Headless eCommerce may seem like another tech buzzword, but it's a site architecture that's changing how eCommerce businesses serve the ever-evolving demands of their customers.

Headless eCommerce is the separation of front-end and the back-end platforms that allows for front-end design and back-end programming to run independently of each other. So:

  • Changes within the site architecture are more controlled,
  • Offers more personalization to your end-users,
  • And you have enough flexibility with your site layout that your end-customer can continue to have the same level of experience when browsing your marketplace on mobile to browsing your marketplace through their Wearable Watch.

Essentially, headless eCommerce enables the same level of personalization for your marketplace customers no matter what device that they are on.

While headless eCommerce can be difficult to understand outright, it's best to show how headless commerce works through the following example:

Traditional Retail

Image of an Appelrath-Cüpper storefront with customers walking in and out.

In a traditional scenario, you walk into a store to purchase something.

The cashier cashes you out, then you leave.

If you're regularly purchasing from a small business owner, they may start to know you by name. Then on a more-personal level.

You may have disclosed a problem you're having, and on your next visit, the owner offers you personalized recommendations to solve it.

While it's nice for small business owners to use personalized details to help their customers, in a traditional commerce world it's completely unscalable. How would a large grocery chain implement the same level of personalization and the same experience across multiple stores?

Traditional eCommerce

Image of a woman carrying a colorful shopping bag while also holding a debit or credit card.

In this example, your customer visits your marketplace website.

They're recommended the exact toothbrush they've been looking for via search algorithms.

As long as they're on your website or mobile app, you can always expect your customer to get what they need. But what happens when your customers try visiting your online store through a voice assistant or a kiosk?

These Internet-connected devices pose a greater threat and inefficiency than the example used for traditional retail. Let's take a look at some potentially disappointing customer experiences.

Over-Engineered for One Interface

Maybe your website is too engineered for one channel and not flexible enough to accommodate the rest. For example, your marketplace doesn't display your items well through a voice assistant. Your marketplace doesn't communicate well with a Wearable Watch.

When you originally built your online store, you only had to worry about desktop and mobile viewports. Now, there are an increasing number of Internet-connected devices that your customers can assess your marketplace through.

Therefore, it becomes unscalable to customize your website to every new (and existing) user interface and channel.

Only Available in One Place

The second potential disappointment is that your marketplace operates in a silo, meaning you can't use an omnichannel approach to stay in contact with your potential customer.

The UX suffers because your website wasn't built for a format that it isn't accustomed to.

The Promise of Headless eCommerce

Flow diagram outlining how headless eCommerce works to provide a seamless experience to end users.
Flow diagram outlining how headless eCommerce works to provide a seamless experience to end users.

Headless commerce separates (individualized) portions of your website to make it easier for your customer to interpret what your marketplace is showcasing through a different interface.

How Headless eCommerce Works

How headless eCommerce functions is that instead of showing an entire page upfront first, it instead rearranges individualized sections of your pages (title; price; reviews; etc) and reorganizes them into a more customer-friendly format so that your end-users can easily interpret more clearly through different channels and devices.

Whether you are speaking with a voice assistant or ordering from a kiosk, your customer has a consistent experience with your D2C brand—this is proven to help you sell more and reduce cart abandonment.

You're also able to offer more to your customers at-scale as opposed to relying on traditional eCommerce tactics.

Why is Headless eCommerce Needed?

Business person sitting in front of their laptop looking at their mobile phone.

What makes headless eCommerce so incredibly special is the demand behind it: Omnichannel marketing.

According to OmniSend, using 3 or more channels raises your purchase rate by 287% compared to relying on 1 channel for your marketing campaigns.

This means that you can leverage headless eCommerce as a great way to meet your customers.

  • If your customer is at a kiosk, your marketplace is there.
  • If your customer prefers to shop by voice, your marketplace is there.
  • If your customers are shopping at your marketplace through a Wearable, it means that your marketplace is there.

Leveraging omnichannel marketing is a way to drive traffic to your D2C brand and to be everywhere where your customer is using your eCommerce marketplace: Be it from their computer, their mobile phone, tablet, or even a new Internet-connected device—without having to sacrifice customer service in the process.

Why Is it called "Headless" eCommerce?

The reason why headless eCommerce is called "headless" is that it is separated from the backend processes of your website.

In traditional eCommerce, 2 systems are tightly bound to one another.

First, there is the front-end (the head) that handles:

  • Design
  • Copy
  • UI/UX

Then, there's the back-end (the site architecture that handles the processes that your customer doesn't see) that handles tasks such as:

  • Inventory management
  • Product information
  • Customer relationships
  • Cart and checkout information

In traditional eCommerce, modifying either the front-end or the back-end greatly changes the other.

In some cases, it may be an improvement but in most cases, you don't control the experience that your customers have.

This means that you have introduced several factors that you cannot easily account for when it comes to scaling and growing your marketplace.

One great use case for headless eCommerce is modifying the back-end properties of your marketplace without modifying the front-end.

This property of headless eCommerce design enables greater customization as you can modify how the back-end system functions without changing the front-end.

This means that you have a controlled customer experience.

One of the driving forces for headless eCommerce is Headless APIs.

APIs allow for information to be shown in different interfaces. As a result, this means that information can be broadcasted in a different medium and a format that fits your customer's expectations.

In short, headless eCommerce is necessarily built around customization while ensuring customer-friendliness.

How Does Headless eCommerce Power Omnichannel Stores?

The word Omnichannel with various icons representing omnichannel experiences

Earlier, we mentioned the rise of omnichannel demand.

According to Marketing Week, the average person only uses 2 touch-points when purchasing an item but today, nearly 50% use more than four touch-points.

Omnichannel marketing is a reaction to people using multiple devices to browse the Internet.

Leveraging headless eCommerce is an answer to meet the omnichannel demands of your customers.

How is Omnichannel is Driving Headless eCommerce Growth?

More than 35% of customers expect to contact the same customer service representative on multiple available channels, according to Zendesk.

Omnichannel marketing is shaping demand because customers now expect you to be where they are.

This means that while you can use several conjoined platforms to work with one another, the customer experience can be clunky at best.

This also hurts your analytics since you need to make sure you are tracking the same customers throughout their customer journey.

Since personalization is key to keeping your cart abandonment rates low, you must do everything you can to ensure that you are providing an overall consistently helpful experience for your customers - no matter what interface they are using.

Therefore, Headless eCommerce offers the following benefits to omnichannel retailers:

  • Consistent customer experience throughout multiple user interfaces from desktop to kiosk to a voice assistant. Your marketplace maintains the same UX throughout multiple interfaces.
  • A shorter learning curve. Headless eCommerce borrows technologies from several different sources; therefore, instead of having to learn an entirely new tech stack, you can implement tech from Slack to WordPress and form consistent user experiences throughout different user interfaces.
  • That, in turn, means that your eCommerce marketplace has more access to talent who can run and manage these aspects of your marketplace instead of having to pay top-dollar for a professional with a very specific skill set.
  • Which, in turn, makes it immensely easier to scale and your marketplace outright.

The biggest reason why you should get started with headless eCommerce is because it isn’t some new pointless tech advent trend.

Instead, it’s a response to address that your consumer uses multiple devices and multiple touch-points throughout their buyer journey.

For more information on headless eCommerce, we recommend that you read our ultimate guide to headless eCommerce here.