Demystifying Headless Commerce


Headless Commerce is a term that has been talked about a lot in the digital commerce world over the last few years. While it may seem like a buzzword, it represents a significant shift in the way merchants potentially approach commerce. In the first of our series, we will demystify headless commerce to help you understand what it is and why it is gaining traction.

What has driven the want for Headless Commerce?

In today’s highly competitive online retail sector, it has never been more important for merchants to develop effective online platforms. Continually reviewing their ecommerce presence through the use of customer data and analytics and using these findings to inform new customer engagement initiatives should be at the top of every retailer’s agenda to help them stand out from the crowd.

But the fact is, as we move into an experience economy where the customer journey is paramount, traditional enterprise technology by historical design can struggle to keep pace with changing consumer behaviours and expectations. Consumerisation is driving rapid innovation and customers increasingly expect instant service, questions answered immediately and the latest capabilities to aid online purchases. If customers cannot get these capabilities from a particular merchant, they will simply look elsewhere.

The challenge for merchants is that most online operations are well established, but they often have high levels of inter-dependency on back-end systems such as ERP, stock/inventory, PIM, POS, which can also constrain their agility to act.

Ultimately, retail success is all about understanding customer needs and requirements and adapting capability to keep pace with these changing expectations over time. It is time for retailers to reconsider how they design and implement their ecommerce platforms so that they can innovate and stay ahead of the competition. This is one of the most significant drivers around why headless commerce is beginning to draw the attentions of retail CIOs and CTOs.

What is it and why is it gaining traction amongst merchants?

When a merchant with a traditional ecommerce application wants to make a change to their website, like adding an additional feature, typically their infrastructure requires them to redeploy the entire application each time, or redefine how other systems work with the commerce platform.

This means that many merchants are either left bound by the capabilities of their ecommerce and/or or their back-end applications or they have to carry out large monolithic deployments, which can potentially be time consuming and costly, and may still fall short of consumer expectations.

Headless commerce on the other hand breaks a merchant’s digital commerce capability down into two separate areas: it decouples the ecommerce engine in the back-end from the user interface applications in the front-end (or Head). The back-end processes are responsible for the processing and fulfilment of orders, while the front-end is how customers interact with the merchant’s website.

One of the main benefits of headless commerce is the increased flexibility and agility it provides. By separating the front-end and back-end, and using composable tools, businesses can quickly and easily adapt to new trends and technologies, without having to completely overhaul their ecommerce system.

In theory, merchants that adopt a headless approach are able to innovate faster than their competitors that use traditional ecommerce applications, who may be constrained by rigid deployments or their complex enterprise systems.

The constraints

There is, however, a trade-off with the headless commerce approach, as it by nature requires greater technical understanding and capability to deliver than a conventional ecommerce solution.

This decoupled approach can be a time-consuming task as it requires IT teams to create individual front-end frameworks (such as customer accounts, loyalty points, etc.), which then need to be supported between user interface applications and systems that are integrated separately.

Implementing a headless architecture may require additional development and maintenance costs, and may not be the best fit for all businesses.

The future of Headless Commerce

The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all approach for merchants when it comes to selecting the right ecommerce solution. Keeping up to date with changing consumer expectations is a top priority for most, so adopting a headless commerce approach may become a more attractive option over time if it becomes more accessible.

The market is still in the earlier stages of embracing this approach, and it is currently being implemented at the leading edge rather than as mainstream practice. Nonetheless, while it is not yet affect buying cycles of merchants, we are beginning to see CIOs consider the headless commerce approach when considering their next investments.

What are the implications of headless on tech vendors? Stay tuned for our next blog where our experts will weigh in on what headless could mean for the wider commerce landscape and how each commerce platform is approaching headless.

If you have any questions in the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.