The importance of content management in headless commerce

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    When we talk about “headless commerce”, what we really mean is combining two headless systems, or in other words two systems that work through APIs:

    1. A headless CMS
    2. A (headless) eCommerce platform with an API endpoint

    Looking at the current market share of different content management systems below, we can observe an interesting trend. Up to 2010, we had a lot of monolithic “traditional” content management systems like WordPress, Drupal or Typo3, that offered some way of selling with their CMS. With the rise of Shopify and Magento, we had systems that focused clearly on providing solutions for large-scale eCommerce projects. Further, from 2011 onward we had the rise of headless content management systems that aimed to resolve a lot of the problems that come with large-scale, global content management.

    A graph showing the emergence of headless systems.

    In the past decade, while traditional systems like Wordpress have been the biggest players, headless systems have been taking a considerable share of the market. The question is, do we know why?

    The problem with traditional CMSs

    Back in the day when a new web page had to be created by either a developer or someone with a certain amount of coding experience, traditional systems like Wordpress and Drupal emerged as solutions for non-technical users to publish content online. These systems worked by putting a graphic UI in front of the underlying code (while still maintaining the link between the two).

    This solution was perfect for the small blogging sites of the early 2000s, when connection to the internet was mainly focused on desktop devices. However, as time went by, newer technologies started to emerge, and with that people started to diversify the way they interacted with the internet.

    In the context of eCommerce, this meant that offering your product/services solely on a single website for desktop computers was not enough anymore. With the rise of responsive development, online businesses had to adapt to the changing requirements. They had to offer their product also on mobile phones and tablets, and later also smart watches, smart assistants, AR/VR headsets, and countless IoT devices. This is where traditional systems started to show their weakness: omnichannel content distribution.

    Since traditional CMSs were originally meant to be used for websites, offering your products on additional platforms usually meant adding more content silos just to be able to publish the same content across the board.

    Multiple silos working as content repositories for different devices, such as computers, phones, smart watches, IoT, and others.

    Multiple content silos

    This problem of having content duplicated and isolated from other content versions, we call having “content silos”. This happens for example, when you create a duplicated Wordpress instance for a different market in another country. Having multiple silos is a huge problem on its own and it causes a series of other problems, such as:

    1. Fragmented customer data: Not only your content ends up scattered across multiple silos, but so does your customer data. This could be a key obstacle whenever you want to access all your data, for example to conduct a thorough analysis.

    **2. Limited collaboration: **As data is handled in different silos, communication between and within teams can become problematic. The lack of a centralized content hub can severely limit your collaboration.

    3. Outdated / limited technology and operations: Traditional systems encourage an all-in-one approach to technology stacks. This in many cases can lead to a failure to integrate new technologies quickly.

    4. Subpar user experience: Having to re-create the same content multiple times just to publish it across different platforms, eventually leads to lower quality control and standards. Additionally, lack of collaboration and comprehensive understanding of customer data will also directly act as barriers against seamless user experiences.

    Headless CMSs were built as an answer to these problems. As omnichannel became more important, so did the need to manage content in a system which inherently took omnichannel publishing into account.

    By severing the link between the frontend and the backend, headless systems got rid of the silos altogether and instead kept everything in a central content hub. (read more)

    Not having multiple silos immediately fixes the major content problems that are usually associated with traditional systems.

    Content Management for eCommerce

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    As mentioned before, combining an API based (i.e. headless) CMS with an eCommerce platform that also relies on APIs, leads to what is usually called headless commerce:

    A graph showing the evolution of headless eCommerce platforms.

    Can’t I just use my All-in-one eCommerce platform as a CMS and handle the frontend?

    Sure, that is certainly a valid option which many businesses take. However, there is a huge drawback that is inherent in every all-in-one solution: You never have full control over what goes in the stack, and what stays out.

    In the first glance, this means you will probably end up paying for some tools that you don’t need, while also being locked out of some solutions that you really want. However, this is only the beginning of your problems.

    All-in-one solutions have serious scalability issues, come with huge learning curves, slow your reaction time when it comes to market trends, fail to offer you really specialized tools, and a host of other problems. There is so much to tell about these systems. If you are interested in learning more, just read our extensive article on all-in-one systems and their issues.

    How can headless eCommerce help?

