In the past few years, ‘headless eCommerce’ has been touted as the future of online retail, and there are plenty of enterprise-class eCommerce platforms supporting and advocating this type of architecture.
Here’s what you need to know about ‘headless eCommerce’ and whether it’s an approach you need to think about.
What is Headless eCommerce?
Without diving into technicalities, headless eCommerce refers to a separate website front end that is separate from the back end. The front end is what the user will typically interact with – think of this as the presentational layer. The back end is where the business logic and the functional things sit.
One of the biggest wins of decoupling an application in this way is efficiency. Splitting customer-facing concerns from business facing concerns allows for the tailoring of these two totally different systems, so that underperformance can be isolated and resources deployed accordingly.
To compare an eCommerce app with a physical store, decoupling allows one to have an enticing and pleasant interior that will have customers buying your products, but also smart infrastructure to take care of stock counts, payments and accounting – the business stuff.
Headless vs Decoupled eCommerce
I’ve used the term headless and decoupled, relatively interchangeably above, but strictly speaking there is a technical difference. For the purposes of this article, especially when comparing them against monolithic structures there’s basically no difference. But if you’re the curious type, here’s a bit more info:
A headless website system is reactive. Data is called from the backend service via calls made to the API – there’s no frontend or presentation layer built-in – a CMS like Contentful is a good example of this.
A decoupled web site system prepares all content up front and then pushes it into the delivery environment. The data from the backend is published somewhere, regardless of whether calls are being made to the API or not. Think WordPress or Magento for this sort of service.
Pros and Cons of Headless eCommerce
It’s perfectly possible to have an eCommerce store that isn’t headless, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Check out the Pros and Cons.
Headless eCommerce advantages
- Decoupling allows a different front-end to plug into the back-end without having to run expensive and risky projects to apply changes across the whole stack.
- Data can easily be repurposed for mobile, smart watches, voice apps, and any other future technologies that might come along – it massively future-proofs your application.
- Splitting these website stacks also allows for flexibility. Multiple content creators and developers are able to operate simultaneously, effectively doubling your speed to market.
- There’s also flexibility from a technical standpoint. You’re able to utilise the best front end application possible for a fully optimised user experience, and the best back end application to keeps your developers happy.
- These sorts of architectures are also generally cloud based, which makes them highly scalable.
Headless eCommerce disadvantages
We think that the cons are few and far between, but if we had to name one, we’d say that there is a knowledge barrier to entry – at least to start with. It can be a bit intimidating to navigate two technologies initially, but over time we think that the positives massively outweigh any negatives.