“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” –  is it time to join them? With headless commerce rapidly gaining traction, now is the time to get your head around this increasingly popular alternative to traditional, monolithic e-commerce architecture.

Many retailers eager to strengthen their commitment to online experience (think Seedlip, Oliver Bonas, Koala) are making the switch to headless commerce. Headless is relevant to both B2B and B2C retailers, and major platforms such as Shopify Plus, BigCommerce and Magento 2 are acknowledging this uptick in interest by promoting their own headless capacities.

Get a Head Start: Headless Explained

In the very simplest terms, headless commerce refers to the separation of the frontend (or ‘head’) of a site, from the backend. By decoupling the presentation layer, content can be pushed to a limitless number of touchpoints. Instead of going back to the platform, application programming interface (API) calls are used to retrieve information.

BigCommerce has doubled down on this approach in recent months, decoupling the presentation layer from its commerce engine. This means multiple stores can be run from a single account, across various frontend solutions. Shopify pushes the ability of its Storefront API to power headless setups too, and Magento is also promoting the approach. You can learn more about the headless capacity of each platform in our guide to e-commerce platforms.

Heads Will Roll: Why Is Headless Gaining Momentum?

The general shift towards experience-led commerce is leading to a rise in the importance of content to communicate the brand story. For many D2C and brand retailers, immediacy is key when it comes to courting their Gen Z demographic.

As retailers move towards omni-channel strategies, the ever-increasing number of devices involved adds to the complexity of requirements. Headless helps to sidestep the issue of convoluted legacy technologies, making future migrations easier. The freedom to serve any touchpoint (website, in-store kiosk, app, billboard) from the exact same backend system means no worries about adapting for new devices as the Internet of Things and the use of wearables expand.

Brands with a strong focus on content, customer experience and brand story, such as Glossier, Warby Parker and Klevu customer Bulletproof, are already putting a headless approach to work to great effect across their retail empires.

There’s also a growing desire to build out highly customized commerce service stacks, cherry-picking best-in-class solutions that are tailored to the unique needs of each business. Klevu Search was developed with this in mind — highly customizable and offering a full programming toolset, with well-documented APIs available.

Heads You Win: Reasons for Adoption 

  • Headless architecture offers a seamless, personalized experience of commerce and content. 
  • Solutions have the potential to be developed and delivered much more quickly, as the same backend can serve many customer-facing touch points. As long as clear requirements are laid out in advance, front and backend development can occur at the same time, without developers needing to worry about implementation.
  • It’s extremely beneficial for e-commerce businesses that are content heavy with lots of media (video demos etc), or content that changes frequently.
  • The approach facilitates easier localization/translation. It’s great for brands with aspirations for global growth and those who want to keep all options open in terms of devices that content (and commerce) can be pushed to.

Tails You Lose: Reasons against Adoption

  • The increased flexibility stemming from a decoupled frontend is arguably a double-edged sword. You’re off the edge of the map, reimagining how retail is delivered, and that requires a very solid understanding of experiential commerce. To ensure this isn’t a stumbling block, you need an experienced team.
  • It means more reliance on developers and a higher degree of in-house technical experience (either that or be prepared for fairly intense agency dependency!) Smaller businesses who lack a significant engineering team may well find the need to manage multiple stacks overwhelming.
  • Headless isn’t for every business model — the simplicity of a standalone platform solution still works brilliantly for many brands. If your online retail requirements are fairly straightforward, the additional maintenance may not be worth your while.

Heads off Into the Sunset

Omni-channel retail is the future — touch points will only continue to multiply, and increased speed to market gives a significant edge to retailers. As headless commerce can help with all of these elements, it’s safe to assume the approach will gain momentum in years to come. 

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