The Glossary of Headless Commerce Terms

Along with hot technology trends like “headless commerce” come a lot of new terms and abbreviations – and it can be hard to keep them all straight! Here’s a breakdown of what all the terms associated with headless commerce mean.

APIs: An application program interface (API) is a pre-defined mechanism that allows different applications and devices to communicate and interact with each other. Simply put, APIs are the messenger that tells the system what to do and provides a response back. For example, if a shopper searches for a shirt in a specific size and color online, the front-end’s API would send a request to access commerce system’s database and return with the most up-to-date product information for the shopper.

Backend: The backend of an ecommerce site encompasses all the applications or systems that contain the business logic for features and functionality (ex. product information management, pricing, product catalog, analytics, product search, etc.).

Front-end: The front-end is the customer-facing experience that the end user interacts with. The front-end relates to how the content is presented and it can come through different channels such as web, social, kiosks, native apps, etc.

Presentation Layer: Presentation layer is synonymous with the front-end – it’s the customer-facing layer that the user interacts with.

Decoupled: Decoupled means the front and the back are separated. Traditional commerce or CMS systems, come with the front and the back being tightly coupled together. In the headless commerce context, the front-end is often referred to as decoupled (i.e. separated) from the backend.

Headless commerce: Headless commerce is an architectural approach that decouples the front-end customer experience from backend applications and uses APIs to connect the two. However, there are different ways to approach headless commerce.

Headless CMS: A headless CMS is a web content management system that doesn’t have a “head” or presentation layer. Its sole purpose is to store and manage content that gets displayed on various front-ends via an API.

An API-first CMS: Functionally it’s the same as headless CMS in that they don’t have a default front-end. A presentation layer will be needed to deliver content across channels. The CMS manages content and waits for an API call from a front-end delivery layer.

Content-as-a-Service (CaaS): In a headless CMS experience, CMS becomes a content provider, delivering content as a service to many digital channels (touchpoints), and the presentation and display of content / experience are delivered via a front-end API.

Front-end platform: The front-end platforms emerged to fulfill the need to provide a stable, decoupled presentation layer for headless commerce. A front-end platform lets you create customer-facing experiences while it hosts, monitors, scales, and secures your front-end in a headless environment. The front-end platform communicates and exchanges data with headless CMS and commerce using APIs.

Hybrid CMS: A Hybrid CMS provides a native touchpoint where the content is created and presented within the same system, but it also gives you the flexibility to provide content to other decoupled touchpoints via APIs. For example, if your Hybrid CMS was primarily a blog platform, then blog posts could be created and presented with the CMS, but it could also send content to other channels with different presentation layers.

Microservices: Microservices is an architectural style where a group of loosely coupled APIs make up an application. In simple terms, these API blocks are like LEGO pieces representing a specific function: pricing, checkout, and review services that you can stitch together to create your commerce infrastructure. The loosely coupled nature gives you the flexibility to highly customize your ecommerce experience.

Serverless computing: Serverless computing is a model where digital organizations shift their responsibility and ownership of hidden activities that go along with programming to another party, for the sake of minimizing complexity. (See a more detailed explanation here.)

For a holistic view of headless commerce and the various moving pieces, download the Headless Commerce Playbook for Business Leaders.

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