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The future of e-commerce is headless

Learn how you can take advantage of headless commerce for your business

User habits in e-commerce are changing at a rapid pace. Every day, more online, mobile and speaker-based (Alexa, Google Home etc.) sales channels are being tested and launched, digital interaction with customers is being supplemented with new features such as size advice, financing options and the like, and other platforms such as Amazon, eBay, real and Co. are being connected. Moreover, customers expect companies to offer a unified brand and shopping experience across an increasing number of channels. With a flexible headless commerce architecture, your company can better follow this rapid technological change and meet increased customer demands. It enables your company to create personalized user experiences, and make microservices and checkout processes easier and more consistent across multiple devices. You can also experiment more freely, drive agile projects and scale up. In this article, you will learn the most important basics, advantages and opportunities of headless commerce. In addition, we will show you the five most important steps that you must go through to establish a headless commerce architecture in your company.

New challenges in e-commerce

Most of the companies we talk to every day know the growing needs of their customers, but what they lack are the right tools to put this knowledge into practice. This is exactly how Tanja feels. Tanja is a sales manager in a medium-sized company. She wants to connect her online shop with the Amazon platform and thus open up new sales channels for her business. In this way, Tanja wants to enable her customers to shop on their favorite platform instead of having to direct them exclusively to their own shop. Information such as stock levels or product descriptions should be managed centrally via a backend. In this way, it should be easier to connect other platforms in the future. Tanja wants to have the Amazon connection implemented for the coming month. However, the problems begin with the implementation. Tanja quickly notices that the product listings are not synchronized properly. She is also unable to keep to the planned launch date. The development team has to make further adjustments in the backend, which take much more time than planned. Projects like Tanja’s are not an isolated case. Adjustments which are intended to improve the customer experience in a short period of time turn out to be a lengthy, tough project which in the end will at best provide a tolerable user experience. In the future, it will become increasingly important to offer customers a continuous, user-friendly shopping experience across multiple platforms and interfaces. Strong market competition and the increasing speed of digitalization are creating additional pressure to adapt continuously and quickly. Tanja noticed this too. Although she was well informed in advance about the necessary steps and requirements, she is still not able to implement her project satisfactorily in the planned time. Companies that fail to meet user requirements will quickly lose relevance. With e-commerce solutions based on a classic IT architecture, quick changes are difficult or even impossible, and agile adaptation to user requirements is hardly possible. Wouldn’t it be much easier if new features and designs, additional platforms and channels could be seamlessly connected to the existing commerce system?

Headless Commerce in brief

Headless is originally a general IT architecture term and refers to the interaction of the main components of any software:

In the past, it was common for the front-end and back-end of a software to be an inseparable unit. Any adjustments, for example to an online shop front-end, from changing the font color to the functions for shipping processing, had implications for the entire software. This architecture limits the adaptability of the software – a significant shortcoming not only in today’s e-commerce. This problem is solved with a headless commerce architecture. Here, front-end and back-end are two separate units. This allows independent systems to be combined more easily with each other and to make flexible adjustments. However, this poses a new challenge: how the various front-end functions communicate with the backend. This is where the API (Application Programming Interface) comes into play.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce uses an architecture in which the front-end (presentation level, e.g. website) is separated from the back-end (data access level, e.g. for shipping). The result: a more flexible e-commerce architecture that provides a seamless user experience across multiple channels.

Advantages of Headless Commerce

So much for the theory. Let’s now take a look at the concrete advantages that headless commerce can bring to your company.

  1. Personalized user experience

    Independence is the key factor. A headless commerce architecture lets you choose the software that best suits your needs. This gives you maximum flexibility in designing the frontend across all channels and interfaces to the customer. This gives you the opportunity to build a consistent branding and increase the recognition value of your brand. For example, you can flexibly adapt the front-end elements, such as buttons or font color, to the CI of your company.  In addition, UX elements can be changed without any problems and you can test what effects a design change has. For example, you can check whether it has an effect on the conversion rate. This allows you to offer your users a consistent, intuitive shopping experience across different platforms.
  2. Freedom to experiment

    Have you ever tried to add a new feature to your website and suddenly the whole ordering process didn’t work anymore? Shocking moments like these are all history with headless commerce. Thanks to the separation of front and back-end, you can experiment with new functions and changes to the website as much as possible without worrying that the shop will not work after the adjustments.
  3. Increase agility

