What is a headless commerce platform?
A headless commerce platform is an eCommerce solution where the frontend presentation layer (head) has been decoupled from the backend commerce functionality via APIs.
The frontend or “the head” - think user interface, social commerce, digital marketplace, IoT and more - can be updated or changed individually, without interfering with the backend.
This essentially provides enterprises more flexibility to create unique experience for your visitors. They can select and customize the features and functionalities of their commerce platform.
Headless vs Traditional eCommerce Platforms
While a headless eCommerce platform decouples the frontend and the backend, a traditional eCommerce platform is monolithic, and essentially an all-in-one option designed primarily to support websites. These platforms are more rigid in their architectural implementation, and quite often have a template-driven frontend, meaning users can create and manage their commerce experiences without much technical knowledge. Traditional eCommerce platforms typically provide proprietary frameworks that developers must pick up and learn, resulting in longer learning curves, a smaller talent pool to recruit from that leads to higher costs.
eCommerce platforms throughout history
With the dawn of the internet came a desire for innovative retailers and brands to embrace this new technology as a means to connect directly to their customers and enable new, lower friction, and better shopping experience. Whilst this was revolutionary at the time, how brands implemented their online stores reflected that of the physical world they had grown accustomed to serving. Websites mirrored storefronts and became digital destinations to drive customers into, browse a catalog of products, add to the cart, and checkout.
The technology that was built in these early days attempted to provide all the functionality required to run an online operation out of the box. This was before the rise of the cloud and SaaS, where businesses would need to run their vendor software on their own servers. These platforms such as Magento, Oracle ATG, and IBM Websphere were monolithic but provided those that adopted them a fantastic starting point and framework to customize the platform to their exact requirements.
With the rise of AWS and cloud computing a new breed of SaaS eCommerce vendors were born, such as Shopify and BigCommerce. This enabled a greater number of small and large businesses alike to move online with fewer headaches when it came to maintenance, uptime, and developer support requirements. As brands began to outgrow the constraints of these rigid eCommerce platforms they began to look for new technologies to solve their business challenges, typically in the eCommerce platforms' ecosystem.
Over time as these platforms grew and became successful their ecosystems grew, propelled further by other technology trends (like MACH). The commerce platforms' value proposition began to erode, leading to a plethora of best-of-breed, vendor services in a variety of new categories, from catalog management, search, shipping, tax, payments, and more. This is where we are today.