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Headless ecommerce solutions

Traditional ecommerce systems have limitations that can slow time-to-market. Explore how the benefits of headless commerce can solve your challenges, future-proof your tech stack, and keep you competitive.


Traditional vs. headless: Why monolithic can cost you time and money

There are four core reasons why monolithic ecommerce systems can — and for many ecommerce businesses today, still do — cost an excessive amount of time and money:

  • Lack of agility: The complex and time consuming nature of traditional ecommerce platforms slows down the DevOps cycle and time-to-market, which forces ecommerce businesses to fall out of sync with rapidly changing customer needs, expectations, and shifts in the marketplace. The online shopping world is relentlessly competitive, and monolithic ecommerce systems put brands at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Business continuity risks: The components in a monolithic commerce architecture are inherently dependent, which means that if one component has a problem, then the entire ecommerce functionality can crash. The consequences of this can be severe. For example, Amazon’s website crashed for one hour on “Prime Day” in 2018, which cost the company an estimated $72-$99 million USD.
  • Excessive testing requirements: In order to mitigate the risks of problems — or worse, downtime to an ecommerce website — after an adjustment, update, or upgrade, companies using a monolithic ecommerce system are obligated to test and re-test (and sometimes re-test the re-test!). This is a highly time-consuming process that requires a dedicated team of software engineers.


The rise (and rescue!) of headless ecommerce solutions

Fortunately, that is not where the story ends. In response to these obstacles and limitations, a categorically superior type of platform is taking the lead: headless ecommerce solutions.

As the term suggests, headless ecommerce platforms decouple the two main elements in the platform: the front end (customer-facing, content delivery application), and the back end (content management system or digital experience platform). Notably, the back-end system in a headless ecommerce solution does not have a built-in presentation layer. Instead, brands can deliver content to various ecommerce sites and touchpoints using application programming interfaces (APIs).

Conceptually, the “head” in “headless” refers to user interface, referring to the consumers. A headless ecommerce solution allows developers to access back-end functionality through APIs, and create a virtually limitless array of user interfaces — and deliver any customer experience they wish.


The flexibility and scalability of headless ecommerce solutions

As discussed, making changes to a monolithic commerce solution is typically costly and risky, and makes subsequent changes in the future even harder. This is not the case with headless ecommerce solutions, as changes to the front-end frameworks do not require changes to the back-end system.

This flexibility significantly accelerates time-to-value, since ecommerce businesses can focus immediately on doing what it takes to deliver an outstanding omnichannel experience.

This flexibility also enables ecommerce businesses to scale and extend services as desired or required. Surges on the front-end experience (such as during “Black Friday” or some other high-traffic event) do not negatively impact or bog down back-end operations.


Easily integrate new technologies

Headless architecture makes it easy to integrate new technologies and extend ordering options to suit new channels and support a customized best-of-breed strategy that meets business needs. What’s more, teams can continue using many of their existing and familiar monitoring tools and systems, which makes integration and adoption even simpler.


Cost advantages

We have already discussed that headless ecommerce solutions are easier and faster to change than monolithic solutions, which translates into significant labor cost savings. However, there are additional cost advantages of a headless ecommerce platform that are important to highlight, including lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and increased conversions.

Lower TCO

Headless ecommerce systems can be deployed as a SaaS cloud-based solution, which eliminates the need to purchase and maintain expensive on-premises hardware and hosting. Plus, while both monolithic and headless commerce platforms are typically license-based, headless solutions are usually based on the number of users. Since the server (which is housed by the vendor) can support an unlimited number of users, adding users is straightforward and affordable.

Conversely, monolithic solutions usually have a core licensing model, which is based on the total number of computer cores that the server can run on vs. how many users can be added. This can pose a significant cost obstacle for scaling, since to support growth it is necessary to purchase and maintain expensive hardware, along with additional licenses.

Furthermore, both monolithic and headless ecommerce solution vendors typically release new versions throughout the year. With a cloud-based headless solution, these updates occur automatically. However, with an on-premises monolithic solution, ecommerce businesses must spend time — which also means they must also spend money — constantly reviewing and rewriting elements of their customized code, in order to ensure that it works with the updated versions. If they fail to perform an update, then they will become ineligible for support.

Improved conversion rates

The inherent flexibility and agility of headless ecommerce solutions enables businesses to deliver a unique omnichannel customer experience to various touchpoints, including mobile apps, online stores, IOT devices, social media, and other ecommerce platforms. This has been found to improve customer experience, which is a fundamental part of increasing conversion rates (as defined by ushering customers forward along the ecommerce experience journey).


Best practices for migrating from monolithic to headless architecture

Ecommerce businesses that want to migrate from a monolithic to a headless ecommerce solution should consider the following best practices:

  • Understand your users: Create a map of all user types, and understand how orders will flow between them.
  • Understand your products: Map products pricing, how they are categorized, which products can be customized, and where product data is stored or your product information management systems (PIM).
  • Understand your ecosystem: Analyze how the headless ecommerce solution will be positioned alongside your existing systems in your tech stack, such as a CRM. Identify any additional best-of-breed applications that are necessary or desired.
  • Understand your priorities: Identify the workflows and processes that must be migrated first, which should be re-evaluated for optimization, and which can be addressed at a later time. Remember to analyze priorities based on dependencies.
  • Understand your timeline: Create a realistic roll-out based on customer experience, order management, supplier management, integration management, user experience, and user interface. All of these must be thoroughly grasped and factor into the timeline.
  • Understand your data requirements: Identify what data must be migrated to the new headless ecommerce solution, where that data is being stored, and where it will live in the new solution.

Be assured that if you choose a leading and reputable vendor, then you will receive ongoing implementation support (before, during, and after) to help you take the shortest path to value, and maximize results and ROI.


The final word

We have all heard the advice “less is more”. Well, when it comes to ecommerce, going (head)less is a proven and powerful way to cut costs, save time, and reduce complexity, while driving more customer satisfaction, competitive advantage, and sales.

Ultimately, the question that ecommerce businesses that are still using a monolithic solution need to answer isn’t “should we possibly elevate to a headless solution?”, but rather “how can we afford not to elevate to a headless solution as quickly as possible?”

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