Off with its Head! Is Headless the Key to Creating a Truly Unique Ecommerce Experience?

What is Headless?

Once upon a time all we had to worry about was our website.  As a result, life was simple.  You bought your ecommerce platform, designed your desktop website for desktop and just like that your ecommerce business was online.

Today, ecommerce is very different.  Mobile is of course the priority but as if that isn’t enough, many more touchpoints now need consideration.  Voice, social commerce, shoppable video, AR/VR, chat…even in store digital are in play.  Many ecommerce touchpoints means a huge range of options from which brand owners can create a unique and engaging ecommerce experience.  Unfortunately developing multiple front-ends on a legacy ecommerce architecture brings a degree of complexity that increases costs and lengthens development cycles.

That’s where headless comes in.  A headless architecture is an ecommerce stack where the front-end is decoupled from the back-end systems that power the ecommerce business.  All the stuff a customer experience designer needs from the ecommerce platform – ecommerce functions like shopping carts, inventory management and customer management, and their related business processes – are provided to the front-end by APIs in a set of headless microservices, leaving designers free to focus on designing a great customer experience.

Why Headless?

An ex-M&S ecommerce executive perfectly describes the difficulties that headless overcomes, in a recent article “Innovating without Headless was Hard – my Experience at M&S“.

In a nutshell, retail innovation is harder and slower on a legacy ecommerce stack and it’s almost impossible to avoid ending up with a Frankenstein-like stack.

A truly differentiated experience

Digital apps as different heads:  As a designer you can create different experiences to do anything you can think of, plug them into the body and away you go.  Headless solves the problems inherent in legacy ecommerce systems built only for one front-end.  With a headless architecture digital apps get what they need from the platform APIs.

Headless opens up new touchpoints

Consider some of the newer ecommerce touchpoints on your wish list that are perhaps low priority because integration might be too expensive.  A headless approach allows your front-end designers to create what they want in the confidence that they’ll be able to access what they need from the back end.

Quicker, faster, more seamless

To quote Under Armour: “The entire customer journey from the moment they enter is objectively better, it’s faster, and they can move through the journey much quicker and more seamlessly. It’s almost painless to navigate from product pages to categories. We have double digit revenue growth, 3x return rate, 65% less pre-bounce.

Rapid Agile Development and Innovation

Headless makes it faster, simpler and therefore more cost effective to build working prototypes rapidly.  It significantly lowers the bar on trying something new.

Design Flexibility

Headless allows designers more creative freedom.  No more of your legacy ecommerce platform dictating what’s feasible or having to build bolt-ons to cover gaps.  With the services data you need delivered as a microservice your designers are free to create the experience you need.

Shorter and simpler development cycles, easier to innovate, greater freedom in design and the opening up of new touchpoints.  A headless approach could free you to design a truly unique ecommerce experience.

There’s a great headless explanatory diagram here in this article by our friends at Logic Spot.

Who’s using Headless?

M&S are in good company! Zalando, Michael Kors, J Crew, Netflix, Nike, Feel Unique, Under Armour, Lancôme and many more large brands are already dabbling.  Not all of them are using headless across their entire digital experience, but all of them are showing positive results from headless in some aspect of their online business.

Where can I find Headless?

Headless is not new and there are some great API-first and headless-focused platforms around.  Designed for headless from the ground up, platforms such as CommerceTools are well worth a look.

While the established ecommerce platform providers’ suitability for a headless approach varies, many – like Magento and Salesforce Commerce Cloud – have invested heavily over the last 2 years in ramping up their APIs.

One of our favourites, Magento is a great fit as the back-end of a headless development.  You can take either a framework approach or use a headless CMS with the likes of Vue Storefront, DEITY, Contentless or Prismic.

For online businesses looking for more of an out-of-the-box solution, Shopify can work well in a headless approach via their Storefront API.

Where can I find out more?

If your ecommerce architecture is stifling your ability to innovate perhaps a headless architecture is the answer. To find out more about headless, click here to get in touch with us.  We’ll happily spend some time explaining how it works and answering questions.

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