The variety of places that customers can shop online is difficult for any company to keep up with. Due to this difficulty, a new type of software is required to effectively manage both the front end that the customer sees and the back end that fuels inventory and transactions.
Headless ecommerce tools are solving this problem for today’s companies—by separating the front end and back end of the system, so the engine of the software can deliver the right product data and content on the optimal platform through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs).
This offers businesses the flexibility to connect with customers in a variety of ways without the need for extensive back-end customization.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is headless e-commerce software?
A headless ecommerce system includes core functionalities such as inventory, product management, and a shopping cart, but allows those features to be deployed quickly and easily to multiple platforms, such as a brand’s website, Facebook, Amazon, and any other place online where customers can make purchases.
The headless system separates the front end (the site or app the customer views) from the back end (where the product management and payment processing happens) to make this agility possible.
In the past, customers would typically go to a physical store or visit an online store on their desktop computer to order a product. But today, consumers expect a more flexible shopping experience: people enjoy shopping on their mobile devices while commuting to work, using an IoT-enabled Amazon Dash button to quickly reorder items, or even finalizing transactions through text.
The headless ecommerce system helps companies manage this by using APIs to push consistent copy, images, and layouts from a single back-end system to each platform. This way, they don’t need to reconfigure their branding manually as they reach out to customers across the web. Beyond that, the system allows transactions to take place wherever the customer may be, leading to a more organic experience and more conversions.
A view of incoming orders in Shopify, which offers a headless system.
Common features of headless ecommerce software
||Allows customers to add and edit items as they shop, then complete the purchase. Many shopping cart tools will remember the items someone saved before bouncing from the online store.
||Manages the volume and types of items in a store’s inventory and can be used to optimize automatic reorder levels.
||Stores the contact information for customers and potential customers to be used for marketing initiatives or to identify valuable trends in sales or buyer behavior.
||Manages the incoming orders from an online store to help coordinate the inventory and supply chain and deliver items in a timely fashion.
||Generates shipping and handling costs during the transaction and delivers details to the customer and any third-party shipping partners.
||Processes the transactions online. With a headless ecommerce system, the transaction can be completed on various platforms via APIs that call back to the back-end system, where this functionality lives.
|Reporting and analysis
||Generates reports and raw data about sales, buyer behavior, inventory metrics, revenue and profits, and more.
What type of buyer are you?
Headless ecommerce software represents how brands are adapting to the modern marketplace—these systems are the future of online shopping. But certain types of businesses will find immediate value from a headless ecommerce strategy.
- Luxury and experience-based brands: Companies that focus on providing a unique experience for customers can create compelling designs on various platforms, without the need of coding expertise. This allows IT teams to focus on the back-end system, while marketers can push their crafted experiences to websites, mobile devices, and more.
- International brands: For companies with several brands that span the globe, a headless system allows users to create multiple unique sites that deliver customized experiences to customers in various countries. However, every site leverages the product and inventory data from a single back-end system.
- Niche brands with a dedicated platform: Some businesses have cultivated a loyal following of customers on specific platforms, such as Instagram or Etsy. Depending on their size and aspirations, these companies may decide that a headless ecommerce system isn’t relevant to their needs until they decide to expand their channels.
Benefits and potential issues
- Increased agility for marketing: With the front and back end separated in a headless ecommerce system, marketing teams can focus on providing a great customer experience, no matter the platform.
- More secure than traditional ecommerce: Because the back end of the system is decoupled from the front end, it makes it more difficult for malicious programs or hackers to access sensitive information.
- Increased complexity: Using a headless system requires the use of APIs to "call" for information from the back-end system, then deliver to a specific platform. These APIs provide a streamlined transfer of data, but require an IT team to set up from the beginning.
- Costs and return on investment can vary: The sophistication of a company’s brand and marketing can indicate how soon a headless system can return value. Upfront costs will likely include customizations for APIs, but companies can also avoid costs related to managing channels separately and paying subscription fees for additional software needed to provide a real omni-channel experience.
Market trends to understand
- Growth of omni-channel marketing: Gartner research shows that 61% of site traffic from consumers is generated by mobile users, but 69% of purchases occur on a desktop computer. Factoring in social media, internet of thing (IoT) devices, and even video game consoles, buyers have dozens of platforms to evaluate products and make purchases—the headless ecommerce architecture enables companies to engage customers on each of these channels with ease.
- A shift to a direct-to-consumer model: Research predicts the growth of direct-to-consumer models in the U.S. will grow by 25% through the end of 2020. Gartner explains that selling wholesale through a third-party retailer robs businesses of the valuable buyer behavior data used to make improvements. The headless ecommerce system streamlines the marketing needs for such a shift.
- International, multi-currency e-commerce is now standard: Ordering products online from other countries is a daily occurrence for many, so it’s important to customize websites for each location and currency. Using a headless ecommerce platform helps manage multiple variations of a website, with unique branding, can be deployed with little coding requirements.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.