You may have heard the term used recently, but many digital storefront operators still find themselves asking, “What is headless eCommerce?” It refers to a specific type of site architecture where your visitor-facing front end and management-facing back end are decoupled from each other.
You can think of this design and development style as modular construction. Your website and its presentation become more of a container framework, and every container functions without (automatically) impacting the operation of others.
To achieve this, each container relies on API communication protocols rather than hardcoding or permanent relational links.
As each container loads for site visitors, its contents are retrieved from the back end; what’s coded into the containers and APIs leveraged in headless eCommerce is, effectively, where to pull from and not what to pull specifically.
Because of this configuration, you can build new frameworks and manage each container’s contents—the what—separately from other front-end presentations and without affecting your back-end environment.
RESTful APIs enable headless architecture. This is because the modular container framework for headless eCommerce relies on retrieving the container’s contents when site visitors load new pages.
RESTful application programming interfaces (APIs) provide that retrieval protocol, relying on HTTP methods that act as commands.
Building a responsive website that loads on any device with coupled architecture requires all of that logic (e.g., what to load, how to load it) exists in one place and is executed every single time.
And that bloats the coding such that your site’s loading and performance speeds suffer significantly.
In contrast, headless eCommerce architecture allows you to build separate and lightweight front ends. Depending on your customers’ device, your headless architecture will recognize which should be loaded and call for that specific version—no other coding needs to be executed.
The same information and customer experience can be delivered across every device-specific front end, but they’ll each be loaded and perform with substantially increased speed.
Progressive web apps (PWA) provide another lightweight solution for building a multi-device storefront, but they aren’t quite the same as completely headless architecture despite most people considering them synonymous.
PWAs operate much like native apps, but customers can either navigate to them within their web browser—simplifying access—or install them on their device. As a hybrid between native apps and web pages, they also retain optimal performance even with low internet connectivity.
A PWA app is:
Although PWAs are distinct from headless architecture, developing one will help you achieve effectively the same result when it comes to the customer’s experience. For many eCommerce businesses, a PWA is a quicker—if less comprehensive—solution.
Crucially, headless architecture also means that the content and eCommerce tools within each front-end container can be updated or swapped out entirely at will. It provides optimal management and planning flexibility. When your operational needs, strategy, or resources change, a headless eCommerce site will always support your ability to adapt accordingly.
For example, when your customers proceed to their cart for checkout, your website’s front end doesn’t include coding for which payment fields to display but instead for a container. That container loads your chosen payment gateway, and what the user sees is based on its back-end configuration. You can easily change how the container is displayed or the rest of the page on the front end without affecting your payment gateway’s operation. Likewise, you can also adjust its configuration on the back end without affecting how it’s displayed.
Today, sites built on platforms like Adobe Commerce / Magento are (or support) this decoupled style of operation. Many digital storefront operators leverage that as a crucial competitive advantage. If you’re looking for how to get into eCommerce, you’ll want to prioritize a headless approach from the start.
There are so many diverse capabilities that eCommerce sites need to leverage to remain competitive. But most of them are now offered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) products from specialized third-party providers, ready to be integrated via APIs. It’s become unimaginable for many industries to operate without the SaaS delivery model; eCommerce is no exception.
The introduction of these SaaS solutions and tools to eCommerce has been the critical driver of headless architecture. Consider some of the essential eCommerce tools many sites rely on:
With a monolithic site, each of the above would need to be custom-built for your site. For example, you wouldn’t be able to go to Adobe Marketplace to purchase, add, and configure functions within minutes. Instead, the process would involve extensive scoping, development, and testing that would balloon the cost well beyond a recoverable investment for all but the largest online retailers.
Monolithic sites are too much of a hindrance in today’s eCommerce landscape. Conversely, headless architecture provides operators with a sturdy platform supporting modular components that can be interchanged or removed without collapsing the rest.
The advantages of headless eCommerce are particularly impactful for management efforts, uniform site presentation on any device, and resource scaling due to the inherent flexibility.
Examining these advantages more thoroughly, it’s clear to see how essential headless architecture is for competing within today’s eCommerce world. It provides:
Headless architecture is a necessity for competitive eCommerce brands. Fortunately, platforms like Adobe Commerce / Magento enable digital storefronts to adopt a headless approach.
However, many API integrations to ERP solutions and other eCommerce tools don’t function precisely how you want them to, communicate the datasets you need, or communicate them on an ideal schedule. That’s where custom work still comes in handy.
At DotcomWeavers, our team of officially recognized Adobe Commerce / Magento experts has a decade and a half of custom development experience with the industry’s best platform. We’ll build the custom APIs your eCommerce ecosystem needs to thrive—streamlining back-end management and polishing front-end presentation. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more!
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