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eCommerce: Headless or Full-Stack?

Table of Content

What is Headless?
Advantages of Headless eCommerce
Disadvantages of Headless eCommerce
Conclusion

Over the past years, trends towards headless commerce are gaining momentum. As a result of this, many established solutions are offering headless capabilities. For instance, Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento are adding this to their platforms. API-first platforms are emerging too, with headless into their structure.

So, what is headless exactly?

In its definition, a headless setup separates a platform’s backend from the frontend. Backend data presents via an API, allowing developers to create custom frontend, and deciding how to use data. By contrast, in full-stack approach, frontend and backend are explicitly interconnected. Data retrieves and displays trough template managing.

However, headless isn’t necessary for every business. It’s important to understand its advantages and disadvantages, to determine if a site merits this approach.

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Advantages of Headless eCommerce

Extensibility

A headless commerce platform can connect to almost any third-party service with an API. This way, you can upgrade, add, and remove services as necessary. Therefore, there’s no need to pay extra services, or re-platform as business grows. For example, in fully API-first platforms (e.g. Reaction Commerce, Elastic Path), core commerce functions divide into microservices.

A business can pick and choose what they want to include in their sites. This lets them try services with very little risk and only paying for what they need.

Design

Many brands are wary of looking like just another Shopify site to savvy consumers. With a headless commerce, custom frontend can let designers and marketing teams deliver a unique and creative shopping experience. For those brands whose image is central to their business, this is a great benefit.

Omnichannel

eCommerce businesses are increasingly expanding, beyond web and mobile apps, to appear on whatever device customers are using. As a result, there are endless possibilities of connecting to wide ranges of devices: from Apple Watches to smart refrigerators!

Broader CMS and DXP

A headless setup allows for creative applications of content management systems (CMS) and user experience platforms (DXP). Developers can use headless CMS to extend product description capabilities. These extensions wouldn’t be achievable in traditional platforms. Therefore, brand using DXP, an API-first headless platform, have a greater range of touchpoints. These can draw data, and further customize the user experience.

Performance

Headless commerce can take advantage of modern tech stacks, such as JAMstack. Speed is critical in eCommerce, especially in mobile performance. In this context, technologies such as Next.JS, Nuxt.JS and Gatsby can deliver incredibly fast experiences.

Scalability

A small business maybe doesn’t have to worry about infrastructure concerns, like excess server capability. But, as a business grows, these issues become an important part of the equation. That’s why, in a true microservices structure, usage scales according to activity. The business only pays for what is used and doesn’t have to stress about outages.

Agility

Services can be easily connected and disconnected, so a business can experiment and innovate faster. Furthermore, if a service isn’t working out, removing it doesn’t requiere extra refactoring on the existing app.

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Disadvantages of Headless eCommerce

Initial Investment

A headless commerce requires a developer to create a frontend, and connect the backend services. As a result, this requires a greater initial investment. In the long run, this can be seen as a worthwhile investment. Yet, not every business has the ability to do this when they’re starting out.

Developer Reliance

A custom solution means that a business will reliant on developers or IT for maintenance and changes. These costs can be significant for a growing business.

Technical Complexity

It can be easy to find developers who know technologies common in headless setup, like React or Vue.JS. However, there’ll be more technologies and services in the stack to manage. A team will have to look after a wider range of techs and create an integrated QA system.

Different Cost Structure

Microservices usually charge according to use, aka API requests. This is not necessarily more expensive than traditional setups or agreements. Nevertheless, it will vary with different implementations and uses. This can be a negative point in certain cases, versus a full-stack setup.

Conclusion

Headless commerce allows a business to stay flexible and competitive. While enterprise commerce companies are moving in this direction, other businesses have to assess this option with more caution.

A small e-commerce business, maybe doesn’t require a highly creative and flexible solution. In many cases, benefits will not outweigh expenses. Yet, as headless commerce ecosystem grows, there are more ways to implement headless solutions without greater costs.

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