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06/18/2021

3 Factors to Keep in Mind About Headless Commerce

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“Headless commerce” has been a retail buzzword for a few years, but there’s more interest now that the pandemic has accelerated the shift to eCommerce by nearly five years, according to the IBM Retail Index

You’ve probably heard how the right headless strategy can boost conversions, maximize customization and deliver amazing shopping experiences by speeding page load times and delivering full mobile-first functionality. That’s all true, but there’s more to it:

1. What ‘Decoupling’ Really Means in Headless

In simple terms, “headless” means there’s a separation between the frontend of a webstore and its backend with an API in between. But not every platform that uses an API to sync and send data to the frontend is “headless.” A true headless commerce solution offers a complete decoupling from the frontend storefront and backend systems; there should be no interdependency between the two. 

This is an important distinction because many vendors claim to be headless but still require a backend system of theirs to be used, such as a content management system (CMS) or product information management (PIM) solution, in order to get this functionality. Optimally, the headless framework would serve as an API and also as a data layer. With this data layer, merchants can address the transfer of data between the two systems that can often result in an “eventual consistency” issues, i.e., where backend updates (such as new product pricing or item availability) aren’t reflected on the frontend immediately. 

Standalone APIs might look like they’d solve the problem, but they often hit rate limits quickly which can fail or slow the data transfer process, leaving room for eventual consistency issues. A performant API plus a data layer solves this problem by scaling in milliseconds, using static generation to ensure data consistency, speed, and that large traffic spikes don’t negatively affect site performance, and therefore sales.

2. Headless Gives Stakeholders Freedom of Choice 

True headless gives stakeholders the ability to choose solutions that are “best in class” for their unique needs.  From the backend systems such as PIM, order management system (OMS), CRM and CMS to the custom frontend and framework — the choice is theirs. 

3. The Right Headless Solutions Allows Companies to Manage Technical Debt 

Allowing freedom of choice as to what tools a brand uses — or opening the opportunity for companies to consider building their own systems to maximize customization — minimizes vendor lock-in. Brands can select technologies that are a strong product-market fit for them. 

After a few years, if they continue to grow, they may need to overhaul that once-useful stack into something that fits their new needs and wants. If a brand is locked into a vendor that no longer fits their needs, it can become more of a cost than a resource; that’s technical debt, and it can be crippling as it builds over time.

The right headless commerce approach enables brands to build a tech stack that doesn’t lock them in. It gives the freedom of choice to select stack components that work for the company now and down the road. 

The headless hype will keep growing because it’s a transformative approach. The ability to choose a best-in-breed, flexible stack that optimizes workflows and scales well can be invaluable to the right retailer, in addition to a seamless shopper experience. But it’s critical for retailers and eCommerce executives to fully understand how headless works and what resources it requires. 

Headless requires engineering teams and business buyers to come together. In order to fulfill its potential, you’ll need engineers dedicated to your team or an agency on retention to help you reap the maximum benefits. But if you do have the right resources in place, you can leverage headless systems to differentiate your webstore for years to come.

Brian Anderson is the founder, CEO and product architect of e-commerce platform Nacelle

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