Headless eCommerce is becoming more and more popular as brands find themselves being required to constantly adapt and extend their business to meet new needs. Headless brings with it flexibility and agility that cannot be found in previous monolithic eCommerce models, and it is for this reason that many people are now turning to headless to help their business thrive.
Despite its somewhat scary name, headless is the opposite of something you should be afraid of. In fact, headless commerce is a very practical solution that allows websites new levels of freedom regarding customization and speed.
So What Is Headless?
In short, headless means the separation of the front-end and backend of an ecommerce application. The front end experience of a website is the part that users see and interact with. The backend is the part that handles data input, product images, promotions, pricing and order details.
In a traditional monolithic model, any changes to the front end needed to be done via the backend, which caused the backend to be slow as it’s doing double the work. Through separating the two with headless, developers can make changes to the front end without the backend being impacted, and vice versa. This means that customers are ensured a good shopping experience, despite whatever is taking place behind the scenes.
In order for headless to work, an API (application programming interface) is required, which connects the interfaces and ensures that there is consistency in data throughout the ends. The API helps regulate, so that changes can be made quickly and without affecting the entire platform.
Why Bother With Headless?
The main benefit of headless can be summed up in one word: flexibility. Headless gives you the flexibility to create the website that you want, in the shortest amount of time possible. Let’s break this down a bit more, by looking at the benefits in detail.
Headless Saves You Time
Time To Go Live
In monolithic models, any new experience that will feature on your website requires updates to the front end and back end system. This means that even a small project can turn into a mammoth operation. In the ecommerce world, the time spent developing is time when conversions could have been made; speed-to-market is often related to increasing cash flow.
With online shopping being more popular than ever, customers are expecting interactive and personalized consumer experiences that continue to engage and excite them. Companies must be continuously optimizing their online practices if they want to achieve top customer satisfaction.
This is where headless comes in. Without the need for sophisticated back-end processing, frontend experiences can be launched quickly. Developers only need a few clicks or light coding to activate new apps, meaning the website can be on top of their game, and follow trends as they emerge. Headless supports new technology as it arises, new customer experiences will become available and the marketing team can take the reins in terms of which brands, divisions and portfolios they decide to take on.
Reducing the time needed for backend developers also results in saving costs, another benefit of headless.
Time To Load Pages
The second way headless saves you time is in terms of how fast the pages load. Making changes to the backend as done in a traditional monolithic structure meant slow page-load speed, download time, and time at checkout. This is because the backend had a lot on its shoulders; it was undertaking a heavy task.
From a user-experience perspective, this is a big turn off. If the page is loading slowly, or the checkout, customers will simply exit. Introducing an API means the backend isn’t doing double the work, as the API takes over. This leads to faster loading pages, a better user experience, increased SEO and better brand loyalty.
Time To Integrate
The final way that headless helps to speed things up is through integrations with other platforms required. As a result of the API, integrating with other platforms using headless can be completed almost immediately, which is unlike monolithic systems, where the integrations can take several hours.
Headless Takes You Omnichannel
The eCommerce experience needs to be creative in order to keep customer loyalty and engagement, and a huge part of this is making sure that omnichannel experiences are offered.
People no longer just access the internet via website; but through mobile, tablet, social media or even smart watches. Being able to offer a consistent and superior ecommerce experience through all of these mediums is vital in getting shoppers’ attention, converting them into customers or even lifetime customers.
Because of the API, headless is replicable in whatever way you need it, as the architecture lets you sync data across all platforms. Personalized data remains and can be accessed no matter which device the customer is using. Shopping cart recommendations can be saved, along with preferred payment methods and other personal information, meaning they could start a purchase on their PC and finish it on their phone. This proves to the customer that their convenience is your concern.
It is possible to make these kinds of changes with templates on a monolithic model, but these would require plugins which in turn would slow down the website by a noticeable amount.
Headless Lets You Customize
We know how important personalization is when it comes to keeping customer satisfaction. Before headless, it was possible to use a plug-in to enable personalization features, but these slowed the website down significantly. With Headless, personalized features can be used across the site, and backend product data and customer information can still be used to inform personalized features and ecommerce experiences on the frontend.
The API ensures that these experiences stay coordinated throughout channels, and with this the creation of unique customer experiences is possible. Meeting the expectations of the rapidly transforming eCommerce industry in terms of personalization becomes possible with headless.
There is no delay in updating the brand’s latest designs, and formats. Brands are able to extend their personalization creativity in terms of design and content, since brands are able to control the user-interactive elements more easily. With this full ownership of customization capacities, brands can start to think outside of the box: how do we want our brand to look, not just what is possible.
Having removed long development cycles, there is no cost or upkeep required to revamp old sites. This customization freedom means that your site can remain as competitive and engaging as it is required to be. Considering companies such as Amazon deploys every 11.7 seconds, you can see why having the option of constant instant updates is important.
Headless Allows Easier Optimization
In a monolithic system, any change to the backend would immediately affect the frontend, so changes could take a long time to implement, as it would have to be certain that they were up to the right standards. Since headless disconnects the front and backend, the possibility to run continuous tests without affecting the live website opens up.
Various frontend solutions can be tested whilst the backend stays intact, meaning that comparisons can be made about which frontend version works best. Running tests to see which frontend brings the best conversion rates, the most traffic, or most lucrative audience flow is an effective way of increasing conversions and making customers happy at the same time. This is an effective method for increased customer flow, without having to spend money on paid advertising.
Amazon and Netflix are examples of companies that use these continuous tests in order to examine user experience to see what works for the market. Once the results are gathered, it is possible to optimize on results as quickly as required. In short, headless makes optimization a lot easier.
Being able to test new tools, or new applications, which are constantly evolving at such a fast rate, can have a huge effect on business results. Through being able to sample different templates, product or design pages constantly, positive change is always available at your fingertips.
Is Headless Right For Me?
As we’ve seen, headless provides a lot of benefits to businesses in terms of flexibility and optimization. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always the right course for your ecommerce store to take.
Better For Bigger Businesses
Something to remember about headless is that it does require a DIY attitude. For this reason it’s usually employed by bigger enterprises with larger development teams invested in the growth. If you’re a small business without many developers, a monolithic model might save you some of the hassle of engaging with development on a larger scale.
It Will Help You As You Scale
On the other hand, if you’re a small business scaling up, headless can easily scale online offerings as you go. Adapting to changing customer demands and needs is one of headlesses main benefits, so scaling up wouldn’t require a whole new website. Features can be integrated as the site grows, and front-end developers can add back-end functionality to the existing system.
It Requires Setup Cost
Setting up headless requires an investment of time and money, which might not be necessary if your business is doing fine with a traditional model. Headless will create a more personalized and unique customer experience, but it depends how big your store is, and how heavily it relies on ecommerce, as to whether the time and effort put into headless would be worth it.
A monolithic solution that gives you everything you need for an ecommerce store from one area could be easier in that respect, especially if you have the need to run data or store it in your own internal servers.
It’s important to examine your own business and business needs before jumping straight into headless. However with all the benefits it can bring, knowing that it’s there is reassuring, especially in the event that your business has the need to scale up, as we all would like to see our businesses do.