The Complete Guide to Headless E-Commerce In 2022
E-commerce is constantly changing the way we shop online. As a result, consumers today are more demanding, and meeting expectations is increasingly challenging.
The ease of shopping online is that you can do it from anywhere, with any device within your reach. However, there’s a threshold of performance consumers expect across any channel they choose to visit your online store. Among these expectations, good customer experience is a significant determining factor in whether your online store is meeting your sales goals.
Until now, the old way of keeping up with these changes was with traditional e-commerce solutions—one that couples the front end and back end of your online store into a single, rigid platform. As a result, customization was possible only to a certain extent and didn’t offer customers a unique experience. Another major issue with this platform was the codependency on each business layer; any back-end change would affect the front end. So performance became another issue for e-commerce business owners.
A headless e-commerce solution was introduced to solve this. This new e-commerce architecture decouples both layers of a website and has them working together with a single API.
In today's article, we’ll cover all you need to know about headless e-commerce and help you decide if it’s the right fit for you.
Let’s start by answering:
What is Headless E-Commerce?
Headless E-Commerce is an e-commerce solution that involves decoupling the front-end presentation layer of your online store from the back-end functions and infrastructure that power customer experiences.
The front-end layer of your online store includes themes, pictures, videos, animations, and content; it includes everything customers can see. The back-end is where everything concerning your website is managed and stored—including your database, custom integrations, and APIs that make your front end function.
Decoupling the front- and back-end of an e-commerce store leaves a void in communication between both parts of the website, but with headless e-commerce, it’s a different story. The headless e-commerce technology uses an Application Programming Interface (API) at the center of the decoupled e-commerce architecture. This API lets you make changes and deliver content on the front end without depending on the back end and vice-versa.
This is a game-changer in the e-commerce world, as most businesses in the space must continuously redesign and redeploy their websites to adapt to new customer behaviors and optimize customer experiences.
Due to this need to stay ahead, businesses are taking a step back from the traditional e-commerce solution and going headless. A major contributing factor to this is the Internet of Things (IoT), allowing billions of devices to connect to the internet and collect, share, and transfer data about their environment. With that, customer experiences evolved from shopping only on desktop devices to a wide range of options. Now, customers can easily shop on their smartphones, smartwatches, and smart devices like Google Home, Amazon Echo, Dash Button, and Alexa. This also allows cross-channel shopping from mobile apps to social media to chatbots.
With these changes, e-commerce businesses must follow the trend in meeting their targeted audience’s expectations, but with a varied approach. This move created a shift from the traditional (or coupled/monolithic) e-commerce solution to headless e-commerce.
The Move From Traditional E-Commerce to Headless E-Commerce
The core concept of headless e-commerce is improved performance and how it fixes all the problems found in a traditional e-commerce solution. Before we discuss the move to headless e-commerce, let’s talk about traditional e-commerce.
3 Major Problems with Traditional E-Commerce
Traditional e-commerce is a solution that couples the front-end presentation layer and the back-end infrastructure of your online store.
This solution is contrary to headless e-commerce because any change on the back end affects the front end since both layers are interdependent. Due to this dependency, traditional e-commerce poses three major problems to most e-commerce businesses. They include:
- Maintenance difficulty
- Lack of customization
- Poor performance
1. Maintenance Difficulty
Using traditional e-commerce leaves you with few choices when it comes to maintenance, especially if you run a big online store. The bigger your online store, the bigger your products, traffic, orders, and the whole database will be.
A large database is a nightmare for traditional e-commerce because of the coupled framework on which it works. If you make changes to your database in the back end, it’ll affect the performance of your presentation layer in the front end. When this isn’t adequately maintained, something gets broken, or you encounter bugs, you can run into a technical downtime that’ll take hours—even days—to fix.
2. Lack of Customization
Pre-made templates are the pros and cons of traditional e-commerce. The pros: You’re able to set up your online store in a matter of minutes with ready-made templates (plug ’n play).
The cons are the lack of customization using these pre-made templates. And you stand out among approximately 12-24 million e-commerce websites currently online.
Are AIs standing out a big deal? Fewer than 1 million of these e-commerce websites sell more than $1000/year.
Due to this lack of customization, most e-commerce websites look ordinary and almost identical, increasing bounce and abandoned cart rates.
