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What is headless ecommerce and is it right for you?

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Last editedApr 20233 min read

The ecommerce market is flourishing. It’s estimated that by 2027, online shopping revenue will exceed $1.7 trillion in the United States alone. To stand out from the competition and increase conversions, ecommerce businesses must provide a smooth, unified customer experience. Headless ecommerce can help you create a better user experience, but what is headless ecommerce and how does it work?

What does headless ecommerce mean?

In a traditional ecommerce website, the front and back-end systems are combined. This means that if you want to make any changes, you’ll need to update both ends – a potentially costly and time-consuming endeavor.

  • Front end: Any part of the ecommerce experience that faces the customer, including the website as well as any ecommerce apps, smart devices, or social media channels.

  • Back end: Any systems, tools, or processes operating in the background to make sure the website, apps, and channels are running efficiently.

Headless ecommerce separates the back end from the front. This means that a business can update its customer-facing storefront without tinkering around with background systems. The result is greater flexibility and potential for customization.

How does headless ecommerce architecture work?

Headless ecommerce architecture uses an application program interface, or API, to send real-time information back and forth between the front and back ends. Instead of relying on a single back-end system, you can connect multiple systems to the customer-facing front end with APIs. Typical tools used by an ecommerce business include:

  • Content management system (CMS)

  • Customer relationship management system (CRM)

  • Progressive web app (PWA)

When a customer interacts with your business’s smartphone app, website or other channel, the API transmits this information to the appropriate back-end system.

Headless ecommerce examples and platforms

There are many ways to put headless ecommerce to use. Businesses can use it to integrate multiple background tools, systems, and channels into a single, unified front-end experience. The customer sees a unified storefront across multiple channels, all managed through a single platform. For businesses, headless ecommerce means you can pick and choose from an endless array of pre-built integrations – or build your own custom APIs.

You may already be familiar with some of the biggest headless ecommerce platforms out there:

  • BigCommerce

  • Shopify Plus

  • Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento)

  • Fabric

  • Salesforce CMS

These provide a platform for businesses to build their storefronts and design unique experiences with headless commerce APIs.

What are the benefits of headless ecommerce?

Headless ecommerce solutions offer benefits both to businesses and their customers. Here are a few reasons to consider switching over to a headless platform:

  • It gives you the ability to create a customized shopping experience for your customers using APIs that unite various channels across the front and back ends. By contrast, traditional ecommerce platforms offer limited templates and themes.

  • It saves time on making customer-facing website changes since you don’t have to work on the back end at the same time. This makes it less risky to try out new features without impacting the underlying architecture.

  • You can save money on development costs over time, with less infrastructure and reduced hosting fees. It’s also easier to globalize your online store without extensive development – you can build in new multi-currency tools and features.

  • You can deploy new features faster for better scalability as your business grows. Websites load faster too, which has been shown to increase conversion rates. In fact, according to a Portent study, the first five seconds of a page’s load time have the biggest impact on conversion rates. Ideally, an ecommerce site or app loads in under two seconds, because every second after this drops your conversion rate by 4.42%.

Is headless ecommerce right for your business?

There are plentiful benefits to using a headless ecommerce framework. However, this won’t be the best fit for every business. Smaller businesses and start-ups are often fine with traditional architecture – headless ecommerce requires some time and money to implement. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before going headless.

  • Do you want a more customizable storefront?

  • Do you want to provide an omnichannel customer experience?

  • Are you slowed down by the need to make front and back-end adjustments?

  • Are you hindered by the time it takes to add new tools into your existing infrastructure?

  • Does your storefront load slowly?

If you’re answering yes to several of these questions, it’s a clear sign that headless ecommerce could be right for you. The next step is to determine whether to keep your existing platform or switch to a new one. If you’re already using a major platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, you can integrate APIs and go headless without starting from scratch.

The next step is to select a headless content management system to provide a better user experience. With an API to unite your front and back ends, you’ll be ready to make the transition. As you add new front-end layers, be sure to consistently test each new feature before going live to customers.

Headless ecommerce is particularly suited to subscription businesses. GoCardless integrates easily with your existing storefront. Our global payment solution lets you collect recurring payments directly from customer bank accounts, with anti-fraud intelligence and easy automation for a smoother user experience.

We can help

GoCardless is a global payments solution that helps you automate payment collection, cutting down on the amount of financial admin your team needs to deal with. Find out how GoCardless can help you with one-off or recurring payments.

Over 85,000 businesses use GoCardless to get paid on time. Learn more about how you can improve payment processing at your business today.

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Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help
Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help

Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help

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