Traditional ecommerce platforms were designed for ecommerce sites, with a desktop shopper in mind. But over the past several years we’ve seen new trends start to pop-up. Consumers are moving away from desktop ecommerce websites and shopping on screens of all sizes, via mobile apps and ecommerce stores within social media channels.

With Amazon home devices and even smart watches, there are now many more ways buyers can make purchases online. This is all thanks to the emergence of headless ecommerce platforms.

What are the features of headless ecommerce?

Headless ecommerce reimagines the e-commerce platform as a collection of digital services supporting ecommerce, rather than a solution for web ecommerce specifically as it has been thought of historically. In headless ecommerce architecture, the front end, (presentation layer) and the back-end layer are decoupled, or separate systems that work together, allowing more room for flexibility, enabling nearly limitless customizations, and creating the freedom to deliver omnichannel customer experiences.

Headless ecommerce allows the business to think beyond the usual digital experience template — the traditional storefront, shopping cart, and checkout — taking things a step further and enabling their ecommerce platform to provide highly customized and seamless purchase journeys.

Brands can easily leverage new and emerging sales channels, innovative fulfillment options, assisted sales alternatives, integrated microservices, PIM systems, unique corporate account ordering experiences, and much more.

3 key benefits of headless ecommerce platforms

The benefits of headless commerce are manifold, from enabling personalized user experiences and seamless integration with other technologies, to increased engagement and loyalty. With a headless commerce platform that uses an API (application programming interface), you can manage user interface changes with greater ease.

1. Headless ecommerce allows for highly customized experiences

Unlike monolithic platforms, with a headless commerce solution, your front-end development is decoupled from your back-end systems. This makes it easier – and less risky – to make changes to the front-end experience knowing you won’t interrupt to the underlying infrastructure and architecture with these changes.

In fact, Amazon, probably the most well-known headless commerce platform, pushes updates every 11.7 seconds on average, and Netflix, another headless commerce platform, deploys code thousands of times each day.

This is important when it comes to ecommerce because today, more than ever, brands need to listen to buyers’ demands for personalized customer experiences and deliver omnichannel experiences to the most relevant touchpoints in real-time.

In B2B, customers are much more likely to choose and trust companies that come recommended from other businesses and friends. In fact, 91% of B2B buyers are influenced by word-of-mouth when making their buying decisions.

To build trust and increase conversion rates, it’s becoming more and more important for B2B companies to be able to run experiments and make changes in response to their customers’ demands. The beauty of API-first technology is that you can build a custom solution and integrate it with any technology that provides the features your customers need.

Headless ecommerce platforms don’t constrain you to what traditional e-commerce defines as the “right” user experience. You have the freedom to start from scratch, you can quickly and easily make customizations that align with business needs, and can carry out deployments without disturbing the underlying technology supporting it.

2. Headless ecommerce improves your time to value

The biggest consideration in creating custom software is the time and resources it would take you to develop comprehensive business logic and back end services. In fact, back-end business logic, functionality, and capabilities usually comprise up to 85% of a software development process.

With a headless commerce platform like Sitecore OrderCloud, you are starting from the point of completion, which is allowing you to focus on order management, inventory management, and delivering standout user experiences for far less cost, time, and effort. This is by far one of the most valuable benefits of a headless commerce approach.

3. Headless ecommerce makes integrations faster

Headless commerce provides an integration approach for connecting and exposing assets via APIs. APIs allow software platforms to communicate with each other more easily and foster seamless connections and transfers of data with greater flexibility.

You could even say that headless commerce encourages integrations. Think about it like this: if traditional e-commerce were a car, then headless ecommerce would simply be the engine. If you want top-of-the-line headlights, you can have them, but you’d want to look elsewhere to someone who specializes in them versus someone who specializes in engines.

The same is true with headless ecommerce. You have the core e-commerce functionality as the back-end architecture (the engine), but if you want to add something to make the experience better, you go elsewhere to solve those problems. Because the user experience is decoupled from the back end, there’s nothing you need to worry about as you facilitate that integration.

Take a seemingly simple example: email. Sure, you could build and send off an email directly from the e-commerce platform in a few lines of code. But to elevate the customer experience and improve your conversion rates, you could just as easily plug in an email marketing solution that specializes in campaign optimization.

Sitecore Senior Architect, Todd Menier, explained that "the best solutions on the planet will not be built from scratch nor offered out-of-the-box via SaaS. Rather they'll be assembled out of distributed, best-of-breed components.”

The advantages for ecommerce businesses

For customer-facing e-commerce businesses, headless commerce architecture offers multiple advantages over traditional commerce platforms. Thanks to increased flexibility, retailers can quickly react to market trends and customer needs with the nimbleness of a start-up. New app and online store features or other upgrades can be launched by development teams within a matter of days rather than months. Getting products and services launched faster means ecommerce businesses also realize ROI faster.

One of the most important advantages of switching to a composable tech stack is that it allows for scalability and enables you to future-proof your brand’s ecommerce experience. As your company scales and outgrows its existing platform, it’s possible to add new technologies, digital channels, or touchpoints as and when required so that your technology evolves with your audience and is ready to meet (and exceed) customer expectations.

Furthermore, with headless architecture in place, you are no longer limited to using the CMS that comes with your ecommerce solution. Instead, you can couple a best-of-breed headless content management system and leverage its advanced capabilities to help you differentiate your brand and deliver the best possible customer experiences.

A headless CMS allows you to manage your content in one central hub and display it on any platform. As the back end and front end operate independently, the layout and the customer journeys can be completely unique and tailored for each platform or device, setting you up for omnichannel success.