3. Poor Performance
Speed is the first signal to both search engines and users that an e-commerce website is good enough. It’s also an indicator of a website’s overall performance, which extends to determining the business’ revenue.
Here’s a quick example to help you visualize how vital speed is:
Suppose your e-commerce website makes $50,000/day on a 2-seconds load speed. A 1-second delay extending it to 3-seconds could potentially accrue to a loss of $1.25 million per year.
Other stats concerning the speed of e-commerce websites show:
- 47% of consumers expect a webpage to load in under 2 seconds.
- 40% of people abandon a website if it needs more than 3 seconds to load.
- Conversion rates are likely to increase 74% when load times improve from 8 seconds to 2 seconds.
- Website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time—especially between 0-5 seconds.
With traditional e-commerce, attaining a fast website isn’t as much of a hassle as maintaining that speed with the same performance. But, typically, this model only works for small businesses or startups with little-to-no traffic or large development teams—so the impact isn’t immediately felt.
However, as your business grows, your previous speed becomes challenging to maintain with an equal amount of performance. In some cases, the only way to attain the same speed and performance will be to cut corners in your designs, e.g., reducing your animation or replacing it with a vector image. Unfortunately, doing this exposes you to a bad FID (First Input Delay) and CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift).
Going through all these problems with the traditional e-commerce solution, it’s no wonder that business owners are going headless. In the race to beat the competition and provide excellent customer experiences, a scalable architectural platform is the only way—that’s where headless e-commerce comes in.
Traditional E-Commerce vs. Headless E-Commerce
Making a move: E-Commerce Businesses Finally Going Headless.
Businesses going headless isn’t a surprise, per this recent WP Engine survey.
In terms of adoption, stats from the survey shows—
“Among enterprise organizations not currently using headless, more than 90% plan to evaluate headless solutions in the next 12 months — up 80% from 2019.”
And when it comes to prioritizing customers—
“92% of respondents say implementing headless technologies makes it easier for organizations to deliver a consistent content experience.”
The flexibility in the headless e-commerce architecture is the primary cause for the move. Its customization capabilities allow you to build unique customer experiences tailored to your business needs and targeted audience. This also opens up a variety of options on deploying different e-commerce functions and capabilities, such as promotions and integrated payment options across various channels regardless of the customer’s touchpoint.
The headless e-commerce approach suits a range of online retail businesses, most being content-focused businesses. This way, on your back end, you can have your checkout process, inventory management system, billing system, accounting and payment management platform, customer data management, and inventory all working simultaneously with the headless API. And on your front end, you can keep redesigning and customizing your presentation layer as much as you like or as your customers prefer.
Unlike the traditional e-commerce solution where you had to use a single platform to manage both the front and back end, headless e-commerce technology lets you build a brand-consistent experience across different channels.
The Headless E-Commerce Architecture
The digital-solution model headless e-commerce works on is based on optimal flexibility. As discussed, this model takes the approach of decoupling the front end and the back end, removing the co-dependency of both layers.
Simply put, headless e-commerce architecture comprises the components that make up the headless e-commerce solution.
This means e-commerce business owners can store and manage all relative information about their business on their PIM (Product Information Management), CMS (Content Management System), or any other solution on the back end, and use the headless API to push it to any platform on the front end.
In this case, your front end can be any presentation layer of your choice—mobile website, third-party affiliates like Amazon, social media, smartwatches, smart speakers, and any smart device that allows the integration of e-commerce.
Although these capabilities of headless e-commerce sound great, for some, it’s confusing. We’re often asked:
“After removing the head of our website and making it headless, where do we find it and make changes as we like?”
When you decide to go headless, you have decided to shift from the traditional e-commerce way of doing things and have moved to the modern. Doing this opens you up to 2 ways to modify your front end:
- Custom build
1. Custom Build
A custom-built front end is built from scratch by either your in-house team of front-end developers or your chosen headless platform. In custom building this frontend, developers leverage front-end frameworks such as Next JS, React, Vue JS, Angular JS, and JAMStack.
Choosing this option allows you to hand-pick all your back-end functions, third-party integrations, and other necessary components. The downside to this option is the cost of management and implementation, as you need to hire full-time developers to help you manage it.
