Headless commerce and how it can help boost retail sales

Sometimes, though it may seem paradoxical, the best way to get ahead is to lose one. Yes, we’re looking at the oddly-named headless commerce structure that’s started to pick up popularity in the online retail world. It evidently brings something to the table, or else it wouldn’t have gathered such buzz — so what makes it worthwhile?

Here, we’re going to take a look at what headless commerce means, and run through the fundamentals of how it can help a modern retailer sell more. Let’s get started!

What does headless commerce mean?

Imagine that you created an action figure toy wearing a specific type of outfit (a firefighter costume, maybe), with the outfit as a core part of the figure — which is to say not detachable. That’s the easiest way to work, but not very versatile. If someone liked the action figure but not that specific outfit, they’d be out of luck, because that would be the only option.

Alternatively, imagine that you created that same action figure with a detachable outfit. That outfit wouldn’t fit absolutely perfectly, and you’d need to put more work into making the figure, but you’d be able to use the same production process to sell it with different outfits and even sell those outfits separately. You wouldn’t be locked into using that first outfit design.

In an e-commerce CMS, the front end (what the average user sees) is the outfit, and the back end (what the developers work on) is the action figure. Traditionally, the two would be irrevocably married — one content theme, and one developer panel — but headless commerce divorces them. The two ends are still made to be compatible, but the back end can work with other front ends as well, allowing the retailer to use its content in more varied ways.

Why is it worth the effort?

Presentation is a core part of e-commerce. Provide a great user experience, and you’ll have a much-improved chance of earning a conversion — and what constitutes good UX depends on the circumstances. Someone looking at a store on their phone should have a different experience from someone visiting it on their laptop, for instance.

But headless commerce allows you go way past that. For instance, think about e-commerce through voice search (telling a voice assistant to place an order). With the conventional model, a store developer would need to contrive a way to get a voice assistant working with a system designed to be used through a traditional interface. With headless commerce, the back end (all of the stock data, pricing, ordering information, etc.) isn’t tied to any particular type of system and has an API that makes it extremely easy to integrate with.

The disconnect between the two ends also makes it easier to update an online store. For instance, the marketing staff might want to completely refresh the navigation and color scheme, and with this model they wouldn’t need to worry about updating the back end (and wouldn’t need to bother the developers).

It allows for more operational flexibility, which is also excellent for creating personalized experiences. Instead of serving just one front-end template to every shopper, an online store system could serve a unique set of options for each person. Someone browsing the store as a PWA (progressive web app) could get specific mobile suggestions, while someone browsing it in a particular location could get a localized version of the store.

You can have one version of your store with formal language, and another that shows some much-needed personality. In short, headless commerce helps you to sell more by making it vastly easier to mix up your store’s style and content and create better experiences across different devices and channels.

How can you take advantage of it?

Well, it seems obvious, but you need a storage solution that supports headless commerce architecture. Most mainstream sales systems will be able to provide it upon request, or you can hire a developer to create a custom solution. Of course, you likely don’t need it, particularly if you sell to a niche audience that doesn’t call for a mobile app or anything additional, so don’t feel obliged to make an expensive effort. Just be aware that the option is there!

A writer and small business owner, Kayleigh Alexandra is an expert in all things content, freelance, marketing and commercial strategy. Kayleigh is a contributing writer from MicroStartups, which offers small business tools to existing and new businesses.