In recent years, headless commerce – or the separation of the frontend and backend of an application – has emerged to offer e-commerce sites greater freedom of expression and the ability to enrich the customer experience. In spite of these advantages, maintaining a headless architecture comes with several challenges, including the need for additional resources to keep content and features updated and the risks of decreased site speed and increased security vulnerabilities. And, of course, there are additional costs for building infrastructure and testing.
So you need to ask: is going headless the right move for your organization? The alternative (supposedly) is to stick with the more traditional, all-in-one, "monolithic" platform approach. One key benefit of doing so is the built-in frontend that makes it easy for non-technical users to launch an online storefront quickly.
However, monolithic systems can lock an e-commerce company into one vendor’s pre-existing development environment and limit its developers to the most common use cases. In sum, the monolithic approach tends to work better for new businesses that wish to get a website launched quickly. But, our experience is that it’s not long before these businesses begin to feel restricted by their platform’s templates and tools.
Making the decision to jump to a headless architecture can be scary. Migrating an entire frontend is hard, and more often than not you’ll also choose to migrate the backend, and it will most likely take longer than planned. Moreover, e-commerce organizations get absolutely none of the headless benefits until the migration is completed.
Under this scenario, the existing site is kept on life support for the months or years the development team is focused on building the new headless frontend. And even if a development team hits all its key project dates and goes live, it’s still hard. There may still be many capabilities and features that can’t be included in that initial launch, which leaves the newly created frontend in catch-up mode.
The good news is that going headless does not have to be all or nothing. It’s possible to achieve many of the benefits of going headless without taking the full plunge. Here’s how:
Let’s look at a common scenario. If an organization’s team does a quick analysis of its product pages and evaluates where the most underutilized real estate is on those pages, they will be able to translate that deficit into an opportunity and make that real estate more effective. For example, on many product pages, there are large swaths of whitespace and then a related product carousel tucked down at the bottom of the page where customers rarely venture. In this case, moving those related products up on the page is a good way to drive up average order value.
In addition, the organization can choose to take it a step further and turn that related products carousel into a "build a bundle" offer where shoppers can attach three additional items to purchase all at once - with just one click. Ultimately, the organization can quickly and easily test anything - including the page layout and adaptive experience options, without needing weeks of lead time for planning and development. It's all about picking one’s opportunities and providing the desired experience built with the technology that gets you the shortest time to value and responsibly balances business success.
The decision to go headless (or not) certainly does not need to be an all-or-nothing event. It’s possible to go halfway or to dip your toes in just a little bit. Don’t try to do everything at once; instead, focus on doing a little at a time, and take advantage of new design tools that unleash frontend creativity and agility while transitioning to your ideal e-commerce stack at a gradual pace.
Ryan Breen is Chief Technology Officer at Zmags and a CMS Critic contributor.