    Besides the possibility to experiment more, you can implement changes faster. The modular structure allows developers to work separately on different functions and make them available to users in a timely manner. Adjustments can therefore be made more frequently. This allows you to test and evaluate the new functions more quickly and, if necessary, to flexibly adapt the future development of your touchpoints.
  4. Simply add new touchpoints

    You want to connect a new online platform like Amazon or Real or offer your products through Alexa and Co? That’s not a problem with headless commerce! Different frontends can be easily connected with APIs in the backend. This makes it easier for you to offer customers additional options to buy your products, thus multiplying your sales channels and increasing sales volume.v
  5. Scale more efficiently

    Another advantage is the separate scalability of front and back-end. For example, you can push seasonal advertising campaigns at Easter or Christmas in a more targeted manner without the back-end being negatively affected by the larger number of visitors. API-driven microservices […] enable retailers to create true omni-channel experiences for their customers because all information comes from the same back-end.“ (Kelly Goetsch, Chief Product Officer, commercetools)

If all customer data, such as previous orders or preferences, are stored in one place, you can access them through various channels. This enables you to notify your customers with individually tailored marketing campaigns. And that’s what it’s all about in the end: All improvements within the company, such as faster development cycles or the freedom to experiment, lead to a better shopping experience for the customer. This not only increases customer satisfaction, but also ensures more sales and long-term customer loyalty. This in turn ensures that the company is highly valued in the market.

Which IT architecture is right for you?

Well, the simple question is not: “Headless architecture or not?”. Not only the classic architecture and headless architecture exist, but also intermediate stages.

In conclusion, the following can be stated: The more independently the systems are set up from each other, the more flexibility and customization options there are. However, the effort and complexity of linking the systems via APIs increases. If you want to implement a more flexible e-commerce approach for your company, you need to consider which approach (decoupled vs. headless architecture) is most appropriate. In addition, you should consider the selection of suitable commerce providers (Shopify, Woocommerce, Magento) and CMS providers (Commerce Tools, Contentful, Bloomreach) before you start thinking about your own solution. The commerce providers are the operative tool to sell products and process orders. The CMS vendors enable the flexible management and distribution of your content. To make this process easier for you, we have summarized the five most important steps for your decision-making process below.

Getting started with Headless Commerce

The advantages of headless commerce might seem to be exactly what you are looking for, but how do you make your commerce architecture “headless”? The following list can serve as a guide and shows you the 5 most important steps you need to go through. A Casana e-commerce expert can support you right from the start if required. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

  1. Analyze current architecture

    Before considering possible providers or commerce platforms, you first need to analyze the status quo. Make a list of what features your current platform already offers and what additional features you would like to have. Also, write down what you expect from the new features. Then sort your desired functions by importance.
  2. Know customer benefits

    The second step is to engage with stakeholders. Stakeholders in this case do not only mean your end customers, but also employees who will later work on the platform. Make a list for both user groups and think about what the groups’ needs are and what functions they need in order to satisfy these needs.
  3. Choose a Storefront Solution

    After the initial considerations, you can now think about the appropriate approach: Develop your own solution or use existing providers. Your notes from the previous two points can be used as a basis to determine whether existing solutions meet your needs. Compared to an own solution, this considerably reduces implementation effort and time. As a first starting point, you can take a closer look at our vendors on page 5 and then expand your search.
  4. Involving the team

    Do you have a rough idea of what your headless commerce solution should be able to do and which providers are suitable for its implementation? Then it is time to involve your team. Make a list of the relevant employees and start collecting feedback and suggestions for implementation. The more you involve your colleagues, the more they will stand behind the solution you have jointly decided on.
  5. Plan implementation

    Now it is time for the actual implementation. For this, you should create a rough time schedule as well as an overview with tasks to be done and who will take care of them.

About Casana Tech

Casana is a team of tech-enthusiasts from Munich with the experience and capacity of hundreds of experts working for us globally. With our product approach, we make your e-commerce projects much easier for you. From project management to software engineering to digital design, we help you to implement your project faster and with less stress. We translate your digital needs into technical specifications and find the best experts for your project reliably and within a short time. In addition, our modular development process enables a high level of transparency and budget control throughout the entire project.

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