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24. April 2023

Anything but headless: Why headless commerce is a smart choice

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Portrait Daniela Köhler

by Daniela Köhler

Publications officer

Rapid technological developments, changing trends, fast-moving customer behaviour: Online retailers operate in an agile environment. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on customer needs and keep up with the latest innovations. Headless shop systems create the basis for this.

What is the definition of "headless"?

Today’s customers want to be able to shop from anywhere at any time and change sales channels as they please. Accordingly, it is important for manufacturers and retailers to present their services on different channels. These include:

  • classic online shops,
  • digital marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay,
  • in-store kiosks and displays,
  • smartwatches,
  • voice commerce,
  • virtual reality and augmented reality.

No matter which channel customers use, they always expect a stimulating shopping experience. No easy task for retailers. Particularly given that all these channels are very different. Anyone who nevertheless relies on shop systems with rigid front and back-end architectures will quickly end up fighting a losing battle. While this makes it easy to put products online, it makes it difficult to achieve an outstanding customer experience. However, this is easier with a shop system in which the front and back ends are separated from each other. This so-called “headless architecture” provides retailers the greatest possible flexibility, since different channels can be tailored to specific target groups with minimal effort.

Headless commerce: from online shops to shopping experience

What makes headless shop systems stand out?

Can something that is “headless” function successfully? Yes, in digital commerce, since the term “headless” refers to the frontend, i.e. the user interface through which the customer interacts with the shop. Figuratively, a headless shop system is a body (backend) without a fixed head (frontend). By way of comparison, front and backend are closely linked in traditional systems. Changes in the user interface – for example, through updates or the implementation of new functionalities – will inevitably require adjustments to the backend of these systems. Accordingly, flexibility and agility fall by the wayside.

By contrast, headless architectures do not have any fixed frontend. Rather, shop systems consist of a backend with many faces. The special feature: Frontend and backend are separated from each other. Sales-relevant data such as prices or product information are stored in the backend and are transmitted to the frontend through programming interfaces (APIs). User interfaces can therefore be changed quickly and individually without the need for backend programming work.

However, APIs and the separation of front and back end are just two prerequisites to being able to continuously adapt online shops to new framework conditions. Microservices are also an essential prerequisite of this. According to requirements or demand, these can be combined into a best-of-breed solution, as in a modular system. Last but not least, the Cloud creates the basis for developing online services quickly and agilely, with reasonable efforts, while effortlessly coping with peak hours. Microservices, APIs, Cloud and headless are therefore the unbeatable four factors for success in digital commerce.

Headless commerce: The three most important advantages

Today, an online shop must be more than just a product catalogue. If you want to stand out from the mass of countless digital commerce services available and stay ahead of the competition, you must do one thing above all: impress and keep customers in the long term. Headless shop systems pave the way for this. They stand out with these three important advantages:

Young woman sitting on her bed with a laptop and a smartphone in her hand
  • High flexibility: Consumer needs and expectations are constantly evolving. Displaying a new sofa directly in your own home; Trying out this season’s latest trend colour on your own living room wall; Equipping your individual avatar with the new summer style of your favourite brand ; Thanks to augmented reality (AR), this has long since become reality. A headless system makes it easy for shop owners to change with the times. This is because necessary adjustments can be made in an agile manner without the need for lengthy planning.
  • First-class customer experiences: One approach to stand out from the competition is to personalise the shopping experience. According to surveys, more than two thirds of consumers now want personalised services. With the help of headless architecture, online retailers can easily meet this challenge – no matter which sales channel customers use. Content can be presented in a way that meets specific target groups and channels. The result: Customers have the same positive experience at all touchpoints of the customer journey.

  • Improved competitiveness: Product range expansion, additional means of payment, new sales channels: The ability to innovate also benefits from a headless approach. New ideas and updates can be tested and tried out at selective points without this affecting the entire system. The best, first-class prerequisites for strengthening your own position, opening up new markets and impressing consumers at all times.

Headless commerce: The best solution for all?

  • Without question, headless has become the “new normal” in omnichannel commerce. No wonder, given the advantages that headless offers.
  • The downside: modular headless architecture increases complexity – and thus the effort for IT. Not least for this reason, coupled architectures still have a right to exist. After all, they can be used to set up and manage functioning online shops.

  • Traditional shop systems, however, are mainly suitable for companies that are just starting out in online sales or for retailers who only address a small target group with a limited range of products through a defined channel. On the other hand, anyone who wants to use the entire range of sales channels, as well as impressing customers at all touchpoints, will be unable to avoid headless commerce in the long run.

Want to learn more about headless commerce and its possibilities? Then read our free white paper “Headless commerce: from online shops to shopping experience”. It will show you the basic requirements of a modern shop system and reveal why nowadays there is no way around technological flexibility. You will also learn how to take your online business to the next level with novomind iSHOP.

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