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What is Headless Commerce?

Nicole Willing

Nicole Willing

September 04
  •  
3 minute read
How headless commerce works

Definition

Headless commerce is the separation of the backend of a digital store from the customer-facing storefront, giving businesses greater flexibility and scalability in the way they operate.

 

Overview

Headless commerce architecture is gaining traction as it brings together the benefits of a full-featured software package and a secure cloud-based service. Businesses can pick and choose the e-commerce tools most suitable for their needs rather than being confined to a predetermined set of features.

In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), customizable content is required to sell more and differentiate yourself from competitors. A study conducted by Boston Consulting Group for Google showed that customers were 110% more likely to add additional items to their carts and 40% more likely to spend more than they had planned when the shopping experience was highly personalized. 

Headless commerce builds on the increasing use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to create personalized experiences and custom platforms that can respond to changing trends at the frontend, without developers having to rebuild the entire system.

 

How Headless Commerce Works

The backend of a commerce platform includes the product information manager (PIM), order management system (OMS), and other tools like pricing, promotions, recurring payments, and payment processing. Many of these individual services are known as microservices and enable headless commerce.

With the backend functionality detached from the storefront (i.e. frontend), developers can work independently to quickly deploy new features and support digital marketers within the company. Being able to test updates and new features without disrupting the functionality of the frontend also reduces the risk of downtime and results in faster time to market.

Note: As depicted in the image above. there are multiple frontends for different channels and storefronts, with the exception being social marketplaces where you don't control the frontend design. Instead you connect directly to the pre-designed frontend with APIs. You bring the data, not the design. This exhibits the true flexibility of headless commerce and how it enables you to sell on a variety of channels in different ways.

 

Headless and microservices

Using APIs, businesses can integrate a range of microservices rather than operating from a monolithic platform architecture. Adding new features becomes a matter of incorporating a new microservice into the commerce stack, avoiding the pain points that come with having to migrate the entire platform. The use of API layers also creates a more secure environment that is less vulnerable to online threats and critical failure than a monolithic platform where all of the functions are in a single layer.

As digital commerce moves further away from static browser-based interactions to omnichannel delivery, the microservices approach gives businesses the scalability to sell their products through websites, mobile apps, social media, IoT devices and more.

 

Headless and omnichannel

The headless architecture allows for multiple front ends to connect to the single backend. That ensures all customers have the same experience regardless of their device or operating system; the checkout process is run by the same commerce engine. Gone are the days when website functionality was compromised when viewed in certain browsers or from mobile devices rather than the desktop.

The rule of seven states that a customer needs to see a product several times before they commit to making a purchase. Presenting a product to them through the company website and mobile app, a shoppable social media post, a wearable device, a connected home appliance, and a connected car maximizes the opportunities a retailer has to secure that purchase.

 

Example of Headless Commerce

Amazon is the powerhouse of headless commerce. Having started as an online bookstore with a monolithic architecture, Amazon demonstrates the potential scalability of a headless approach. Alongside its online presence and mobile app, it delivers products through multiple channels:

  • Amazon Kindle allows readers to buy books directly from the device
  • Amazon Dash buttons automatically reorder products for connected devices
  • Amazon Echo allows customers to buy products using voice commands
  • Amazon Echo Auto lets drivers pay by voice for purchases while on the move, and the list goes on.

These omnichannel features are enabled by a headless commerce architecture that gives the retail giant the ability to launch new channels rapidly. Out of its experience came Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud computing and API services platform used around the world.

Amazon’s ability to deliver a range of products through a variety of customer interactions comes at a time when more people than ever are buying products online because of the coronavirus pandemic. That contributed to a 40% increase in the company’s net sales to a record $88.9 billion in Q2 2020.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Headless commerce separates the backend functionality from the content layer so that the infrastructure can support multiple channels for product delivery.
  • Businesses can launch new products and features by creating a mesh of microservices tailored to meet their needs instead of being constrained by a monolithic platform architecture.
  • As ecommerce becomes transformed by IoT, including product sales through smarthome and connected car devices, the modular approach provides the scalability to innovate faster.
  • Amazon has built a headless commerce platform that allows for multi-billion dollar sales through a growing range of increasingly sophisticated customer interfaces.

 

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Nicole Willing

Nicole Willing

Nicole Willing is a technical writer and journalist who covers e-commerce for Fabric.

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