Q. What is Headless? How is it different?

Headless is an innovative new way of looking at eCommerce. Headless eCommerce architecture means decoupling your eCommerce platform’s front and back ends, offering complete flexibility in the way you present content, products, and your customer experience overall.

Headless eCommerce migrations let you keep the CMS you already have while expanding your capabilities in interesting new ways. All standard eCommerce data and functionality is delivered via API, allowing simple communication among systems, apps, and marketplaces—all from a single platform.

Headless migrations are often a great choice for companies that love their existing CMS but lack specific features that could boost their revenue. In these cases, headless offers an easy way to separate the eCommerce element from your CMS and add in new functionalities as needed.

Q. Is “headless” the same as “decoupled architecture”?

Yes, decoupled architecture is the very definition of headless. So, if you’ve heard others discuss the benefits of a decoupled system, know that they’re discussing headless eCommerce.

Q. Why is headless trending right now?

Technology teams have always struggled to keep up with the demands of their marketing associates. Marketing is a shifting goalpost; teams are always testing different strategies, searching for new opportunities, and optimizing their processes. They bear the burden of serving customers in an omni-channel world, requiring streamlined processes for managing web assets, mobile, and apps. Conversely, technology teams they partner with look for stability, security, and a steady pace of development.

As a result of these competing interests, marketing departments often want to take on more ownership of the technology build. Headless eCommerce makes this possible. Marketers can iterate faster, do more testing, and take creative ownership over projects without relying on a developer team. Plus, the headless architecture means that all channels and customer experiences can be served from a single platform.

Q. Can I implement a headless platform if I’ve recently launched a website upgrade?

Whether you’re reviewing a recently-launched site or a site that’s been around for a long time, there’s always the option of migrating to a new eCommerce platform.

In our experience, there are two different “upgrade” scenarios that most projects fall under:

1. You’re launching an updated site with a new CMS. The eCommerce implementation should coincide with the launch of the site. Obviously, this is a more complicated launch because two different systems are being built and launched at the same time.

The challenge of this type of launch is to minimize any down time or missed points of connection between the eCommerce system and the CMS. If the eCommerce portion is new and isn’t a replacement, the update will be much easier.

2. You have an existing CMS setup that you love and may (or may not) already have an existing eCommerce integration. In this case, migrating to a headless system means planning ahead, as you’ll be incorporating more elements from the eCommerce platform into the CMS. In other words, because you’ll be migrating to a headless setup, you’ll be asking the CMS (and team) to do more.

Q. Does a headless implementation mean I can launch a new platform or websites faster?

Absolutely. One of the biggest benefits of a headless implementation is the ability to launch marketing initiatives faster and with more customization to your market. The system is designed to be open and flexible; with a decoupled framework, you’ll have more control over what content you present and how new promotions can be added. As a result, your marketing team has more control over the type of assets that get released.

Q. Are there other types of headless implementations? What is the “hybrid” concept?

There are a few different approaches to building headless architecture.

1. Headless Only: all front-end development is done in the CMS via API

2. Specific CMS Plugin: connecting an eCommerce plugin built specifically for the content management system you’re using.

3. Hybrid: combining a limited CMS option alongside robust API architecture.

While different businesses may benefit from these options in different ways, in general, the hybrid architecture is the best approach. This option offers the utmost flexibility in building your website alongside an internal CMS. This allows you to easily manage content from the frontend while still drawing on the flexible headless framework.

Q. Is a headless implementation more “future-proof” than more traditional eCommerce architecture?

Without a doubt. eCommerce trends move fast, often faster than companies can keep up with. Most businesses end up limited by their platform at a certain point in their growth. But headless commerce bakes flexibility into the very bones of your system. Any time a new front-end design or layout trend emerges in the marketplace, the headless system can be seamlessly upgraded through its decoupled architecture. The connection to the database remains the same.

Q. How does it support an omni-channel strategy?

The complex nature of multi-channel eCommerce connections requires efficient architecture, but so many eCommerce platforms operate with a middle layer that facilitates communications between the front and backends. With the headless architecture, companies connect their disjointed commerce systems and gain a centralized platform for all data. Unnecessary layers are removed, and architecture is simplified. This single source of truth is necessary for optimal connections between mobile/web experiences.

Q. Why is “deliver anywhere” such an important concept?

In short, because your customers expect it! Extensive research has been done on multi-channel retailing and the value it has for both consumers and businesses, with data showing that providing an “omni-channel” experience supports customer research and produces boosts to customer value, loyalty, and repeat purchases.

Of course, retailers need to provide simple, consistent experiences across each channel to reap these benefits. And with the headless approach, these benefits are easier to unlock than ever.

Q. What kind of impact does headless eCommerce have on my marketing team?

Headless commerce produces tighter alignment between sales and marketing teams. By centralizing all information, apps, and customer details in a single platform, marketing teams expand their capabilities in a few key ways.

A decoupled framework makes it easy to integrate new APIs into the stack, offering an ongoing flexibility that lets marketers integrate new solutions as needed. Headless eCommerce isn’t “locked down” like traditional platforms, meaning that marketers aren’t limited by eCommerce function. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Having more flexibility in what gets built means that marketers will have access to the tools and data streams they need for long-term decision making.

Q. Will the customer / end user notice anything different?

No, not to the customer or end user of your web site and application. There is no difference between your site and a traditional eCommerce implementation. In fact, the customer may even notice some benefits, including speed and accessibility.

Q. What are the time and money investments?

Fewer than you might think! The beauty of headless migrations is that you get to keep your favorite CMS and avoid the need for a full (and costly) re-platforming project.

Naturally, any eCommerce implementation will result in some down time, but your headless implementation partner can stage the project to help minimize time offline.

The financial costs largely depend on whether or not you’d be migrating from an existing platform and what level of customization you seek. If you want to add architecture for products, orders, accounts, and marketing, costs will increase accordingly. And, of course, the amount of data you need to migrate will affect these costs, too. Each integration will take time to implement (but will produce an ROI long term), so you’ll need to balance the costs and benefits of each.

For smaller projects, where businesses simply need a few new product displays or payment functions, costs are minimal compared to traditional eCommerce implementations. But keep in mind that no matter what type of implementation you’re adding, certain aspects of your operations will change.

You may have new vendors to pay, or you may find that your staffing needs will change. For example, if your marketing team is doing more front-end work on your new headless platform, you might need to uplevel your staff to manage the changing workload. These aren’t substantial costs compared to what you’re getting—but they’re worth pointing out all the same.

More Questions?

If you have additional questions or want to explore options for headless eCommerce implementations, please contact us.

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