[VIDEO] Why headless eCommerce?

March 3, 2020

Categories: Best Practices, Videos

If you’re thinking at all about eCommerce, order management, or marketplace technology for your business, you’ve probably started to hear the term “headless.” Forrester Research, the leading technology research firm, predicts that in 2020, headless will become the new default technology choice for B2B or complex eCommerce. 

Forrester says, in their “Predictions 2020: B2B eCommerce and Marketplaces” report,

“Loose coupling and interoperability will allow vendors to major in certain functional areas while delivering more value and innovation than a vertically integrated commerce suite.”

But…what exactly does that mean?

Kayla Bryant, Marketing Director at Four51, and Rich Landa, Chief Product Officer, sat down to clear up the term “headless eCommerce,” and discuss why headless is such a buzzword today.

How does Four51 define “headless eCommerce”?

If you think about software as a “stack” of components, the top of the stack would be the user interface, or the part that the user interacts with (sometimes this is called the “front-end”).  The rest of the stack is where the software derives all of its functionality, like the business logic and the data model (sometimes this is called the “back-end’).  

Headless eCommerce platforms focus only on the back-end functionality and let people build their own custom front-end user experiences. 

So the “head” in “headless” is the user experience. You’re accessing that back-end functionality via API, and building any sort of “head”, or user interface, for both the buyer and the admin interface on top.

Why has headless eCommerce become such a buzzword today?

Four51 has been using our headless eCommerce platform, OrderCloud, for several years now to design, develop and deliver custom eCommerce, order management, and B2B marketplace solutions. But we’re really starting to hear a lot of buzz about headless in 2020.

This new buzz around the term “headless eCommerce” has to do with one major issue: the rigidity of traditional platforms.

Historically, eCommerce platforms were built with traditional monolithic architectures, where the components, functions, logic and user interface are all “prepackaged” and tightly tied together. This was great, sturdy technology and has brought many companies a very long way. 

But the downside is the tight coupling of the backend functionality and the front end experience makes it difficult to make customizations that conform to your business. 

Why headless eCommerce? Why are companies moving away from traditional, monolithic eCommerce platforms and towards headless eCommerce platforms?

Customizations, flexibility, and the ability to create elegant custom experiences are the key reasons companies are moving away from monolithic eCommerce platforms and moving towards headless.

It’s not to say that you can’t make changes and updates and customizations to traditional, monolithic platforms like SAP Hybris, Salesforce, or Oracle, or even with traditional SaaS applications like Shopify, but it’s not necessarily as easy or as elegant.

Think of it like this: You can buy a hard-top car and decide later you want to turn it into a convertible. It is possible. But of course you’d have to get a specialized craftsman to cut off the top and make it pretty. It wouldn’t be very elegant, though, and it would take longer and cost more than just building the convertible right off the bat, not to mention the hassle of maintaining something that was not meant to be customized.


Hopefully this helped clear up what headless eCommerce is and why researchers like Forrester are claiming it’s going to become the default this year.