Headless Commerce: The Ultimate Guide to Headless CMS in eCommerce

Consumers can now make purchases away from their laptops, smartphones, and tablets; and yet the IoT era has barely begun.

Headless Commerce: The Ultimate Guide to Headless CMS in eCommerce

Chloe Spilotro 02.04.2019

COVID-19 served as a catalyst for eCommerce growth. In 2020 and 2021, the eCommerce industry saw unprecedented growth, jumping from USD 3.3 trillion in 2019 to 4.5 trillion in 2021 according to Statista

Headless CMSs have opened the door for new ways in which online stores and eRetailers can deliver digital content to more visitors across the globe. From kiosks to smart speakers to connected buttons in our kitchens, consumers can now make purchases away from their laptops, smartphones, and tablets; and yet the IoT era has barely begun. 

In this article, we take a deeper look into the world of headless eCommerce and the best practices eCommerce brands should follow should they decide to go headless.

What Is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is a term that is used to describe when the frontend of your eCommerce platform, usually an online website, is separated, or decoupled, from the backend, which stores all the files, content, inventory, functionality, and folders that relate to your eCommerce store.

Essentially, the headless commerce architecture is identical to that of a headless CMS, with the main difference being that a headless commerce platform is a headless CMS that also provides eCommerce capabilities.

This separation between the frontend and backend provides retailers with more flexibility in terms of where they can deliver their experiences. This headless architecture utilizes API calls to push and pull content from the backend to multiple platforms including IoT devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple Watch, mobile apps, and web-based applications.

For example, when the customer clicks a “Buy Now” button on their mobile device, your headless CMS’ frontend sends an API call to the backend to process the order in the database. Then, the backend sends another API call to the frontend to show the customer that his or her order has been placed to create a seamless commerce experience.

Why is Headless eCommerce Growing in Popularity?

The rising popularity of the headless commerce platform boils down to two factors.

First, when eCommerce initially came onto the scene, a large majority of traffic came from desktop browsers. As a result of this, we saw a plethora of platform solutions, which we will refer to as a traditional eCommerce platform, emerge. A traditional platform comes with a tightly linked frontend and backend.

However, as technology began to evolve, and we were introduced to newer connected devices and applications like smartphone apps, IoT devices, digital signage, and other connected devices , we witnessed a major disruption in consumer behavior because it is now possible to collect data to understand customer segments and behaviors, powering a new era of data-enabled eCommerce content management. With a headless commerce system, eCommerce stores can leverage different channels to show users purchase suggestions derived from their interactions with the store in different devices and across different touchpoints. 

If we take a look at current consumer spending habits, both mobile and voice commerce sales have skyrocketed. Mobile commerce sales take in approximately $100 billion a year in the US alone, while voice commerce sales are expected to reach $40 billion in sales by 2022.

However, a traditional eCommerce platform generally doesn’t provide eCommerce brands the capability to deliver experiences to these devices.

The second factor, and this might be the most pivotal one, is that we are now seeing more brands, who have historically used their site for the sole purpose of content distribution, are now expanding to eCommerce - in particular, in the B2B space. A study by Statista reveals that B2B eCommerce sales will reach  $1.2 trillion by 2021.

The main reason for this is that we are now seeing more millennials, a generation that expects a personalized experience on handheld devices, entering the workforce. According to the Harvard Business Review, nearly half of B2B buyers, as of 2021, are millennials.

Headless Commerce vs Traditional eCommerce

The main difference between a headless commerce platform such as our friends at Foxy and a traditional commerce platform is that with a headless solution, you get freeflow access to data from a variety of sources. And you also have the freedom to do what you want to do with this data.

A traditional commerce platform, on the other hand, comes with a built-in frontend, which manages all your data processes and functions, generally control how you can present your content and how you access your data.

Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between a headless eCommerce platform and a traditional eCommerce platform:

