Unlock the Full Potential of Your Website Using Headless E-Commerce
If you own an e-commerce business you have likely heard of headless e-commerce. But what does it mean, and should you be using it? There are a lot of factors to consider when making that decision, but for many e-commerce businesses, going headless can prove to be a powerful way to increase your creative and technical freedom. Let’s explore how headless e-commerce works, how it differs from traditional e-commerce, and the benefits it provides.
The components of a website
To understand headless e-commerce, we must first understand the basic components of a website. All websites are comprised of a front end and a back end. The front end of the website is what your users see when viewing your website in a browser. The code that makes up the front end of your website defines what content should live on what pages, provides the ability to navigate throughout the site, and defines the colors and fonts that are used to style the website. Most importantly, it allows your users to interact with your business by sending data to the second component of your website – the back end.
The back end of your website is code that runs on a server. While your users will never see this part of the website, it contains all of the logic necessary to power your website and your business. It is responsible for taking input from the front end (such as a form submission) and communicating with the database to record that input. Conversely, it is also responsible for translating the data in the database into content for the front end. For example, before a user can browse your online store, the back end must tell the browser which products exist and how much they cost.
How traditional e-commerce works
Traditionally, both the front end and back end of an e-commerce website are powered by a single e-commerce provider. On the back end, these software tools provide a user-friendly way of managing common e-commerce functions like defining products, tracking inventory, and managing orders. On the front end, they provide tools that allow you to easily deploy your store to the internet and a standardized system of interacting with the back end. Because the front end must be built using a standardized framework, it is easy for the e-commerce software to provide a variety of themes that can be used interchangeably. This setup is great for store owners looking to launch quickly and without technical expertise, but it can also have serious drawbacks.
Where traditional e-commerce fails
While the structured nature of a traditional e-commerce setup makes it easy to create a basic store, this same structure can often make it difficult to tailor the front end to your unique business. In many cases, there are strict rules that must be followed while utilizing a traditional e-commerce front end. These rules can affect SEO factors such as URL structure, limit the extent to which other systems may be integrated, and create serious bottlenecks when it comes to making large customizations to the look and feel of the website. Additionally, developers are limited in their technical choices. They are not allowed to choose the programming language best suited for their team and the needs of the business, and they have no say in the deployment and distribution of the code.
How headless e-commerce works
Headless e-commerce works by completely separating the front end of the website from the back end. Instead of using a front end framework to interact with the back end, these websites utilize a web standard known as an API (Application programming interface). These APIs provide a mechanism for any software to securely and predictably interact with business data. Utilizing these APIs, your business is given the freedom to implement a completely custom front end, while still retaining the tried and tested back-end functionality provided by your e-commerce provider.
The benefits of headless e-commerce
Decoupling the front end and back end opens up a world of possibilities for your website. When it comes to customizations, the sky is the limit. You are free to present your content and your catalog in any manner you choose. On the technical side, it is possible to integrate almost any third-party software into your ecosystem. Furthermore, your development team is now in total control over the technology used on the front end, streamlining their workflow and allowing your business to keep up with the latest internet innovations. Do you want to build a blazing fast single-page application? No problem. Need to deploy your site to a custom cloud architecture? No issues there. Going headless allows you to have complete control over the front end of your website.
Thinking of going headless?
While considering a move to headless e-commerce, make sure to take into account the specific needs and resources of your business. While headless may provide ultimate control over the front end of your website, that control also comes with some technical overhead. A traditional e-commerce store, while rigid, may be created, deployed, and maintained by pretty much anybody, even if they do not possess much technical knowledge. A headless e-commerce store, on the other hand, must be created and maintained by a developer. But for e-commerce businesses focused on innovation and with a keen eye towards the future of the industry, the benefits of going headless far outweigh the technical overhead that it entails.