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What is headless eCommerce? An introduction

Published on 22/02/2023 by Rosalia Mousse and Andrew Blair

Many customers no longer shop in brick-and-mortar stores. Instead, they prefer to use apps and websites. With headless commerce, you can design your online shop to be flexible and provide an individual user experience. But what does headless eCommerce mean? What is a headless eCommerce platform, and how can a company get the best headless eCommerce solutions?

A small business enquiring, what is headless eCommerce?

The digital world is largely geared towards the modern consumer. Many customers no longer shop in brick-and-mortar stores but through apps and websites. This is where headless commerce comes into play.

Headless commerce is a term currently on everyone's lips. This is because customers' expectations have become increasingly diverse in recent years. Target groups are looking to be addressed in a more individual and personalised way - and online retailers should respond to this need promptly if, in the future, they want to retain customers and sales. The problem with conventional shop systems is that many of the changes required can only be implemented slowly or not at all. For this reason, more and more companies are opting to use paid or free headless eCommerce platforms that provide the necessary architecture required for a change of direction. All the components that make up an online shop are connected via interfaces. The result: significantly more flexibility in the frontend. 

If you are wondering what else is behind this technology, then you've come to the right place. Here we will explain exactly what headless eCommerce is, how it differs from conventional eCommerce platforms and what advantages headless commerce offers.

Headless eCommerce definition

So, what does headless eCommerce mean? What is a headless eCommerce platform? Headless eCommerce platforms are characterised by the fact that the aesthetic and the functional parts of an online shop, known as frontend and backend, are kept separate from each other. The result is many individual solutions that ideally function independently. The goal is to give companies more agility and flexibility in the design of their online shop. The individual components can nevertheless communicate via interfaces, also known as APIs. This contrasts with conventional shop systems, which usually deliver the frontend and backend as a complete package.

How does headless eCommerce work? 

In headless eCommerce platforms, frontend and backend are decoupled from each other. The frontend, which forms the presentation level, can be designed very flexibly in order to adapt to changes in the customer's buying behaviour in the best possible way. The backend, which forms the functional level, is structured as modules for payment processing, shopping basket management and so on. The crucial advantage here is that both environments can be tested and further developed separately. APIs ensure that the frontend and backend can communicate with each other despite decoupling, i.e. they can exchange data, even if the online shop operator is currently working on each of the components.

What is the difference from a conventional eCommerce platform? 

In conventional eCommerce platforms, the frontend and backend are closely interlinked. Therefore, adaptations are usually very complex, as developers have little room to manoeuvre. If the presentation level is adapted, this almost automatically results in the backend having to be adjusted. An optimal customer experience is thus much more difficult than a headless shop system. In addition, migration to a new shop system involves a considerable amount of effort.

By contrast, headless eCommerce platforms offer a shop system that enables maximum flexibility through cooperation via various APIs. Right from the start, the individual components in headless eCommerce platforms are understood as independent building blocks that work separately from each other. This results in an infinite number of design options for the frontend. In addition, the individual modules such as checkout, payment processing or product presentation can come from different providers.  

Advantages of headless eCommerce

The biggest advantage that a headless eCommerce platform offers to online traders is flexibility. Consumers can be addressed individually according to the target groups via apps and websites, leading to better conversion rates. Setting up different frontends is quick and uncomplicated because the adjustments have no impact on the backend. This results in a clear competitive advantage because companies can act faster and more efficiently when new developments are made. The exchange of individual components is also possible without problems, as only the APIs have to be compatible.

Challenges of headless eCommerce 

In addition to numerous advantages, headless shop systems also present some business challenges. For example, the high degree of flexibility and individualisation means that additional technical resources must be invested to make it possible to carry out the necessary development work. Hence, the firm must have sufficient financial resources to set up an appropriate team with the necessary skills. 

In addition, from time to time, companies have to be prepared for technical inconsistencies in development. The conversion to a headless shop system is not a step that companies should take casually - after all, it is not an easy undertaking, and the entire system has to be rethought. For this to succeed, it is first necessary to have a comprehensive overview of the current IT architecture. After this, a step-by-step implementation can take place. Gradually, existing technologies can be expanded with headless modules to move closer to a completely headless eCommerce platform. Departments that will eventually work independently in the new headless shop system should be involved in this process from the beginning. Even after the system launch, it is important to continuously monitor all the processes. Fortunately, there are intelligent software solutions that can considerably simplify and accelerate implementation and offer the best headless eCommerce.

Conclusion: The importance of headless eCommerce 

Headless commerce is an omnipresent topic, and for good reason. Companies with ambitious goals will have to invest in headless eCommerce platforms sooner or later in order to survive in the future. As the market changes at breakneck speed, only online retailers who can constantly adapt to new situations will be consistently successful. In this context, the best headless eCommerce is more than just a technological gimmick; instead, it is a decision to put the customer experience at the heart of the business.

Looking for headless eCommerce software? Check out our catalogue! 


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About the authors

Rosalia is a Content Analyst for Software Advice. Graduate of HHU Dusseldorf, living in Barcelona. On weekends, you'll find her on the beach or at brunch.

Rosalia is a Content Analyst for Software Advice. Graduate of HHU Dusseldorf, living in Barcelona. On weekends, you'll find her on the beach or at brunch.


Andrew is a Content Analyst for Software Advice, giving SMEs insights into tech, software and business trends. Interest in entrepreneurship, furthering projects and startups.

Andrew is a Content Analyst for Software Advice, giving SMEs insights into tech, software and business trends. Interest in entrepreneurship, furthering projects and startups.