Headless e-commerce has become a popular option for digital brands. Over the past two years, investors have poured $1.6 billion into headless opportunities, and any number of startups and established e-commerce players have launched new technologies or products intended to ride the wave.
After navigating three generations of e-commerce technology at both startups and Fortune 100 companies, I believe headless can be transformative. However, that transformation won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen easily.
Headless tech offers the rapid, flexible deployment of new front ends on legacy platforms, but most companies will pay a price for the flexibility and independence they achieve. In fact, many online brands would do better to wait for next-gen deployments, as headless tech matures and integrates more fully into the broader end-to-end e-commerce ecosystem.
The key is for brands to look at these new technologies with clear eyes, and to weigh the good and the bad as they chart a course forward. Let’s take a closer look at where we are today, and what lies ahead for headless e-commerce.
To start off, let’s acknowledge that there are plenty of reasons to love the idea of headless e-commerce. Separate the front-end interface and the back-end infrastructure, and you gain flexibility to draw on best-of-breed technologies, while still delivering customized experiences that align with your brand and your customers’ needs.
For those of us who cut our teeth with N-tier computing paradigms, decoupling felt like the only sane way to develop applications. That’s been complicated by the rise of monolithic “web deployments,” but the reality is that headless fusion of power and flexibility remains a developer’s dream. I often talk with engineering and product teams about implementing “escape hatches” that prevent us from coding ourselves into a corner, or “out of process” options that allow the user or customer to achieve goals that the product manager never originally imagined.
What we now call “headless” springs from the same desire for flexibility and rigor. Whether you want to spin off a new storefront, create a dedicated website for a niche audience, or create customized experiences for a new marketing campaign, headless lets you present the customer experience however you want, while using the tried-and-tested e-commerce back-end you currently rely upon. Sounds awesome, right?
Unfortunately, headless e-commerce comes with strings attached. As every developer and agency knows, the very thing that makes headless implementations appealing — their flexibility — also makes them a massive headache to use and maintain.
For starters, rapidly deploying headless architecture is a contradiction in terms. By going headless, you’re committing to stringing together different solutions with custom code or no-code frameworks via APIs. No-code frameworks and integrations are seldom feature-rich enough to achieve the needed results, forcing brands or retailers to connect existing systems of record, build the required user interface, and fine-tune infrastructure.
If headless is hard to implement, it’s even harder to maintain. You’re left handling a mountain of middleware, and you’re responsible for managing updates to all the apps you’ve connected to your online store. All too soon, you can find yourself running an IT infrastructure operation …….