Headless eCommerce is a confusing concept to most, understandably. Which is why I have written this article to hopefully help you better grasp the what & why of it.
Headless Ecommerce is an up and comer in the buzzword scene that is the cause of many a head scratch in the industry. This is mainly due to the fact that your average eComm store owner rarely has that much understanding of the technical aspects of what is actually happening under the hood to achieve the effect of a pretty webpage and product offerings with functionality like add to cart and checkout.
To better understand how it works, we have to look at how a website is split into a front-end and a back-end…
This is all the technical stuff that is happening in the background, doing all the hard computational work to keep everything organised. Running off of a database, the back-end receives requests and data from a front-end, processes it and takes actions based on the requests. It is what inserts a new product into the database, creates and tracks orders, maintains stock information and all that stuff that just seems to work. It’s the fancy software that provides the functionality and is built from code, not from just changing settings.
Typically, the front-end is what you see on your screen. When someone loads a product page, the front-end communicates with the backend to tell it the requested URL and then the back-end returns all the information and media required to make the page look how it should, filling out the template with the correct content. If someone adds-to-cart or goes through checkout then what they interact with is the front end, while the back-end is doing all the technical stuff.
Normally, with an eCommerce platform, the back-end and front-end are built for each other. Take Shopify for example, the front-end and back-end are so tightly integrated that many wouldn’t even consider it two different systems. You deal with the interface, your customers deal with the website and and the back-end keeps everything running.
Headless eCommerce on the other hand is different. In this type of system, the backend is built completely independent of a front end, allowing immense versatility in how and what front-ends can interface with it.
This means that it can provide data and content, both ways, to any kind of front-end you can think of. Of course, you’re probably thinking why? The main reason is to make your store work with devices and interfaces beyond that of a simple web browser. For example, you could have a custom app built that can access the backend and deliver a shopping experience that way. Maybe you want to build a Google Voice app so that people can shop with you using their voice assistant… well now you can. Just build the app and have it connect to the backend to deal with the processing of data. It is incredibly future proof, making the addition of any digital front-end possible.
As you may have guessed, the huge benefit is multi-channel selling. You can connect with third-party platforms like Facebook, eBay, virtual reality or more and keep everything in sync together because ultimately, no matter how many front-ends you have, the back-end is the same and doesn’t differentiate. It receives information, processes it and sends back the results, independent of what is making the request.
It is like the difference between someone stuck working behind a checkout counter with just one till and a person who is walking around selling their products on the street, while also taking orders through phone calls, Facebook messages and carrier pigeon.
Having a headless back-end that can interface with any front-end offers a lot more flexibility, control and power compared to a backend that is built just to work with a website, maybe with some integrations bolted on after.
There is no right answer for this question, it is ultimately down to your requirements and more importantly, your resources. Building or buying a headless eCommerce solution requires a lot of technical understanding to achieve and then you will need to have all your front-ends built to interface with it properly as well. Honestly, as of 2021, it is mostly reserved for the big boys due to the investments involved. If you are moving a lot of products though, then it might be worth considering going forward to quickly and easily take advantage of what the future has to offer and keep ahead of the trends.
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