What is headless commerce?

Learn about what headless commerce is and if it will benefit your store to move into the future of ecommerce now

Jordan Gal

May 19, 2023

What is headless commerce?

Headless commerce is an ecommerce architecture where the front-end and back-end are separated, allowing for greater customization and flexibility in designing user experiences across multiple channels. It enables businesses to deliver personalized shopping experiences and adapt quickly to changing market needs.

In today's dynamic world of e-commerce, businesses must be agile and responsive to keep up with changing customer demands. Headless commerce is a modern approach that allows ecommerce businesses to achieve this by separating the front-end user interface (UI) from the back-end business logic and functionality. 

With headless commerce, businesses have the flexibility to create a customized and engaging user experience by leveraging any front-end technology of their choice, such as React or Vue, and pairing it with their preferred back-end system. This flexibility empowers store owners to implement new features based on market trends and consumer preferences, leading to increased engagement and higher conversion rates. Furthermore, headless commerce allows businesses to design their ideal headless architecture, giving merchants the freedom to choose their preferred tech stack partners, including their ideal headless CMS, CDN, CRM, and third-party revenue booster, among others. 

However, headless commerce is not just a passing trend, but a strategy that offers tangible benefits for e-commerce businesses. It enables easier integration with other systems, improves efficiency through automation, and provides scalability to support future growth. By adopting a headless commerce approach, e-commerce businesses can offer customers better online shopping experiences and enhance the overall store experience. 

How headless commerce works

At its core, headless commerce is all about decoupling the front-end user interface (UI) from the back-end business logic and functionality. In a traditional e-commerce platform, the front-end UI and back-end logic are tightly integrated, meaning that any changes to the front end can potentially disrupt the underlying platform. This makes your store less customizable and poses many issues when trying to implement new features and enhancements.

With a headless architecture, on the other hand, the front-end UI is completely separate from the back-end logic, meaning that businesses can experiment with new design elements or functionality without worrying about disrupting the underlying platform. This decoupling is achieved through the use of APIs, which allow the front-end UI to communicate with the back-end logic without being directly tied to it.

With this, e-commerce businesses can create flexible and customizable solutions. By using any front-end technology they prefer, stores can create a more engaging and personalized user experience for their customers. This can include everything from customized product recommendations to an enhanced checkout with one-click post-purchase offers.

In addition, headless commerce architecture enables businesses to easily integrate their e-commerce platform with other systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or inventory management systems. By using APIs to connect these systems, businesses can automate their operations and improve their overall efficiency, saving time and money while freeing up resources to focus on other areas of the business.

Overall, headless commerce architecture offers a more flexible and customizable e-commerce solution than traditional platforms. By decoupling the front-end UI from the back-end logic, businesses can create a more engaging and personalized user experience for their customers while also improving their efficiency and scalability.

Reasons to adopt headless commerce

  1. Enhanced flexibility and agility

    Are you still creating workarounds for adding new features to keep your store up-to-date? With a headless architecture, e-commerce businesses have the flexibility to choose any frontend technology they prefer, allowing them to create a highly customized and unique user experience without the need for workarounds that are often required with a monolithic platform. This flexibility enables businesses to quickly adapt to changing customer demands, market trends, and technological advancements. Getting rid of the headaches associated with unnecessary code that weighs down your site is a huge win. Moreover, with headless architecture, businesses can easily make updates and changes to the front-end UI without disrupting the underlying back-end logic, making it easier to iterate and optimize the user experience.

  2. Improved performance and scalability

    Headless commerce allows businesses to optimize the performance of their e-commerce website by eliminating unnecessary code and components. This can result in faster loading times, improved website performance, and a smoother user experience. Additionally, headless architecture enables businesses to scale their website more easily and efficiently, as they can independently scale the front-end and back-end systems as needed, without being constrained by a monolithic platform. This scalability is especially crucial for businesses that experience rapid growth or seasonal fluctuations in demand.

