What Is Headless eCommerce and How to Use It

If you're considering a headless eCommerce CMS for your online store, you may have questions.

min read

Setting up an eCommerce shop involves quite a bit of planning and forethought. One of the decisions that need to be made is which type of CMS (Content Management System) to use. There are two main types of CMS to choose from, standard and headless.

A headless CMS is separated from the front end, which is the part that customers see. It's easily customizable, simple to update, and better for many different types of websites, including eCommerce. Why is it a better option? You'll find the answer to that question and more right here.

Headless CMS

In order to understand what a headless CMS is, it's crucial to know the general parts of a standard CMS.

For example, a typical CMS, like WordPress, consists of four distinct parts that all work together to make a website easy to update. It has an admin panel, where you can make changes to the theme, add in customizations and plugins, view your site's traffic, and even make and update posts and pages.

There's also a database that holds everything on the site, from the content created to the images and more. In addition, a standard CMS has a frontend, which is what the site visitors see when they go to the URL. Holding it all together is an API or Application Programming Interface.

On the other hand, a headless CMS consists of three of those four parts. There's an admin panel, an API, and a database.

Instead of using blocks where the text, headers, and photos can be chosen, like in WordPress, a headless site is created using a series of APIs that can be customized, and the pages appear as code.

Although this sounds like it would be trickier to set up and maintain, it's fairly easy for anyone who understands basic HTML coding principles.

By separating the frontend from the other parts (the frontend being the "head" of the site, for illustration purposes), there's a lot more flexibility regarding where the content can be published and how often the main frontend is updated other things.

What About Headless Ecommerce?

Now that you have a solid understanding of what headless CMS is, it's time to describe headless eCommerce. In headless eCommerce, the front end of the site, which is what the customers see, is separate from the rest of the CMS.

The admin panel, database, and API are combined, and the site's front end is not connected to them. A headless eCommerce site is an online store that is set up using a headless CMS.

Why is this done? There are many different benefits to choosing headless eCommerce, but the most common is the fact that the front end of the website isn't automatically updated when changes are made to the backend. This provides a much more stable shopping experience for customers.

Imagine trying to buy a chair online, only to have someone change the backend right as you put the item in your online cart. If the item disappears or something goes wrong with the page, then you wouldn't want to go back there, right?

By choosing headless eCommerce, the odds of this happening greatly decrease.

Types of Ecommerce Structures

Since the initial days of eCommerce back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, three distinct types of structures have emerged. Each has its own set of pros and cons. Let's briefly go over all of them:

Experience Based

Site owners that choose this type of structure are determined to provide the best possible experience for their customers.

The main presentation layer of the site is different from the eCommerce part, so shoppers receive the best of both worlds. For example, the presentation layer might be based on a WordPress platform, while the eCommerce section is on a different platform.

A headless eCommerce site (or headless CMS, depending on your point of view) falls into this category.

Open-Source Technology

Open-source technology is slightly better. The creators of these sites use a traditional eCommerce platform, paired with some customized or open-source programming on the backend to customize the experience.

This allows for plenty of customization and options to choose from when putting together and running the eCommerce site. However, it does require a lot of different pieces that need to work in tandems, such as inventory management software and more, in order to make the entire site run properly and efficiently.

Proprietary

A proprietary system is one where the entire platform uses a single company's products that need to be used for both the hardware and the software.

For example, if you purchase a Dell computer system, you need to use Dell software. This type of eCommerce structure is very structured and limited.

You can't customize much without getting authorization or even code from the software creators and are stuck with what they provide. As you can imagine, this is not the best option for your eCommerce shop.

Why Would You Choose a Headless Ecommerce Setup?

There are many advantages to a headless eCommerce setup. Not only does this type of setup provide plenty of flexibility and the ability to preserve the customer experience, but it also has a number of other things working in its favor, such as:

Customization and Branding

It's crucial that your store's branding come through on the page. After all, you're not just creating a website for people to shop at – you're also putting together an experience.

Imagine it as being kind of like a brick-and-mortar store, only online. People choose to shop in person at a store because of the experience provided, not just the merchandise. You need to recreate this online, making your eCommerce store an extension of your brand and creating a similar experience.

With a headless eCommerce platform, you can customize everything as needed to use your branding and the overall feel that you want the customers to experience when shopping online.

Pages Are Quick to Load

How quickly a page loads is very important. No one wants to spend more than 30 seconds (or less) waiting for the page to load.

If your load times are too slow, then you'll lose customers. Your bounce rates will be very high because people will click out of the page rather than wait for it to continue loading.

They'll go elsewhere for the items that they need. Thankfully, since headless CMS separates the frontend from the backend, your load times will be lightning-fast, allowing you to preserve those customers and their purchases.

Additional Merchandising Opportunities

With a more traditional, standard eCommerce CMS, increasing the amount of merchandise that you have on your site can be tricky.

You are limited in many different ways and may have to switch platforms to make your eCommerce store larger.

As you can imagine, there are many different problems with this, including the fact that your online shop might have to be taken down temporarily, so you can switch platforms.

A headless eCommerce CMS allows your shop to grow. It provides the customized options you need to add more merchandise or different merchandise categories.

Easy Internationalization

If you plan to expand your online shop to several other countries, then a headless eCommerce CMS is the best solution. You can easily set up your site to include different prices in various currencies, allowing your customers to change it to reflect their location.

A typical standard eCommerce CMS may not do this (although it depends on the CMS that you choose), so going with a headless eCommerce solution is your best bet if you want to sell and ship items throughout the world.

How to Use Your Headless eCommerce Store

Taking advantage of a headless eCommerce CMS is easy. You need to choose your platforms wisely, as well as your APIs. There are several different options for picking where and how you'll display your virtual wares for your customers.

Since the backend is separate from the frontend, the options for customization and providing just the right customer experience are virtually limitless. You'll be able to control how quickly the pages will load (fast), which currencies your goods are available in, and whether or not the site reflects your store's branding.

To sum up? In a world with plenty of digital competition, the customization advantages that come with a headless CMS can help give you the tools to stand out.

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