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Do you know what headless ecommerce is?

Do you know what headless ecommerce is?

Darren Gallagher

The world of ecommerce is evolving. It might sound cheesy, but it’s true.

At Patchworks we’ve tried to be at the forefront of that change in more ways than one. Recently, however, we’ve been helping more and more companies get set up with a composable, headless approach.

That’s because we believe going headless is the key to future success for the ecommerce industry.

But, you might be wondering, what actually is headless ecommerce? Not just the definition; but what does it mean for the industry, and why do we prefer it to the current way of doing things?

What does it mean to go headless?

A headless ecommerce system decouples the front and back ends of your platform, meaning the code shares no resources and are stored on their own, individual system.

However, they still communicate with each other. The back-end uses data through an API, whilst the front-end can be developed and customised flexibly and efficiently.

That results in a cohesive operation where front-end and back-end developers can optimise their own areas without fear of negatively impacting other teams.

Legacy ecommerce platforms typically don’t allow for this - which is why, as integration specialists who deal with lots of data and different clients, headless is often preferable.

What are the benefits?

We haven’t thrown our hat into the headless ring for no good reason. Going headless comes with a range of benefits to ecommerce companies, their tech and software partners, and their customers.

More control over your experience

Perhaps the main draw of going headless is the control it gives you over your website, and how you present your brand to your customers.

Traditional ecommerce architecture is monolithic, coming in one package where your tech’s front and back ends all share the same resources. Essentially, you’re limited in what you can integrate with your platform because an incompatible back-end integration could cause havoc on your front-end, or vice-versa.

With headless, the back-end and front-end are decoupled, giving you much more flexibility over what you can implement with your platform.

Want to go best-of-breed and pick the best ERP, WMS, payment system, and personalisation software? Headless empowers you to do that, letting you have more control over the experience you provide to your customers.

Eases burden on your developers

Have a word with your IT and development team. More than likely, they’ll confirm that working with a headless architecture is much more preferable than traditional ecommerce methods.

That’s because it lets them do their job more efficiently; by decoupling the front and back ends of your system, each part can be developed and maintained separately without affecting other teams.

This comes with a few advantages of its own. For one, you can enact changes or scale systems up or down as and when it’s needed without fear of throwing other components into disarray.

It also simplifies testing, so you can be secure in the knowledge that whatever you implement works properly before it goes live - without having to mess around with as much code.

Faster site speeds and time-to-value

Traditional ecommerce requires the front and back ends of your system to share resources, which can result in a sluggish website experiencing glitches and bugs.

That’s especially true when you consider the different devices you need to optimise for. Mobile ecommerce sites are notorious for being slow and poorly optimised - and you’re doing yourself no favours by using traditional ecommerce methods to design it.

By going headless and uncoupling your front and back ends, APIs will work behind the scenes to deliver instructions put through the front-end. That way, as soon as someone clicks add-to-cart, that information will be sent through instantaneously for a smooth and quick customer experience.

But it’s not just about the speed of your site. Headless also reduces your time-to-value; or, broadly speaking, how long it takes a business to solve a customer’s issue and when they will see a return on their investment.

Applying this to the customer experience, a decoupled ecommerce system means you can better experiment and test different strategies without completely overhauling your code. A well optimised and maintained website means your customers will see and derive value from your products much faster than through a traditional architecture.

What are the risks which come with going headless?

As great as some of the advantages of a headless architecture are, it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Every drastic change in strategy and infrastructure is going to come with some caveats - so here’s some of the things to be aware of if you’re considering headless ecommerce.

Initial implementation costs

Traditional ecommerce architecture is an out-of-the-box solution, and though it still costs money to go with legacy platforms, the price is typically a set cost with minimal risk. That’s excellent for teams with a more limited budget as they can select pre-developed themes from providers such as Shopify or Magento.

Without a pre-rendered and developed foundation, you may need to spend slightly more time and money on front-end development to ensure any customer interactions register and trigger an API call.

Finding the right tech

One of the greatest advantages of headless ecommerce is how it empowers companies to choose best of breed software suited to their needs, with far less limitation.

But the challenge this raises is how to actually find those solutions, as well as the difficulty and cost of integration.

Traditional architecture, for example, essentially provides you with a range of solutions compatible with your chosen platform. And whilst headless gives you more choice, it also means more work and often higher costs.

Potential bottlenecks and use by non-technical teams

One of the great things about traditional ecommerce architecture is that you essentially have an ecommerce platform and tech stack ready to go. You don’t need as much front-end development, meaning you can spend more time and money on other areas of your business.

With headless, you need to consider that you’re starting from scratch from both the front-end and back-end. And although you’ll eventually reap the benefits, be careful not to put too much strain on your developers and cause a bottleneck of work for them to do.

It can be difficult for non-technical ecommerce teams to have direct input into the customer experience when developers are relied on to build the platform from scratch.

However, this challenge can be eliminated through partnering with specialist headless ecommerce companies such as commercetools, who can help you build a bespoke experience through their platform.

Where do integrations come in?

One of the most important things to consider if you’re looking at going headless is the quality of your data integrations.

When you’re implementing a wide range of best of breed solutions, you need to make sure they all work in tandem. Your data from your ecommerce platform needs to flow seamlessly to your fulfilment systems, and that applies to everything from your CRM to your ERP.

A successful headless ecommerce operation relies heavily on synergy. You might be creating tech stack combinations which have rarely been tried before, and whilst that offers immense benefits for your business, it also requires a certain level of diligence and powerful data connection only possible with good integrations.

Many companies try to do their integrations in-house, and if you’re looking at going headless, this can cause some major complications. Your developers will already have their work cut out for them with both front-end and back-end development; they don’t need the added pressure of building data connections from scratch.

That’s why partnering with a powerful self-serve integration platform such as Patchworks is such an effective option.

With our low-code/no-code platform, you can plug-in-and-play the best of breed integrations you need to craft an outstanding, bespoke experience for your customers.

For more information on how Patchworks can help you, contact us today for a free consultation and demo.

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