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Headless vs. Traditional Commerce: Which One is Right for You?

Understanding the difference between headless and traditional commerce can help you determine which approach is best fit for your company. 

If you're seeking to innovate and advance your e-commerce experience, you've likely come across the term "headless commerce." But what exactly does it entail, how does it contrast with traditional commerce, and which option aligns best with your business goals?

Before deciding on an e-commerce model, it's crucial to evaluate your organization’s objectives, capabilities, and resources. Below, we’ll cover:

  • The advantages of headless commerce over a traditional e-commerce platform
  • Guidelines for evaluating the right model for your organization 
  • Tips for designing a headless commerce site  

Comparing Headless and Traditional Commerce Platforms

Before exploring the benefits of headless commerce, let's establish a clear understanding of both headless and traditional approaches. 

  • Headless commerce separates the frontend presentation layer from the backend e-commerce functions. It allows businesses to have independent and flexible frontend experiences while leveraging APIs to fetch data and interact with the underlying e-commerce platform. Headless commerce allows businesses to scale their operations and implement thorough customization. 
  • Traditional commerce is a pre-set user and administrative experience with an entire web platform built with full integration between both front and backends. Any changes to the user interface or functionality will almost always require changes to the platform’s underlying codebase. Traditional commerce provides less flexibility than headless commerce but is easy for important commercial use. 

 

Headless Commerce 

Traditional Commerce 

Definition 

An e-commerce system in which the frontend and backend systems run separately 

An e-commerce system where the entire platform is built together as a single, integrated system 

Pros 

  • High degree of flexibility 
  • Greater customization options 
  • Easily scalable 
  • Easy to implement 
  • Everything is integrated 
  • More affordable 

Cons 

  • Higher upfront costs 
  • Requires technical expertise 
  • Longer development times 
  • Limited flexibility 
  • Difficult to customize 
  • Higher total cost of ownership (TCO)

 

In your traditional commerce website, the site’s front and backend are intrinsically connected. This may make it faster to set up and launch, but customization and the customer experience (CX) is limited. Additionally, integrating new technologies into a traditional commerce platform can pose challenges. Although headless commerce might require a higher initial investment, it future proofs your investment by: 

  • Offering greater flexibility to incorporate new technologies as they emerge. 
  • Providing customers with an evolving dynamic experience. 
  • Keeping your business aligned with evolving market trends. 

Headless Commerce vs. Traditional Commerce: Making the Right Choice 

There’s no universally correct choice between traditional or headless commerce systems. Different organizations will naturally gravitate towards one or the other based on various factors affecting their company, such as size, scale, audience, level of technical expertise, and budget. Before jumping headstrong into headless commerce, it’s essential to determine if it’s the right fit for your organization.  

Before deciding, here are a few considerations to keep in mind: 

Smaller organizations with less capital lean towards traditional commerce 

Small businesses with a limited budget often find themselves in need of a comprehensive, one-stop shop that allows them to manage everything from a single interface. Because smaller companies typically have less extensive inventory, the customization offered by headless commerce systems is often unnecessary. While the upfront costs and complexity of transitioning to a headless model may deter smaller businesses, the long-term flexibility it provides can prove beneficial for future-proofing their operations.

Larger companies can take advantage of the flexibility of headless commerce 

Larger companies with a greater budget to spend upfront and more complex inventory and personalization needs are increasingly investing in headless commerce. These systems offer a greater degree of flexibility when working between a company’s frontend and backend, making them ideal for companies seeking a more personalized experience. Further, the decoupled front and backend systems provide an additional layer of scalability and security to handle larger traffic volumes. 

Headless commerce also allows for complex integrations with a variety of different platforms, like marketing automation tools or customer relationship management software. This makes it ideal for businesses that rely on a wide range of different tools and systems to manage their operations. 

Designing Your Headless Commerce-Compatible Architecture 

Designing a headless commerce architecture is no small accomplishment, especially for an existing e-commerce store. A successful design requires careful planning, evaluation, and collaboration. By assessing your current infrastructure, defining business goals, and leveraging existing resources, you can streamline the transition process while preserving the integrity of your operations.  

