Why Headless Architecture Has Built a Strong Ecommerce Reputation


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Ecommerce moves fast — sometimes ludicrously fast.

The sheer volume of retailers and the size of the industry make for fierce competition, which means that innovation comes quickly. That requires a flexible approach to IT architecture.

It’s also why headless architecture — separating the front-end from the back-end so each can function independently — has become increasingly popular for ecommerce businesses. 

In fact, it’s estimated that 60% of major online retailers in North America will be a headless operation by 2025. 

Why is headless such a strong buzzword in ecommerce? The advantages can be enticing.

Headless vs. monolithic architecture

Monolithic architecture is an approach to building software applications as a single, standalone unit. In this approach, all the elements of the application are combined into a single, interconnected unit, where the database, user interface, server-side logic, and other components are tightly coupled.

Headless architecture, on the other hand, separates the front-end and back-end components. In simple terms, you can think of it as decoupling the presentation layer (front-end) from the data layer (back-end). 

Headless approaches are often used for more complex use cases and follow the MACH (microservices, API-first, cloud-native, headless) approach.

In this model, the front-end website is entirely independent and communicates with the back-end through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), plugins, Internet of Things (IOT) devices, headless content, and microservices. 

It means that developers can now use any front-end technology they prefer, as long as it can communicate with the back-end through messaging powered by APIs.

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Why headless architecture can benefit online stores

Decoupling the front- and back-end provides benefits that align with the unique needs of ecommerce platforms and web apps. The malleability and scalability make it an ideal approach to future proof and meet constantly evolving business logic.

Boosting development speed.

In traditional ecommerce platforms, developers spend a considerable amount of time customizing front-end designs, templates and tweaking the user interface. Changing any functionality on the back-end can stall the whole process. 

However, decoupled architecture means changes made to the back-end do not affect the front-end. The back-end can be modified and optimized without impacting the front-end, reducing dependencies and potential time to market.

Streamlining content management.

Headless approaches make it easy to manage an omnichannel strategy from one system. Instead of updating multiple channels, you can make a single edit and push updates to wherever your items are listed. 

It also makes personalization much easier, with the front-end operating independently.

Enhanced security features.

Headless approaches compartmentalize sensitive data, meaning that a break-in allows access to only a part of an online store, not all of it. A company also gets access to best-in-breed solutions that have advanced security features built in them.

Enabling API-first.

As mentioned above, APIs mean maximum flexibility in selecting best-of-breed vendors. Instead of building systems such as customer relationship managers (CRM) or checkout functionality, using solutions designed to fulfill specific needs is often the better choice. 

This extensibility means a site is easier to update and is often called composable commerce.

Omnichannel retailing.

Omnichannel selling is quickly becoming the norm. Extending sales to Amazon, mobile apps, social media, or other other touchpoints extends reach with minimal use of resources.

Headless architecture challenges to keep in mind

Like any new technology, headless architecture comes with its own set of challenges. If a company is planning on implementing this approach, they will want to know what they are up against. 

Initial cost and time investment.

Headless architecture is relatively new and can be a bit overwhelming and expensive at first. Investing in the infrastructure and a highly skilled team of back-end developers that will handle the implementation is crucial. 

The implementation doesn’t take a short time to complete. It's going to be time consuming.

Ongoing development costs.

The good news is that the maintenance of a headless architecture system is typically easier as it deals with new technology tools. In addition, once the foundation is set, it’s easier for developers to maintain as system updates are fairly limited in scope.

Risk of vendor lock-in.

There’s always the chance that one solution becomes so integrated in your tech stack that it can’t function without it. This restricts your ability to grow and puts a business in a compromised position if something happens with the vendor. 

Requirement for strong development skills.

Headless approaches are fairly new and don’t have multiple generations of experts familiar with them. Integrations aren’t always easy, so companies will need the human resources available to solve complicated challenges.

Potential API limitations.

Headless architecture relies heavily on APIs and managing them can be a challenge if a company is not prepared. A company will need to ensure that the APIs are secure, reliable, and easy to use.

They will also need to monitor your API usage to prevent any overloading or slowdowns.

Headless architecture migration strategies

Migrating to a headless architecture can be a daunting task, especially if a business is unfamiliar with the process. Here are some approaches that better the chances of a seamless transition to this new ecosystem.

Crafting a full migration plan.

Be thoughtful in the approach to web development and carefully lay out a plan for migration as well as ongoing maintenance. Have a realistic budget and the development teams needed beforehand to avoid unfortunate surprises. 

A company will also need experienced back-end and front-end developers familiar with things like microservices architecture, rest APIs, JavaScript, Angular, HTML and Vue.js.

Ensuring SEO stability.

Headless can impact SEO. Businesses should ensure that metadata is updated, produce high-quality content regularly, and have a URL structure that makes sense to search engines. 

Ongoing maintenance and security.

A headless ecommerce platform is not a fire-and-forget solution. It takes regular maintenance to keep pace with competitors. 

Keeping SaaS solutions patched and security features updated will keep the site optimized. Consider updating the storefront with new features or identify new sales channels.

Monitoring post-migration performance.

Investing in a real-time monitoring solution may be wise. After the migration is done, a company might want to automate the monitoring function so that problem areas are flagged before they impact the customer-facing side.

Replatforming Guide: A Roadmap for Migrating Your Ecommerce Store

Make your ecommerce replatforming project a success with our step-by-step guide filled with best practises from enterprise migration experts.

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The final word

More and more ecommerce companies are shifting to headless approaches. The benefits make it easier to quickly respond to shifting demands and deliver high-quality user experiences. 

In a highly crowded market, being able to react and stand out could mean everything.

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