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What is headless ecommerce architecture?

Find out how your brand’s ecommerce can be faster, more flexible, and more functional when you adopt the headless commerce approach.


Defining headless architecture

Headless architecture refers to a software design approach where the front-end presentation layer of an application is decoupled from the back-end content management system (CMS) or business logic.

In a headless architecture, the front-end, also known as the "head," is responsible for rendering and displaying the user interface (UI), while the back-end, or the "body," focuses on managing data and business processes.

Headless commerce front- and back-end systems work as a team and, designed correctly, can independently handle specialized tasks without taxing the other.

In a headless commerce system, the path to purchase can include an array of internet-enabled buyer touchpoints such as social media platforms, e-commerce websites, mobile apps, online marketplaces — and now emerging touchpoints such as augmented reality (AR), Internet of Things (loT) devices, vehicle-mount computers, smart clothing, and intelligent implant devices.


How does headless architecture work?

In traditional e-commerce platforms, (like Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce) front- and back-end systems are tightly coupled. In headless ecommerce platforms, the back end is left without its “head” or frontend (presentation layer), where the term “headless” is derived.

A decoupled setup effectively allows an e-commerce business to build digital storefronts, or front-end public-facing systems that work like a digital concierge to guide shoppers through the experience. Meanwhile, the storefronts connect to the same back-end system that operates tools for the sales management, website security, data processes, multimedia features, and business logic.

Headless architectures also falls under the umbrella of microservices, small applications that allow marketplaces to choose the right tech providers for each business function without changing the rest of the system.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) allow these connections to communicate with existing enterprise ecosystems on the back-end. With their help, you can create various customer touchpoints and whenever they engage with your store, information about that interaction is transmitted to your backend systems through an API call.

With headless architecture, you can leverage multiple backend systems such as:

  • Content management system (CMS)
  • Progressive web app (PWA)
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Digital experience platform (DXP)

A headless e-commerce setup (part of a bigger approach called composable commerce) becomes an omnichannel experience. Businesses’ marketing and merchandizing teams can create consistent and fully customized customer-facing digital storefronts and deliver memorable experiences across channels without disturbing the back-end infrastructure.

Headless commerce solutions empower business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) merchants to offer rich and relevant experiences from homepage to checkout.

More businesses are gravitating toward a headless system. According to a recent State of Commerce report, 77% of organizations who use headless architecture state that it gives them greater agility, allowing for optimization to their front-end experiences more quickly, meet various customer expectations, and improve conversion rates.


The benefits of headless architecture

Headless architecture embeds commerce functionality into an entire touchpoint network.

Eight advantages to headless commerce:

  1. Flexibility: By implementing such a “best-of-breed” tech stack, businesses can create unique and personalized user experiences across different devices and platforms. The frontend can be developed and updated independently without impacting the underlying e-commerce functionality.
  2. Scalability: As the business expands, companies won’t have to start all over with a new commerce platform. By decoupling the frontend from the backend you have independent scaling of both systems. This makes it easier to handle increased traffic and user demands.
  3. Omnichannel capabilities: Businesses can leverage APIs to integrate their e-commerce platform with various touchpoints. This can enable consistent customer experiences across multiple channels, such as websites, mobile apps, voice interfaces, and IoT devices.
  4. Faster development cycles: The separation between front- and back-end development allows development teams to work concurrently, reducing dependencies and accelerating the overall development process, which, in turn, lowers IT developers' burden.
  5. Performance: Headless approach supports quick and seamless connections between services and APIs, which can result in faster-loading pages. Slow load times can equal lost business.
  6. Customization: With headless commerce offering rich merchandizing, customization, and design opportunities, businesses can have more control over the user interface and tailor it to their specific branding and design requirements.

    The frontend of a headless system can be built using technologies such as JavaScript frameworks (React, Angular, Vue.js), mobile app development tools (React Native, Flutter), or even custom-built solutions.
  7. Third-party integrations: A headless setup makes it easier to integrate with third-party services, plugins, and tools, such as marketing automation platforms, analytics tools, or inventory management systems.
  8. Internationalization: Retailers with a global presence can expand into new territories and rapidly integrate preferred payment methods, currency, and languages.


Is headless right for your business?

Strategists focus on how to take the business to the next level from a growth standpoint. Whether a headless commerce solutions is right for you will depend on your business needs.

Traditional e-commerce platforms were designed with a desktop computer shopper in mind. A traditional platform might make sense for example if you’re a small and midsize business (SMB) that would require more staff or resources to build and maintain a headless framework.

As a company and its business needs grow, its e-commerce structure must also increase, and can become unwieldy, slow, and difficult to scale.

Headless can offer a powerful solution for e-commerce businesses looking to future-proof their brand with greater flexibility, scalability, and omnichannel capabilities — especially with the increased presence of artificial intelligence (AI) or voice search integration.


Learn more about Sitecore’s headless solution

Sitecore OrderCloud is a cloud-based, headless, API-first ecommerce platform that empowers businesses to customize ordering experiences across their customers’ preferred devices, sales channels, and apps.

A powerful platform for digital experiences

Discover our end-to-end content management and commerce solutions.