A Complete Headless E-commerce Guide for 2024
Headless e-commerce is gaining traction, yet it is still a subject of debate. Explore what the technology entails and how to benefit from it.
As a response to quickly changing market and customer expectations, businesses are seeking agility, flexibility to expand, and little to no vendor lock-in—all while prioritizing innovation and exceptional experience. Luckily, technology has already provided a solution—headless e-commerce.
In this blog post, we will look deeply at what headless is, which businesses should consider the technology (and which of those should not), and how it stands out from traditional e-commerce.
What is headless technology and why consider one
Headless e-commerce refers to a decoupled approach where the front-end presentation layer is separated from the back-end functionality. In brief, it means that you have the freedom to design and customize the user interface independently, streamlining development tasks.
In traditional approaches (e.g., monolith or three-tier architectures), the front end and back end are tightly integrated, which is easier to set up but lacks the agility headless solutions offer.
Headless vs. traditional architectures
This is your choice if you prioritize:
Scalability. Business focus may change, so you need to adapt quickly. For example, you decided to enter a new market and add multilanguage support, launch an additional website/app, or integrate with third-party services. With headless e-commerce, you can scale your front end without major modifications to the back end. In the future, you can handle website traffic spikes, deliver timely updates, and facilitate maintenance tasks without compromising customer experience.
Front-end agility. With the decoupled nature of the headless technology, you can easily change and adapt the user interface components in isolation. Instead of disrupting the core e-commerce functionality, rebuilding entire web pages, and redeploying the back end, you can make adjustments swiftly. This agility allows for faster responses to customer demand and newer business trends. While you leave space for experimentation and seamless feature implementation, you also save hours or even days of engineering efforts.
Omnichannel experience. With a single back end, it is easy to construct separate front ends for multiple apps that work seamlessly across the web, mobile, smart devices, etc. By merely using APIs endpoint without additional development or maintenance efforts you deliver a uniform and synchronized user experience.
The ease of operations for engineering and marketing teams. Headless systems provide a common ground where engineering teams can focus on the back end, while marketing teams can set up and modify experiences for better engagement and conversions.
Popular e-commerce architectures: breakdown
In the fast-paced world of e-commerce, businesses crave flexibility, scalability, and top-notch performance. To meet these demands, modern e-commerce platforms follow different architectural options.
Headless stands out as a game changer. It can be seamlessly integrated into larger systems, representing a versatile component that boosts overall system performance. Compatible with multiple frameworks and tools, the approach can complement and enrich commonly used e-commerce architectures.
Headless and monoliths
Headless architecture decouples the front end from the back end, allowing for flexibility in the development and customization. In contrast, monolithic architectures alone tightly integrate the presentation layers within a single app, limiting adaptability.
By incorporating headless components into a monolithic system, businesses can introduce flexibility and scalability into areas that need it most. For example, decoupling the CMS or implementing new marketing functionality while keeping other system parts intact. This approach allows businesses to retain the simplicity of monolithic development where it makes sense while leveraging headless in specific areas.
Headless and microservices
Microservices are widely used for large systems with multiple mission-critical workloads.
Both the headless and microservices architectures share the decoupled approach. At the same time, the letter involves breaking down the back end into smaller, specialized services to simplify development, deployment, scaling and maintenance.
Headless technology is highly adaptable and can easily integrate with microservices-based systems. In this scenario, you create user interfaces that are intuitive and responsive, utilizing microservices to deliver specialized functionalities. This hybrid approach combines the flexibility of headless with the scalability and modularity of microservices, offering a powerful combination for businesses aiming to provide top-tier e-commerce experiences.
Benefits of headless e-commerce
In a nutshell, here are the reasons why businesses opt for headless technology.
Reduced total cost of ownership (TCO)
With headless architectures, businesses can deliver updates and scale in a cost- and time-efficient manner. In contrast, monolithic platforms incur significant expenses through frequent (and sometimes disruptive) upgrades, where the shorter release and support cycles lead to higher costs.
Completing everyday tasks becomes simpler. Imagine you can empower your marketing manager to create a tailor-made promotion or sales campaign, and it runs smoothly without involving the development team. As a result, you can swiftly roll out vital front-end updates without investing days in feature implementation—and without the risk of potentially disrupting the back-end code, which could jeopardize the entire system.
No technology lock-in
With API flexibility, you can assemble a unique tech stack for your business needs. This way, you can select the best technologies on the market, reducing the risk of being locked into redundant tech. As a result, you optimize your current operations and future-proof the infrastructure for further enhancements and upgrades.
Improved customer reach
Headless systems enable businesses to provide a consistent shopping experience across various devices and platforms, making it easier to reach and engage customers wherever they are.
Challenges when going headless
No implementation plan in place
Investing in headless requires a shift in resource allocation, but it does not automatically guarantee reduced cost savings. To make it work, you should establish the right expectations and understanding of the technology. Start by outlining a comprehensive cost-benefit plan and answering vital questions based on your business scenario. For example, consider whether it is worth keeping your legacy apps and how they fit into your commerce vision. If you are involving multiple vendors to patch your solution, think about handling different pricing models and how to plan for ongoing maintenance and support costs. These decisions require careful thought and technical expertise.
The wrong technology choices
In headless e-commerce, the flexibility of technology choices incurs the responsibility of making the right match. Consider this scenario: you opt for a vendor that offers basic commerce functionality, only to find yourself searching for third-party providers to fill in the gaps. This may lead to complex configurations and ongoing maintenance challenges. Worse still, the chosen platform may not meet your scalability needs. In contrast, some businesses choose platforms with all the functionality upfront that overloads their systems.
The lack of an agile culture
Embracing a headless approach requires an agile mindset. Teams need to be adaptable and open to iterative development. A lack of an agile culture within the organization can impede progress and hinder the ability to respond quickly to changing market demands. Addressing these challenges often requires careful planning, collaboration between technical and non-technical teams, and a commitment to ongoing learning and adaptation.
Paving the way forward
Just like any digital evolution, transitioning to a headless approach demands paradigm shifts. In today's digital landscape, marked by innovations of emerging tech, exceptional functionalities are a must for brands. Headless platforms offer all the tooling for customization, adaptability, and scalability needed to cater to the modern B2B, B2C, and D2C environments. The best part? Headless e-commerce can fit seamlessly into nearly any use case—if implemented right.
Our experienced team can be reliable partners along this journey, ensuring that your transition to a headless approach is smooth and successful. Are you ready to take the next step toward the next e-commerce level?
About the authors
Aliaksei is a seasoned E-commerce Solutions Architect with 7+ years of experience in B2B and B2C e-commerce development. He has actively contributed to 15+ projects and worked with modern tech, such as Oracle ATG, Adobe Commerce, BigCommerce, and Sitecore OrderCloud. Aliaksei’s exceptional leadership skills and expertise make him a valuable asset in driving successful e-commerce implementations.
Valeryia is a proficient Technical Content Writer adept at crafting engaging and user-friendly copy for B2B audiences. With a proven track record, her expertise spans across diverse subjects, including software technology, cloud computing, and e-commerce development. During her career, Valeryia led commercial projects in partnership with industry leaders, such as Amazon Web Services and The Linux Foundation.
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