When is Custom Build a good fit for your business?
A custom-build headless architecture is good for you if:
- You have an in-house team of developers or agencies dedicated to constantly maintaining your system, especially third-party APIs.
- You have multiple development teams across different channels.
- You need constant upgrades and updates in your business both on the back end and front end.
2. Frontend-as-a-service (FEass)
The FEass headless architecture approach is one of the newest and widely preferred options on the market, primarily due to its low-code environment. With this approach, you can easily design and optimize your overall store’s functionality with minimal coding.
If you decide to go through this route, implementing it for the first time requires a headless e-commerce agency to perfectly integrate it with your preferred e-commerce solution. Once that’s done, your marketing team can enjoy the benefits of going headless. The main one is the ability to make front-end updates and designs without relying on developers. Using a front-end-as-a-service platform allows you to maximize the full potential of the decoupled architecture.
At Edgemesh Server, our solution lets us take you headless in under 5 mins without the need to hire a developer. Also, our solution solves all middleware and client-side rendering-related issues so you can focus your attention on your store’s UX.
When is Frontend-as-a-service a good fit for your business?
A frontend-as-a-service is suitable for your online store if:
- You want an easy-to-use, low-code, or no-code environment for your marketing team.
- Your team is small and flexible—in most cases, remote.
- You want easy and quick deployment of front-end changes.
Custom Build vs. Front End as A Service: Which Is Better for Headless E-commerce?
Benefits of Headless E-Commerce
In all e-commerce business settings, performance and scalability are the primary concerns. It’s also the advantage headless e-commerce has over the traditional e-commerce approach. Here, four benefits of using headless e-commerce and why you should think about making a move.
1. Easier Scalability
When scaling an e-commerce business, a large percentage of business owners don’t feel the need to until it’s late, and it’s already costing them a lot in sales.
This was the case for J.Crew in 2018 when its website was down for about 5 hours, costing them $775,000 in sales. Similar cases weren’t far off, with Walmart losing $9million in 150 minutes and Costco saying goodbye to $11 million in sales due when its website went down for more than 16 hours. These companies and many more have faced the issue of scalability due to a traffic surge.
With headless e-commerce, businesses can use the dynamic scaling feature in the solution’s architecture to increase the overall website’s bandwidth and accommodate high traffic.
You can do the same with headless solutions like Edgemesh Server to ensure on-demand global scale by deep integration with CDN partners like Cloudflare and Fastly to ensure your front end is available in more than 300 regions globally.
2. Increased Performance
When WP Engine survey respondents were asked why they chose to take their business headless, 41% of the respondents said performance—and that’s what headless e-commerce does best.
Based on other responses, runners-up were scalability, support, and ease of installation—all of which you’ll notice are closely related to performance. This tells you that, unlike the traditional e-commerce solution, a headless solution simplifies the entire process of e-commerce with its decoupling architecture. With this, marketing managers can design unique user experiences on the front end. Simultaneously, the developing team can optimize the back end without worrying about its effect on the front end.
3. Better Feature Rollout, Application, and Modification
Taking a cue from the performance of headless e-commerce, developers having the freedom to code freely opens them up to better ways to modify their code for improved user experience.
It’s the same for front-end developers. Back-end developers have no constraints or dependencies while working on different features, including applications and A/B testing—so it becomes easier to implement, maintain, and optimize.
4. Improved Security
When it comes to cyber threats and attacks, headless e-commerce is better than the conventional method of e-commerce. The decoupled framework of headless makes it easy to monitor and control your website, limiting your risk to exposure and faster detection.
Another significant security benefit of using a headless solution is the API used to merge both layers of your website (front end and back end). In addition, this API comes in a read-only format, limiting exposure to hackers.
Headless E-commerce’s Benefit to Teams
Going headless is already a huge benefit to the business as a whole. Depending on your role in your company, your use of headless solutions varies, but the common goal remains unchanged. Let’s explore four significant roles in your company and how they can benefit from going headless.
For A Developer
The hassle that comes with constantly worrying if a line of code will interrupt customer experience on the front end is a big one that can ruin your workflow. In the traditional e-commerce solution, you constantly have to check-ins with your project manager or team lead to test and see if it’s a right fit for the front end. All of which leads to countless iterations and increased difficulty in pushing out new features.
