What is Headless ecommerce and why is everybody talking about it?

In this article we will try to explain the buzz, what Headless actually is and how, when and for whom Headless is the right way to go and when not.

So first things first, what is Headless? 

In its simplest form headless can be explained as the front-end being separated from the back-end with an API, relieving the front-end from any constraints of the back-end. 

Why is Headless so great and what is the buzz all about?

Most companies experience a strong drive for adding new digital channels, to improve their digital customer experience and to increase speed and agility in development to keep up with or beat competition. That is part of the context that influences and feeds the headless frenzy. But there are more reasons why headless provides a compelling set up for your digital architecture.

  • Freedom from constraints
    Sometimes your back-end holds you back. Constraints, missing features, complex workflows or whatever that keep you from developing the experience that make your users engage and convert. With a decoupled solution you can extend and simplify the logic between the front-end and back-end in any way you like.

  • Easy onboarding of new front-end developers
    To rapidly scale your front-end team decoupled solutions like headless is beneficial since the developers can stick to pure front-end technologies and do not require full understanding and experience of the entire back-end.

  • Multiple digital front-ends
    If you use multiple digital touchpoints to optimize the experience for each use case and context you can still gain efficiency and coherence if all touchpoints share the same back-end. That would also further improve consistency in customer experience and omni-channel capabilities.

  • You just launched a new website with a new CMS that you love
    To just scrap it all and start all over is probably not what you wish for when all you want to do is to reap the benefits from your investment. However if you just launched a CMS driven website many companies realize that they also need ecommerce functionality. Today any ecom needs to be fully integrated in the customer experience and through a headless setup you can add the ecom features you need into your existing website.

  • Clean cut - Best of breed architecture with interchangeable components.
    The digital and ecommerce playfield has an ever growing ecosystem of new platforms and add-ons that can improve your solution. If all parts are decoupled you are able to replace individual components with new and improved instances when needed. The components are connected but not dependent on each other's existence. This supports your best of breed or micro service architecture.

For whom is headless the right strategy? 

Headless is not a silver bullet or a strategy that all can benefit from. Generally you can say that it is a more demanding set up and requires a certain level of maturity both when it comes to digital thinking in general but also in technical know-how.

If you do not plan to employ a standing development team inhouse or external that constantly run sprints to evolve your digital channels - headless is not for you.

If you do not plan to launch multiple front-end applications or make use of a separate CMS - headless is not for you.

Headless scenarios

There are multiple scenarios that can be defined as headless with specific setups that support different strategies. In this section we bring up a few examples to describe potential scenarios.

A. Separate front-end from back-end.

In its purest form separating the front-end from the back-end by consuming the back-end logic through an API.

When the front-end is bolted on the back-end it often comes with constraints like what front-end-frameworks to use, how sessions are handled.

Scenario A could be seen as a starting point developing into any of the following. 

B. Multiple front-ends to one back-end

Powering several touchpoints with the same back-end. For example one of more websites and native Android/iOS apps.

One source of truth and one single platform is beneficial both for users/customers of the frontend and also for editors/administrators. 

This approach also enables the switch between touchpoints to be more seamless for the user.

C. Multiple back-ends to one or many front-ends

To really support a best of breed strategy you can connect several back-ends to your front-end(s). A CMS, ECOM, PIM, DAM, CRM, OMS or whatever acronym you believe will benefit your set up.

One step closer to the headless nirvana you might be looking for. ;-)

D. Multiple back-ends with orchestrator to front-end(s)

Decoupling the components of your solution will require some orchestrating logic. It has to be put somewhere, either as part of the front-end, as an api layer between the back-end(s) and the front-end(s). This is often referred to as a BFF - back-end for front-end.

This will add some complexity but it also provides clean cuts and will make the components more interchangeable.

Litium in headless scenarios

Litium is a complete suite that includes CMS, PIM and Ecommerce, ready for Headless using our API or for swift go-to-market using the best-practise Ecommerce Accelerator front-end available. 

Scenario A + B, use all the built in functionality in Litium to handle everything from content to orders and connect any front-end using our Headless API.

Scenario C, if you have a favourite CMS you can use it side-by-side with Litium adding extensive PIM and e-commerce functionality. 

Scenario D, the back-end for front-end is supposed to handle the orchestration and business logic to produce a coherent user experience making best use of different special purpose back-end platforms. Developing this BFF API could almost become a platform of its own so instead you can use Litium as the orchestrator bringing in content from your CMS, PIM, CRM, DAM etc. making the content come alive with the right business logic.

Hybrid scenario, perhaps you want to direct your effort to customer facing touch points but still are in need of internal portals etc. With Litium you can apply a hybrid strategy combining headless for some front-ends and the Litium best-practices Ecommerce Accelerator for front-ends where you do not benefit from custom developed experiences.

Want to know more about Litium? Read more about Litium and headless here or contact us at curious@litium.com.

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