Headless commerce explained in 5 minutes

Contents

This short article covers the basics of “headless commerce” - What does it mean? How does it work? How is it different from the other options?

What does “headless commerce” mean?

In a nutshell, it means an eCommerce platform where the front-end and the back-end are separated. In headless commerce, the presentational layer of the operation (the “head”) is handled independently from the content itself (back-end, the “body”).

In this approach, the data (products, blogs, etc.) is created only once in the back-end, which then can be delivered to any number of front-ends (websites, apps, IoT, etc.) through application programming interfaces (APIs).

The opposite is the traditional monolithic commerce, where the front-end and the back-end are locked together. Generally speaking, this means the presentational layer (front-end) usually has limited customization capabilities as it is tied to the back-end. Additionally, since the two ends are coupled, content must be created separately for different devices. So if a product is going to be showcased in a website, a mobile app, and a screen somewhere in a shopping mall, then it must be created multiple times to fit each platform. This usually results in multiple content silos which can slow down the operations.

The graphic representation of content being delivered through APIs.

How does headless commerce work?

Headless eCommerce gets rid of the content silos and concentrates everything in a single content hub, also known as a headless content management system (CMS). Headless architecture is built with the growing popularity of IoT in mind, and prioritizes delivering content to all platforms simultaneously.

The greatest advantage of headless commerce, is its ability to create the content once, and use it everywhere.

Another important aspect of headless commerce, is the separation of the CMS and the eCommerce platform.

ecommerce platform:

an online platform that offers companies the requirements of running a store, including the shopping cart, inventory, payment, and shipping management. Bigcommerce and Shopware are ecommerce platforms.

CMS:

A system that allows users to create, customize, modify, publish, and manage all digital content (text, image, video, audio, etc.) in any form. Storyblok and Wordpress are CMSs.

Traditional eCommerce solutions like WooCommerce or Magento are based on a monolithic architecture and handle the front-end as well as the back-end. But a growing number of eCommerce providers like BigCommerce or Shopify also offer a headless option with access to the store’s data via their API. If you want to know more about these options, you can take a look at our guide.

This separation is thought to be necessary by headless advocates, as a CMS and an eCommerce platform have completely different goals, each requiring their own unique area of expertise. Some traditional eCommerce businesses lack this separation.

For a more detailed explanation of these two approaches, look at this in-depth analysis of the issue.

Headless commerce vs. traditional commerce CMS

Traditional commerce CMS Headless commerce CMS
Omnichannel Multiple content silos for each platform Central content hub for all platforms
Customization Limited customization of pre-defined front-ends Complete control over the presentation of the content
Customer journeys Pre-made themes for the storefront with some personalization capabilities A unique front-end made from scratch for a specific brand experience
Speed to market New front-end touchpoints require changes in the back-end Quickly create new front-end touchpoints without any change in the back-end
Page performance Interconnected traffic between the two ends Isolated traffic on each end
Security Minor threats can affect the whole system due to the link between the two ends Threats are isolated and cannot affect the whole system
Costs Services sold as a whole package, containing all tools regardless of usage Services are sold separately. Users only pay for what they need and make their own stack of tools
Development Development language is based on the service provider’s choice Developers can choose their language, as the front-end is completely independent
Onboarding May including steep learning curve for creators, as all tools are fixed and come in a package Creators can choose the tools they are familiar with, reducing the onboarding time

Who benefits from a headless strategy?

Headless commerce is an answer to the demands of the modern market,especially concerning omnichannel and personalized experiences. While traditional commerce is perfectly capable of answering the needs of a small online shop with a single website, problems start to show up as the business grows in size or expands to new platforms.

Generally speaking, a headless commerce is specifically beneficial for:

  • Businesses with a larger catalogue of products

  • Companies trying to establish their presence on different devices

  • Businesses with a high rate of content output

  • Cases where the competitiveness of the market requires highly personalized customer experiences

Check out Raleigh, Dear Sam, and Asket to see some examples of headless commerce.

Conclusion

A headless approach powered by APIs can help eCommerce businesses with many of their current problems, while potentially saving resources and costs.

While this short article is meant to give you a brief overview, you can dive deeper by checking out our detailed resources:

Content Management for eCommerce

Read our comprehensive marketer's guide to content management, complete with a free evaluation guide!

Resource Links
Headless CMS Headless CMS explained in 5 minutes
CMS for eCommerce The new era of eCommerce CMS
Headless stack or monolithic package Best-of-breed vs. all-in-one
A complete guide to eCommerce content management Content management for eCommerce
eCommerce integrations Storyblok’s eCommerce integrations

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