What’s the Word on Headless?

A glossary to the headless commerce terms you need to know now

Headless commerce is gaining popularity rapidly in the online realm, providing an important alternative to traditional solutions. 

Headless solutions are notable for their flexibility; they enable easy content updating across multiple endpoints, allowing brands and retailers to respond adroitly to changing market conditions and consumer tastes. 

So what is headless commerce? 

In simple terms, it’s the separation of the front and back ends of an ecommerce application. User interfaces are thus freed from the platform’s back-end architecture. 

Retailers and brands may find headless solutions attractive for a number of reasons. They can enhance integration across multiple channels, allow greater customization, and improve customer experience and engagement. 

Some businesses, however, may find their needs are best served by a full-featured approach: headless solutions may reduce content presentation functionality and complicate platform management. Headless setup costs can also be relatively high. 

In short, headless solutions are not a panacea. They are, however, valuable arrows in the ecommerce quiver. Every brand and retailer is unique, and the decision to go headless should only be made in close consultation with a skilled and trusted ecommerce solution partner.

A glossary to some of the terms widely used in headless commerce follow:

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Composable Commerce Architecture

To put it axiomatically, composable commerce proposes, while headless commerce disposes. Composable commerce should be viewed as the concept, while headless commerce is the physical implementation—in other words, the execution—of the concept.

Composable commerce is thus the vision that drives headless solutions. Composable commerce architecture implies third-party software components, or packaged business capabilities (PBCs), to create customized headless solutions. Different vendors offer products with different purposes—for example, shopping cart or loyalty programs. By selecting best-of-breed modules, brands and retailers can maximize the speed, scalability, and flexibility of their headless platforms.

Decoupled Architecture

Decoupled architecture typically consists of a traditional back end and a separate front end. In other words, the ecommerce platform’s front end—the user interface—is separated from the back end, or the software that generates the platform’s website pages, product search engine, shopping cart, and the electronic data interchange (EDI) system that allows customers to obtain information on inventory and orders in real time.

Headless Architecture

Headless architecture is essentially an extension of  decoupled architecture. As in decoupled architecture, there is a single decoupled front end—but rather than a traditional back end, there are multiple core back-end systems. All front-end functionalities are expressed through APIs driven by these specialized back ends, allowing the quick and easy display of content. 

This streamlined omnichannel approach leverages the reach of the brand or retailer to a significant degree. If a business decides to launch content through a connected device—any connected device, from a smartphone to a home speaker system—a new API call is employed. Plug-ins or switches to alternative platforms are thus avoided, obviating the risk of broken code. 

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So how does it work in the real—that is to say, virtual—world of ecommerce? Take an example of compelling interest to any brand or retailer: a purchase order. When a buy button is clicked, the headless platform dispatches an API call to the commerce engine, which then integrates data from the OMS, payment processing, and all other relevant systems. The transaction is confirmed quickly and smoothly. 

Further, data provided by the APIs allow businesses to create rich and highly personalized content via digital experience platforms (DPXs), maximizing customer interest and ultimately forging deep brand and retailer loyalties.

Headless Platform

A headless platform is a component of headless architecture that supplies functionality through APIs rather than a user interface.

Storefront Head

The storefront head, at the heart of headless architecture, is a “body-less” application that connects capabilities from different headless platforms and represents them through the user interface.

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Glen Martin

Glen Martin is a frequent Astound Insights contributor whose other credits include Forbes, Wired, Outside, and Men's Journal.