How to Choose a Headless Commerce Platform

Almost $5 trillion by the end of the year 2021. That’s the projected size of the global eCommerce market, according to eMarketer, a YoY growth rate of 14.3%. While this year's growth rate is moderating from the pandemic-fueled burst of 27.6% last year (notable also as overall retail sales declined by 3% in 2020), it’s still impressive. Clearly, eCommerce is here to stay and will continue to grow across industries. Global brands in both B2C and B2B are hoping to capitalize on this trend by delivering engaging experiences that make their customers’ lives easier and encourage them to complete the purchases in their shopping carts.

In order to aid in these endeavors, businesses have been considering the option of headless commerce to give customers the flexibility to make purchases from any digital touchpoint — whether that be a mobile device, a smartwatch, or even a refrigerator. If you want to do headless commerce right, however, you need to pick the right platform. So, in this article, we’ll be exploring headless commerce platforms, explaining some of the things you should look for and providing a list of platforms you might want to consider.

What Is a Headless Commerce Platform?

A headless commerce platform is an eCommerce platform that can integrate with a headless CMS to deliver content and eCommerce functionality to various touchpoints. While a traditional eCommerce platform provides a way for you to manage the marketing, sales, and other general commerce interactions on your website, a headless commerce platform goes a step further by allowing you to do all that for any customer touchpoint.

By leveraging headless architecture, a headless commerce platform decouples the backend and frontend layers. All eCommerce functionality is managed in the back-end, including setting up inventory, managing orders, creating product listings, etc. In the front end, however, rather than just making the eCommerce store visible on a desktop, developers are given the flexibility to build custom interfaces for mobile, tablets, smart TVs, or any other device where a customer might want to shop. The backend database and frontend presentation layer are connected using APIs, and content can be displayed wherever a business wants or wherever its customers are located.

Read More: Headless Commerce Explained for the Tech-Curious

Why Do You Need a Headless Commerce Platform?

Headless commerce platforms essentially combine content and commerce, enabling brands to deliver more dynamic and exciting digital experiences. But why is now the right time to opt for a headless commerce platform instead of a traditional eCommerce platform that still enables you to sell online? There are a few reasons:

Growth of eCommerce

We touched on the projected size of the global eCommerce market in 2021 earlier, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Recent events have undoubtedly accelerated the adoption of eCommerce stores in some industries, but eCommerce has been on a steady upward trend for quite some time. In the US alone, eCommerce has grown 15% year-over-year for the last decade. The spike in 2020 may have occurred a couple of years earlier than expected. Still, with platforms like Amazon, Alibaba, and more providing expansive online marketplaces, eCommerce was always set to explode sooner rather than later.

Increased digital touchpoints

Another reason why a headless commerce platform is becoming more of a necessity than a nice-to-have is the increasing number of digital touchpoints where customers can choose to interact with a brand or make a purchase. Headless commerce enables you to not only display content on multiple channels, it allows you to create a seamless omnichannel experience as well. Whether your brand wants to deliver content to a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Google Home or permit your customers to shop from a digital kiosk located in a physical store, headless commerce makes it possible to showcase your products wherever you need.

Changing customer habits

Customers are fickle. They will like a platform or store one day and then quickly shift to another if their expectations aren’t met. According to PwC, 17% of customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience. Brands need the flexibility to adapt to these changing preferences, and headless commerce provides that necessary adaptability, allowing you to be swift to market.

Limitations of traditional eCommerce platforms

Finally, traditional eCommerce platforms are simply no longer capable of helping brands meet today’s modern customer requirements. Traditional commerce platforms place limitations on the types of front ends that developers can create. They also limit the ability for brands to create personalized content, and the tight coupling of the front-end and back-end layers means they force brands to be inflexible - a death sentence in today’s digital environment.

What to Look For? (Factors to Consider)

By now, you understand that a headless commerce platform is ideal for your needs. Here are some of the things you need to look for when choosing your next platform.

Business Features

User Experience: Your headless commerce platform should enable you to provide an engaging and user-friendly experience for your customers. This includes having a sleek interface that allows your team to get everything they want to be done quickly and easily.

Analytics: Reviewing store activity, understanding your visitors, and gathering data that allows you to optimize your eCommerce store is a necessity.

Marketing: Launching campaigns to promote your products, generate email newsletters, and more are just some of the marketing features you should consider.

Catalogs: Headless commerce is especially ideal for companies with large extensive catalogs that want to reach audiences in multiple locations. Your eCommerce platform should provide the flexibility to create robust catalogs that showcase all of your products.

Shipping: Customers want to receive their items as quickly as possible. Therefore it’s imperative that your eCommerce platform can integrate with various shipping services and provide the tools to help you fulfill customer orders quickly.

Technical Features

Integrations: Headless commerce platforms should leverage APIs to integrate with third-party platforms that make them more extensible. Whether that means more extensive analytics or a headless CMS that makes creating digital experiences much easier to create.

Payments: Customers are happy to give you their money when they enjoy an experience and want a specific product, but you need to provide them with options. A headless commerce platform should provide several payment options that enable customers to pay in multiple ways, depending on their preference.

