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Everything You Need To Know About Headless Commerce (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Here's your guide to understanding common components of a headless commerce system.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on July 22, 2020 to clarify technology capabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly changing every part of the buying journey, from how customers engage to the platforms where brands need to show up. How can businesses extend their brand quickly to meet new needs? With the flexibility and agility of headless commerce.

You’ve probably heard about headless commerce. It’s one of the most discussed and least understood buzzwords in ecommerce. To set the record straight, this post will uncover the common components of a headless commerce system. Plus, you’ll see the advantages and considerations in adopting the architecture.

First, what is headless commerce?

In its simplest form, headless commerce is a separation of the front end and back end of an ecommerce application. This architecture offers brands freedom of expression to build whatever and however they want. Most importantly, it enables brands to enrich the customer experience. 

One hallmark of headless is the use of APIs, experience managers, and tools such as Heroku and Mulesoft as well as the importance of IT partners. These resources are a critical part of every company’s innovation strategy, delivering new functionality and experiences that engage customers and stay ahead of their expectations.

If you’re in ecommerce, you know that keeping pace with emerging touchpoints and experiences isn’t easy (and often requires a lot of coffee). COVID-19 is only accelerating this. In a traditional ecommerce model, new experiences can require updates to both the front- and back-end system, which can turn even small projects into huge headaches.

What are the benefits of headless commerce?

The adopters of headless commerce are typically bigger enterprises with larger development and IT teams along with a DIY attitude. This makes sense, as the custom programming needed to produce and build a separate front end and back end reliably can take a major investment of development hours. These businesses often have months-long development queues and ambitious creative and marketing teams that are eager to rapidly test new designs, copy, and templates on the front end. Today, with the health crisis forcing the pace in business change, brands need to embrace innovation like never before. Every hour of developer time is precious, as speed-to-market is often tied to increasing cash-flow.

If you’re thinking of making the switch to headless commerce, the four biggest benefits tend to be worth the effort and can accelerate your business.

  1. Better employee adoption. Some organizations can be reluctant to use new technologies due to steep learning curves. Having a modern commerce platform alongside the simplicity of headless commerce solves this problem, since everyone on your team can easily access and update the front end without advanced skills.
  2. The right tools for the job. Headless commerce gives brands the tools to build custom experiences that shoppers can’t get anywhere else. Critical to this are APIs to ensure coordinated, brand-consistent experiences across channels, driven by common commerce services such as promotions, inventory, product information, and more.
  3. Time savings across IT. Since changes to the front end can be made agiley, developers save time on user interface changes. Additionally, with headless templates and partner solutions, developers only need a few clicks or some light coding to jumpstart commerce apps that increase conversion.
  4. Time to market. With headless commerce, businesses can launch new front end experiences quickly. Reacting to a new market trend can be done rapidly and with a minimum of costly back end development.

These are reasons why teams may want to transition from traditional to headless ecommerce. At the same time, companies interested in improving their user experience should also know how headless can help them deliver even better customer satisfaction rates.

How does headless commerce impact your customers?

The path to growth means pivoting quickly to meet new customer and societal expectations. Branded manufacturers are going direct-to-consumer for the first time using Quick Start Commerce Solutions. Other companies are changing operating models, like Michaels, which launched new fulfillment options in only a few weeks. 

As customers embrace new ways of interacting with brands in a post-COVID world, they benefit from headless applications and websites:

1. Instantaneous changes and optimization

As soon as a business introduces new content to its front end, those updates are reflected almost instantly. Sites built with traditional commerce architecture, on the other hand, can sometimes take minutes, if not hours (read: too long), before all users can experience a brand’s latest design. 

2. Rich user experiences and interfaces

As they are finally able to control all the elements users interact with more easily, brands can get more creative with the content they publish on their websites to provide experimental design. Additionally, the universal compatibility of headless commerce ensures your website works seamlessly and as intended between all devices and viewing formats. Managers of traditional ecommerce websites, however, have to account for responsive design to minimize the risk of elements disappearing or displaying incorrectly on different devices.

How do you get started with headless commerce?

The fact is that most developers are not designers, and most designers aren’t developers. Commerce platforms provide APIs and tools for developers to build coordinated, brand-consistent experiences across channels based on a single view of data. Meanwhile, creative teams focus on what they do best:optimizing the user experience and interface to improve customer engagement and conversions. 

The flexibility of a commerce platform ensures your developers can build with speed and full autonomy of tools, code, and APIs and all third-party integrations. To get ahead of the innovation curve and leapfrog the competition, consider headless commerce, making it easier to create compelling customer experiences. See if it’s right for you with our two-minute assessment tool

And, equip developers with the tools and education they need with the Commerce Cloud Developer Center. It’s a public portal to discover, share, and build commerce applications. Developers can use it as the primary source of information and guidance to create innovative experiences on Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

Jon Feldman is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Salesforce Commerce Cloud. No stranger to ecommerce, Jon’s previous roles include Senior Director of IT eCommerce at Restoration Hardware and Executive Director at AAXIS Commerce. He enjoys taking an active approach in both professional and personal life. When he’s not bridging the gap between technology and business, he enjoys DJing and exercising. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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