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The future of e-commerce: headless

By John de Koning | February 13, 2019

Are you involved in e-commerce from a business or IT perspective? And do you want to know how to combine a faster time-to-market and optimal user experience with fantastic performance and scalability? Then the following trend is interesting for you: within e-commerce, business and IT are joining forces by establishing a headless commerce architecture.

Paradoxically, the frontend in this is separated from the backend logic. From the questions I get from customers, I notice that the concept of "headless commerce" is becoming increasingly well known in the market:

  1. Can you tell me what "headless commerce" is?
  2. Can it be interesting for us?
  3. What is the difference with our current situation?
  4. What does the transition to "headless commerce" from our organization require?

Is headless commerce a hype, or a sustainable e-commerce strategy? In this blog I describe my vision on the theme. What is it and what is absolutely not? What are its characteristics and when do you choose it? And if you choose, what should you keep in mind?

What is headless commerce?

Within a headless commerce architecture, the frontend ("head") is disconnected from the backend and removed. This means that only backend logic remains. Elements such as products and prices are supplied via APIs and frontend developers determine how these elements are presented to the shopper.

Front end separated from back end

The front and back end are generally integrated within many standard solutions. In this way, the developer of the software prescribes the rules, which limits freedom at the front. This manifests itself, for example, in web shops that cannot be distinguished from each other through the use of a standard presentation structure or templates.

In headless commerce, backend developers use APIs to deliver front-end content. Subsequently, front-end developers ensure that it is properly presented to the customer - via every channel and every device. They choose the frontend technology for this themselves. In this way, multiple environments, such as app and webshop, can be linked to one e-commerce engine.

Range of services?

The freedom for your own architecture design is enormous, so you have to think carefully about how you want to add value. This should be reflected in the (micro) services and functionality that you offer your platform visitors and internal users. You develop this on the basis of customer needs (best of need) and business value: think of a calculator, where a customer can see exactly how many products he needs to add to get a discount or a free shipment.

API first

Finally, the "API first" setup is an important feature: all data exchange takes place through the use of APIs. This allows the data to be exchanged between different applications, also outside of your own architecture. Handy, for example when you offer a white label shop environment or collaborate with a drop shipping party and want to be able to determine the range yourself. Connecting chain partners or other external parties is possible.

The API-first set-up also ensures that your e-commerce platform is prepared for the arrival and adoption of future developments and technologies, such as the Internet of Things of Voice.

When do you choose headless commerce?

Companies such as Coolblue, bol.com and Zalando have chosen to set up their IT environment themselves: development of micro services with maximum focus on flexibility at the front. This allows them to offer a fantastic user experience. Nevertheless, we also see that players with a non-digital background are considering headless commerce, both in b2c and b2b. What they have in common? They have a long-term vision, believe in e-commerce and therefore invest in a future-proof and scalable environment.

Dynamics in your sector

The flexible and scalable nature of headless commerce can be a solution in dynamic industries, such as those in which technical developments, new entrants and changes in the supply chain are the order of the day. With the API set-up you are in a good position to connect new products, services and services to your platform. This means that you are better able to integrate innovation and convert it into more customer value - and therefore more sales.

Cooperation and integrations

A headless commerce architecture is open, allowing you to easily integrate other organizations on your own platform - with their own product range. For example when you set up a marketplace where other providers can offer their products. This allows you to take exactly the position you want in the supply chain. In the B2B market in particular, we expect many shifts in roles between producers, wholesalers, retailers and end customers in the coming years. To continue to work together, organizations are increasingly opting for an open architecture.

Multi or omnichannel strategy

Do you not only want to sell your products via the webshop, but also via physical stores, social selling, IoT applications, smartwatches and third parties? Then headless commerce is the right choice. You can easily reuse all backend data on other channels. This makes the headless set-up very suitable for designing your multi-channel or omni-channel strategy and for selling through various channels. For example, when you also offer products from your physical store via a digital screen, one of the channels that is directly linked to your e-commerce engine.

Maximum focus on customer experience

Are you going to use a headless platform? Then you are just a painter for an empty canvas. You are not bound by templates and restrictions and you can determine how you set up your frontend architecture. For your different channels and touch points you can therefore focus on optimizing the user experience.

Attracting and retaining IT talent

Developers are scarce, especially those with knowledge

John de Koning


E: john.dekoning@incentro.comT: +31 6 83334822
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