Sep 2020

Headless & API-driven e-commerce: The Next Logical Step in Online Sales

The digital future is api-driven with e-commerce being no exception. Find out about the latest trend of going headless and how your e-commerce benefit from it.

The digital customer is now king, and he likes to be able to shop online whenever and wherever he feels like it — through his Alexa assistant, on his phone, you name it. With COVID-19 changing how we shop, customers are even increasingly expecting to be able to buy “online” via screens when they’re physically in store. This is where headless, API-driven e-commerce comes to the fore. For all e-commerce businesses, but particularly for SMEs, it can be difficult to stay on top of the technical side of things. Headless, API-driven e-commerce solutions allow businesses to optimize their processes — from content management to fulfilment — and get access to the most sophisticated, flexible, and cutting edge front-end applications, without having to build anything in the back-end. Intrigued? Keep reading to find out more about how headless, API-driven e-commerce could change the whole e-commerce game for you.

What is headless e-commerce?

In basic terms, headless e-commerce is exactly what it sounds like: the separation of the front end and the back end of an e-commerce application. This means that the front end (the head) has been detached or removed from the backend; thus the front and the back operate independently of each other.

API-Driven E-Commerce
Overview: API-driven E-Commerce

How is headless e-commerce different from traditional e-commerce?

Normally, e-commerce platforms’ front and back ends are tightly connected. Their front-end is pre-established and always linked to the back-end — it’s a marriage for life. In concrete terms, this means that even with a bunch of customization features and the best developers in the world, the platform can only produce content via a website or — at a push — a mobile app.

In contrast, headless e-commerce architectures use a RESTful API that consists of a back-end data model and a cloud-based infrastructure. Requests between the backend and the frontend are passed by APIs — application programming interfaces. When, for instance, an order is placed, this request is communicated — or “sent” — between the front end and the back end through these connecting APIs.

What does this mean in practice? Well, when a user clicks the ‘order’ button on their smartphone or shouts ‘buy me a blender’ at their Alexa, the presentation layer of the headless e-commerce system (front-end) sends an API call (a message) to the application layer (back-end) to process the order. At the same time, another API call might also be sent, between the order-processing application and a fulfilment application, which will pick the quickest, cheapest fulfilment method and provider for the order. The application layer (the fulfilment application, in this case) will also send another API call back to the presentation layer to send the customer their order status.

Why should I be interested in headless e-commerce?

Why should I be interested in headless E-Commerce?

The essence of headless e-commerce systems is that the back and the front end operate independently of one other. This means brands can more efficiently deliver a better online customer experience across a wide range of devices.

If you’re an e-commerce SMEs, keeping up with the latest experiences and touchpoints is often impossible (and increasingly so in a digitalized post-COVID-19 world). Introducing new experiences and functionalities in traditional E-commerce systems is time-consuming as both the front and back end need to be updated. Once your new feature has been implemented, it’s probably already out of date!

Headless e-commerce changes the landscape. It allows your back-end developers to use APIs to deliver core elements of your businesses — namely products, blog posts, or customer reviews — to any kind of device. Simultaneously, your front-end developers can focus on designing and presenting content using the most suitable framework(s) for them.

Headless, API-driven e-commerce is not just hype: it genuinely makes a difference. Changes to user interface/experience and content delivery to new IoT devices — such as smartwatches, tablets, and voice devices — happen much faster and are made easier. We’re biased — but the power of APIs for e-commerce cannot be underestimated.

Why is headless e-commerce more important than ever in a post Covid-19 world?

Before the pandemic, e-commerce was already a rising star, but this year, the transformation of traditional retail to online models has greatly accelerated, given the imposition of lockdowns across the world. The inefficiencies of many businesses’ operating models, both physical and virtual, have been highlighted by COVID-19. Footfall in traditional stores has sharply declined, underlining the need for infrastructure innovation across a range of industries, especially the digitalization of businesses.

Regardless, the e-commerce world is not impervious to transformation, despite being more technically savvy than their traditional counterparts. Existing e-commerce labels with weaker digital foundations have quickly realized the importance of implementing more agile architectures to fulfill customer expectations. In a world where e-shopping across multiple devices is becoming the norm, this is critical to any brand’s success.

