Headless Commerce: Simplified Definition

Coined by Dirk Hoerig, co-founder of Commercetools, in 2013, Headless commerce is an e-commerce architecture that refers to decoupling the front-end presentation layer of a website from the back-end ecommerce operations. Developers can design high-quality content experiences with their desired front-end technology, then plug in an ecommerce system to handle all commerce aspects on the backend. Critical in today's retail industry, Headless commerce provides brands and online merchants the option to modify their online storefront to better serve their clients on their online buying journey without affecting or requiring modifications to the back end.

Headless commerce: Technical Definition

ClickPost defines Headless commerce as an infrastructure that separates the frontend user interface from the frontend software of an ecommerce application, enabling the eCommerce platforms to enhance their company’s innovation strategy by delivering new functionality and experiences such as PCI compliance, security, fraud management, inventory management, and use of APIs that engage customers enabling online businesses to stay ahead of their expectations. Headless commerce allows retailers to personalize their online storefront to better connect with their customers on their online buying journey without affecting or requiring modifications to the back end since the front end and back end part can work separately.


What is a headless approach?

A headless approach entails employing distinct technologies for the frontend and backend of your ecommerce website, i.e., separating the presentation layer (front-end) from the ecommerce solution (back-end) that manages all commerce functionality to maximize content usage while also utilizing a best-in-class ecommerce platform on the backend.   

What is the main objective of going headless approach?

  1. Headless commerce avoids the problems of coupled traditional systems by leveraging the APIs as the core to communicate with distinct business systems.

  2. Admins can secure each system by only granting access to those who need it and limiting the amount of data available to the API.

  3. Frontend developers are free to change endpoint layout using the best framework because there is no code linked with the backend database that holds content.

  4. Retailers may benefit from the omnichannel design by creating unique layouts in a fraction of the time.

  5. It supports A/B testing, which can be analyzed against consumer interaction to discover the most effective layout and functionality options.

What is the difference between Headless Commerce vs. Traditional Ecommerce?

There are three major differences between traditional eCommerce and headless commerce.

Traditional Ecommerce Headless Commerce

A web store's front-end is tightly linked to its back-end, allowing limited customization possibilities.

The front and back ends of web stores are separated, allowing the front-end layer to have limitless design opportunities.

Monolithic models are used, which have long and slow market timelines and huge development costs, delaying innovation.

Brands may use powerful APIs to develop commerce experiences on other platforms, offloading the majority of the work and making it easier for businesses to manage updates and improvements to their online store UI.

Administrators and content authors access the system through the same console, dramatically increasing data-related risks.

Headless commerce is predicated on several systems collaborating with precisely adjusted access control lists, removing the chance of a compromised account.


What are the drawbacks of headless commerce?

  1. Because headless commerce platforms lack a front end, creating templates and user interfaces from scratch can be time-consuming and expensive. 

  2. Furthermore, developers will be responsible for troubleshooting their own front-end designs, resulting in continuous costs beyond the original implementation. 

  3. Marketers can no longer generate, ideate, authorize, publish, or update content without relying on another department because a pure headless commerce system lacks a front-end display layer. 

  4. Increase in cost because the marketing team is now isolated and must rely largely on the IT team to create landing pages and content across several platforms.

How does headless commerce support omnichannel retail?

"Omnichannel retail" refers to the ability for a shopper to shop both online and offline, on any device, at any time, and is similar to headless commerce solutions that provide a consistent user experience across channels. Customers who used numerous channels purchased more online than those who just used one channel, according to a Harvard Business Review study published in 2017. Additionally, buyers who utilized multiple online channels made more purchases in physical stores than those who only used one.

What is headless API?

The separate components of a headless ecommerce infrastructure connect with each other using headless APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces). APIs give and receive instructions across frameworks using precise, established, and agreed-upon protocols, providing each component of a headless system far more freedom. APIs allow various 'heads' to request the same content from a backend platform and render it differently depending on the device or channel's requirements. Web services, for example, are likely to employ RESTful APIs, but Shopify's storefront API uses GraphQL.

Is Shopify a headless CMS?

A more appropriate description would be that Shopify has a headless CMS. The Theme Layer and Editor, Shopify's inbuilt CMS, which you may already be familiar with, sits well among the rest of the company's ecommerce features. On the other hand, these functions are designed to work independently of one another if necessary. People are drawn to Shopify because of its integrated services, which make it such a formidable tool for online businesses.