Last updated: What is headless commerce: Definition, benefits, examples, history

What is headless commerce: Definition, benefits, examples, history


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Headless commerce is the de-coupling or separation of the front-end and back-end store within an e-commerce solution, platform, or application. Headless commerce platforms store, manage, and deliver content via only the backend, decoupling it from the template or theme, which is often know as the “head.” This architecture provides developers and brands a great deal of flexibility to create whatever they need, and greatly helps to improve the overall customer experience.

Human-speak, please: Headless commerce broken down

  1. Commerce touches everything, and headless commerce removes friction points for developers and users
  2. Headless commerce is the separation of the front end content presentation layer and the back end development of an e-commerce application, and supports the omnichannel expectation of today’s consumers
  3. Headless commerce reduces dependency on IT, making front-end changes easier because they don’t require back-end updates

In an era where the customer defines the buying journey, it doesn’t make sense to handcuff the front and back-end because the primary functions of those layers aren’t synchronous in who they aim to please.

Discover the trends shaping the future of e-commerce HERE.

Brands losing their heads: Headless commerce examples

We all know that people use the internet differently than they did ten years ago, or even two years ago.

The explosion of apps, payment methods, and fast-growing remote work options have meant that the scales of desktop versus smartphone or tablet internet surfing and purchasing have tipped.

People want things when, where, and how they want them, and as their tech-savvy has grown, their patience has diminished.

Headless commerce examples:

  1. Nike: Nike wanted a mobile-first strategy to align with their goals of more mobile sales. In time, headless made big returns for them, as they gained more market share than their biggest competitors.
  2. Venus: Adopting a headless approach, Venus saw page-load times drastically decrease, which increased conversion and reduced abandoned carts.
  3. Redbox: Visual content can create very specific challenges for retailers. Using headless via a Single Page Application (SPA) made content more responsive and customers more engaged.
  4. Overstock: Using interactive SPA, Overstock created a new product experience, making product research and browsing simplified, resulting in revenue and conversion increases.
  5. Target: Recognizing that the buying journey has changed, Target used a headless approach to create a seamless customer experience across devices.
  6. Under Armour: Progressive Web Apps (PWA) made the consumer journey faster and seamless, making it simple to navigate from categories to product pages.
  7. Lancôme: This beauty giant improved their UX using PWAs, and saw a jump in conversions thanks to the headless approach.
  8. Carnival Cruise Line: Booking management is a big deal for travel industry titans. Using a headless PWA solution, the booking flow was improved, as was customer engagement, thanks to push notifications that were built into the system.
  9. United Airlines: Wanting to capitalize on an app-like experience, United saw their user flow and UX soar thanks to PWAs.
  10. Lilly Pulitzer: Mobile commerce drove a majority of the retailers web traffic. To make the UX between mobile and desktop more seamless, they relaunched, using PWAs. This change increased both mobile traffic and revenue by double digits.

History lesson: How did things work before headless commerce solutions?

In The Before Times, a ‘full stack’ approach to commerce platforms, digital marketplaces, and web stores with connected front and back-end systems made sense, because most commerce sales were done via one channel: desktop.

Today, consumers expect the same CX and buying experience across all digital and social channels – whenever they want to buy something.

A study by Google revealed consumers are 40% more likely to spend more than planned when experiences are highly personalized – and headless commerce is key to personalization.

Before headless commerce, innovation was impeded with entire sites having each layer inextricably linked, making it nearly impossible to keep up with evolving customer expectations. The functionality of the site hampered site appearance, while web stores tried to control the customer journey. It’s no wonder that conversion opportunities were also hampered.

While the term ‘headless commerce’ has only recently come to the forefront of search engines and e-commerce platforms, the concept of headless – an API-first approach decoupled from the core – isn’t new.

Wikipedia notes that ‘headless commerce was arguably born out of a 2013 Forrester Research report that bemoaned e-commerce vendors falling behind user experience trends and recommended “loosely” coupling the back- and front-ends of e-commerce stores.”

Headless commerce benefits

Customers today want Amazon-like buying experiences – and the benefits of headless commerce make this possible.

  1. Omnichannel becomes a reality with headless: Headless provides brands the ability to deliver product and content across various channels, seamlessly.
  2. Agility and flexibility: Consumers expect personalized experiences, and for companies to adapt on a dime. With headless commerce, the front end of sites can be adjusted to keep pace with customer expectations.
  3. Get to market faster: Headless can help brands cut through the red tape of less agile commerce platforms, and get to market quicker.
  4. Increased conversions: Headless commerce makes testing easier and more nimble, allowing brands to more quickly improve the CX. Running continual optimization tests provides a better understanding of your customer, meaning you can stay one step ahead of your competitors.
  5. Better customer experiences: A seamless customer experience is requirement for brands today, making the journey flow effortlessly across all channels and devices. With headless commerce, data insights like prior consumer purchases are available on the back-end, making personalization across social channels and mobile apps easier.

Watch the power of headless commerce:

Endless aisles of opportunity: The future is headless

It’s clear that the landscape of commerce and consumer expectations has shifted radically over the last couple of year – and will continue to do so.

In the future, the best e-commerce sellers will practice agility on a daily basis, continuously implementing and testing new technologies and features that place the focus on the customer and their experience.

Cloud-based, headless platforms eliminate formerly manual processes, while also creating a world of opportunity within partner ecosystems. Headless commerce can also improve in-store experiences by allowing for real-time inventory updates – meaning quicker turnaround and fewer lost sales due to stock shortages.

The customer reigns – if you’re not providing personalized, seamless buying experiences, your business is at risk. Rather than lose your head over ever-changing market conditions, gain control with headless commerce.

Flexible. Agile. Future-proofed.
The power of hybrid, composable commerce is real.
Discover real-life examples of success HERE

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