March 1, 2024

What Is Headless Commerce Software & Why Use It?

Nadya Bakhur

Researcher, Technical Writer

Ecommerce

What is headless commerce software?
March 1, 2024

What Is Headless Commerce Software & Why Use It?

Nadya Bakhur

Researcher, Technical Writer

Ecommerce

What is headless commerce software?

What do the users see when they visit your website? The interface, right you are! In other words, they observe the "head" of your solution. The server part is responsible for the correct functioning of this "head" —  the platform that stores and manages data. For the seamless operation of an online store, it is often necessary to change the interface depending on your customers' needs without rebuilding the server part. This is what headless commerce does. Now you understand the origin of such a strange name, right?

This article will overview how headless commerce works, outline the advantages of applying the headless architecture to your solutions, and discover the most popular headless commerce platforms, together with some use cases and examples.

What is headless commerce?

Headless commerce is a software architecture that divides the front-end layer from the rest of the online store. Applying this type of architecture, ecommerce business owners get more flexibility to set the storefront up and to make necessary updates to the front end without touching the back end.

Before we dig deeper, let's brush up on these two concepts:

  • Interface. User Interface (UI) is everything a visitor sees when entering a website. This is the most important means of interaction with a potential client, the primary advertising tool that can attract and repel visitors; 
  • Back-end. All the rest, including the inner architecture, server, and databases - all the systems and processes responsible for the flawless website operation.  

Headless commerce solutions' architecture helps brands apply all their imagination to create incredible consumer experiences that span all channels and devices—without restrictions or boundaries. 

If you want access to the latest news on technology, branding, marketing, and exclusive interviews with top brands and agencies worldwide, try visiting the DesignRush Spotlight page - and stay informed!

How is headless architecture organized? 

We discovered that the secret of headless commerce software is in separate operations of the interface and server parts. How is this implemented? This opportunity appeared thanks to the API, or application program interface — a bridge that transmits requests between the abovementioned levels. 

When a customer places an order, the interface calls the server part through this "bridge." Then, the server, in turn, calls the interface through the same "bridge" — and as a result, the customer sees the product in the cart.

Headless architecture organization

It turns out that an API is a set of codified commands that serves as an intermediary between the user and the platform itself. It makes connecting additional services, features, and capabilities to your architecture easy. For example, it is possible to add any internal system you need, including: 

  • Content Management System (CMS);
  • Progressive Web Application (PWA);
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM);
  • Digital Experience Platform (DXP).

What’s the difference between headless commerce and monolithic architecture?

To better understand it, let's compare the headless commerce workflow with a traditional or monolithic setup. Here are the key differences:

  • Quick settings. If you need to quickly modify your ecommerce website, having solid code that is used in a standard architecture becomes a problem as developers are mostly limited to one technology;
  • Multiple interfaces. The monolithic approach can't offer consumers numerous sales channels and, accordingly, make interaction with the store more accessible;
  • Integrity. In the case of a conventional architecture, new extensions can compromise the entire system, limiting developers' choice of tools. Due to the connection between the server part and the interface, introducing minimal changes is a considerable risk.
Headless commerce vs monolithic architecture

It would seem that nothing prevents you from creating another sales channel, like a mobile application. However, due to the lack of a single back-end, interaction between these sales channels will be minimal, as well as sales efficiency.

What are the benefits of headless commerce?

Following the above, we can conclude that cutting the system into modules is the future of ecommerce. This approach has enormous potential, and investors are starting to realize it.

Let's outline the critical headless commerce benefits.

Limitless customizations & design options

Headless ecommerce platforms allow businesses to achieve the look and feel they want for their brand. eCommerce business owners can design original, impactful, and remarkable websites that radically differ from the competitors and enhance the customer experience. 

Since the front end is separate from the back end, it's much easier to make changes to the front end, knowing that you won't break any back-end operations. The cloud-based commerce solution lets you quickly update your store from any device.

Faster page load time

Fast website load time satisfies even the most demanding customers, as the web pages are loaded in just a second or two. Additionally, it is a meaningful factor for search engine ranking: the faster your website loads, the lower the bounce rate will be, and, consequently, the more customers will see your web store on Google.

