What Is Headless Ecommerce Architecture?

Endertech Team

Consumer behavior and expectations are constantly shifting. Therefore, online retailers must find ways to adapt quickly or be left behind. One way to do that is by using the right technology; one such technology being headless ecommerce.

But what is headless ecommerce architecture? How does it help online retailers prevail by meeting the evolving demands of the present-day customer?

Forbes reports that investors have increasingly recognized the potential of headless commerce platforms in shaping the future of e-business and accelerated funding for these technologies. Against this backdrop, headless technologies received more than $1.65 billion in 2020–2021 alone.

In this article, we explain the meaning of headless ecommerce architecture and how it can make your brand’s ecommerce faster, more agile, functional, and flexible.

What Is Headless Architecture?

Headless architecture is a specialized software design approach that involves decoupling the front end of an ecommerce platform from the back end.

In this architecture, the presentation layer of the ecommerce application is separate from the platform’s back-end services or business logic.

The front end (the ‘head) is the part that users interact with. It renders and displays the user interface (UI). On the other hand, the back end (the ‘body’) is responsible for handling business processes and managing data.

The front-end or presentation layer of a headless ecommerce platform and back-end infrastructure work together seamlessly with the help of application programming interfaces (APIs).

In a headless ecommerce system, APIs can connect various internet-enabled buyer touchpoints to the same back end, enabling the sharing of the same data across the various user interfaces or touchpoints.

These touchpoints can be anything from mobile apps to IoT (Internet of Things) devices like smartwatches.

Sample Anatomy of Headless Ecommerce Architecture

While minor differences exist from one system to another, headless ecommerce architecture consists of the following components.

  • Front end – This is the presentation layer consisting of the software and hardware making up the user interface across an online store’s sales channels.
  • APIs – an abbreviation for application programming interfaces. They are software intermediaries that allow two applications to communicate with each other. In this case, they enable the exchange of data between the front end and back end of the headless ecommerce platform.
  • Back end – This is the part of the ecommerce platform that customers don’t see. It is responsible for the headless store’s database management, server-side processing, and other technical aspects. In other words, the back end is the logic of all business processes, including catalog structure, checkout rules, promotions, and more.
  • Data sources – These are the integrated business systems that store and manage business data of all kinds. Various integrations exist based on business needs and can be replaced by the platform’s database, where no elaborate systems are required.

How Does Headless Ecommerce Architecture Work?

By now, you know that the main aspect of a headless ecommerce architecture is a decoupled front and back end.

A single back end connects to multiple front-end elements or presentation layers via application programming interfaces. Each front end sends API calls to the back end through its corresponding API, triggering the required response. This sums up how headless ecommerce architecture works.

This is as opposed to the working of a traditional monolithic system where the front- and back-end systems are a single unit tightly coupled, with each back having its corresponding front end.

Headless ecommerce architecture gets its name from the fact that the back end has no corresponding presentation layer or front end (head). So it responds to whatever sends it the appropriate API call and can do this to as many front ends as the business system requires.

Therefore, retailers with a headless ecommerce store typically store all their product information in their designated back end. Then, they use headless commerce APIs to push the product information to customers on various user interfaces or presentation layers.

The dedicated back-end system connecting to various storefronts operates tools for managing sales, data processing, website security, business logic, and multimedia features.

Ecommerce businesses with a decoupled setup can effectively build digital storefronts or customer-facing systems (front-ends) that work like an online concierge. This digital concierge helps guide customers through the experience.

How Does Headless Ecommerce API Work?

A pictorial demonstration of how headless e-commerce can be accessed using different smart devices.

As already mentioned, APIs enable communication between different systems, applications, and devices. An API is a set of protocols that act as a messenger between two separate systems or applications.

In the case of a headless ecommerce platform, APIs enable the exchange of data between the front-end or presentation layer and the back-end infrastructure.

Two main components of an API exist, namely:

  • The API server
  • The API client

The Process

Once a user enters data on the user interface or presentation end of a system, the API client creates requests consistent with the data entered.

The API client then seamlessly sends the requests to an API endpoint where Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) enable access to various resources in the database.

The API requests sent to the endpoint can take any of the following forms:

  • PUT – This is a request to create a resource or an update within an existing resource
  • GET – This request directs the API to retrieve a resource
  • POST – This request directs the API to create a resource
  • PATCH – This is a request to modify a resource partially
  • DELETE – This is a request to remove a resource from the database

Once any of these requests reaches the API endpoint (the part of an API responsible for accepting requests and sending back responses), the API server goes to work. It receives the request from the API client, checks its validity, and carries out the desired action.

In a headless ecommerce setup, the desired action or designated method can be something like retrieving product information, including prices or displaying the entire list of products in the store’s catalog back to the shopper.

While the entire work behind the scenes is complex, the data that a user needs to key in is usually simple. Additionally, most user interfaces are intuitive, allowing the customer to require no technical knowledge to use the platform.

The Available API Protocols You Should Know About

Various API protocols exist. Here is a look at the common options on the API market.

