The ubiquitous shop: headless e-commerce

Category: eCommerce, technology, consumer

The ubiquitous shop: headless e-commerce

In these months, many brands understand that nothing should be taken for granted and that the ability to resist change depends on technology: in order to respond to new consumption models, channels, devices... we need tools to keep up the pace. 

One of them is headless e-commerce.


But what is this?


An e-commerce in which front and back-end development are separated, which guarantees that the "machinery" of our shop can work in our "shop window" and in many others with the same efficiency. This philosophy is perfect for brands or products that need impactful experiences, or for very specific verticals where pre-designed templates are not effective.


The headless ecommerce can have the showcase that most interests you, it does not have to be limited to have only one (the mobile application would be the first option, but think of virtual assistants, IoT...). 


This approach achieves: 

  • The shopping experience is not conditioned by viewing capabilities.
  • Unify all shopping experiences.
  • Simplify the management of content and tests.
  • Move in a very agile way.


Why can we do this now?


First, because almost all web applications are using APIs. 

The technology vendor gives us the back office (necessary for the operation), a functional and complete template (that you can use), but also a layer of APIs that allows us to build any experience based on them.

The second thing is that we are already in an "API mentality". As we seek to improve conversion, we integrate growth tools into our ecommerce platform, and this is less complex if all elements are API-based.


How to break the storefront (without the brick and mortar).


E-commerce packages combine the ecommerce operation (databases, orders, stock, prices...) with the visualisation of the store front.  And if we take the presentation logic elsewhere, the most appropriate place is... precisely the one that is closest to the visitor: the browser. 


Thanks to the single page application concept, we can propose complete navigations without reloading the page, from the beginning to the end of the visit and maintain a level of experience like that of a desktop application.  


The most popular frameworks in this layer (React, Angular, Vue...), are already mature solutions that improve the experience because they only need to query operational and transactional data to the backend.


In return, the ecommerce package is responsible for implementing APIs that solve the needs of the storefront (banners, front pages, modules, taxonomies, cart, availability control, prices, user identity, ...).


Does it pay to rethink ourselves in headless mode?


If your challenge is omnichannel, without a doubt yes. If you already have a good CMS that organises your decisions and you are overwhelmed by the complexity of product and content management, you should consider a change. COVID in this sense has acted as a sales accelerator towards the digital channel, which can make your scale more complex if you don't start thinking like this.


If that's not your challenge, you won't need that change, but it doesn't hurt to understand that almost all vendors are thinking about how they can help you decouple and become more agile. 


First, we have the SaaS vendors who seem best placed to lead the adoption of decoupled models:


  • Shopify builds on its track record as a SaaS + app marketplace ecosystem to offer its Shopify Plus product that implements all shop functionality via advanced APIs including GraphQL.
  • could be defined as a pure headless player, so much so that they are committed to integrations with platforms such as Adobe for the construction of the shop front.
  • BigCommerce has strategic agreements with Drupal and has recently launched a business line called Essentials that aligns it with Shopify towards smaller market targets.


But also vendors of traditional B2C packages, for whom the need to adapt the solution to modern operating patterns leads them to the headless model:


  • Salesforce Commerce builds on Demandware's well-proven SaaS infrastructure and, after combining it with Mulesoft, finally offers the possibility of implementing headless models.
  • In SAP Hybris, although it is not an announced capability as such, it is possible to operate headless by relying on the OCC connector on top of which the entire Hybris omni-channel solution is implemented.
  • Oracle, for its part, while not showing the capability in the ATG product (already considered legacy), does implement the headless model in its Commerce Cloud product.
  • HCL Websphere Commerce.  The former IBM WSC is seeking to become a cloud-native platform (albeit without offering a SaaS model), which implies container-based delivery solutions. As with Hybris, this leads to the need for powerful APIs that can be exploited to implement headless solutions.
  • Magento, having undergone a major overhaul in version 2 and following the acquisition by Adobe, allows headless architectures to be built via APIs and, as expected, enjoys an extensive integration layer with Adobe Experience Manager.




  • More flexible and agile development in construction, and an undeniably better user experience.
  • More scalable in infrastructure and maintenance. As the backend does not take care of the presentation, the infrastructure costs less and improves performance and bug identification.
  • Technological independence. With separation, the ecosystem of technologies does not have to depend on the same vendor.
  • The buy button can appear on any current and future digital asset! With a rich enough layer of APIs out of the box to build the full experience, it is easier to bring these capabilities to other channels such as mobile apps, third-party sites, virtual assistants...