The Ultimate Guide to Headless eCommerce

October 26, 2016

Category: Headless eCommerce

What is Headless eCommerce?

We hear this word so often in the world of eCommerce and web apps, and it’s not just because of our favorite Halloween story. “Headless eCommerce” is what’s driving the market to challenge standard commerce solutions.

So, what does ‘Headless eCommerce’ actually mean?

In the most simplistic terms, Headless eCommerce represents a platform/solution that abstains from defining the perfect front-end by simply not having one. What this means is that we’ve decoupled and removed the front-end user interface from the backend and instead, delivered a platform via a RESTful API that is comprised of a back-end data model, business logic and cloud-based infrastructure.

How is this different from traditional eCommerce solutions?

If the first paragraph didn’t scare you away from traditional eCommerce solutions, or if you are not convinced yet, let’s take a deeper look into how this is different from traditional eCommerce solutions and who benefits from headless eCommerce.  

Traditional eCommerce solutions are not headless and require more than just a mask from the nearby Halloween store. Traditional eCommerce solutions, such as Magento or Shopify, have a predefined front-end that allows for the most basic eCommerce features. You might be thinking, “That’s great and everything I need!” But what if I told you that headless eCommerce could give you all of that, exactly the way you want, and not the way Magento or Shopify forces you to think you want?

For example, let’s compare Magento’s full stack application to a headless eCommerce platform, like ours (OrderCloud). Magento is a full stack application, meaning it provides the front-end experience and functionality for both end users and admin users, in other words, the people who manage the eCommerce store and the people who buy on it. You might be thinking, “Yeah, that sounds great! Where can I sign up?”, but let’s take a closer look at why those “selling points” are actually constraints of a traditional platform vs a headless eCommerce platform.

Traditional eCommerce Places Limits On Front-End Developers

Traditional eCommerce: Front-end developers are constrained to the front-end design and process that is created by the solution. If they want to change the data, they would need to edit the database, the code, and the front-end as well… Yuck! There’s also limitations in what can actually be updated and/or edited without voiding a warranty or preventing a future upgrade from functioning correctly.

Headless eCommerce: By not having a defined front-end, headless eCommerce allows front-end developers to create a completely catered and unique user experience that fits exactly what the business needs. Front-end developers no longer have to worry about modifying the database. It’s a simple API call and boom, the data is available in the UI. Front-end developers set free!

Traditional eCommerce Lacks Customization and Personalization

Traditional eCommerce: Traditional solutions come with a predefined experience for both an end user experience as well as administrative user. Again, this isn’t new and probably sounds exactly like what you have been searching for. But, if these solutions only allow for easy editing of themes and fonts, does that really provide the ‘perfect’ end user experience with all desired functionality exactly the way you want it?

Headless eCommerce: Forget the idea of being constrained to what traditional eCommerce defines as the correct user experience, and start building your own from scratch. Headless eCommerce solutions allow for YOU to define what YOU want as your user experience, both for end users and for admin users, and you still can make the fonts and themes look spook-tacular!

Traditional eCommerce is Inflexible

Traditional eCommerce: Traditional solutions are coupled, meaning the front-end is directly correlated with the back-end code and infrastructure, and this creates a hindrance for any desired customizations. One customization requires edits all the way back to the database layer. Imagine working with a SaaS application and having to make an edit to your workflow or even adding a data field. This would require a skilled full-stack developer that is very familiar with the required steps or has an ‘in’ with the company that can make it happen!

Headless eCommerce: Headless eCommerce decouples the front-end and the back-end which allows for infinite flexibility and customization to make whatever modifications you want, and only requires a front-end developer. Changes as big as making a custom checkout flow and as small as adding a new field to a customer account are easy when having a decoupled architecture.

When it comes down to traditional vs headless eCommerce, headless eCommerce is simply the removal of and decoupling of the front-end from the back-end code. ‘Headless’ may seem spooky, but it allows for endless flexibility and complete access to the functionalities of an API to make an end user experience that is completely unique and designed solely for you and your customers.