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Headless Commerce: Is it the Future of Online Sales?

Online shopping habits have greatly altered in recent years. Today, people use smartphones far more than their desktop computers to buy things on the Internet hence they expect much more from the online stores

Outdated e-stores with sluggishly loading pages, inconvenient navigation, and generally poor performance don’t get the approval of buyers. For businesses, this simply means lost sales if the store is not compatible (from the technical perspective) and won’t live up to the audience’s expectations. 

Bottom line: change requires change.

Headless commerce is a new trend that determines the future of online selling. 

Find out what’s all the fuss, how it differs from traditional commerce and how merchants can benefit from a progressive frontend.

Source: saleslayer.com

Defining Monolithic Traditional Commerce Stores

The current situation is as follows: most online retail stores that we see online today are traditional commerce ones. A large portion of them was built a decade ago and uses heavy monolithic architecture.

This type of system keeps it all in one place; that is, everything is set up and maintained in a “single environment”. As a rule, these solutions are used to serve just one channel – in most cases, it all goes down to one site that’s mainly aimed at desktop users.

The backend and the frontend of such stores are closely interlinked. 

For example, this kind of architecture can be compared to a large warehouse that stores the entire data scope of your site. This includes the content that’s seen on the frontend by users along with all the information that’s managed in the backend (product database, order history, payment logs, customer data, etc).

In turn, this is why stores aren’t flexible enough when it comes down to their customization and how fast users receive the requested content on their screens.

Source: medium.com

The Biggest Drawbacks of Monolithic Architecture Stores

  • It takes a great deal of time to build monolithic websites in terms of development (since it involves both the frontend and the backend being tied together).
  • Moreover, stores with such coupled architecture are generally slower than headless ones. I.e., it takes them much more time to fetch the required content for users, which often causes irritation and bounce.
  • It’s time-consuming to make any changes, updates, or deployments. Developers who work with traditional commerce systems have to make changes in numerous places when they rework the code, making sure nothing else breaks in consequence. This implies that there’s practically no flexibility, leading to longer development and deployment time which backpedals the implementation of updates, features, and adopting new technology.
  • It gets tricky if you face the need to create something custom. Since this approach is very closely tied to the used framework and toolset, most “moves” that you can make with the site are often predefined. Topping that, because such traditional systems “run by other rules”, when you need something unique, there will most likely be big obstacles. This primarily regards changes to the store to suit mobile devices that require a different look.
  • With a monolithic store, you often get stuck with some solutions. The thing is that not everything can be updated or tweaked. Design is commonly a sore subject as, in most cases, there are big restrictions and limitations of what you can and cannot do in terms of an eCommerce store’s UX and UI (especially if we keep in mind design variations for multiple devices).
  • Most importantly, sticking to a solution that can’t be in line with the times and that will soon be outdated is not the best decision for online retail businesses. After all, you’ll have to shift to something else at some point in order for your business to adapt to the times, drive traffic, and convert.

Explaining Headless Decoupled Commerce Stores

As shortly mentioned earlier, the shift towards headless commerce is the next big deal in online retail. This rather recent trend revolves around such an architecture that splits apart a store’s frontend and backend.

Decoupled headless commerce systems use API to connect the backend with the frontend and have the frontend based on a modern framework (such as ReactJS or AngularJS). This helps the system quickly deliver its users the content that they want to see on the store no matter the used device.

Image credit: Pexels

Due to this separation, one single store can have different “heads” that’ll serve separate client touchpoints. That is, it may offer multiple solutions for users who wish to shop in the store using various devices.

Each “head” can be adapted to work with a specific device: smart home technology, a mobile phone, a desktop computer, a watch, a smart fridge, a voice assistant speaker, etc. They’ll be attached to the backend of the store via API. Thus, if you want to have the chance to support multiple channels, headless commerce can be what you’re looking for.

Furthermore, in turn, the backend of a headless commerce store can be divided too. This division is referred to as microservices. For example, the payment and search can have their own databases as opposed to a single one for them all. It allows avoiding “snowball” breaks and data mix-ups. 