It’s not enough to just sell online anymore. Accessible, user-friendly interfaces across all mediums as well as quick, free delivery are regarded as essentials in the current e-commerce market. Headless, API-driven systems are the only technology that can truly deliver the agility businesses need to keep up with changing consumer demands and pro-e-shopping market trends.

The central advantages of headless, API-driven e-commerce for online sellers

Now you know how headless, API-driven e-commerce works and why you should pay attention to it — but what are its key advantages?

1. Instantly make changes to your front-end

With headless, API-driven e-commerce, you can update and introduce new front end experiences with the drop of a hat. With traditional e-commerce, this requires an update to the back-end as well, which can take hours. Let’s say you want to implement a custom checkout flow or add a new application — you can just go ahead and do this without worrying about the back-end. As soon as you introduce new content to your front end, it’s there: no waiting, no extra investment in the back-end, and no time lost!

2. Remain at the cutting edge of UX and UI

Headless, API-driven e-commerce allows you to control all the user experience and interface elements of your online shop across all the possible devices that users have. This gives you ultimate, one-click control over the look and feel of your online shop. You can be far more experimental while also ensuring a consistent customer experience across all devices and viewing formats. As there is no front-end, like with traditional e-commerce systems, developers can create a brand new user experience and continuously update it to keep up with the latest design trends and customer expectations. This is exactly how big brands — like Amazon — can implement updates every few minutes or even seconds (!), instead of every few weeks.

3. Introduce much-needed features quick

Headless e-commerce systems are by definition reliant upon APIs. This means that they can seamlessly connect to other platforms and applications whenever you need it. The example above of connecting a fulfilment platform is a great use-case. You can simply connect a new state-of-the-art technological solution and optimize your operations — from sales to marketing, to logistics — via an API. You can also instantaneously make your shop available through any device. A new smartwatch is out? No problem! With APIs, it no longer takes months to integrate an e-commerce platform with new technology — only a few hours are needed instead.

4. A zero tech skills approach

New technologies can seem daunting — do I need to train myself or my employees? How much time and money will this take? Because you can adapt the front-end via simple programming applications, you can get creative with the content you publish without needing advanced tech skills. You and your team will be able to edit and update the front-end (and may even be able to design things, depending on how creative you are) with only minimal developer guidance.

5. Cut costs

This is a simple time question. As front-end changes don’t entail changes to the back-end, time — and money — is saved from your development budget. Moreover, as developers (or any of your employees, actually) can employ headless templates and partner applications, you can optimize the design process and other operational areas of your business via automatic tools.

Codept: The next logical step in headless e-commerce

For 70% of all online sellers, expanding their fulfilment network to access the best and most cost-effective providers is time-consuming. Normally, it involves a manual search, tender process, and comparison of different service providers. And there are multiple challenges when it comes to choosing a provider, especially understanding the often complex pricing, as well as negotiating contracts, SLAs, and general terms.

With headless e-commerce, you can connect to a fulfilment provider platform, like Codept, via a REST API. Connection to such platforms gives you instant, real-time, and direct access to various fulfilment providers, linking your cart immediately to a provider as soon as an order is placed. This not only eliminates the need for you to do any work — the API and the application do it for you — but also saves the high connection and project costs — often up to €50,000 — customary in the industry.

Future proof your business via APIs

The marriage of the front and the back-end in e-commerce is officially over. Traditional e-commerce is out and poly-functional API-driven systems are definitively in. Why? Because businesses simply cannot keep up with technological change and evolving customer demands — and, therefore, stay competitive — without agile technical architectures.

With the help of nifty APIs, you can now simply adapt the front-end without updating the whole system. So you can continuously keep customer experience features fresh and make sure your brand is always contemporary and consistent across all user devices — and save time and money while doing it!

Headless, API-driven e-commerce is the next logical step for E-commerce, especially in a rapidly changing and increasingly virtual consumer environment, spurred on by a global pandemic. To put it simply: to survive today, e-businesses must lose their head(s)!