It seems these days everyone is talking about headless commerce. Saying scary things like merchants who don’t adopt headless commerce will be left behind by the competition. But if you’re new to headless, it can be really intimidating. What even IS headless? What does it mean? When am I supposed to go headless? Do I have to leave my ecommerce platform? Does my whole team have to retrain? How do I know when to start? Someone, anyone, help! So many questions, it gets scary. But it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’re going to break headless commerce down to help you understand how it works, where to start and when to start considering it.

So what does headless actually mean? Sounds unnecessarily spooky

Despite the unsettling name, it is a bloodless technical term. The short answer, which you have no doubt heard before, is that headless commerce decouples the front-end and back-end of your ecommerce store. But if you’re like me when I first started learning about headless, I didn’t understand where that disconnect happens. All of the admin, order fulfilment, inventory management, etc still happens on your ecommerce platform, eg BigCommerce. The part that is detached, and no longer hosted by BigCommerce, is the visual layer that customers experience and interact with. Instead of being intrinsically interlinked, the two parts of the store exist separately and are connected instead by a layer of APIs which carry data across from one to the other.

This diagram from BigCommerce helps to illustrate how the decoupling of the front-end from the back-end of an ecommerce store works. Headless infographic illustrating the decoupling of the front-end and back-end of an ecommerce store with headless commerce architecture

But why chop off its head?

Ok, so we’ve established what headless means in terms of the separation of the parts of the store. But Why? Why do it? Sure that just serves to make processes more complex right? Well actually no. Having the front-end separate actually makes a lot of your processes much simpler. You can now do whatever you want to your store design, upgrade your branding, localise for different audiences, increase personalisation, etc, all without having to touch the structure of your back-end. This makes the development process simpler and also much faster meaning your go-to-market time on new campaigns is far shorter. From the marketing side of things, you can already see the benefits. But there is more.

No more slow, creeping page loading

One of the biggest advantages of headless commerce is the speed. The increase in site speed is almost scary. With the Google core web vitals update in 2021, site speed is an increasingly important factor in search engine results page (SERP) rankings. Decoupling your store’s front-end from the cumbersome tech stack of back-end means it is much quicker to load and to respond to customers’ actions. Not only will this help your SERP rankings and thereby help you gain new visitors to your site, it will also help you keep those visitors and convert them to customers. Slow websites are one of the biggest culprits behind abandonments.

Become scarily agile with headless commerce

The decoupled front-end holds exciting possibilities. Suddenly, you are no longer bound by the set themes within your chosen ecommerce platform. Your customer journey is no longer dependant on the capabilities built into your out-of-the-box shop or the solutions available in the app store. Headless allows you to design your entire customer journey from the ground up and gives you complete freedom to do something different. This can be daunting but that is where working with the right agency comes in. In-depth discovery sessions with the creative and development team allow you to build every page and every step of the journey exactly how you want to. Set your store apart from every other Shopify or Magento or BigCommerce store. No matter how much customisation one implements with apps, you are still confined by the platform. With a headless store and the right agency partner, you can create something new, innovative and optimised to your customers’ unique interests and needs. It also means future additions and adjustments are easier to implement and will not be dependent on waiting for and finding the right app. The latest competitive capabilities can be coded directly into your front-end.

The future holds no terrors with headless

Both the increased site speed and the agility to change your website will not only give you an edge over the competition now, but will also help you keep ahead in the future. Headless commerce is shifting customer expectations of site load times and user experience. BigCommerce estimates by 2023, ecommerce stores with a headless structure will outpace their completion by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation.

But retraining my team to use headless sounds horrifying

The different structure of a headless store can at first appear daunting and the thought of getting your team ready to use it may be spine-chilling. But this is where the right agency comes in again. Throughout the project, the agency’s team will work closely together with your team, ensuring that the new build matches your requirements and your expectations. Not only will the process of building and testing give your team steady exposure to the new tech stack, at the end of the project, but the agency will also ensure your team have all of the documentation and experience they need to take over the smooth running of the store. The process of migrating to headless will also, in fact, simplify your tech stack. Capabilities provided to your store through apps can be coded directly into the new build so you can keep only the apps that provide services beyond front-end functionality and cut out the rest, leaving you with a far more manageable ecosystem of service providers.

When is the right time to go headless?

I once heard someone say it’s when looking through your full list of apps feels like doom scrolling. Migrating to headless allows you to audit your apps and significantly reduce the developer time, admin time, and subscription costs entailed. But a more helpful way to judge is simply when you need to take the next step to grow your business. When your sales are good, you have a good, strong flow of new and returning customers, but you feel you have outgrown the capabilities of your ecommerce platform, you need to do more to hit that next level. Whether your marketing team needs more agility or your site speed is the big thing holding you back in search ranking and conversion rates. You will know it’s time to go headless when you are looking for an edge. If you think you are ready but not entirely certain, it’s a good idea to talk to an agency that specialising in headless commerce to discuss your business’s unique requirements, whether headless is the right next step, what the process will be like, and what the returns on your investment will look like.

How can Calashock help vanquish the terrors of headless commerce?

Who you gonna call? An agency with over 13 years specialist BigCommerce experience and BigCommerce Headless Partner award. That’s who. One of the most important factors in going headless is the careful planning and designing of your new, agile front-end experience. Wherever in the world you may be, our team comes to you for in-person discovery sessions to drill right down into what you and your customers need, to work out every page, every moving part. We specialise in building beautiful, intuitive, bespoke websites that maximise ROI for our merchants. If headless doesn’t sound so scary anymore, or even if it does and you still have questions, get in touch with our expert team and take the next step on your ecommerce journey.

by Verena