Headless: Separating Frontend and Backend
The “headless” approach is an architecture approach that completely separates the frontend from the backend. Both parts communicate via a standardized interface (API) such as REST or GraphQL, which also facilitates the integration of third-party systems. This way, the separate parts of the system can be adapted and changed independently.
As opposed to conventional systems, the headless approach takes into account the fact that the frontend and backend serve different purposes: While the frontend (the “head") is designed to give a user a good overview of information and allow for intuitive interaction, the backend handles complex processes.
Most of today’s CMS and e-commerce systems have grown organically and have built up a variety of features during their lifecycles. This goes hand in hand with an increase in complexity, which in turn requires an increased focus on topics such as serviceability, dependencies and performance in projects. These are exactly the topics that can be addressed with flexible headless architecture.
E-commerce Meets Headless: Tapping Potentials
In the e-commerce sector, the ambivalence between the two components of storefront (frontend) and order processing (backend) has always played a major role. After all, while a company wants to recreate a familiar customer journey, they also need to handle complex processes such as warehouse management, shipment and order processes swiftly and reliably. On top of this, they still need to be able to quickly and intuitively respond to customers’ requests.
Today’s and tomorrow’s customers want to be able to access their retailers’ product ranges via a variety of channels. Ideally, a modern e-commerce solution would flexibly meet the needs of the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile, voice assistants, in-app purchases and desktop. This is where the headless approach reaches its full potential: Headless commerce provides a flexible basis while at the same time meeting the needs of the various sales channels and their specific customer journeys.
Where is Headless Commerce Useful?
In a headless system, all frontend components communicate via a standardized API. This way, every channel can access the core systems (ERP, PIM, CRM etc.) via the interface. The user experience can be defined independently and consistently across all channels. Changes to the frontend can be made without worrying too much about dependencies, and the loose coupling improves the performance of the end systems.
Admittedly, the initial setup of a headless architecture is more complex due to the increased independence. However, easy modifications and the increased flexibility make it more than worthwhile in the long run.
So, to answer the question of whether a headless approach is the right approach for an e-commerce system, you need to weigh up the advantages that flexibility brings against the initial cost. To do this, you should know the size of the target market and the sales channels to be covered, including the surrounding systems such as the CMS, CRM, DAM, PIM, email, shipping, finance systems, etc. The more systems, the greater the synergies and advantages of an existing headless API.
B2B Visions for Headless Commerce
Once you’ve identified suitable backend and frontend systems and have defined an API standard, you’ve laid the cornerstones for a headless commerce project. After that, you can serve various sales channels as needed – regardless of whether these are your own channels or partners’ channels.
The following examples serve to illustrate the flexibility provided by headless implementation in the B2B sector. Significant benefits can be generated by providing services via APIs that have not been configured solely for your own online shop, but also work for third-party systems and partners:
Indirect Sales: In the B2B business, the actual sale of product is often done by a multitude of resellers with a different focus. Core processes such as the product base including warehouse and delivery details can be made available to resellers via an API, saving them the trouble of having to develop their own, comprehensive commerce system. They can flexibly integrate those services on their own web platform.
Moving Away From the Browser: Sales move farther and farther away from browsers. One example of this is intelligent vending machines that monitor their own stock and generate reorders via API when necessary. This machine can be placed anywhere. The same principle also works with intelligent shelves that monitor sales and stock and prevent gaps by automatically reordering.
Opening Up New Distribution Channels: The integration into existing systems enables opening up of new distribution channels. Furniture and fixtures offered by a manufacturer can, for example, also be fed into a furnishing tool via an API. The architect will furnish the property in the software. They can then request a quote for the items used at the push of a button. The end customer can change the color of the piece of furniture and place the order in the same software tool.
A headless commerce system allows you to efficiently and flexibly adapt to the needs of the market and the users. This way, e-commerce brands can quickly and easily make content, products or payment gateways available for new distribution channels such as market places, POS screens or smartwatches.
Headless Commerce With Unic
Unic is currently implementing a variety of commerce solutions based on headless architecture. With SAP Commerce Cloud, Sitecore Commerce (XC), Magento Commerce and Drupal Commerce, we have various products with a broad range of features available to meet the needs of your project and make it a success. We’d be more than happy to support you with an interdisciplinary team of experts in the fields of business and architecture consulting, UX architecture and design, software development, quality assurance and operations.