An Introduction to E-Commerce Today 

E-Commerce has been on the rise for the past 20 years. However, due to exceptional conditions, it’s accelerated twice as fast in 2020, bumping to 14% of total retail sales. In 2021, e-commerce now accounts for 15% of the total retail sales versus 11% in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.

E-commerce is here to stay due to multiple factors, starting with its obvious attraction for younger generations and digital nomads who are accustomed to online purchasing. They trust online shopping experiences will prove to be good if not better than the retail one with more stock options and online-only promotions.  

There’s plenty of solutions available to start your e-commerce store. Shopify is the most popular in the United States with 31% of the market share, followed by WooCommerce, the WordPress checkout experience, at 23% according to BuiltWith.

Of course, site builders like Wix and Squarespace have jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon closely following in 3rd and 4th place. Interestingly the 5th position is occupied by Ecwid, a headless e-commerce solution that integrates into any website or marketing channel.

Even though they originated as Monolithic CMSs, Shopify and WooCommerce also provide headless features now, opening the space for more personalized and globally distributed experiences.

What’s headless?

Before diving into headless e-commerce, let’s define headless.

Traditionally digital products are built with a back-end, corresponding to the server-side of things and a front-end where the client interacts with your product. This architecture is monolithic as every layer stacks on top of the other.

Going headless is the separation of the rendering layer from the monolithic stack. Instead, it’s handled by any solution providing the content as a service through an API. It’s called headless because the body, which represents the core of your editing experience for a CMS or e-commerce site, stays within the solution like WordPress or Shopify. Whereas the head can use any modern framework like React with Next/Gatsby that’s used by Ticketmaster, Staples, and Jet – or Vue Nuxt/Gridsome/Vue storefront that’s used by the likes of Louis Vuitton, Happy Socks, and Zadig & Voltaire to name a few, and not necessarily built for the web.

That’s the beauty of headless. By considering content as distributed data, it can power not only web experiences but also retail POS or any connected device.

The other main advantage of headless in comparison to a monolithic architecture is that headless solutions only have one purpose, providing the best content editing and developer experience. It allows content management teams and development teams to be more efficient and creative in their work, as one informs the other.

The main potential drawback is that by separating your back-end (body) from your front-end (head), you may need to host two separate instances which could prove more costly depending on your needs. However, you’re not locked to one system and can always find a solution that matches your end goal. From content-oriented solutions like Contentful to full-fledged CMSs like Strapi, you’ll always have one service available that ticks the box on all your requirements.

Headless applied to e-commerce

So how do headless apply to e-commerce? If you think about data: e-commerce leverages a lot of it for products, customers, orders, and much more. However, in terms of essential features, it mostly comes down to the checkout experience.

Abstracting the front-end from your e-commerce back-end means you can provide experiences tailored to your customers’ needs with interfaces that match your brand vision and DNA as you’re no longer limited to the handful of themes that come with these platforms.

Another major upside of going headless with e-commerce is that you can connect your e-commerce CMS to your content provider, profiting from its editing capabilities and allowing for better editorial or fully customized experiences.

Finally, by decoupling the back-end from the front-end, you no longer depend on all the plugins or extra lines of code that slows down a customer’s experience. Instead, customers will profit from the best of what’s out there with Progressive Web Applications, Mobile Applications, or even static generated websites with Jamstack.

Benefits + Conclusion

It’s faster to build out an MVP product using this solution, as you don’t experience the limitations that come with a standard e-commerce CMS provider. Instead, build out a tailored experience. By using tools developers know and love, your store will be faster to build out, and tailored to your needs. 

Use your ERP, PIM or IMS of choice to provide your e-commerce platform all its content while simultaneously working on how it will show up in your language of choice. Avoid having to rebuild the back-end and the front-end when it’s time to upgrade your technology stack.

Of course, personalization is a huge benefit. With a headless solution, you are the architect of your platform. Create any feature, and then develop and tailor it to your needs. You can also multiply the sources of curated content for even more customized experiences.

When considering whether to build a mobile app to sell products with a headless architecture, not only can you provide a catalog to your online platform but also mobile applications and in-store POS.

Core Web Vitals play an important role in site rankings and SEO strategies. A custom-built front-end makes it easier to follow and implement these recommendations for an overall improved user experience.