Online commerce is in a constant state of evolution and as we become more digitally savvy shoppers, we are expecting more from the companies we buy things from.  Whether it’s recommended products or localised payment options we’re looking for, choice has become the recipe for customer loyalty.  As such, retailers need to not only consider but fully embrace all available touchpoints of today’s omni-channel commerce reality.

What does this mean?

In a traditional commerce setting, the consumer experience aspect of a system is what we consider the ‘head’ of commerce, the mobile and consumer apps, mobile POS, responsive websites, etc. The ‘head’ is well positioned to be a separate tier which can provide user experience across any and all channels.

Ecommerce was and for the most part remains a monolithic platform. This platform lumps everything required for an ecommerce site to function (i.e. business logic, inventory management, content management, etc.) under one roof; all the way up to the ‘head.’ Sticking you with a particular presentation/experience for your entire commerce system.

Over time, the commerce platform became more and more complex, providing various distinct channels (i.e. mobile, desktop, an Amazon button). The monolithic commerce platform grew to be so heavy, that the weight from the “head,” or the presentation layer, was gradually neglected. Lost in the shuffle, it became more difficult to keep up with the times, and complications occurred when retailers tried to digitize their systems. As a result, the ‘head’ of your commerce platform grew stale. Which is why we’ve chopped it off!

Headless commerce is a digital commerce platform that views the system as a series of independent APIs or micro services, which a presentation platform can interact with. This provides more flexibility to mix and match commerce systems, inventory systems, CMS’s, pulling in the best-of-breed from each platform. We are no longer stuck with the presentation tier/ User Experience embedded within the commerce platform.

Key differentiators

Headless commerce views each system independently, creating a middle tier. The ‘head’ is what the user sees and how they interact with a retailer’s commerce system. They don’t know or care about which inventory system you use and that it’s separate from whichever order fulfillment system you’ve chosen. So why did we allow all these separate system’s affect the user’s experience so much?

The ‘head’ can be hosted on a lightweight, cloud-based platform, allowing you to use the latest gadgets and front-end technology without disrupting your entire system or spending a fortune. The middleware tier is easy to deploy and monitor to any cloud or internally. It’s the flexible way of gluing together whatever backend systems you have and unchaining them from a monolithic commerce platform. With the middleware platform, there is flexibility to not only use commerce systems that work best for your company, but the agility and elasticity to keep up with the ever-evolving consumer expectations. Delivering increased sales in Omni-channel retail environments, increased revenue potential from the ability to proactively market and target merchandise more frequently and rapidly at the channel level and cost savings associated with licensing, hosting, support and maintenance.

Regardless of where a consumer is located, in a store, at home, on the road, etc. they have instant access to your brand and products. With the right architecture such as a feature full front-end application ready to be plugged in with the appropriate commerce components and requisite APIs required to drive a headless commerce experience already defined, you have a solution that’s well thought out. A solution that is built with performance, security, availability, scalability, agility of making and deploying changes and ease of future expansion in mind. One that creates a seamless end-user experience transforming all the various channels into numerous touchpoints that can be used to sway a shopper into becoming a customer. A head to headless commerce. We’ve seen a lot of cautionary tales about people who want to make minor changes to their system that eventually turns into a several million-dollar project. Or they discover the project is not possible in the first place. Over time we’ve seen many struggles; now with this architecture, you avoid any and all of those pitfalls.

In the real world

There are many instances where a headless commerce approach may be appropriate; not just for replacing a legacy ecommerce platform, although this might be the case.  There are instances where the presentation layer of an ecommerce platform ‘the head’ needs to be separated from the back-end system, for example, if an organisation doesn’t want the business logic – through exposed APIs / micro services – changing the customer experience.  In another situation, a B2C company may want to create a B2B site, but not rebuild the entire ecommerce system; a headless commerce solution can be used to deliver this.  What’s more, even if a full headless commerce solution isn’t needed, many organisations may want to slowly transfer to this, with an eye to producing a more flexible ecommerce service that resonates more with consumers.

Andrew Powers

Andrew Powers


Andrew Powers, Senior Vice President, Solutions Delivery, at DMI.