Unless you’re completely out of touch with the e-commerce technology world, you have been reading about and perhaps even working on “headless” e-commerce applications for a few years now. If you’re a business person, a non-technical entrepreneur, or a senior manager, you may not understand the concept and you might oversimplify it as a decoupling of your front end from your back end. This blog post will aim to summarize and boil down a number of headless approaches and applications to their core and describe in layman’s terms the value proposition of each. Using these 3 common examples, merchants can consider whether a headless approach and a CMS-powered experience on the front end can be coupled with a powerful e-commerce platform on the back end to create a great customer experience.

Example 1: “Build It / Configure It” Experiences

If an e-commerce merchant requires a user experience that includes a rich and detailed product configuration experience, there’s a strong case for a headless approach. Any product manufacturers or retailers that are selling products with many choices, options, and variants – especially if there is a “build it on your own” type of requirement – would do well to investigate a headless approach. An extreme example would be if you were configuring a car and adding it to a cart.

State of the art web-based auto configurators can contain 100 steps or even more. But more commonly e-commerce merchants that sell consumer products with many options, or B2B merchants that sell systems or technology products with many choices are perfect for a headless approach. The configuration experience can be controlled by a powerful CMS and that allows the transaction parts to be handled by the e-commerce platform. This approach allows the “experience team” to have flexibility to create custom configuration apps and experiences without having to worry about the transactional aspects or if the e-commerce platform’s CMS is powerful enough to create a rich user experience (like a complex configuration).

Example 2:  “Autonomous Content Teams”

If there is an autonomous content team with rules, processes, and capabilities that are vastly different than the technology team that manages e-commerce transactions then there is a case for a headless approach – purely as a matter of management. The content creators, including product managers can manage the user experience as they see fit without worrying about how a changing catalog or new product alterations have an impact on the back end operation or the transaction aspects of the application.

The architecture of the headless system including the CMS, the PIM and the e-commerce platform need to fit the requirements of the teams, but once that is set the content / “experience” teams can have freedom to operate and merchandise without worrying about breaking some aspect of the e-commerce operation and they can work against a content production calendar without having to worry about using the e-commerce admin back end.

Example 3: PWA The Mobile World

Progressive Web Applications (PWA) / Performance.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a hybrid between a resident app and a website – an application that works on your phone outside of the browser but can utilize the data from an e-commerce website when connected. There are some that argue whether or not PWAs are an example of ‘headless’. In a way they are since it can allow a merchant to give a user an experience on their phone without being connected to the platform. So there’s a “decoupling” of front end and back end there.

Merchants are targeting mobile phone users increasingly as consumers and business buyers use their phone more for everyday purchasing from e-commerce sites. More and more merchants are adding a PWA as an alternative experience outside of the core e-commerce site.

PWAs can also use a single page application (SPA), which allows an entire storefront to load only once and never again. This gives the app-like feel with sub-second page load speeds. PWAs can decrease latency and can change pages within milliseconds – like an app. PWAs can work with headless architectures that deploy CMSs for the core merchandising and they work great with PIMs. Adobe Commerce includes a PWA studio which allows for a seamless and relatively easy production of PWA instance from a working Adobe Commerce site.

What are some examples of e-commerce merchants that should consider this approach?

  • A B2B supplier to users that are always in the field (jobsite, warehouse etc.)
  • A B2C retailer that targets shoppers on the go, in the store
  • A B2B wholesaler who needs to provide purchasing experience access in cases where connectivity can be challenging

The Bottom Line

Headless approaches work best when a match is created between the business users that deploy and manage the experience and those that manage the product logistics and the transaction. The “de-coupling” of front end from back end can include a myriad of techniques and apps, but as merchants really dig in to identify the performance and experience advantages that can set them apart from their competition, headless e-commerce is a type of architecture that is rapidly growing in popularity.

Contact us if you’d like to have a discussion about how a headless approach could help your business!