    Generally speaking, headless eCommerce can be very beneficial, as it usually takes advantage of the Jamstack. For example:

    • Performance increase in static sites or sites built with a combination of static and dynamic content
    • Up to 20-percent increase in conversation rates
    • Resolving many security issues
    • Better scalability and rapid development
    • Flexibility and free choice of technology

    More specifically, a headless approach benefits eCommerce businesses by empowering the people behind the creation and maintenance of content. This is particularly important when thinking about user journeys and personalized experiences. These users are your marketers, content writers, designers, developers, and everyone else who may contribute to the creation of content.

    These are just some of the ways with which a headless approach can help the users:

    • Omnichannel-first: The headless architecture is meant to be used for projects that need to provide content for multiple channels. By getting rid of the multiple content silos, and migrating to a central content hub, a headless system makes managing content across many channels as easy as pressing a single button. A true omnichannel system should not only support desktop computers and phones/tablets, but also the emerging technologies such as voice activated assistants or VR headsets. Headless systems can easily support omnichannel publishing across all platforms, by separating the presentational layer from the backend.

    • Independence: Headless systems empower editors and marketers to work independently from developers. Creating and updating landing pages only takes minutes and they can go online effortlessly. This independence also enables marketing teams to respond quickly to any new trend, without having to worry about bottlenecks in other departments. However, different headless systems offer different degrees of independence. Some have a stronger focus on developers and forget about the editors, who also work with the system every single day. This is why it’s really important to choose a system that offers visual editing capabilities.

    • Personalized user experience: Headless systems deliver the content in a “raw” format from the backend to the frontend. This means, as a content creator, you will have complete control over the way the content is presented (granted, you have the support of a developer team). This means, you don’t have to limit your content to pre-made templates anymore. A higher degree of customization means you have more chances of personalizing your content for your target audience.

    • Scalability and future-proofing: Unlike the monolithic systems tendency towards all-in-one solutions, headless systems encourage a best-of-breed approach to content management. This means you do not have to worry about sudden scaling issues, either as a result of unexpected traffic, or sudden shifts in strategy. Since each technology comes as an individual component of the stack, scaling can be done quickly and without complications. As the company expands , there is no need to constantly jump from one monolithic suite to another, instead you can simply scale as you grow.

    • Free technology choice: Because the frontend is handled separately, developers are free to choose their favorite framework and tools. This is in direct opposition to the monolithic approach, where the tools are dictated by the suite provider. Additionally in headless systems, the independence of both ends also means that any new design can be applied and implemented quickly. The technology choice you make today, might not be right for you in 5 years. Handling your content separately, also means you will be more flexible in changing your technology stack in the future.

    • Component based approach: By structuring your content as nestable blocks, content management, even when done through complex layouts, becomes much easier. Atomic design is a term that is widely used in development today. You see it design systems but also in the technologies themselves. That’s why Storyblok has a strong focus in allowing you to define your content with a component based approach. These component blocks can be reused and nested in many different contexts, which allows for easy customization.

    • Maintenance: The separation of the front-end from the back-end completely changes the way updates work. In a headless CMS developers do not have to worry about the constant stream of updates that are associated with monolithic systems. With a headless system, updates are installed automatically and developers do not have to stress about uptime or broken updates, as is often the case with monolithic or on-premise systems.

    Headless eCommerce and your CMS: A final word

    Transforming your current business to one driven by modern headless features can start at different places, but the most fundamental change comes from the heart of your operations, the content infrastructure. By implementing a headless CMS you can immediately observe how your multiple content silos transform into a central hub and your content gets published with consistent quality across different platforms. The coming changes in customer experience and your team’s capabilities will be almost immediate, and will open the doors for you to further move away from monolithic practices.

    Storyblok takes the capabilities of a headless CMS even further by creating a content management system that allows easy integration with other eCommerce systems. Our partners have created dozens of custom field-type plugins that seamlessly integrate in the CMS, which the end-client will not even be able to differentiate. It gives your developers the flexibility they need to build reliable and fast websites, while at the same time giving content creators with no coding skills the ability to edit content independently of the developers.

    If you are wondering if Storyblok is the right choice for you, or if you have any questions, you can contact us here, or try Storyblok for some hands-on experience.