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Headless Ecommerce: What Is It, And Why You Should Get On Board

16 min read

The rise of ecommerce has shifted the ways many companies conduct business, along with the ways we talk about business. Even within the last decade, the availability of digital platforms for conducting business has skyrocketed. While ecommerce itself is not brand new, many of its trends and practices are, thanks to this rapid evolution.

For ecommerce businesses, staying on top of the latest trends and changes presents a unique challenge. Exciting opportunities might pop up regularly for those who are able to keep up with the changing landscape. But with the rate of developments, this is often easier said than done. Finding ways to implement real practices that optimize the latest technologies and applications for your business is not always straightforward.

A prominent example of this would be the idea of headless commerce, or headless ecommerce. Major brands like Nike have adopted a headless approach to great success. Naturally, others are looking to copy that success by adopting similar approaches. “Headless commerce” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot today, but its meaning can easily cause confusion. Is headless ecommerce a good thing, or a bad thing? What is headless ecommerce, exactly? If you are asking yourself these questions, we can answer them for you.

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What is Headless Ecommerce?

Headless commerce refers to a strategy for structuring an ecommerce platform so that the frontend and backend can function separately. In other words, the customer-facing frontend of the website (graphics, text, links, designs, etc.) can function undisturbed. Meanwhile, new backend code can be integrated behind the scenes to optimize the experience for everyone.

This system allows for faster turnaround and implementation of new changes to your platform. Older models, where the frontend and backend are linked together, are less efficient to work with when new extensions are being added.

It might be helpful to use the analogy of dining out at a restaurant when thinking about headless commerce. The frontend of the ecommerce platform is represented by the menu and your waiter or waitress. After browsing the menu, you make your selection, and your server passes the information along to the backend. On the backend, your food is prepared by the kitchen, and brought back out to you as the finished product.

Now just imagine how less efficient that process would be if the server needed to go back to the kitchen to prepare your food themselves. This might allow for a more customizable experience for businesses with lower volumes. But for a business that is trying to optimize and serve as many customers as possible, separating the two ends is vastly superior.

So now that you better understand the general idea of headless commerce, you might be wondering what exactly it looks like. Here’s a quick breakdown of how headless ecommerce platforms work.

Headless Ecommerce Platforms 101

As mentioned previously, headless ecommerce is intended to help companies adapt and evolve seamlessly by decoupling frontend and backend programs. But what exactly are these programs, and how does this separation work?

The process for decoupling the frontend and backend relies heavily on APIs (Application Programming Interface). API is a fancy term for a system that allows two or more programs to communicate with each other. With a headless ecommerce platform, individual programs are able to communicate through a shared API despite performing different tasks. This is the key to headless ecommerce architecture. The API needs to allow for a seamless exchange of information between backend and frontend software.

If you think this sounds too complicated to implement for your business, don’t worry. While headless ecommerce itself involves a bit of complex programming, implementing it via a content management system (CMS) simplifies the process. A headless CMS for ecommerce allows businesses to create, edit, and modify their ecommerce website without requiring much expertise.

Ecwid users, for example, can easily implement our ecommerce software with any CMS they are already using. Our software is engineered to offer a headless commerce experience, so the work you need to do is fairly limited.

Best Headless Ecommerce Platforms

Want to set up your own business website for headless ecommerce? The good news is you don’t need to build your own website from scratch to do so. The simplest way to get set up is to use an ecommerce platform that makes headless ecommerce easy.

A headless ecommerce platform allows business owners to customize their online store without needing to be web design or coding experts.

If you don’t know where to get started, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best headless ecommerce platforms. Here are a few of the best platforms that offer headless functionality.

Commercetools

Commercetools is a headless ecommerce platform with omnichannel functionality. This means it can easily be integrated across multiple platforms for a seamless user and brand experience. Commercetools is an effective platform for both B2B and B2C companies, as it offers a range of useful features for both. It’s also relatively easy to use with very adaptive APIs (Application Programming Interface).

There are several highlights to using CommerceTools as your headless ecommerce platform. One of the platform’s most notable features is its point of sales functionality. The platform has a robust offering of POS features that make the customer experience simpler and streamlined on any platform. Commercetools also has everything an ecommerce business needs for inventory management and data flow management. As far as headless ecommerce platforms go, Commercetools is one of the more user-friendly options.

However, there are a couple of potential issues that users should be aware of. The first is that Commercetools is lacking in dedicated customer support. Users have no access to phone support or live chat support, so any help requests must be handled via email. Second is that Commercetools’ pricing plans are quote-based, meaning it can be hard to predict costs. Clients will need to contact Commercetools directly (by email) to receive a quote for their business.

Adobe Commerce (Magento)

Adobe Commerce, formerly known as Magento, is a headless ecommerce platform from one of the most trusted names in business software. As one might expect from a brand like Adobe, Adobe Commerce has a lot to offer. Adobe Commerce is extremely customizable, making it one of the more flexible ecommerce options available. However, taking advantage of this customizability requires a bit of knowledge and expertise. But for those who can manage it, the options available to Adobe users are virtually endless. Adobe Commerce offers excellent data and inventory management, seamless cross-platform integration, and robust inventory management.

Adobe Commerce also offers reliable customer support, including advanced guidelines for how to use all the available features. For specific inquiries, users can also schedule an appointment for live support.

