your back-end technology infrastructure.”
What is headless commerce?
Because headless is a complicated concept, Shopify’s definition can use some unpacking. The majority of ecommerce sites are built to power the front-end and back-end simultaneously. This saves money and time because website changes can be made without development resources.
However, as technology advances, customer expectations are gravitating to more individualized experiences that are personally relevant, interesting and ultimately more meaningful. As digital technology changes, shoppers want ecommerce to keep up by providing lightning fast website speeds and performance.
A headless commerce system provides a solution to stay up to date with the demands of digital customer experiences today. It separates your front-end experiences from your back-end infrastructure, empowering your business to publish content from virtually any platform. A headless commerce architecture provides a path via an API between your presentation layer and back-end systems. This aligns your Shopify store with social, in-store and smart device touch points.
What are the benefits of headless commerce?
Headless commerce is often referred to as ‘anywhere’ commerce because it enables your company to leverage many devices for checkout and payment. This includes creative storefronts such as kiosks, wearables, apps, voice technology, smart mirrors, billboards, vending machines and more. By doing so, it offers many advantages for merchants, including:
1. Improved customer experience
You won’t need to replatform your content management system with Shopify Plus commerce engine. Plug in your business tools and systems to create seamless storefront experiences to save time, money and development resources.
2. Enhanced control and scaling
Engage your customers with headless storefronts including kiosks, billboards, smart mirrors, wearables, and vending machines. By practicing agile marketing and experimenting with A/B testing, you can optimize campaigns on the go.
3. Increased operational control
Integrate all your systems to your Shopify store, including ERP, PIM, CRM, CMS, and design frameworks. You can speak your own development language, and deliver content like products, reviews, or recommendations via the Shopify Storefront API.
4. Increased speed and efficiency
Reduce time to market by enabling your team to work on front-end and back-end code at the same time. Headless separates copy from code, allowing marketing and development teams to work independently. Each team can work faster because they won’t rely on each other.
5. Personalization and flexibility
Headless provides the flexibility to build customer-centered experiences, regardless of the devices that your customers are using. Headless helps you keep up with trends. With split testing, you can optimize customer experiences and increase conversions.
6. Shopify Plus APIs, SDKs, and progressive web apps
A customized storefront or a progressive web app can make your brand stand out. A progressive web app is a web site that behaves more like a native mobile application. It takes greater advantage of the local system resources providing opportunities to increase site speed and leverage hardware resources.
7. Omnichannel customer experiences
A headless commerce solution can power omnichannel ecommerce experiences. You can communicate product information through new channels without changing your back-end systems.
Two considerations of a headless commerce approach
Before going headless, it’s important to evaluate whether headless commerce makes sense for your business. Here are two considerations to help you make your decision:
1. Headless requires front-end development resources
Since headless commerce platforms don’t provide your front-end, you’ll need developers to build your own. You’ll likely also need IT and development support to make sure your APIs communicate to your back-end system properly. Building your user interface from scratch can be time consuming and cost more than using Shopify out-of-the-box. Your marketing team will be able to make website changes without relying on your development team
2. Marketing and IT departments are isolated from one another
Headless separates the front-end from the back-end. This separation between content and code allows marketing teams to publish content across channels without IT resources. A single change made in the content management system can translate to your website, mobile app, and more.
Headless ecommerce criteria checklist
Headless commerce is a strategic choice that can improve your user experience and empower your marketing teams. Here are 5 criteria that can help you decide if headless is right for your business:
1. You want to scale. If you want to increase customer engagement through emerging technologies, then headless is right for you. Consider headless to support your brand presence as you plan for future changes in technology.
2. Headless provides flexibility. If you’re interested in using multiple languages or currencies to gain a faster speed to market, headless commerce is right for you. A headless ecommerce platform helps you increase control and scale faster with personalization.
3. You have a budget. Going headless isn’t a cheap alternative to a native platform. You’ll need development and IT help to build your front-end and support API integrations. This will ensure an engaging user experience for customers across all channels.
4. You want to be unique. Customization will be easier with a headless commerce architecture. Going headless allows for quicker integrations, personalization and speed ie. smart mirrors, wearable technology, vending machines, voice technology, and more.
5. You want to compete. Headless can help you move faster and stay ahead with simultaneous front-end and back-end adjustments. Improved load times, customizable store fronts and user-friendly native mobile apps can help you get ahead of your competitors.
If you meet any of the above criteria, you may want to consider the possibility of going headless. Headless commerce will support your growing team and systems as your business scales.
Headless Commerce is future-ready
Omnichannel experiences are expected by shoppers. API technologies help retailers connect their brand to customers across multiple touchpoints. A headless commerce approach helps brands reach new channels, like appliances, cars, voice devices and more. Progressive web apps (PWAs) offer native app features at fast speeds to help increase conversions. Headless commerce gives retailers flexibility over their technology stack, whereas traditional commerce platforms have fixed front-end user interfaces.
Time to go headless?
Get in touch to find out more about headless commerce on Shopify Plus. If you want to know more about headless commerce technology and processes, we are happy to answer your questions. Get in touch with diff to find out if headless is right for your business.