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Do You Need Headless Ecommerce?

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Old-school ecommerce solutions were focused on the “your customer comes to your website to buy stuff” approach. For many simple retail or B2B companies, that’s still the mode they’re in. For example, if I want to open an online store to sell custom-made wreaths, but I also sometimes sell at local craft fairs, that’s not really an omnichannel model. Yes, I have two channels, but even Shopify basic will meet my needs.

Headless eCommerce, on the other hand, enables greater flexibility with an architecture that separates the front end and back end functions. APIs, experience managers, and business tools enable greater flexibility and customization.  

First - Some Definitions

Before we dive into a closer look at headless ecommerce, let’s clarify some terms. One thing you’ll notice if you read our blog is that ecommerce, marketing automation, and data analytics are all interconnected topics. Sometimes the edges blur. There’s a reason for this. While we can do some of these things separately, there are a lot of interdependencies. Let’s take a step back and look at some definitions.

  • Ecommerce – Buying or selling products or services online.
  • Headless ecommerce – Headless commerce is an ecommerce architecture where the front-end is decoupled from the back-end commerce functionality and can thus be updated or edited without interfering with the front-end.
  • Omnichannel ecommerce – A multichannel approach to sales that focuses on providing seamless customer experience whether the client is shopping online from a mobile device, a laptop or in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Omnichannel marketing – Omnichannel marketing uses multiple channels to seamlessly guide customers towards a goal. These channels could include on- and off-line campaigns, such as TV, radio, social media, search engine, video marketing, and more
  • Marketing automation – Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online and automate repetitive tasks such as processing purchase orders or invoices.
  • Data analytics – Data analysis is a process of inspecting, cleansing, transforming, and modelling data with the goal of discovering useful information, informing conclusions, and supporting (marketing and ecommerce) decision-making.

Do You Need Headless Architecture?

All of the disciplines above are potential aspects of your ecommerce business model, depending on your size and type of business. Today, I’m going to narrow it down to headless and omnichannel ecommerce. To be precise, do you really need headless architecture if you want to do omnichannel ecommerce?

Short answer – yes! If you want to create a truly versatile omnichannel experience, then headless ecommerce is your best pal.  If you need to sell on multiple websites, mobile, 3rd party marketplaces, in-person, etc., then you are really omnichannel, and you’re going to have a huge amount of technology overhead if your ecommerce solution doesn’t provide the flexibility you need. You don’t want to have to build a unique solution for each of these use cases!

For example:  You’re a merchant who sells to both consumers and businesses. The purchasing process for these two groups of customers is quite different. Consumers tend to buy small quantities of product and they generally pay with a credit card or a payment service like PayPal. Your business customers, on the other hand, might need to negotiate for special pricing or terms, have an internal purchasing approval process that includes purchase orders, and their payment methods might include wire transfer or check.

If you’re working with a traditional ecommerce platform, you’re likely going to spend a bunch of time bending the templating system provided by that platform to service both of these use cases. You’re going to end up with bloat as a result of this – unnecessary features/code on site pages – unless you spend time ripping that unnecessary code out. When you do this, you then have to worry about upgrade path/maintainability. Headless allows you to build bespoke interfaces that provide exactly the functionality needed – no more, no less.

(Headless) eCommerce Street sign

Selecting the Right Headless Solution

If you’re moving or planning to move to a headless ecommerce solution to give you the flexibility and growth potential you need, what are some of the criteria you need to think about? Of course, when making any software selection, you’ll need to do your due diligence to identify your high-priority process and requirements so that you can verify that any solution you’re considering can meet those needs. But there are other considerations that you may want to add to the decision matrix. Here are some key items that should be on your list:

  • Pricing Model – Does the solution provide a tiered pricing model relative to the services you plan to use? You don’t want to be stuck paying for a lot of functionality that you won’t be using now and might not ever use!
  • API Coverage – Almost everybody has APIs but you need the APIs to cover a large percentage of the ecommerce functionality or you’re going to run into walls. 90% coverage or better would be great to maximize flexibility.
  • API Pricing – Does the platform charge you for API calls? Do they throttle API calls? Just because you have good API coverage doesn’t mean you will be able to fully utilize that if there are other roadblocks you have to navigate.
  • Scalability and Availability – You’re building an ecosystem that relies on API calls, so you need scalability and availability to ensure data moves at the speed you need. Be realistic about your current and future needs.
  • Reference Application – Is there a “quick and dirty” out of the box solution that can get you started while you build out your various channels? If you need to get up and running quickly, this will be a key feature to look for.
  • Security – Is payment data handled securely if a client application is passing payment data to the ecom system via an API? We know how sensitive customers are to data security, especially with some spectacular breaches in the news lately!

What are some of the headless ecommerce solutions out there to consider? Commercetools, BigCommerce, Magento 2.0, and Shopify Plus are some of the many options. Learn more about headless ecommerce by reading our “Be Where Your Buyer Is” article.  If you are ready to move towards implementing or upgrading to a headless ecommerce platform and need help navigating the options and implementation, give us a shout! We’ve helped a lot of customers figure this out, and we’re always here to help.

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