Unfortunately, traditional ecommerce platforms don't favor speed much, and websites require more time to load. Meanwhile, 47% of customers say they expect mobile pages to load in three seconds or less, and headless architecture helps to achieve the necessary values.

Flexibility

Headless commerce software allows you to create many interfaces without worrying about the entire system's integrity. Even if a new technology appears, the operation of the online store will not be disrupted - it can easily be connected to the existing system.

Time and cost-efficiency

Headless commerce is a rational way of handling business, achieving excellent results, and saving significant time and resources. First, your ecommerce solution is brought to market quickly, as there is no need to change the back end whenever you want to edit the interface. Such efficiency will allow you to get ahead of competitors and strengthen your client audience. Second, developing headless commerce solutions may seem expensive from a long-term perspective, but the system's efficiency can pay off the investment and subsequently bring profit.

Omnichannel commerce opportunities

Going on with the benefits offered by headless cms, let's re-emphasize that the interface is separated from the solution's back end in this structure. It doesn't just mean that you can easily change the look of your web store; it means that you get numerous opportunities to add new retail channels easily, including: 

  • Enable shopping with home assistants like Google Home;
  • Provide access to Internet of Things devices such as smart watches, intelligent household appliances, etc.
  • Easily connect to external markets such as Amazon.

Ultimately, your store starts reminding a dragon with multiple heads reaching the customers through various channels. This dragon catches leads and orders from each head and sends them to a common processing center.

Does headless commerce have any drawbacks?

There is no single formula to build a successful ecommerce business. Every technology has limitations, and headless architecture is no exception. There are two disadvantages that you should be informed about before opting for headless commerce:

  • Financial investments. The new approach will require money. A non-standard approach to operating a headless commerce solution requires special maintenance and specific technological support. When the system makes a profit, all costs will be recouped, but it is still worth understanding that investments are inevitable.

  • Development team. Technological diversity implies the presence of experienced specialists. If simple monolithic solutions can be delivered using a website builder and without external help, a rather complicated headless commerce system requires a little more effort and investment.

When should you switch to headless commerce?

So, how do you understand when your business needs to transition to headless architecture? If one of the listed points suits you, you can safely change the existing system:

1. Your business operates globally. Most online stores are focused on working in several countries. Reasonably, each of them has its market specifics. To grow sales, in this case, you must provide a business model that meets the requirements of any client from any country. If you understand that your business lacks multi-channel capabilities, feel free to switch to headless commerce.

2. You are longing for easier business development. When using headless commerce platforms, system failures are eliminated. So, if one of the services causes problems, nothing can stop you from quickly and simply replacing it with another, avoiding the "abrupt transition".

3. Your business is customer-oriented. Do you need non-standard selling methods that would set you apart from numerous competitors? Do you want to follow the changing shopping behavior of your target audience? Do you wish to reach your customers most appropriately, whether they are online shopping from a mobile device or using simple vending machines? Headless commerce will help you deal with these issues and remain in touch with your clients. 

However, starting your solution based on headless architecture or migrating to a headless cms may still seem difficult to decide on without a comprehensive expert opinion. 

NEKLO has been working in ecommerce development for more than a decade. We can analyze your case, providing the approximate cost estimates and helping you understand whether it will be beneficial, particularly for your business, which platform to opt for, and how long it will take to launch the project.

The initial call is free, so you don't commit to anything. You will receive expert answers to the questions that bother you, and you will be able to make an informed decision.

Top 5 headless commerce platforms

It may seem that choosing a platform for building a headless ecommerce solution is a difficult task. Still, it is enough to compare your business needs with the capabilities of headless commerce platforms. 

We have selected five platforms that have proven to be high-quality and effective.

Magento (Adobe Commerce)

Surprisingly, Magento meets almost all modern online merchants' requirements. The platform satisfies any need: you can provide a mobile experience through various applications, AR and VR devices, etc. These capabilities are provided by the Adobe Commerce engine, which integrates seamlessly with other tools to make your solution more accessible.

What is headless Magento?

Integrations

Magento offers the broadest field for integrations with various payment, accounting, marketing, and inventory management platforms and solutions through the REST and SOAP web API frameworks. PayPal Checkout, Facebook Sync, and Google eCommerce Analytics are included in the plan, and other integrations will need additional investments.  