Below are some steps to developing a headless commerce solution: 

1. Assess current infrastructure 

It is crucial to conduct a thorough assessment of your existing e-commerce infrastructure. This evaluation should encompass your frontend systems, backend systems, databases, third-party integrations, and overall technology stack. Understanding your current architecture will help you identify areas to leverage, integrate, or potentially replace in the headless setup. 

2. Define business goals and requirements 

  • Clearly define your business goals and requirements for the headless commerce implementation. 
  • Identify the specific challenges you aim to address, such as improving UX, scalability, or omnichannel capabilities.  
  • Make informed decisions by aligning your objectives with the potential benefits of a headless architecture. 

3. Consider a modular approach and microservices 

A modular approach with microservices architecture forms the foundation of headless commerce. Breaking down your monolithic system into smaller, independent services increases flexibility and agility.  

Identify the components that can be decoupled and transformed into microservices, allowing for easier integration and future enhancements.  

4. Integrate with APIs 

APIs play a vital role in a headless commerce setup. By determining and leveraging the necessary APIs to connect your frontend and backend systems, you ensure seamless data flow and functionality. Plus, with a robust integration between components—and custom APIs where required—you deliver a consistent, integrated experience across channels. 

5. Preserve data integrity with a migration strategy 

Migrating to a headless architecture may involve transferring data from your existing systems to new repositories or databases. To do this, successful organizations develop a comprehensive data migration strategy that ensures data integrity and consistency throughout the transition. Retailers should implement data mapping, cleansing, and validation processes to maintain accuracy and reliability for customer, product, and order information. 

6. Recognize UX and design flexibility 

Headless commerce gives businesses greater control and flexibility in designing sound UX. By leveraging this advantage you create customized and engaging interfaces tailored to your brand. Consider employing modern front-end frameworks, design systems, and tools that enable efficient development and seamless user experiences across multiple devices and touchpoints. 

7. Collaborate with specialty tech consultants 

When implementing a headless commerce architecture, collaborate with your experienced tech consultants who specialize in headless implementations. Their insights and guidance will help you navigate the complexities of such an implementation, make informed decisions, and ensure a smooth transition without disrupting your existing e-commerce operations. 

Creating the Right Headless System for Your Organization with Concord 

Retailers are always looking for the next best advantage in the ongoing battle for consumer attention. As e-commerce evolves, there are more opportunities to create personalized shopping experiences and generate greater customer loyalty.  

Understanding the advantages of headless commerce and traditional commerce will help determine which approach is right for your organization. If your assessment reveals that headless commerce is the right fit, it’s time to move on to the preparation stage.  

When getting started with your headless commerce journey, keep these five steps in mind. 

1. Define goals and objectives 
Identify the pain points and determine how headless commerce can help you overcome those challenges. 

2. Choose the right tech and APIs 
With headless commerce you manage a different technology stack—CMS, commerce engine, API gateway, or other required tools—than traditional e-commerce. 

3. Create a customized storefront 
Connect the commerce backend through the API layer to create a customized storefront that offers a unique UX. 

4. Integrate the storefront with the backend 
The backend typically includes product catalog management, order management, inventory management, pricing, and other commerce-related functions. 

5. Continuously test and optimize once store is running 
Monitor metrics such as page load times, bounce rates, conversion rates, and revenue to identify areas for improvement. 

If you are still wrestling with the question of headless commerce versus traditional commerce, it may be prudent to consider working with a specialty consultant who weighs both offers for your unique circumstances. The Concord team guides you through the retail experience, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and data science for marketing personalization and building loyal customers who come back for more. This allows your company to scale your operations between headless and traditional systems as you grow without the hassle of doing it yourself. 

If you are looking for experts to help guide you through your e-commerce journey, Concord is the perfect fit. Contact us today to learn more about headless commerce versus traditional commerce, our technology integration services, and how we can help your business thrive. 

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