Headless Commerce: A Complete Guide

The number of ways for users to consume content is rapidly increasing and fuelled by a growing number of different platforms, channels and devices (
mckinsey.com). New emerging technologies such as smart watches and personal assistants like Alexa are becoming the new norm alongside many other ‘up and coming’ technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) which offer the ability to provide unique experiences like never before (pwc.com). 

90% of consumers now also expect a seamless and consistent experience across all the channels they interact with (forbes.com), which presents a challenge for many businesses to optimise how they create and publish content across different channels and devices in order to obtain customers and create long lasting relationships.

Headless commerce approach allows you the agility to create outstanding shopping experiences across any channel or device which your customers interact with by unlocking complete developer flexibility. Our Headless commerce guide provides an in-depth breakdown of the popular architecture and it’s benefits to businesses and customers.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is a type of architecture where the front-end and back-end of an ecommerce platform are separated (salesforce.com) or ‘decoupled’. Headless commerce architecture ensures flexibility and allows brands to display content across any channel or device with almost no limit to the experience they are able to create. Headless makes use of APIs, which allows businesses to connect their back-end system to any front-end platform, channel or device of their choosing where content can be displayed. This approach affords brands the ability to create truly unique experiences for their users across all touchpoints and in doing so create an outstanding omni-channel experience.



What is Headless Commerce Architecture?

Headless architecture is fast gaining traction and popularity amongst big brands looking to capitalise on the benefits of driving breakthrough user experiences and innovations in the market. Headless architecture refers to the ‘decoupling’ of the presentation layer of an application or website (what the end user sees) from the back-end services (the server side which stores data and dictates structure). 

The headless model provides flexibility, allowing content creators to manage and store their content in modules while at the same time allowing developers to access and integrate different apps and languages to help build new workflows that deliver this content to different channels including website pages, smart watch apps, chat bots and other channels used across a business.

How Headless commerce works

Decoupling means that content and any other media which is stored in the back-end of an application is now unrestricted and can be displayed across any device, layout or channel and not restricted to just one. That content can be delivered to as many channels as necessary without the developer complexity involved in having multiple front-end options while being connected to the back-end.

Headless Commerce vs Traditional Commerce

Traditional commerce platforms are built with a predefined experience for both an end user who views the content across channels such as websites or apps and for an administrator of a site who creates and publishes content (front-end and back-end). Having both the front and back-end connected makes it difficult for businesses to keep up with the pace of change across the ecommerce market with channels and devices being introduced at a rapid rate. Increasing touchpoints and longer sales cycles means businesses need to adapt and shift their offering inline with the current trends and offer an omnichannel experience, which is difficult with traditional commerce platforms. 

Headless commerce platforms however,  allow businesses to define specific and tailored experiences to individual channels or devices they choose. This experience is also able to be adapted for both the end user and administrative users alike making it more flexible and easier to use. Headless commerce platforms improve the time to market for businesses by allowing for new and emerging channels to be adopted with less developer complexity by only needing to create a new front-end experience per channel and not a new back-end. 


Key differences between Headless CMS vs Traditional CMS

  • Headless commerce does not limit the front-end developer capability, allowing them to use the technology they are more comfortable with, helping to shorten the development cycle and reducing development costs. 
  • Headless commerce offers almost limitless customisation options and the ability to integrate personalisation across multiple front-end channels allowing for tailored experiences and a better omnichannel experience which drives more conversions and sales.  
  • Headless Commerce affords a variety of performance benefits to those organisations choosing to adopt this type of technology. Headless websites performed from 2 to 15 times faster than their traditional comparison using traditional architecture. 



Benefits of Headless Commerce

  • Developer flexibility – Headless commerce affords developers the flexibility and agility to use familiar technology with little compromise, helping to achieve a quicker development cycle and a reduction in costs associated with development. This also means developers are not tied down to one single language or technology allowing them to use their preferred methods.
  • Omnichannel commerce – Headless commerce allows businesses to create truly omnichannel experiences across multiple front-end channels and devices while having the flexibility of one single back-end which manages them all. This ensures you get the most out of every channel by allowing for enhanced customisation throughout which drive sales across your channels more effectively.
  • Creating a best in class ecosystem – Using headless commerce allows you to pick the best-in-class tools and technologies to suit your business, allowing you to create a cohesive ecosystem which drives the best performance and the most sales. Being an API driven architecture, a headless commerce system offers businesses the flexibility to swap, remove and introduce new integrations quickly and seamlessly across their business which helps them to stay ahead of their competition and adapt more rapidly.

  • Better User Experience – Headless commerce allows you to create unique and highly personalised user experiences without the restrictions of templates and themes which enables you to create a completely custom front-end experience which is tailored to each individual channel. In a world where user experience wins every time, having the flexibility to create unique experiences tailored to each channel is invaluable to businesses.


Popular Headless Commerce Platforms

There are a wide range of popular Headless ecommerce platforms which can be used by businesses depending on their requirements and their preferred solution. Here we will discuss some of the most popular headless ecommerce platforms.

  • WooCommerce – WooCommerce can be transformed into a Headless commerce platform by decoupling the traditional front-end capability and utilising a completely customised set of front-end channels using their preferred programming language or framework. This offers businesses a headless commerce platform with the power of WooCommerce which is both flexible and scalable. 
  • Shopify – Shopify is a Headless commerce platform which uses Shopify’s GraphQL API which has allowed it to allow merchants to go from what was a previously monolithic platform to a headless commerce platform fit for the future. Along with taking advantage of it’s existing architecture and support, it also offers a diverse merchant marketplace with easy integrations to third party services and applications.
  • BigCommerce – BigCommerce is an API-first headless commerce platform which offers a relatively easy means of creating custom integrations and allowing to display content across multiple channels. BigCommerce also offers other useful features such as an integrated checkout which makes it easy for merchants to sell anywhere they please.
  • Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento Commerce) – Adobe Commerce is another rising platform in the headless commerce space which offers its own API based platform which allows users to create seamless and high performing customer experiences across every channel and device. 



What is the impact of Headless Commerce on your customers?

Offering your customers the best and most personalised experience across every touchpoint and channel will help create long lasting relationships which benefit both you and your customers. Making things easier to use and offering your customers the most convenient experience possible is never a bad thing and will help to set yourself aside from the competition. 


How do you get started with Headless Commerce

To get started with Headless Commerce it is important to understand what type of Headless Commerce platform is right for you and your business. With a variety of different headless platforms available, different features and functionality of each may be more suited to your business needs which is why it is important to firstly understand what you’re trying to achieve through a Headless approach and then understand your requirements of the system. Finding a reputable software development agency will allow you to understand your requirements more clearly which will help to find the best possible solution and platform for your needs.