Customer service

Magento (Adobe Commerce) has a professional Help Center that users can address whenever an issue occurs. It offers a rich knowledge base, provides questions to the most frequently asked questions, and there is always an opportunity to create a ticket requesting the Adobe Commerce experts for help.

Moreover, the platform has a vast developers' community, and certified specialists are ready to deal with all the Magento development issues. 

Customization

Headless commerce is generally aimed at bringing an exceptional user experience, and to reach this goal, Magento offers its users unlimited customization options. You are free to add any feature you wish through the extensions available on the Adobe Commerce Marketplace or by contacting a reliable Magento developer specializing in Magento add-on development

Pricing

Adobe provides two different options:

  1. Magento Open Source

It is a free solution, but the offered features are limited to the very essentials that an online merchant may need, including:

  • Drag-and-drop website editor, relatively straightforward to a new user, allowing you to move the blocks of the future website;
  • Mobile optimization;
  • Some basic integrations with payment gateways, shipping, and checkout options;
  • Access to the extensions marketplace.

Magento Open Source is attractive to ecommerce newcomers right because it is free of charge. However, it is impossible to build a competitive ecommerce solution without investing funds: a domain name, web hosting, regular backups, security patch updates, and the general website upkeep will require money. 

  1. Adobe Commerce

Adobe Commerce is a comprehensive ecommerce solution with advanced marketing functions, adherence to Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards, technical assistance, and other valuable options. 

Following the Adobe policies, the pricing is calculated according to each case's business requirements and needs. To know the cost estimates, you must fill in the form on the website, submit contact information, and wait for a call back from the Adobe Commerce sales representative. 

Both options are suitable for building a headless commerce solution. Magento Open Source will, however, require more investment as some of the features included in the Adobe Commerce are not provided for the free version.

Pros & cons

Benefits:

  • Highly scalable and customizable;
  • Provides free version;
  • Offers SEO opportunities;

Drawbacks:

  • Mostly suits the needs of large businesses operating globally;
  • Requires the work of experienced developers.

Shopify Plus

Shopify is one of the best headless ecommerce platforms, providing a wide range of plugins and tools and a built-in payment system. Hydrogen, Shopify’s React-based framework, provides numerous opportunities to develop headless storefronts faster. 

Integrations

Shopify Plus allows users to work on SEO, send emails, and manage company social media accounts. For example, running advertising campaigns on Facebook, interacting with client groups, and sending personalized email newsletters is possible.

Customer service

Users have access to support through platform specialists and online resources:

  • The help center contains official platform documentation, training videos, and articles;
  • The forum is an open place to discuss various professional topics with other users, find valuable links and groups for collaboration;
  • Platform specialists provide online support around the clock through various communication channels, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Customization

Shopify offers opportunities to customize themes and checkouts and add special features and payment options.

Pricing

Shopify Plus experience starts at $ 2,000/month for a fully functioning enterprise headless commerce solution. The price doesn't include the transaction fees that vary depending on the payment processor you can select.   

Pros & cons

Benefits:

  • Integrated hosting, data security, and SEO opportunities;
  • Shopify App Store with numerous extensions, many of which are free to use;
  • Shopify POS, allowing the synchronization of online and offline transactions.

Drawbacks:

  • Monthly fees + commission for every transaction if you don’t use the integrated payment gateway;
  • Closed source code: the store owner depends entirely on service updates, and global changes to the operating logic are impossible.  

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is one of the first ready-made headless commerce solutions with built-in tools for adding products, accepting orders, and organizing shipments and payments. The system allows you to connect to any user's touchpoint, helping to develop a headless storefront for any needs. 

Integrations

The platform easily integrates with popular third-party services via API and ready-made modules. It is possible to connect PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.Net for accepting payments on the site, MailChimp, GetResponse, Constant Contact for email campaigns, and popular delivery services like ShipStation or StitchLabs.

Customer service

BigCommerce is supported by a Help Center functioning 24/7 and offering assistance via phone calls, live chat, and emails. Moreover, the users get access to the knowledge base, full of valuable articles, practical advice, and FAQs section. 

Customizations

The users get access to more than 100 free themes in various styles, so selecting the right design for the brand is possible. To quickly customize the solution, the platform offers ready-made templates. You can change colors, fonts, and block placement.