  • REST: Also known as RESTful API, this application programming interface performs operations using standard HTTP methods and allows for access to resources through endpoints. It is among the most popular APIs used in headless commerce.
  • GraphQL: This is another highly popular API that most headless ecommerce platforms use. It enables users to interact with a single API endpoint at a time to retrieve the required data without linking multiple requests.
  • SOAP: This protocol type is equally popular and uses XML technology for client-server data transfer. SOAP, or Simple Object Access Protocol, is most often used in enterprise environments and legacy systems.
  • Webhooks: These are lightweight APIs that power one-way data sharing triggered by events. Therefore, Webhooks are used by event-driven architectures, with requests that are transmitted automatically for every event-based trigger.
  • gRPC: RPC (Remote Procedure Call) is a robust open-source framework for fast and scalable APIs, originally developed by Google. The protocol type allows users to call on a server the same way one would call a local object. This mechanism simplifies communication between distributed apps and systems.

Benefits Of Headless Ecommerce Architecture

Three images elaborating the three components of a headless e-commerce architecture; the customer, the front-end and the back-end.
Decoupling the front-end from the back-end system in a headless ecommerce platform is not just for cosmetic purposes. In reality, it has a host of benefits that make it appealing to a wide share of the ecommerce market.

If a recent State of Commerce report by Salesforce is anything to go by, headless ecommerce architecture is becoming increasingly popular. 77% of businesses using headless architecture say that it makes them more agile, helps them meet customer expectations, and increases conversions.

This is just but one of the many benefits of headless ecommerce architecture. Additionally, you are likely to reap the following benefits from implementing a headless architecture.

  1. Scalability

    Decoupling the front end from the back end of your business liberates you, allowing you to scale both systems independently.

    In comparison, a monolithic system would be more tasking to scale because any change made to the front-end layer affects the back-end infrastructure and vice versa. Keeping the front and back ends separate helps solve this problem, making it easier to scale each layer of the platform in response to increased user demand and traffic.

  2. Flexibility

    You can develop and modify the front-end presentation layer of the ecommerce platform without affecting your store’s underlying ecommerce functionalities in a headless system.

    This means you can make essential changes to the customer-facing side of your business as soon as they become necessary without worrying about the core functionalities of your business being affected.

    In a monolithic system, any such changes could lead to unwelcome downtime. This quality makes such integrated systems less flexible.

  3. Fast loading times and Enhanced performance

    If your website takes longer than three seconds to load, you will likely lose up to 40% of visitors. Emphatically, this underscores the importance of faster site loading times.

    Decoupling your ecommerce site’s front end and back end can help you improve the site’s performance and achieve faster speeds.

    A headless ecommerce platform delivers content to the user separately from the back-end presentation layer. Consequently, this design helps reduce the amount of code that must load to display a web page, reducing the site’s loading times.

    This performance can influence your site’s search SEO (search engine optimization) performance, user experience, and conversion rates.

  4. Quick development cycles

    Separating the front and back end means that development teams can work on the two systems simultaneously.

    As a result, with one team working on the front end while another focuses on the back end infrastructure, there is reduced dependency, leading to the development process taking less time to complete.

  5. Omnichannel support

    With headless ecommerce architecture, you can integrate your ecommerce platform with various customer touchpoints such as mobile apps, web applications, IoT devices, and voice interfaces. As a result, you give your customers consistent experiences across these channels.

  6. Better customization and personalization

    Notice that a typical ecommerce platform does not usually include many customizable features. Conversely, having a separate, headless ecommerce front end helps businesses build customizable solutions that meet customer expectations in a more personalized and customized way.

    Developers can use various technologies, including custom-built solutions, JavaScript frameworks like Vue.js, or mobile app development tools like React Native to build a headless ecommerce front.

    Such approaches excel in giving customers highly personalized experiences.

  7. Enhanced customer experience.

    The flexibility that comes with headless ecommerce architecture means the ability to control the customer-facing presentation layer or the storefront. Consequently, this allows brands to give their customers personalized experiences that yield customer satisfaction and increased loyalty.

  8. Easier integration with third-party tools

    Separating the front-end layer from the core business functionalities at the back end not only brings added flexibility but also easier integration with third-party tools, plugins, and services.

    Specifically, it allows you to choose the tech stack that best suits your business or a specific project’s needs. These can include analytics tools, marketing automation solutions, inventory management systems, and more.

Is Headless Ecommerce Architecture Right For Your Business?

Overall, your business needs will play a key role in determining whether your online store benefits from a headless commerce architecture.

For a small business with a limited customer base, a traditional ecommerce platform may make more sense. However, for a growth-oriented business that seeks to reach a wider market, an open-source headless ecommerce solution or any headless ecommerce architecture can be beneficial.

The headless technology can go a long way in making your brand’s ecommerce activity faster, more functional, scalable, and flexible.

Recap: What is Headless Ecommerce Architecture?

In this article, we have noted that headless ecommerce architecture is a specialized software design approach that decouples the front end of an ecommerce platform from the back end. The separated front-end presentation layer and the back-end system then communicate or exchange data via APIs.

This approach to ecommerce software design brings a host of benefits, including future-proofing the business, bringing increased flexibility, scalability, easier third-party integration, and better omnichannel capabilities.

Keep an eye out for our next post as we introduce the leading ecommerce platforms likely to benefit your business the most.

Should you go headless with your ecommerce architecture or remain with a traditional, integrated option? Perhaps talking to an expert would be best. Make the call.

- Endertech TeamEndertechies | 

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