Over the last few years, we have seen some monumental and user-friendly changes to how online purchasing works. It is easier than ever to buy anything you want online, from a new sneaker drop to a high-end piece of furniture. 

The shopping experience in most of these stores is tailored to meet the needs of the shopper – and it is curated by experts too. Website designers and UX experts put a lot of time, training, and knowledge into creating a shopping experience that is enjoyable and easy for the customer. 

It also means that the website is usually built to be flexible and can grow as your business does. 

And when that happens, when it is easy, enjoyable, and feels intuitive for the shopper, the business is more likely to see a spike in conversions. 

So what does this have to do with being headless? 

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

What is headless commerce?

Like many things in the online selling world, headless started as a bit of a buzzword but has since moved on to being one of the preferable frameworks for online selling. In fact, you can see headless e-commerce in action across many large websites like United Airlines, Amazon, Walmart, and Nike. 

Not to mention a brand that is usually linked with moving forward at speed – Tesla. 

But what is headless commerce? Typically the backend commerce engine is linked to the customer-facing (frontend layer) of the e-commerce website. 

So how does this make a difference to you as a business? It means that you or your team are able to make some changes to the content of your website but without having to make backend changes. It allows for agile movement from the business, like optimization, designing, and deploying an experience that is ultra user-friendly. 

A headless e-commerce approach alleviates many of the interdependencies that were initially seen in some of the early headless platforms. Right now, there are better options, and it is more adaptable to the business owner’s needs than ever. 

So although the term headless might not seem too friendly, it is actually one of the most agile ways of working and can make a huge difference in how quickly you can implement and pivot to meet new business goals. 

What are the benefits of headless e-commerce?

Although one of the most significant benefits has been covered, i.e., the speed at which a business can implement and adapt – there have to be more benefits to make this something worth investing in. 

Even while there are many platforms that allow you to create a working website yourself, as you grow, you might choose to have a bigger team to manage it. 

The approach that you take should have benefits for everyone on the team. 

Budget control

Let’s face it no matter what you do in your business; you’re going to need to think about your budget. Keeping a close eye on what you are spending at all times and predicting how that will look in the future is a must. 

One of the considerations about cost is that each change you make will require a decent amount of outlay – unless you’re using the headless model. The headless model will cut costs. 

Cost can be tricky for small businesses that need to add new products, make UI changes, and others. Most often, the costs will far exceed what the initial layout was. 

Reducing the overall cost of your business website from this point is a must. 

Reduction of tech

With most traditional websites, everything that needs to be changed at speed will need to go through some development work to get it done. This means moving at a higher speed becomes less possible because you will need to have the developers completing plenty of tasks ahead of the frontend showing them. Technical debt* is something that many e-commerce businesses have some level of, but it can be reduced with headless. 

The knock-on effect of having so many steps ahead of presenting changes to your users is that you do run the risk of missing deadlines time and again. Ultimately you will need to plan everything in advance, which means you are unlikely to manage to launch anything trend-based. 

If you have stakeholders and investors that want to see changes made quickly, deadlines met, and reactions to trends, this is an added level of pressure. And while the backend and frontend are coupled, you are reliant on the developers. 

Delays like this tend to keep happening once they start, and the length of time that it gets extended will increase too. 

Using the headless e-commerce approach, the tie is somewhat severed, and frontend teams can make changes without impacting the backend, and that means two teams can move in unison, and a seamless experience is delivered to the user. 

* What is technical debt? Technical debt is how we refer to the work that gets delayed during the development of a software project. In the case above the headless e-commerce, the framework will dramatically reduce the technical debt. 

There are three types of technical debt: accidental/outdated, bit rot, and deliberate. Accidental means that the initial system or coding was built in a way that requires it to be fixed at a later date or doesn’t work as required and needs to be rectified. Bit rot is where a component implemented ends up being too complex – for no reason other than the team working on it doesn’t understand its purpose. And finally, deliberate technical debt is where the developer and team leaders will make a fact-based decision to do something the quickest way in order to deliver – and can factor in the tech debt repayment window after delivery. 

Photo by Arnold Francisca on Unsplash

Scaling

Getting your business poised for growth isn’t something that is easy, but with headless e-commerce, there are some advantages. As your business scales, you will be implementing and adopting new technology, and it needs to deliver either an improved standard or the standard that you are currently delivering. 

Scaling with a traditional model isn’t easy, and as mentioned above, you are likely to incur high costs and tech debt that will impact your business moving forward. 

Without that coupled frontend and backend, you can have a timed plan to update different parts at different times rather than being required to update the whole store at once. When these projects are done over time, they can be budgeted better, and you are also able to keep a firmer grasp on the timeline. 

Using a headless e-commerce solution, you give your business the ability to scale and grow as new technology and applications become available – and you won’t need to overhaul the entire website each time you do it. 

Content & Merchandise

If you have a member of your team that is focused on creating fresh content for your website, and they need to make simple changes or updates – this can be a nightmare if your website relies on backend changes for these things to happen. It would help if you had something that offers flexibility, and headless e-commerce provides the separation between your CMS and backend that gives your content team the tools they need. 

It means that your team (or you) can personalize the content experiences to your shoppers, and they get to enjoy content-rich pages, merchandising, and AI search.

Omnichannel shopping

If you aren’t aware of omnichannel shopping, here are some things that you need to know about it: 

  • It should be a seamless experience
  • Omni includes apps, social selling, websites, and can be brick-and-mortar stores too
  • Customers can interact with multiple channels and move between them without issues

You need to work with a website or commerce platform that doesn’t limit your ability to meet your customers where they are. A unified experience across every touchpoint means that your customer might start by seeing something on Instagram, head to your local store to check it out in person, then, at a later date, order it through your app, website, or via your social channels. 

A unified experience means the customer knows what to expect at every point, and your branding stays strong throughout. In the mind of your customer, they know who you are, they know what they will get, they know where to find you, and more importantly, they are more likely to remain loyal too. 

The benefits that you will experience from using a headless e-commerce approach will vary based on the business that you have. And, it is entirely possible to switch from a traditional model to a headless model if your business is relatively small. 

If you are happy with a more basic website, then that is great! There is a lot to be said for a website that lets people get what they need without fuss. A website that is intuitive – specifically while navigating – and delivers the information that the user needs is a great starting point. A headless approach can also be taken with smaller websites, and this puts you in a great position to scale and grow; in the meantime: 4 Ways to Improve Your Business Website – Erica R. Buteau.

By Erica Buteau

Change Agent. Daydream Believer. Maker. Creative. Likes love, peace and Jeeping. Dislikes winter, paper cuts and war. She/Her/Hers.

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