In general, optimizing a site and its performance is much simpler with headless because it’s lightweight. The same applies if you want to have custom solutions that don’t depend on pre-set tools and layouts. Clearly, it makes sense to have a scalable site that’s not fully dependent on a single CMS.

The approach can also safeguard against mutual breaks. So, if you want to stop worrying that changes on the frontend can negatively affect the backend (or the other way around) during deployments, releases, or updates, don’t overlook headless commerce. Your dev teams can work separately on the frontend and backend without going back and forth.

Source: connectionmodel.com

The Drawbacks of Headless Commerce

  • Such changes won’t happen in a day. This is the first thing that you should keep in mind.
    Splitting an existing store’s backend from the frontend usually requires a load of “heavy-lifting” from the development perspective. Just as it is building a headless store from scratch.
  • If your online business is large-scale, you most likely have a highly customized monolithic store. In this case, your first option is building the headless commerce site from the ground up, i.e., not investing time in splitting what you have.  Alternatively, you can decouple your existing site’s frontend and backend, creating an API for the latter. For a large enterprise, headless commerce makes sense in this scenario if you have many unique solutions developed specifically for your business. But prepare for the long hours and costs that imply.
  • Next, there may be a necessity in creating plenty of UX\UI designs. Since there may be no frontend designs for the devices you want your store to support, this will require the work of designers. They’ll have to make the “looks” of the headless storefront for multiple endpoints. This implies a lot of hours from the developer’s side too to implement the UI and UX. Bear in mind that there’ll be a time-consuming UX\UI design stage of the entire site and its further development.

Undoubtedly, such work comes at a cost. Finding a team that you can trust with such a complicated headless project isn’t easy either. But this is the sacrifice that’ll pay off both short-term and long-term.

So How Do You Get Started with Headless Commerce?

Source: thirstcreative.co.au

There are numerous paths to follow if you’ve decided that you’re going headless. Here are some tips for you to get started.

Step 1

Before you begin the search for the optimal headless option for you, browse the web for some examples and think about what you have at the moment.

Step 2

Do some planning on the scope of work that’s ahead and think your strategy through.

The great thing is that you don’t have to build the whole store simultaneously. You can take things one piece at a time. For example, you may first transform your eCommerce store into a progressive web application (PWA).

Getting a PWA can be the big primary decision that’ll take you closer to headless commerce. You’ll therefore prepare your store for the attachment of other “heads” someday in the future as a PWA’s architecture presupposes decoupling.

Progressive web apps have many benefits, crucial of them being the fact that they optimize both the mobile and desktop versions of the store. This can cater to the needs of most of your audience today and provide the needed level of customer experience.

Plus, PWAs have a design that has “copied” the best that native applications provide, they work in browsers and don’t have to be downloaded, and are super fast. Here are many Magento PWA examples that you can take a look at.

Below are a couple of screenshots taken on a mobile device from the Apivita cosmetics site that is a PWA. It’s simple to navigate and has a neat design!

Source: Apivita

Step 3 

Define which current weak spots you want to improve, what are your main goals and which results you want to achieve in the long term.

Step 4

Determine which functionality you’ll need and which things should be your priority (for example, reaching impeccable site speed or supporting different devices).

Step 5

Finalize your budget.

Step 6

Consider which eCommerce platform you need and the approach to crafting a headless frontend and backend that’ll be right for your specific business. In most cases, you’ll need a team of professionals that specialize in a particular platform to work on your project.

Source: droptica.com

Final Say

We’ve seen a huge growth in online sales in the past few years, especially caused by the recent global pandemic.

Such a situation leaves business owners with the decision on whether to start reworking their online stores now or not. And the best choice here is to do so without delay. Optimizing stores in terms of their speed, UX\UI, performance, and capability to serve multiple endpoints is a must for user satisfaction, SEO, and conversions.

And what’s for headless commerce, if your business is planning to expand to omnichannel sales in the future, this is the only correct route on your map. A good point to start your online store’s “journey” to “destination headless” is converting it into a progressive web application.