As with anything in the technology realm, ecommerce architectures have evolved over the years as technology and customer expectations have changed. Keep reading to determine where your organization currently falls in this evolution, and whether or not you’re ready for what’s next.
When Commerce Ruled
When ecommerce platforms came on the scene, they became the centre of the ecommerce tech stack. They drove the key functionality of ecommerce websites, so it made sense that they provided “the glass” – or the front-end experience. This is known as an commerce-led architecture. The front-end customer experience was built directly on the ecommerce platform. Since the two were tightly coupled, it made it easy to pull in whatever commerce functionality was needed across the customer experience.
But as technology evolved, shoppers began to expect more than just baseline commerce functionality online. They wanted rich, immersive experiences that were driven by content.
Then Content Took The Wheel
Digital Experience Platforms (DXP) and Content Management Systems (CMS) emerged to enable brands to manage and deploy these content-rich experiences that shoppers demanded. In this era, the DXP or the CMS became the glass, and the ecommerce platform was integrated into the content system.
This experience-led approach allowed retailers and brands to create richer, more immersive experiences – but it wasn’t as easy to access all the desired commerce functionality because it had to be squeezed through the CMS/DXP.
Neither the ecommerce platform or the CMS/DXP should be a second-class citizen in the ecommerce tech stack. Both should be connected directly to a separate front-end layer so that they can be equally exposed throughout the customer experience, which is why the industry is now heading towards headless commerce architectures.
Headless commerce or API-led architecture
A headless commerce architecture – otherwise known as an API-led approach – separates the front-end experience from the backend systems so that both can be changed independently. With this approach, the front-end becomes either a custom layer built from scratch, or a Front-end as a Service.
Why is Headless Commerce is the Next Evolution
A headless approach eliminates 3 of the key challenges associated with commerce-led and experience-led approaches.
1. Teams Couldn’t be Agile
A coupled architecture inhibits teams from moving quickly. The front-end is locked into the same pace of innovation as the backend and all user experience changes require a heavy redeploy of the CMS or ecommerce platform.
Some may perceive an experience-led approach as more agile than commerce-led because it enables fast changes to certain parts of the experience – copy, images, video – but retailers still can’t make UX changes quickly or easily. The goal should be to unlock the entire team to make larger experience changes beyond just copy and content, which is only possible when the front-end is separated from the backend with a headless commerce architecture.
2. The Full Value of Backend Systems Couldn’t be Activated
In the example below, the CMS functionality has to be forced through the ecommerce platform before it can be exposed on the front-end. With an experience-led approach, the opposite is true. Either way, you’re not able to activate the full value of these systems without significant effort.
An example of a commerce-led approach.
A headless commerce approach allows you to line the ecommerce platform and CMS up side-by-side so that you can easily access the full functionality of both.
3. Front-End Investments Weren’t Future-Proofed
Finally, when your front-end and backend are tightly coupled, you lose any previous customer experience investments when it comes time to replatform. For most, this means having to build the customer experience from scratch every 3-5 years.
Since a headless commerce approach separates your front-end experience, it won’t be impacted when it comes time to replatform or change a backend system.
Choosing a Headless Front-end
Each of these approaches have had their purpose over the years, but only an API/headless approach enables you to move quickly enough to stay ahead of shopper expectations, activate the full value of your backend systems, and future-proof your front-end.
As you prepare to embark down the headless path, you’ll need to determine the best way to deliver your headless front-end. Download the Guide to Headless Commerce Front-ends to get a break down what to consider with respect to building a headless front-end from scratch versus with a Front-end as a Service.