Customer Experience

SEO: Search engine optimization can help to drive your eCommerce store to the top of the rankings for specific products and help you generate the revenue you desire. A headless commerce platform should enable you to optimize your product lists, blog content, and more to target keywords your customers are searching for.

Mobile-friendliness: Mobile shopping continues to grow in popularity, and your eCommerce store needs to be built to match. A headless commerce store can help you deliver content to a mobile device and optimize it so that the browsing experience is smooth and fast.

Scalability

For larger enterprises or even smaller startups with high growth ambition, having scalability to increase the number of products, handling more traffic, and processing more orders is an essential feature of your headless eCommerce platform.

Security

Whether it means including multi-factor authentication for your users, enabling secure purchases for your customers, or providing the right level of data encryption, your eCommerce platform should make security a priority.

MACH Alliance

The MACH Alliance is a group of companies advocating for an open and best-of-breed technology ecosystem. This includes leveraging microservices, an API-first approach, cloud-native SaaS, and headless architecture. For headless commerce platforms that are part of this group, you can expect to find these critical features in a headless commerce platform.

Truly headless: A decoupled frontend and backend that enables you to connect to various channels and provides framework agnosticism to give developers tons of flexibility.

Cloud-hosted: SaaS solutions enable companies to leverage the cloud for storage and hosting but also elastic scalability.

Read More: 56-Point eCommerce Audit Checklist: Is Your Current Tech Stack Enough?

Headless Commerce Platforms to Consider

The chances are that if the platform you’re considering doesn’t include most, if not all of the features we’ve outlined and more, then not only is it not the platform for you, it’s probably not a headless commerce solution. However, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top headless commerce platforms that can work for your business.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce provides the backend commerce engine while allowing you to connect to a CMS or DXP to improve the user experience. The decoupled platform architecture enables businesses to create multiple storefronts and run them from a single account. An open SaaS platform, it allows you to customize experiences no matter how complex your frontend is.

Commercetools

Commercetools’ headless commerce capabilities are meant to help you drive innovation and create seamless shopping experiences for your customers whether they’re shopping on social media platforms, using voice search, or even in their car. In the backend, customers can manage product pricing, inventory, check out carts, and more.

Fabric

Fabric highlights the fact that with a headless commerce platform, you no longer need to replatform every time a new channel or device is created. By connecting with APIs, you can create an incredible user experience in the frontend, no matter where content is being displayed. Ideal no matter the business category, Fabric helps businesses to launch faster and scale as necessary.

Elasticpath

Elasticpath’s microservices architecture enables you to extend your functionality and easily integrate with the third-party solutions you require to improve your business. Elasticpath’s headless commerce features give you design freedom in the frontend; connecting to chatbots, augmented reality, and more is easy with APIs, while you can manage orders, payments, and more in the backend.

Bold Commerce

With Bold commerce, you can deliver commerce to your customers no matter where they are, connecting with APIs to make transactions on digital kiosks, IoT devices, and more. Meanwhile, you can customize even the checkout experience for each channel and integrate all of the tools to manage your eCommerce store.

Shopify Plus

The enterprise version of popular eCommerce platform Shopify, Shopify Plus provides a headless commerce platform that enables you to leave your legacy software behind. You can connect to any storefront to create customer-facing experiences with the help of Shopify APIs and SDKs, allowing you to design a seamless customer experience, go to market faster and scale your business while integrating ERP, PIM, and more.

Magento

Magento’s headless architecture provides the capabilities to keep you agile. Developers have control over what they want to create and the capacity to develop custom front-end experiences to meet customer needs. Magento’s compatibility with various CMS platforms as well as REST APIs and GraphQL enable you to extend functionality as required. Magento’s PWA Studio also allows you to create app-like experiences for mobile sites, improving the customer experience.

Start Your Headless Commerce Journey with Salsita

At Salsita, we have the eCommerce expertise you need to get started on your headless commerce journey. Businesses need to leverage headless commerce to meet changing customer demands, but we understand that it can be a challenging process, and we can help you.

If you want to start creating dynamic omnichannel experiences and leveraging PWAs to the delight of your customers, then it’s time for headless commerce. And after you’ve chosen your headless commerce solution, you might want to consider your headless CMS. Read our article 9 Headless CMS That Are Ideal for Headless Commerce to find the right one.

ABOUT SALSITA

Salsita is a digital product agency that designs and develops exceptional web and mobile solutions which differentiate our clients, engage their customers, and grow their business. We provide design-driven development services that cover the entire software development cycle.

Our areas of specialization include eCommerce, web and mobile dashboards, online content editors and data visualization. We leverage the Salsita 3D Product Configurator Framework to develop slick, cost-effective 3D product configurator, visualization, and design solutions for brands and retailers across industries from consumer electronics to furniture, fashion and more.

We have developed award-winning digital solutions for dozens of companies, ranging from household names like eBay, SAP, Texas Instruments, and First American Financial, to innovative startups across Europe and North America.

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