In the past, we’ve talked a lot about the distinctions between headless eCommerce and traditional eCommerce platforms. Headless commerce offers clear advantages over the traditional ecosystem, yet, the eCommerce world is slow to change, and some still view options like headless as a passing trend.
But while it’s important to draw distinctions between headless commerce and traditional approaches, it’s just as important to note that the two options aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not an either/or type of choice, per se. With the right strategy, it’s possible to combine these options and create a “door number three” in terms of eCommerce choice. We call these “hybrid” eCommerce solutions.
Hybrid eCommerce systems combine the flexibility of headless architecture with the accessibility of a traditional eCommerce platform’s content management system (CMS).
Traditional eCommerce systems have tightly-integrated front and backends, meaning that the two halves are linked and depend on the same resources and services. While straightforward in design, this framework restricts a company’s application and integration options. Contrast this with systems that are purely headless, where there’s no frontend to speak of at all. All eCommerce data is consumed via API, and displays are custom-built by the development team, creating nearly unlimited freedom in design and content presentation.
Hybrid eCommerce takes elements from each framework and creates a flexible system where business owners can sell exactly how they want. Whether you’re running a storefront through a tightly-integrated platform CMS or you’re leveraging headless commerce with an external content system, hybrid gives you the freedom to run either (or both) storefront experiences as needed.
Hybrid eCommerce is an innovative approach to building storefronts that allows a business to run multiple storefronts that can be delivered through a headless integration or through the platform-based CMS.
These solutions leverage decoupled architecture alongside the ability to use whichever CMS or content presentation options that businesses are familiar with.
From an eCommerce perspective, hybrid offers the best of both worlds: freedom to select an implementation that makes the most sense on a site by site basis. Rather than being forced to use additional resources or adding more integration partners into the mix, the hybrid flexibility allows marketing teams to launch sites faster, iterate quickly and maintain platform consistency.
Hybrid solutions support growth across multi-sites, landing pages, and sales channels. Headless delivers enterprise functionality to each of your sales environments, regardless of whether they’re mobile, online, or offline, or if they’re utilizing a headless integration or integrated content management system. All the data generated by any of the channels is maintained in a single platform - a unified product information management system alongside a single promotion engine and account database.
In other words, you’re free to build eCommerce experiences across each channel without worrying about how the front end and the platform coordinate.
With headless’ open architecture, it’s easier to bring in additional functionalities, even when developer resources are limited. This gives you the freedom to explore different types of integration solutions, even if you don’t end up using them. You’ll find that some sales channels are well-suited to the headless model, while others may require more investment in content and structure, but whatever you end up going with, the benefit is the same. Adaptable solutions like headless commerce help companies integrate solutions and thus, respond to emerging opportunities more easily than those still working with tightly coupled eCommerce platforms.
Your internal developer team or marketing agency may have extensive experience with a certain CMS, and if so, it’s always preferable to select an eCommerce platform that plays to those strengths. This is why headless commerce platforms make so much sense.
However, what happens when you need to move forward with an eCommerce replatforming project, but you’re held back by technical gaps in the CMS or lengthy integration times?
A good option here is using an internal CMS to get an initial build completed. This lets you launch and test your build while letting you keep your CMS options open, should a more preferable CMS become available at a later date. This flexibility is a core part of headless’ decoupled platform architecture. With headless, any new investments or upgrades to your CMS won’t hold back your eCommerce platform decisions. Just use the internal CMS option to get things moving and replace it with a different CMS at your leisure.
The hybrid approach is flexible by nature – and this flexibility extends to how the build is set up. Companies with limited content needs may not want a full transition to a new CMS. And if not, they can access a built-in CMS option that, while limited in nature, can support a simple system of lightweight content management. From there, the right headless eCommerce partner will work with you to tackle the process in steps, starting with the built-in option and transitioning out into a new CMS later, if desired.
Hybrid builds support marketing goals by making it easy to deploy assets across multiple websites, sales channels, or devices.
This flexibility makes it easier to respond to emerging marketing opportunities as they arise and prepare the company for the future.
With the right integration partner, hybrid builds can be set up to support a business’s existing infrastructure, whether it involves the use of an integrated CMS or a full transition to a new one.
The unique structure of hybrid eCommerce architecture does present a few distinct decisions. If you plan on using a hybrid frontend build to start, you’ll be working with integrations only on a short term basis. This may mean limiting project deliverables to ensure that the new site can be launched quickly.
There’s also the increased eCommerce burden to consider. Your eCommerce platform itself will be responsible for more things, acting more as an all-in-one solution rather than a siloed system. This can introduce a different type of complexity compared with what you might be used to in the tightly-coupled eCommerce ecosystem. As such, platform updates and upgrades tend to be a bigger deal in hybrid builds because the front-end of any site will subsequently require more testing.
Business should also keep in mind how these new processes will affect publishing workflows. Tightly-integrated eCommerce produces a simple, 1:1 relationship between front and back – changes to the platform’s code appear immediately in the frontend. Hybrid builds are more flexible by design, but as a partially-decoupled process, these changes will require a little more work to coordinate.
Succeeding with a hybrid eCommerce platform begins with finding an integration partner who can handle both sides of platform development.
Hybrid builds are more complex than traditional eCommerce platforms, requiring users to stay on top of updates and upgrades.
Changes to the hybrid ecosystem need to be done carefully to ensure that the platform’s front and backends coordinate well.
The hybrid eCommerce approach isn’t revolutionary as much as it is logical. If companies can find a platform that supports omnichannel commerce alongside the robust API and development resources associated with headless, why wouldn’t they combine them to get the best of both worlds?
This is the advantage that hybrid eCommerce offers. It’s more than a passing trend; it’s a powerful way to mature your eCommerce platform and prepare your company for the future of online sales.