Pricing

The prices vary according to the selected plan. Thus, it is possible to use the platform for $29/month, billed annually under the Standard plan and up to $299 under the Pro plan.  

Pros & cons

Benefits:

  • High operation speed;
  • Sensitive data security;
  • Easy to use, even for beginners.

Drawbacks:

  • Annual turnover restrictions according to the billing plan;
  • No access to the platform source code

Salesforce Commerce Cloud

Salesforce Commerce Cloud's innovative solutions enable companies to personalize the consumer experience to drive sales growth and launch advertising campaigns, traffic splitting, and A/B testing without technical support. Offering scalable Commerce APIs that separate the back-end from the front-end, Salesforce headless commerce software unlocks flexibility and boosts agility. 

Integrations

Salesforce Commerce Cloud provides a range of related CRM and SaaS (software-as-a-service) marketing services that can be integrated into a customer's solution stack.

Customer Service

Salesforce offers a help center and the necessary developers' documentation to support the users. In addition, the users get access to the "Known Issues" section, where all the currently logged issues are placed, and it is possible to follow the resolution progress.

Customization

Salesforce combines various cloud-based solutions for marketing, sales, and servicing, which are easily integrated, enabling users to adjust their ecommerce website how they wish. 

Pricing

Salesforce doesn't publish pricing directly. However, if you need a B2C solution, there are three pricing plans. The price starts with 1% of the gross merchandise value billed annually for the Starter plan. 

Pros & cons

Benefits:

  • Modern and widespread technologies of web development;
  • Fast payback and work flexibility;
  • Scaling with Commerce Managed Runtime.

Drawbacks:

  • Relatively high price;
  • Requires extensive training.

CommerceTools

CommerceTools is one of the platforms that gave the beginning to the concept of headless commerce software in general. The platform has been available since 2013, with Volkswagen Group, Ulta, and Sephora among the clients.

Integrations

The platform supports seamless integrations with Contentstack (content management), Cybersource (payment methods), and Frontstatic (front-end development). The CommerceTools marketplace makes it easy to follow all the new possible integrations. 

Customer service

The platform doesn't demonstrate any open Help Centre available, but the Premium Support option is available for the customers.  

Customization

The customizations with this headless cms are available through APIs. You can realize new fields, add discounts, and manage shipping methods and customer groups with them. 

Pricing

CommerceTools charges an annual fee and offers various third-party services on a pay-as-you-go basis. The yearly fee is proportional to your income rate, so what the price represents for your business will depend on your annual turnover.

Pros & cons

Benefits:

  • Fully API-enabled solution
  • Automation of manual tasks;
  • Quick time-to-market.

Drawbacks:

  • Pricing limitations;
  • Missing integrations to some 3rd party platforms.

Top headless commerce examples in 2023

Headless commerce in 2023 is no longer seen as an utterly unusual solution. This approach will be in demand if it suits businesses of all sizes and helps them eliminate idle services, reduce maintenance and service costs, and automate the workflow.

Some businesses have already managed to write their success stories with headless commerce:

  • K2 Sports offers a variety of goods for active outdoor activities. Launching several websites, they needed to move from a traditional monolithic structure to a more flexible one, providing their customers with content-rich experiences. 

After moving to a headless solution, the company launched eight brands and 16 websites in less than nine months, admitting the boost in productivity by 50%.

  • Michael Kors, a global fashion brand, launched a responsive headless ecommerce website to streamline business processes and provide exceptional customer experience. 

Following the headless commerce approach, the brand increased orders from mobile devices by more than 65%.

  • Coca-Cola, a world-famous beverage company, faced the problem of an old, hard-to-update website. They switched to a headless commerce solution because they needed more transparency and flexibility.

The API-driven website helped to start adding new features quickly and without any impact on customer experience, which, in turn, helped to improve engagement and enhance business growth. 

Conclusion

Today, it is impossible not to follow modern technologies. You must meet incoming requests to attract customers and ensure a high sales level. Headless commerce will allow you to quickly innovate your business and focus on the future. Another question is, are you ready for this?

If you are ready to go headless and improve your online retail solution, contact our ecommerce development specialists and get a comprehensive consultation on the headless commerce software development processes.