Adobe Commerce’s interface can be fairly overwhelming at first due to the high volume of available tools. However, it is a fairly user-friendly interface. While it may require a bit of searching and navigation, most users can find everything they need with relative ease.

Adobe Commerce is good for B2B and B2C companies alike. And while it offers a lot, that extensive offering also comes with a steep price tag. Like Commercetools, Adobe’s pricing plans are only available upon request. This can make it difficult to predict exact costs, but it does mean your payment plan can be highly customized. However, the more features you need, the more expensive the service gets.

Nacelle

Nacelle is a headless ecommerce platform that offers seamless migration for existing businesses. This makes it a very good option for companies who are looking to upgrade over their existing ecommerce infrastructure. Nacelle is excellent at gathering data across other platforms your business might use, like Shopify or Salesforce. Nacelle can then easily integrate that data across all channels to help you grow your business.

Aside from adaptability, Nacelle has all of the essential tools that businesses require from an ecommerce platform. POS and payment processing functionality, inventory management, and content management are all strengths of the platform.

Nacelle uses easily workable design templates with moderate customizability features. While it is not quite as customizable as other headless ecommerce platforms, it is still fairly flexible.

Nacelle is lacking in live customer support. However, the platform does offer plenty of support features in the form of blog posts, user guides, and FAQ pages. Users can contact Nacelle via email for specific inquiries if needed.

Nacelle offers a free demo to get started, which is a nice offering for new users. However, once the demo expires, pricing is based on the amount of items your company sells per month. Whether or not this pricing system is better or worse for you depends on the volume of your sales. The higher your sales, the more expensive the platform becomes. However, this is not a bad problem to have if it means your business is successful.

Ecwid

What makes Ecwid unique among other ecommerce platforms is the availability of totally free features. For new businesses just starting out, Ecwid represents the best free headless ecommerce platform. Unlike most platforms, which only offer limited-time free trials, Ecwid’s start plan is totally free for stores listing up to five products.

Ecwid’s free plan allows users to create product listings for five products plus set up shipping and payment processes. Users can also access Ecwid’s easy-to-use website design software with the free plan.

Of course, for users who want access to more advanced settings, Ecwid also offers higher-level paid plans. But even those cost less than many of the other headless ecommerce platforms on this list.

Ecwid’s Venture plan lets users list up to 100 items and sell across multiple platforms. They also receive access to features like mobile support and more extensive store management apps.

Ecwid’s Unlimited plan allows users to access everything Ecwid offers, including their own branded app for selling.

See the full plans overview and prices on the Ecwid pricing page.

Regardless of which payment plan you choose, Ecwid is designed to be a flexible, user-friendly headless ecommerce platform. Ecwid users can add ecommerce features of their choice to an existing website or build their online store from scratch.

Headless Ecommerce Benefits

Better flexibility

The alternative to headless ecommerce architecture is often called “monolithic” ecommerce. In this system, both the frontend and backend are dependent on one another. This makes it harder for companies to make changes to their website. If you want to implement new code on the backend, it could disrupt the visual display on the front end. Likewise, if you want to update the look of your page, you need to work around the backend code.

But headless ecommerce solutions eliminate this delicate balancing act. As a result, you can implement as many changes as you want without nearly as much concern about a conflict. This means more freedom to implement changes or adapt to involve newer, advanced technologies in your website.

More sophistication

Continuing off the last point, headless ecommerce architecture also allows businesses to build more sophisticated websites than ever before. This allows you to accomplish much more in your ecommerce space. Dynamic pricing for your store page, advanced graphics, interactive demos, and more are all made easier with headless ecommerce solutions.

Faster turnaround times

Perhaps the most notable benefit of headless ecommerce is how quickly companies can make changes to their website. With the right headless CMS for ecommerce, it’s as simple as plugging in a new piece of software and letting it go to work. In a previous age, major changes would have required weeks or months of backend programming to implement. But now, adapting to changes on the fly is possible. This allows business owners to capitalize on trends and remain focused on other areas of their business.

Cost savings

An extension of the faster turnaround times afforded by headless ecommerce solutions is added cost savings. Backend development can be an arduous, costly, and time-consuming process. But when that is eliminated, companies do not need to spend nearly as much on their website programming. Those savings can be put toward other areas of the company for even greater growth.

Improved website performance

We have mentioned better technology being available through headless ecommerce solutions a few times now. Well, that advanced technology can also improve your website performance. Because headless programs are centrally stored, using an API to stay connected, they allow websites to deliver information at rapid speeds. When it comes to SEO and user experience, this is a major benefit. Slow loading times are one of the biggest, and most avoidable, causes of high bounce rates for websites. Simply put, the faster your pages load, and the easier they are to interact with, the better.

Marketing opportunities

That’s right, headless ecommerce can even help with your marketing, both directly and indirectly. This is more to do with giving your marketing team more tools to work with than anything else. For example, social media sharing is an option that is made much easier by headless ecommerce solutions. Headless ecommerce architecture also makes it easier to save and store customer shopping carts, which presents opportunities for customer outreach. Likewise, this is made easier through headless solutions. These are just a few common examples of what headless ecommerce solutions can do to grow your company’s online presence.

When implementing the latest solutions to your website, the opportunities are limitless. Within the next year, new trends and technologies may emerge which create entirely new marketing opportunities. And the easiest way to stay on top of those trends is by adopting a headless ecommerce structure.

 

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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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