With headless, you can make as many changes as you want without interrupting the flow of work for back-end developers or the experience for customers—and vice versa.
For A Marketing Manager
The primary interest of marketing managers is to increase the consumer’s interest in buying the product. Your primary focus is on the front end as you’re concerned with traffic counts, bounce rate, churn rate, customer LTV, discount, product listing price, and display. Managing this with the traditional e-commerce solution limits your capabilities in customizing user experiences.
With a headless solution, you can easily tailor shopping experiences based on customer preferences. This lets you increase customers’ attention span as they’re getting the best service while shopping in your store— this way, they keep coming back for more.
For A Business Executive
You’re charged with making the best use of the allocated budget-making cost management your biggest challenge. For the most part, traditional e-commerce solutions offer the most cost-effective package.
This will serve you only in the short term and only works if you’re not looking to expand—unlikely once sales start coming in. This makes traditional e-commerce a short-term solution that’ll undoubtedly cost you more in terms of scalability and management over time.
Headless e-commerce is a better long-term solution—there’s little to no risk of incurring more costs over time. You can better allocate funds to other parts of the business to sustain and scale it to the next level.
For An IT Executive
Your role is at the crossroads between choosing performance and scalability. You have to handle adopting and integrating new technologies into your system to allow easy scalability. On the other hand, you’re thinking about how your system can take such integration and still perform at its best. If you’re using traditional solutions, chances are you’ll have to substitute one for the other—affecting other business areas.
Meanwhile, adopting headless solutions solves this through the easy integration of third-party technologies. With this, scaling and performance can go hand-in-hand without substituting one for the other.
The next big question:
Can I Take My E-Commerce Business Headless Now?
Not every business is fit to go headless. However, going headless is the best fit for medium and enterprise companies due to the high cost of implementing headless technology.
According to WP Engine,
“On average, respondents’ organizations spent $2.6 million on the total implementation of headless technology architecture, a number that is likely to grow as more adopters—and vendors—enter the space.”
This number is way out of budget for a small business, and any attempt at doing this will most likely ruin the business’ finances.
Related Article: Is Headless E-Commerce The Best Fit For Your Business in 2022?
A rule of thumb we use at Edgemesh is you should have at least a $5 million annual revenue before going headless. We advise this, so it’s easier for you to quickly break even upon implementation and use without any further cost. Once you hit the budget mark, it’s time to go headless—and you can do that with Edgemesh Server.
Next-Generation Headless with Edgemesh Server
Choosing a platform to take your e-commerce business headless is challenging, especially if you’re not doing it with the right one. That’s why we believe going headless should be with a single click.
With Edgemesh Server, you can enable one-click headless performance for your e-commerce websites. In addition, we provide seamless web acceleration to give headless-style deployments zero developer effort. This allows us to eliminate high costs, risks, and an unpredictable timeline that plagues headless e-commerce migrations.
We also understand the fear of having to rebuild your existing website when you go headless. However, unlike other complex legacy headless projects, Edgemesh Server is fully automated and takes only minutes to set up—without losing your front end.
Benefits of Edgemesh Server include:
- A seamless integration that works with the existing platform and takes only minutes to set up, unlike the months-long process of traditional headless implementations.
- Significant performance improvements, providing 4x overall faster site speed and 10x quick server response time for an accelerated customer experience.
- Complete control over the user experience and flexibility to extend beyond the current platform's limitations, with the ability to add additional pages such as JAMStack, React, and Next.js.
- Enterprise-grade user experience extensions like A/B testing, personalization, and bot protection enhance any platform without requiring a complete design.
The Time to Go Headless Is Now!
With the pace technology is advancing, it’s no surprise that headless e-commerce is poised to become the new norm in e-commerce. Early adopters like Amazon and Netflix are constantly improving their customized user experience—and so should you.
The same goes for how consumers have taken a different approach to purchasing but with retailer expectations still in place. As discussed, the introduction of IoT switched up the e-commerce industry by changing consumers to shop from anywhere—and with anything connected to the internet. That’s why businesses need to keep strategizing and implementing new ways of interacting with customers—and going headless is a move in the right direction.
If you made it to the end of this article, then you’d be interested in the rest of this series.
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