2019 Will be the Year for Headless e-Commerce

November 1, 2018 | Michael Donahue


Control. Flexibility. Organization. The face of e-Commerce is changing in a way that allows the digital realm to adapt to a business’ needs, and not the other way around. As headless e-Commerce makes its way to the forefront of online business, both B2B and B2C companies will be able to separate the front and back-end of their e-Commerce and gain independent control over each.

At its core, headless e-Commerce is simply separating, or “decoupling”, the user experience from the logistics of online retail. But the system has to be independent enough to work without its “head”, otherwise the commerce-end will have no user experience to drive it. In other words, the separate entities have to be big enough and strong enough to function by themselves.

Because of the decoupling, large and prominent companies will likely be the first to go “headless”.  As we move toward the end of the decade, more and more of them will begin to change the construction of their e-Commerce and refocus their efforts on UX and commerce as separate systems.

Here we’ll go over some of the reasons why e-Commerce is shifting, the advantages that “headless” e-Commerce provides, and what to expect in the coming year. Whether you’re CCO of Amazon or a marketing consultant for a baked goods store, the shift towards headless e-Commerce is significant and worth learning about.

Why e-Commerce Is Putting Itself in the Guillotine

Business Ventures

A large number of businesses start out with content-heavy or content-only websites and eventually look to add commerce to their online presence. Instead of redeveloping a new, full-stack site, it is easier for these brands to construct an e-Commerce framework separately.

Integrating content into a brand new system would obviously be messy and costly. But in an effort to save time and money, businesses are starting to develop front-end and back-end apart from each other, and obviously at different points in time.

Omnichannel Options

Another one of the factors driving headless e-Commerce is mobile traffic. In the past, e-Commerce systems were built for desktop. Many e-Commerce sites existed long before the smartphone. This prompted the development and use of simple, full-stack systems. But things have changed in the past 20 years.

The rise of omnichannel systems causes friction with traditional e-Commerce. The UX and commerce ends of the system are obviously still integrated with a traditional setup. As a result, full-stack developers are required to recode the entire system, and again, this costs time and money.

Simply put, full-stack systems lack the flexibility needed to attend to both ends separately. This is why brands are searching for ways they can adapt. Netflix is a great example, as they are using headless to accommodate the mobile, omnichannel shift.

So, what benefits do these businesses reap?

How Headless Can Help

Better Optimization

As we stated, separating the two ends of a system makes the brand as a whole easier to operate. This isn’t to say that full-stack developers aren’t good at what they do, but if you’re looking to maximize both ends of your e-Commerce, going headless is an easy way to tailor to the needs of each.

Headless e-Commerce allows the UX and commerce ends of the business to be maximally optimized. Separate front-end and back-end teams can apply the absolute best practices to their part of the system without having to waste time or energy learning about the other end.

In a similar way, each team can implement changes without having to restructure the whole system. They can use ideas that might otherwise require front-end or back-end considerations. With headless e-Commerce, businesses can implement these ideas worry-free and ultimately, improve the success rate of new changes.

Easy Changes

Think of traditional e-Commerce as a studio apartment and headless e-Commerce as a multiple-roomed apartment. With traditional systems, if you rearrange your dining room, you must rearrange your living room to coordinate with it. If you paint one side of the room, you have to pain the whole room, otherwise it just won’t look right.

But with headless e-Commerce, you can rearrange a room and it won’t interfere with anything in the room adjacent. Then you can change the other room any way you like, or you could leave it the way it is. Either way, each room remains its own.

Headless e-Commerce might require both front-end and back-end developers, but the payoff is that the time and cost involved with making changes is essentially cut in half.  Whereas, traditional systems automatically double their workload. Both ends are so closely integrated and codependent that one cannot rearrange without affecting the other.

Tailored Data

As you might’ve guessed, the flexibility of a modular system allows for better data, which is specific to each end. This gives businesses the opportunity to make better-informed decisions when it comes to implementing changes and optimizing the front-end or back-end.

Tailoring your analytics also allows the front-end and back-end teams to obtain data that is useful to them, specifically. When the data and feedback is specific, business goals can be specific as well. The idea is that aiming at a smaller target will decrease the margin for error.

Similarly, user tests can be conducted separately. What do users want from content? What do they want from e-Commerce services? Depending on your business goals, narrowing the scale could provide more revealing data, which can help improve the user experience and maximize customer satisfaction on both ends.

What Headless Can’t Do

A headless e-Commerce setup requires special attention for the front and back end, and this could make it much more demanding - or unrealistic - for smaller brands. One of the positive aspects of full-stack development is that its construction is simple. Because it’s a streamlined framework, it requires either one developer or one team, and there’s no need to complicate it.

Headless will also not work for a business if the commerce end doesn’t function on its own. The majority of e-Commerce brands can’t separate front-end from back-end without muddying the waters. In order to adapt and separate the two ends, e-Commerce should be built-to-scale.

What 2019 Might Bring

The benefits of headless e-Commerce make it an appealing option for modern businesses with modern needs. An increase in mobile and omnichannel traffic demands more flexibility, especially when it comes to evolving and making changes.

While headless e-Commerce increases in popularity, it will mostly be large and updated businesses that hop on the bandwagon. Larger brands like Amazon face different challenges that are obviously more complex. Being able to separate the front and back end of e-Commerce allows them to meet challenges in a way that is easier, faster, and cheaper.

Topics: e-Commerce User Experience Emerging Technology

About the Author
Michael Donahue

Mike Donahue, Director of Technology at Falls Digital has extensive web platform experience working in both Architect and Developer roles to achieve robust technical solutions across many platforms including: Sitecore, Salesforce, ExactTarget, Ektron, Umbraco, ASP.Net, MVC, Java and Liferay. Mike is Sitecore certified and has nearly a decade of experience working directly with the platform. Mike has tackled a wide range of projects and has provided diverse solutions to fulfill the unique requirements of each client.

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