What Is Headless Commerce and How Is It Reimagining E-commerce Architectures?

For B2C, D2C, and even B2B online retailers, headless commerce is streamlining and accelerating the ways these businesses serve their customers. This new approach enables robust e-commerce solutions that can quickly adapt to changing consumer needs.

The foundations of a headless commerce approach are based on the MACH architecture, which involves using microservices, APIs, and cloud platforms to build cutting-edge online (retail) solutions. Let’s dive into how headless commerce is benefiting the most forward-thinking e-commerce platforms.

Headless commerce: What does it mean?

Headless commerce allows companies to combine different, best-of-breed third-party and custom developed Packaged Business Capabilities (PBCs) into a single solution built for their specific business needs.

It’s an approach to building e-commerce applications by combining pre-built software components that represent a business capability of the application, (such as the shopping cart, check out, or search function) in the way that makes the most sense for how the business makes money.

This means that e-commerce platforms don’t need to develop each business function in-house and can instead leverage out-of-the-box tools from a SaaS vendor in a way that allows them to add-on to or change existing features in real-time.

How can e-commerce platforms benefit?

Speed of Development

Gartner predicts that “By 2023, organizations that have adopted a headless commerce approach will outpace the competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation.”

By adopting MACH architecture which champions efficiency and time-to-market, e-commerce companies can get new features and updates up-and-running faster than ever before. E-commerce solutions don’t have to be made up of completely in-house developed business functions and can instead leverage out-of-the-box tools from a SaaS vendor, allowing them to add on and change existing features in real-time.

One example of this in action comes from Crate & Barrel, who adopted headless commerce to create optimum content production workflows and rapidly iterate on customer feedback.

Robustness of the Solution

The headless commerce approach allows e-commerce platforms to combine different vendors who are the best at what they do—offering comprehensive functionality for a single or small number of business needs.

Headless commerce integratable PBCs represent a well-defined business capability. As components, they are built to be lean, fast, and flexible, as they have been designed to deliver a superior experience and meet growing consumer needs. This is especially vital as customer expectations for online shopping experiences have spiked as a result the pandemic.

Leveraging multiple PBCs also helps companies avoid a “one size fits all” approach that relies on the products of a single vendor to facilitate full e-commerce functionality. By hand picking a suite of the best e-commerce products, businesses are choosing to make an investment in a quality service with a dedication to optimization. In being able to deploy PBCs independently, e-commerce platforms then eliminate the risks tied to the tight coupling of monolithic services and are free to swap components in and out when needed.

The ability to build a truly robust platform was captured by MACH Alliance Advisory Board Member, Giles Smith, when he said, “In my view, composable architecture lets you pick the right choices for your customer and teams which brings together specialist technology over generalist.”

Increased Freedom

Commonly used, second-generation monolithic platforms such as Magento tie e-commerce companies into using plugins from their own marketplace, often leaving them limited to leverage tools from outside that ecosystem.

With headless commerce, online retailers have the freedom to choose each PBC from whichever vendor can best serve their needs and connect them through APIs. They can mix and match tools of varying levels of comprehensiveness, opting to pay more for business-critical features and less for software functions that won’t be used as much. For example, if an e-commerce platform wants to implement an excellent search function it could choose Algolia, due to its powerful AI capabilities, instead of developing its own search. This allows the company to leverage its investment in its unique selling features—like a custom GPS-enabled map feature, for example.

Headless commerce architectures are inherently cloud native, meaning companies also have the freedom to scale their use of these functions to accelerate growth and keep up with increased demand.

How can e-commerce companies get started with headless commerce?

Starting a journey with headless commerce isn’t as intimidating as it may seem. While it will eventually lead to an overhaul of the way an e-commerce platform is designed, it’s not necessary for everyone interacting with the technology to have a high level of technical expertise. The majority of PBCs are user-friendly and intuitive solutions that can be mastered in a short amount of time through a reasonable amount of effort.

It’s also vital to remember that transitioning to a headless commerce architecture means working from a long-term vision for the company, rather than just solving problems as they arise. This strategy will need to be unique to the individual e-commerce company and its customers’ needs—not simply copied from another business.

Any e-commerce platform that wants to not only meet but exceed the expectations of today’s online customer must embrace headless commerce. E-commerce competition is fierce, and it is only those companies that understand the benefit of lightning-fast development speeds, robust solutions, and increased freedom and flexibility combined with a stellar frontend will stay ahead of the curve.

You want more insights and practical tips? Read our whitepaper “Holistic Shopping Experience“ – How commerce players can optimize business, technology, and user experience with the right mindset.

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