Headless Commerce — Deciding if it's Right for You and Choosing the Right Platform

Ecommerce sales got a major jolt from the pandemic, to say the least. Even the most traditional retailers realized that they not only needed to sell online, but they also needed to offer...

Navigating the headless commerce decision tree is a complex process


Ecommerce sales got a major jolt from the pandemic, to say the least. Even the most traditional retailers realized that they not only needed to sell online, but they also needed to offer feature-rich omnichannel experiences. As we've discussed before, headless commerce is emerging as a way to build an agile, innovative eCommerce engine. Like all solutions, however, it has pros and cons and it is more suitable to some retailers' situations than others.

Here's how to determine if a headless commerce solution is right for you and what you need to know to select the right platform.

Do you need a custom, headless, or blended eCommerce solution?

For all its benefits, headless commerce is not always the right solution for every business. If it is right for you, choosing a backend eCommerce solution will depend on your budget, business goals, and the technology resources available to you.

Custom solutions are ideal for big companies or those with strict requirements

If you're building an enterprise solution that relies on domain-specific knowledge, then a custom solution can make more sense than a pure headless commerce solution. Larger businesses also use more bandwidth, and headless commerce providers—which typically offer event-based or user-based billing—will charge more for the additional resources. The cost of a custom approach may turn out to be less than the fees charged by headless commerce providers, or you may find that a blend of custom and managed services work best for you.

Companies who choose a fully custom solution pay more upfront and endure a longer development process. However, a custom solution can provide all the features you need exactly the way you want them. This can be done with or without a managed commerce service that is extended in the custom solution.

Headless solutions are less demanding on time and resources

As eCommerce has matured over the years, both sellers' and customers' expectations of an eCommerce solution have grown. Most headless solutions offer robust capabilities like shopping carts, cart discounts, user preferences, promotion codes, and so on—as standard offerings. With headless commerce, you get a prepackaged backend solution that will likely provide the vast majority of the features you need.

Headless commerce is much faster to implement than a custom solution. Think about all the brick-and-mortar retailers caught off guard by the lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic. They were up against a time crunch and needed to stand up an eCommerce solution in a matter of weeks. In those instances, building a custom solution simply was not a viable option.

Headless and custom eCommerce solutions aren't mutually exclusive

As you are weighing the pros and cons of headless and custom solutions, it's important to remember that it needn't be an "either-or" decision. If you don't find a headless solution with every single feature that you want or need, you'll need to custom-build those features. Let's say that cryptocurrency is a must-have for your business. You've found a headless commerce solution that checks every other box, but it doesn't support cryptocurrency. If the cost of building your own custom crypto feature still keeps your total project cost below that of a fully custom solution, it makes sense to build that feature separately. In that case, you have a blended solution.

Also, remember that implementing any headless solution will require some level of customization. You still have to connect it to the front end you choose. This involves API integrations and understanding the platform's restrictions and requirements. Even the most full-featured "turnkey" headless commerce solution will require some sort of technical effort and potential customization on your part.

Evaluating headless solutions

If you choose to pursue headless commerce or a blended approach, the evaluation process should begin like any other project: with your requirements. For instance, are there any special tax requirements or exclusions you need to accommodate? Do you have certain service level agreements (SLAs) you need to meet? Identify the headless commerce platforms that best meets your needs. Don't get distracted by shiny objects or low prices. You don't want to overpay for features you don't need, but you also don't want to underspend and end up with something that doesn't have all the features you need—or won't let you grow in the future.

Another primary consideration is whether the platform's features are suitable for your customers. Take features like rewards, coupons, and curbside pickup, for example. If those services are valuable to your customers, and you've ruled out building them as custom features, your chosen headless commerce provider must offer them.

Also, since you're trusting your eCommerce site's back end to a third party, the platform you choose must have the proper support structure. The ideal platform will offer technical support, account management, and customer success support to help you maximize your investment.

Get an unbiased opinion to aid in making your decision

Navigating the headless commerce decision tree is a complex process. An unbiased technology partner can help you determine if it's the right solution for you, whether you need to customize (and to what extent), and which platform is ideal for your business and your customers. They should be an unbiased third party who will point you in the direction of the solution that best meets your needs.

Interested in learning more about the headless commerce options available to you? Check out Future Proofing Your Retail Enterprise: The Power and Flexibility of Headless Commerce. This 55-minute webinar features the benefits of headless commerce, how headless compares to other approaches, and what to know when considering it. View the webinar here.

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