Headless commerce platforms are seemingly the perfect solution for the new age of eCommerce. Unfortunately, no solution is perfect, and as with all commerce architecture, there are pros and cons. Is headless the correct solution for you?
We all know that the online shopping experience has shifted. Customers used to sit at a desktop to do their browsing. But today’s customers shop via multiple channels and multiple devices. A typical user might access your products through social media, their iPhone, and perhaps even a voice assistant.
In fact, today’s average consumer uses two or more touchpoints when considering and purchasing a product. Even more significantly, nearly 50% of consumers regularly use more than four touchpoints.
This no longer linear approach sales demands an equally versatile solution - headless architecture.
Defining Headless eCommerce
Headless commerce systems are de-coupled, separating the front-end experiences (or the “head”) from the back-end systems. Unlike with traditional platforms, this allows each system to function independently. It provides front end developers with the ability to create meaningful customer experiences.
Furthermore, by separating the presentation layer from the back-end CMS (content management system), you don’t have to choose between desirable user interfaces and behind-the-scenes functionality.
Unfortunately, no solution is perfect, and as with all commerce architecture, there are pros and cons.
First up, let’s address the benefits of a headless eCommerce solution - and there are many.
Flexibility & Customization
We’ve already addressed this a bit, but it’s worth reinforcing. By de-coupling the front-end experiences and back-end functionality, front-end developers are no longer married to the infrastructure and coding that comprises the back-end. They do not have to use built-in templates and themes, and can create unique, customized user experiences.
Meanwhile, developers can focus on ensuring deliverability of content (everything from products, blog posts, product videos, customer reviews, and more) across multiple devices and screens.
This not only allows both front and back end teams more flexibility, but allows to deliver unique, branded experiences to your customers and differentiate your business from competitors.
Adopting new sales channels can be incredibly time-consuming. Headless architecture makes it simpler and faster to add new channels and update your existing ones, as additional platforms for reaching customers emerge.
Even better, not only does it allow you to scale more quickly, it also cuts back on time spent coding and editing databases.
Due to the nature of its architecture, headless eCommerce allows you to reach more audiences. Flexibility and speed are a powerful combination. Together, those benefits allow you to respond to consumer demand, adapt to new touchpoints, and improve accessibility as needed.
Happy customers become loyal customers, ultimately benefitting your bottom line, as well.
As with everything in life, there are also some downsides to headless commerce platforms.
From significant setup expenses, to a bigger investment of staff time to implement, headless eCommerce isn’t an investment for the faint-of-heart.
Anytime you launch a new technology or approach, the initial implementation costs are a major factor. Such is true for headless eCommerce solutions, too. Consider the expenses associated with de-coupling your systems.
It Requires Continual Oversight
Additionally, headless architecture requires more mixing-and-matching. Depending on the complexity, you may need to have more than development team overseeing the various pieces of headless architecture. And without enough staffing and a solid management and maintenance strategy, it can quickly become unwieldy.
Take care not to underestimate the resources needed to manage multiple tech stacks. For a smaller business, it may not be a practical solution.
It Still Has Limitations
Despite headless eCommerce’s vastly increased flexibility, it still has some limitations.
Some key eCommerce features are limited to whatever your CMS supports. This means that your CMS will need to be able to accommodate third-party tools.
This also means that you potentially have less control. If your CMS doesn’t allow certain integrations, then you’ll have to develop workarounds or relinquish that aspect of functionality.
Determining if Headless eCommerce is Right for Your Business
So, how to determine if headless is the correct move for your business?
Generally, if you have a large team with dedicated engineers, and a compelling need to be able to rapidly update across channels, headless eCommerce is a good fit.
Of course, you’ll still need to do an in-depth review of not only your business goals, but your staffing resources.
You should also take care to know your customer. Just because the typical buyer’s journey is shifting to a multi-channel approach, doesn’t necessarily mean your buyers are. Examine how your buyers use your existing channels, and what channels you anticipate them wanting next. Depending on your buyer profile, traditional commerce solutions may or may not suffice.
In all likelihood, the need for headless eCommerce is only going to grow. Increased customer demand for personalization, digital communications, and self-service means that B2B businesses will need to incorporate additional buyer touchpoints sooner rather than later.
Still not sure of what to do? Here are some quick-and-dirty guidelines:
Headless is helpful if . . .
You have sufficient in-house teams to handle the tech stacks
You have multiple eCommerce channels and anticipate needing more
You need to deliver customized user experiences
Headless isn’t for you if . . .
You just need a traditional eCommerce site
You need something low maintenance
You do not have correct subject matter experts and teams in place internally
Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.