The Beginner’s Guide to Headless Commerce

By now, you’ve likely heard the term “headless commerce.” It’s a widely discussed, but often misunderstood buzzword in the world of ecommerce. Let’s break it down:

What is headless commerce?

Headless commerce decouples the frontend presentation of an ecommerce platform from the backend commerce functionality. This means products can be offered through a variety of different digital touchpoints, allowing for increased flexibility and faster time to market. 

Still confused? Here’s an example: Let’s think of an ecommerce site as a regular brick-and-mortar pizza store. A traditional commerce solution would only allow a customer to phone the store, place an order with a cashier and have their pizza delivered. Headless commerce, in contrast, allows a consumer to use an app to order their pizza or even an ask in-home voice assistant, like an Amazon Alexa, to order the pizza for them. Headless commerce allows for a transaction to be made in a variety of different ways, but ends in the same product, in this case the pizza, being delivered. Headless commerce allows consumers interacting with ecommerce sites to make transactions in multiple ways.

Headless commerce calls for flexibility. It allows for endless customization as the frontend isn’t coupled with the backend. This sort of platform provides robust commerce capabilities, no matter the customer entry point.  

How is headless commerce different from traditional commerce solutions?

Traditional commerce is a pre-determined experienced for consumers. Let’s go back to the pizza shop example. The frontend (phoning in the pizza) is tethered to the backend (delivering the pizza). There’s little room for customization and there’s no tailoring the transaction to the consumer’s needs. If you don’t want to call in to order, then you have no other options. However, a traditional commerce solution is much easier for the site of commerce, in this case the pizza shop, to implement, which is why it’s an attractive option for some companies.

Is headless commerce for me?

If you’re a young company, developing your first digital commerce experience, then headless commerce probably isn’t for you. It’s likely your company doesn’t have the scale to undertake what can be quite an immense upfront engineering initiative. Our advice? Use a commerce platform that provides the ability to go headless in the future, but also has a short time to market.

As for companies that do need headless commerce, we break it down into two categories:

  • A company with a mature commerce experience, but one that is fraying at the edges with customer complaints mounts about how difficult it is to interact with you, then you probably need to introduce headless commerce.
  • If you’re a large enterprise with a significant investment into one or more digital experience platforms, then you definitely need to introduce headless commerce. 

How do I get started?

You have two options:

  1. You can update your current commerce architecture to provide some basic commerce services, or
  2. You can look for a platform that provides the necessary architecture for your organization.

With an existing commerce solution in place, churning out an agile system can be a lot of work. Even still, it’s probably less work than if you completely re-platform your commerce infrastructure. Most existing commerce solutions including Adobe’s Magento, Salesforce’s B2B and B2C Commerce[CD5] , SAP’s Commerce Cloud (formerly Hybris), Shopify, and Oracle Commerce (formerly ATG) all provide a manner in which you can expose existing functionality through web services. Focusing on the existing capability of your platform can provide a quick way to dip your toe into headless commerce.

If you want to just add a buy button to your static product catalog or a shopping cart widget which includes the current cart information, all of these platforms provide that capability. 

Selecting the right platform is a complicated decision and not every platform is right in every situation. Rest assured that each of these companies will provide your organization with the ability to build and scale a headless commerce solution. You will now be able to provide commerce capabilities across devices, screen sizes, and customer interaction methods including touch, voice, and traditional computing.

Want to find out more?

Implementing headless commerce can be a tough beast to tackle, but we are here to help. For more information on how to get started, check out Avionos’s guide to headless commerce.

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