Headless Commerce Platform Traditional CMS
Developer Freedom With the headless architecture, developers have the freedom to develop their own custom-made frontend applications that can meet your business requirements and objectives. And thanks to the headless platform’s API driven environment, developers have more control over what should be displayed and how it should be presented. The users of a traditional commerce solution are constrained to the presentation possibilities that the coupled platform gives them. A traditional platform can use themes that devs can customize, but they are very restrictive when it comes to presenting content and building digital experiences. 
Room for Experimentation Headless commerce enables brands to experiment and create different experiences. Instead of having to wrestle with an inflexible architecture and the disjointed tools of a traditional eCommerce platform, brands can easily implement commerce-related content to any device or touchpoint. Traditional platforms lack the tools to give developers and marketers a playground to experiment with different digital experiences. Traditional commerce platforms often leverage third-party plugins to enhance their capabilities, but plugins won’t take you far. 
Future-proof The API-driven environment of a headless eCommerce platform enables you to quickly adapt to the latest innovations that will arise in the IoT-era. When a new device emerges, you can simply retrieve the API, or create your own API, for that new technology and then plug it straight into the headless CMS. The couple architecture isn’t well-suited to deliver digital experiences to other than the traditional mobile and browser-based channels. While it’s possible that you find a plugin that enables you to create content for other channels, its never going to work as a headless commerce platform and the experiences will still feel disjointed. 
Speed Thanks to its decoupled architecture, headless commerce platforms allow you make quick changes to your frontend without affecting the backend. What this entails is that you can add new functionalities and integrations in much less time and energy. To give you an example, you can make a quick compliance update to your mobile app without having to reboot your system. Traditional commerce platforms are often bloated with third-party plugins and unnecessary functionalities that don’t allow them to scale and make changes to your websites and digital experiences fast enough to stay ahead of the competition. Also, if you need to update something in a traditional commerce system, you face the possibility of breaking something and damaging your online store.

Benefits of Headless Commerce

Omnichannel Marketing

By leveraging a headless content management system, an eCommerce store gains the tools to deliver products, content, and other kinds of digital experience to every existing channel. Plus, you gain a platform ready to connect with other channels yet to exist. With a headless commerce system you can sell through Alexa skills, digital signage, progressive web apps and even through IoT connected washing machines. The world is your oyster. 

Increased Flexibility & Adaptability

Headless commerce systems come ready to help you scale your storefront. The always-connected nature of the headless solutions give you increase flexibility to connect with your shoppers across different touchpoints that traditional commerce solutions won’t be able to reach. A headless commerce platform interacts with your customers no matter where they are. Plus, by giving you full control over your frontend, headless platform enables you to build your commerce solution without adhering to any structure. 

Personalized Customer Experience

In a headless platform, eCommerce store owners can create and deliver personalized experiences to different customers in different segments. A headless commerce system allows brands to build customer-centric experiences that trascend the device the customer is using. They also give you tools to test and optimize your digital experiences to boost your conversion rate and bring more customers to your storefront.

Faster Time to Market

Being able to test approaches faster and deliver digital experiences faster is another important benefit associated to the headless architecture. In a headless commerce solution frontend and backend developers can work independently without interrupting one another. That also means you can separate content from code and give marketers the freedom they need to create content and product descriptions without interrupting the devs’ work. 

Better Conversion Rates

Websites and apps built using headless architecture are faster than traditional-built eComerce websites. Faster loading speeds have always been associated to better conversion rates and increased time spent on your store. A fast-loading eCommerce store will also offer a better user experience, increasing the chances of your customers returning to your store and become clients.

Read More: 7 Benefits of Headless Commerce

Are There Any Limitations to Using a Headless Commerce Platform?

Even though headless commerce is by far more advantageous in helping you compete in the IoT-era, just like everything else, it does hold some limitations that you need to keep in mind:

  • Headless Commerce Can Get Expensive: Depending on if you’re looking into a purely headless solution, you will need to hire a developer to create your frontend presentation layer from scratch, which can quickly lead to large overheads.

  • Not Every Platform Comes With Preview Options: This is a major blow for marketers. Not being able to preview your content before your consumer does will hinder your ability to test and get a feel of the end-user experience. (This is why we work together with headless ecommerce platforms, like Foxy, so that marketers still can maintain their workflow.)

  • There May Be Limited Functionality: Features such as how you want your promotions to be displayed may be limited in a headless setup. The available functionalities you have out-of-the-box will vary with different headless CMS providers, and depending on whether the platform supports third-party integrations, you might be heavily relying on a developer to create those functionalities for you.

However, keep in mind that most of these limitations are focused on a pure headless eCommerce platform. A decoupled CMS —also called hybrid CMS—, which is also headless, comes with a frontend presentation layer out-of-the-box. We will go into this in more detail under the “How to Choose The Best Headless CMS for eCommerce” (Fast Forward).

Tips for Getting Headless Commerce Right

Remember the Limitations of Headless Commerce

Just like we said earlier, while the headless architecture has plenty of potential, going headless just for the sake of it isn’t the best recipe for success. A headless content management system with eCommerce capabilities can work wonders for your eCommerce website, but if you’re not technologically mature enough, chances are that going headless might introduce new complexity to your operations.

Go Omnichannel, Not Multi-Channel

It’s not enough to be able to deliver a multi-channel experience on a headless platform, you must strive to deliver omnichannel experiences. A study by Aspect Software showed that businesses that adopt an omnichannel strategy achieve a 91 percent year-over-year customer retention rate.

