Headless Commerce: the Future of Online Retail

What is Headless?

Headless ecommerce works just as it sounds: it is where the content management system (CMS) or digital experience platform (DXP) is decoupled from the commerce platform body. By separating the presentation layer from the commerce layer in this way, the merchant is able to make changes to one without drastically affecting the functionality of the other. Unlike with a traditional ecommerce solution, significant amendments can be made to frontend processes while keeping backend process (e.g. order management and payment acquisition) intact.

The need for Headless Commerce has come about partly due to the gradual shift towards ominchannel commerce. With customers connecting to webstores via an increasing variety of devices, including tablet, smartphone, desktop and Amazon Echo, e-tailers are finding an increasing need in turn for development platforms which allow them to make changes to their storefronts without drops in service or downtime. Headless Commerce enables merchants to modify the presentation of their site without altering the databases it relies upon.

Speed of Delivery

Perhaps the biggest benefit of a Headless Commerce platform is the time it saves: with no predefined frontend platform, Headless enables frontend developers to create a user experience from the ground up. With databases amendable via a simple API call, frontend developers are set free to focus on making the site usable and functional for merchant and client alike.

The speed of development further streamlines this process, particularly when it comes to updates or minor changes which, in traditional ecommerce, can quickly pile up. For instance, in Headless, you can make a quick update to support a new OS release (e.g. Apple’s iOS 12) without having to redeploy your entire ecommerce platform. You can even add new products or set up promotional campaigns without having to reconfigure back end technology. With the frontend and backend decoupled, changes to the content layer of the platform can be made quickly as easily.

Increased Optimisation

Headless Commerce greatly enhances your ability to optimise onsite content. Because headless solutions are decoupled, you do not need to worry about innovative strategy tests disrupting your back-end capabilities. Brand loyalty and ecommerce wins can be quick implemented from day to day.

An early adopter of Headless, Amazon has already used these techniques to win over its customers. By running continual experiments with onsite changes and measuring the results, the world’s largest ecommerce retailer has been able to make its business fully reactive as a result. With Headless Commerce at the helm, its rate of learning is 10 to 100 times faster than most retailers. As an undisputed leader in the industry, other business, regardless of what platform they are using, are sure to follow.

Adaptable Marketing

All marketing, of course, should be adaptable in theory. In practice, however, it’s rarely that simple. Traditional ecommerce often means that the hassle and overhaul involved in alerting a website for a particular market means that merchants are often forced into a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

With Headless Commerce, this is need no longer be the case. A Headless Commerce solution can support new technologies and specialised content from market-to-market. Whether you are rolling out a service, product or event across multiple sites, divisions or countries, Headless Commerce allows your marketing team to roll out campaigns in a matter of days instead of months.

Omnichannel Commerce

Omnichannel is becoming increasingly important in ecommerce as well as high street retail. However, the flexibility that omnichannel demands is often hard or impossible for full-stack solutions to pull off. With a frontend and backend married, it can be difficult to adapt quickly and effectively to current and emerging technologies. From video and virtual reality to 3D printing and onsite kiosks, websites can be deployed without having to reengineer its look and its content from back to front.

As an example, assuming a company wanted to set up digital kiosks in store to print or order products, a Headless Commerce approach would make it much easier for the device to connect to cloud services to provide the relevant part of your platform via APIs. Via Headless, new content and updates can be automatically rolled out much quicker than with traditional ecommerce. This means frictionless experiences for customer and client alike: since the backend and frontend are separated, if there is any performance issue in the backend that requires maintenance, it won’t create any downtime.

Streamlined integrations

Headless Commerce vastly improves integrations by connecting and exposing assets through API. APIs allow software platforms to communicate with each other and transfer data. Headless Commerce encourages integrations due to the fact that all the elements of the website are decoupled. With deep-level integration, you are free to interchange and swap out site components as and when you see fit.

In practice, this means you can select the right API for the job you want carried out, without having to worry about whether it will fit, or disrupt the functioning of the entire platform. From 3rd party cloud hubs to email management add-ons, you can tailor-make your website from the ground up with Headless Commerce – and without breaking the bank.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

What is a Progressive Web App? A Progressive Web App begins life as a tab on your mobile. It is setup so that the second (or third time) you visit the site, a prompt shows up requesting the site to be added to your browser. From there, users can then decide whether to store the app on their home screen or within their app launcher. When launched from the home screen, these apps blend seamlessly into their environment, with the ability to work offline and maximise to full screen. In this way, Progress Web Apps enable a website to look and function just like a ‘real’ app.

The benefits to ecommerce are obvious: with PWAs, websites can be optimised so that people can shop efficiently as possible on their mobile, without having to switch between browser tabs or reload sluggish pages. After switching to PWAs AliExpress has already seen 82% increase in iOS conversion rate and 2x more pages visited per session per user across all browsers. Similarly, after implementing PWAs on their own ecommerce sites, ASDA George saw a 3.8x faster average page load time, a 2x lower bounce rate and a 31% increase in conversion rate.  One of the first platforms to invest in Progressive Web Apps, Magento’s PWA Studio employs GraphQL and allows you to intuitively and easily add mobile apps to your home screen, as demonstrated below.

247 Commerce: Breaking New Ground in Headless Commerce

As a leading developer in Magento 2, we are way ahead of the curve when it comes to Headless. Within this platform we already have access to PWA Studio, having been an adopter from the very start.  We are able to utilise the most advanced features Magento currently brings to create mobile-optimised websites which the customer can use just like any other app in their browser.

Having already build websites with Magento’s PWA Studio, and having spent over £1.5 million in research and development in the last five years, the technologies we have devised are not only based on R&D but on real-world projects. To date, we have carried out 200 ecommerce implementations and over 500 integrations covering functions such as marketplaces, ERPs, ticketing systems, CRM systems, warehouse & logistics. Consolidating everything we’ve learnt over the past 8 years we’ve been in business, we’re ready to lead the way in the new Headless Commerce revolution.

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Further reading