What is headless commerce?
Headless commerce is the decoupling of a website’s front end (the content and user interface that comprise the customer experience) from the back end (the business engine that processes ordering, payment, tracking, and fulfillment), implementing a best-in-class API architecture that enables making fluid changes to the site’s content and user interface elements without affecting the back end.
With traditional ecommerce platforms, every change to the user interface requires updating both the front end and the back end. Even small changes to the front end can require major overhauls to the back end, turning minor updates into complex and time-consuming whole-site revamps. For designers and developers, headless commerce means powerful flexibility and the agility to test new strategies without disrupting the back-end infrastructure - all while maintaining a modern API-first approach.
Five important headless commerce benefits
Sites adopting headless commerce enjoy significant benefits inherent in the architecture, including:
The ability to deploy and scale omnichannel experiences
Desktop PCs, smartphones, and tablets still dominate as the primary digital experiences and delivery channels, but savvy developers are thinking about smart watches, Alexa-type devices, digital signage, kiosks, VR/AR apps, social media apps, and even screens on next-generation home appliances. Omnichannel means delivering messaging, content, and products to any channel that exists or will exist in the foreseeable future.With headless commerce, you’re ready to go, and stay, omnichannel.
Increased agility and flexibility
A headless commerce system supports new technologies as they arise, which makes it ideal for product, merchandising, and marketing teams that want to rapidly create and deploy new customer experiences across platforms. You can roll out multiple digital experiences across various brands and portfolios with unmatched speed and agility. You also have the flexibility to add or modify marketing campaigns to precisely address seasonal events like holidays and unique situations (such as the 2020 pandemic). Engineers and developers can also benefit from the agility and flexibility afforded by headless commerce by not having to spend time retooling a functional back end.
Faster speed to market
With a headless commerce architecture, you can make rapid changes to your user experience front-end interface without disturbing the back end, and vice versa. Because of the architecture’s openness and flexibility, you can deploy new functionalities and integrations in much less time compared with traditional architecture. Updates of customer-facing content can be quickly installed without rebuilding the entire system.
Customized and more personal customer experiences
With headless platforms, developers can create unique user experiences from scratch, with more control of the look and feel of the platform for both customers and administrators. Such customized experiences not only let companies differentiate themselves from the competition, but they create a welcoming and intriguing environment that engages customers and boosts sales.
Increased conversion rates
When the customer experience is customized, targeted, supportive, and frictionless, shoppers naturally feel more inclined to buy. Headless commerce therefore facilitates increased conversion rates.
Algolia headless commerce examples
Dunelm Ltd., a leading home furnishing retailer in the United Kingdom, wanted to re-create a physical-store browsing experience online while building a scalable and performant stack and keeping business teams in control. Their prior solution lacked flexibility, manageability, and agility, and it wasn’t delivering on the business performance side.
When the decision was made to adopt headless commerce architecture, Dunelm chose Algolia as a key technology provider. Algolia’s core qualities (speed, relevance, and business control), combined with an API-first headless approach, ease of implementation and maintenance, and ease of integration within their existing AWS headless platform, made Algolia a logical and compelling choice for Dunelm’s developer team. Powered by Algolia, search conversion on the Dunelm site increased by 30%, effectively doubling the number of users and resulting in increased revenue.
Chronext, a global luxury watch marketplace, moved from a monolithic ecommerce stack that was hard to change, extend, and operate to a headless stack built with tools from Commercetools, Frontastic, Contentful, and Algolia.
Rolled out in just 5 months, the headless stack provided significant benefits for Chronext. The brand was able to control its sites (both content and products) without IT specialists, and it could deliver new features significantly faster. Buyer conversion rates, driven by a better UX, Algolia search, and SEM/SEO improvements, increased more than 10%, exceeding expectations.
Other well-known brands using headless architecture include:
- Best Buy
Solutions for making the move to headless commerce
As more companies deploy headless commerce architecture, it’s likely to soon supplant traditional architecture as the dominant methodology. If your company has not moved to headless commerce, now’s the ideal time to plan your move and make the switch.
A number of solutions for adopting headless commerce are available, with more on the way. The most widely used include:
Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Salesforce Commerce Cloud is an all-in-one software-as-a-service (SaaS) ecommerce platform that enables users to create a powerful online presence with relative ease. Headless commerce is integral to the platform’s capabilities, empowering brands to enrich customer experiences through APIs, experience managers, and application of third-party tools from Heroku, MuleSoft, Algolia, and other partners.
Commercetools offers a versatile ecommerce platform as a service (PaaS) that allows merchants to build and connect world-class shopping experiences on the Web, smartphones, tablets, or points of sale.
Elastic Path is a headless ecommerce system that supports templateless ecommerce to integrate as middleware with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. The system is API based and specifically targeted to enterprise-level organizations.
Contentful offers a flexible and future-friendly content platform that helps editors manage content and developers serve it to mobile and web applications. Contentful’s API-first platform enables developers to create digital experiences at scale and launch websites and apps faster than with competitors’ platforms.
“Create and deliver extraordinary digital customer experiences without code, without hassle” is the Frontasic value proposition. Its Frontend Management Platform enables users to connect, build pages, and leverage their investments in headless commerce.
Mobify, a Salesforce company, is a modern web storefront for headless commerce that allows brands to customize their commerce experiences fast and frequently, deliver an enhanced shopping experience across any channel, and increase conversion and revenue to drive success in the digital-first economy.
GraphCMS is the first native GraphQL API-first headless content management system. It enables teams around the world to rapidly build and deliver multichannel digital experiences at scale. GraphCMS integrates with any front-end technology, including React, Angular, and Vue.
Prismic is a headless CMS for editing online content. Using Prismic, developers can choose their technology, framework, and language, and then easily manage their content without building out custom dashboards.
Algolia is a Search-as-a-Service platform that helps businesses across industries build leading, personalized Search and Discovery experiences on every channel, driving greater engagement and conversion and increasing return on digital investment.
With its Search-as-a-Service API and advanced front-end libraries, Algolia enables organizations to transition to a headless architecture and rely on a unique solution to power all their front-end product and content-based experiences. Algolia can enable your headless architecture to take full advantage of all indexed data and push it to any CMS, device, or endpoint, at scale and intelligently, to help you achieve your goals.
To learn about Algolia’s headless commerce integration for Salesforce Commerce Cloud, see “Announcing Algolia headless commerce integration for Salesforce Commerce”.
Algolia offers two informative webinars pertaining to headless commerce:
- From stale monolith to Headless PaaS: CHRONEXT’s journey to a future-proof e-commerce PWA
- Driving conversion & growth at Dunelm with world class Search