To differentiate between the two, multi-channel is when a brand delivers an experience to different channels separately. Omnichannel also involves delivering experiences to multiple channels, but instead of operating each channel separately, the different channels work together to provide a holistic and seamless experience.

In other words, an omnichannel customer experience involves delivering a continuous and consistent experience across a range of channels.

For instance, if a customer visits a store’s site on a mobile app to add a few items to their basket, they can finish making the purchase on their laptop. To expand this example even further, let us say if the customer wants to query the product before making their purchase, they can contact customer support who has the customer’s basket items visible on their screen.

The fundamental feature of omnichannel delivery is to prevent the customer from having to repeat themselves, after all, a study by Accenture highlighted that 89 percent of customers get frustrated for having to repeat their issues to multiple representatives.

Provide Seamless Payment Options

No matter what channel you are using to process your customer’s payment, the quicker and more painless it is, the better. Payment procedures that require multiple steps (or multiple checkout pages) will not bode well with impatient customers, especially during peak periods like Black Friday or the holiday sales.

By separating frontend and backend, marketers can integrate different payment options or shopping carts into their eCommerce websites. A headless solution gives you more possibilities when it comes to receiving payments from different sources. There are plenty of options, payment gateways, and shopping carts you can integrate with your store so you can build a top-performing eCommerce.

To improve your conversion rate, we highly advise that you opt for a single page checkout. eCommerce giants like Amazon store their consumer details, in a secure manner, to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete an order.

Keep Track of Your Inventory

In addition to providing an omnichannel customer experience, it is critical that you have real-time visibility of your eCommerce operations, especially when it comes to inventory management during peak seasons.

Inventories require constant monitoring and need to be replenished with new products or goods to coincide with demand. You also need to coordinate delivery schedules for stock items that are running low but are in high demand.

Leverage Data to Offer Personalized Recommendations

Another aspect to the successful delivery of omnichannel customer experience is to deliver a personalized experience. A study by Marketing Insider Groups has observed that 78 percent of consumers say that personal and contextually relevant content increased their intentions to make a purchase.

Personalization is not possible without having access to relevant consumer data and being able to utilize this data to its full effect. IoT devices provide eCommerce brands a wealth of in-depth consumer data. And by using tools with a personalization engine and integrating them into your headless platform, you will be able to deliver personalized content directly to your consumer.

You can take personalization a step further by utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to continuously learn about your consumers on an individual basis so you can deliver unique experiences.

Choosing the Right Headless CMS for Headless Commerce

As previously mentioned, a headless eCommerce is essentially a headless CMS with eCommerce integrated into the platform. Now there are a multitude of headless CMS solutions that can provide eCommerce capabilities, but in order to choose the right one is that is suitable for your business, we recommend you pick a decoupled CMS.

When looking for a decoupled CMS solution, make sure it has the following features:

Marketer-Friendliness

Whether you want to launch a landing page or microsite to coincide with your main online store, you need a solution that allows marketers to create these campaigns quickly and easily, and with little or no technical support. This gives marketers more control over the platform and they will experience less friction with the IT team.

Integrable With Any MarTech Tool

Regardless of what technology you use, your decoupled CMS must work and integrate with any martech tool and its data. Having this feature will enable marketers to have all their favorite tools including marketing automation, CRM, and analytics, in one place.

Provides Seamless Collaboration

In addition to integrating with tools, your decoupled CMS will become the central hub for eCommerce activities. That means all of your team members will be accessing the platform. The ideal solution should come with a collaboration feature where your team can create workflows, set up an audit trail, and set user permissions.

Automated SEO

There’s no point having an eCommerce website that can’t be found on search engines. Having a platform that can automate your SEO without having to install a load of plugins will give you more time to optimize experiences on your online store across a range of channels.

Why Choose Zesty.io For Your Headless Commerce Strategy

Zesty.io is a decoupled CMS solution that is designed and built for marketers. Zesty.io’s headless offering enables users to send content to multiple websites, VR/AR, IoT devices, and other services without heavy IT involvement. We integrate with virtually every headless e-commerce engine, so you can grow into a flexible solution that is agile enough to adapt to business needs as they evolve.

One of our clients, Sony, used the platform to deploy their new website, for their new range of Alpha cameras, 2.25x faster than originally anticipated. Other clients such as Rocket League, Hofbrauhaus, and PetDesk have also seen similar results.

For more information on how Zesty.io can supersede your eCommerce brand above your competition, get in touch with us today.

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Chloe Spilotro photo

Chloe Spilotro

Marketing Manager, Zesty.io

Marketing Manager at Zesty.io. Hooked onto the platform since first using it through the Zesty.io Incubator Program at the University of San Diego. Passionate about all things marketing, IoT, and helping businesses leverage technology to grow and become major players in their industries.... Learn More

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