  3. Streamlined development and maintenance

    With headless commerce, development and maintenance become more streamlined and efficient. Front-end developers can work independently on the user interface, while back-end developers can focus on improving the business logic and functionality. This separation of concerns allows for faster development cycles, easier bug fixing, and smoother updates. It also reduces the risk of unintentional changes or disruptions to the overall system, as updates to the front-end UI do not impact the back-end logic, and vice versa.

  4. Organic traffic improvement

    One of the advantages of a headless architecture is the ability to implement SEO best practices more effectively. Traditional e-commerce platforms often have limitations in terms of SEO capabilities, but with headless architecture, businesses have more control over their website's SEO performance. This includes the ability to optimize meta tags, URLs, and structured data, as well as optimizing site speeds and implementing custom SEO strategies tailored to their specific business needs. This can result in improved organic traffic and search engine rankings, leading to higher visibility and more potential customers.

  5. Easier content management

    In e-commerce, there is a lot of content to be managed. Not only does this consist of constantly updating and managing product information images, descriptions, etc., but you also need to create content for your blog posts, guides, videos, special sales pages, and so on. This critical aspect of running a successful e-commerce business is made much easier with a headless commerce architecture. This allows businesses to use specialized headless CMS solutions that provide a user-friendly interface for managing content, which can then be easily consumed and displayed across various front-end channels, such as web, mobile, or social media.

  6. Better user experience and customer engagement

    The ultimate goal of any e-commerce business is to provide a seamless and engaging user experience that drives customer engagement and loyalty. Headless architecture enables businesses to create a more personalized, interactive, and dynamic user experience by leveraging the latest front-end technologies and design trends. This can include features such as personalized product recommendations, dynamic pricing, real-time inventory updates, and interactive visualizations. A consistent brand experience is a better user experience, which leads to improved customer engagement, higher conversion rates, and increased customer loyalty, ultimately driving business growth.

How to prepare for headless commerce implementation

As you would do for any large change to your business, implementing a headless commerce architecture does require careful planning, evaluation, and preparation to ensure a smooth transition. Here are some key tips to consider when preparing to build a headless architecture. 

Choose the right infrastructure 

Selecting the right infrastructure for your headless commerce implementation is crucial. This includes choosing the appropriate headless commerce platform that aligns with your business requirements and goals. Look for a platform that offers robust APIs, flexible headless architecture, and scalability to support your e-commerce needs. If you need somewhere to start, begin by chatting with headless developers or agencies as well as other store owners who have moved headless. This will give you an understanding of what decision process they went through. There’s also a chance they made a couple of mistakes they can help you avoid by pointing you in the right direction right away. 

Ask for references 

Before committing to a headless commerce solution, developer, or agency, ask for references from other businesses that have utilized their services. Reach out to these references to learn about their experiences, challenges faced, understand what headless architecture they went with and why, and what benefits were achieved from implementing headless commerce. This will provide you with valuable insights and help you make an informed decision.

Get pricing

Pricing is an important factor to consider when preparing for a headless commerce implementation. Request pricing information from potential headless commerce platform providers and evaluate the cost implications. Consider factors such as license fees, hosting costs, customization charges, and ongoing maintenance expenses. Make sure to understand the pricing structure and any additional costs that may arise during the implementation process.

By carefully evaluating these aspects, you can ensure that you are well-prepared for a successful headless commerce implementation. Planning ahead and choosing the right headless architecture, gathering references, and understanding the pricing structure will help you set a strong foundation for a seamless transition to a headless commerce architecture.

Is headless commerce right for your business? 

Headless commerce solutions offer a modern and flexible approach to e-commerce, decoupling the front-end and back-end systems for enhanced flexibility, agility, and customization. The benefits include improved performance, scalability, streamlined development and maintenance, organic traffic improvement, easier content management with a headless CMS, and better user experience.

Before implementing a headless commerce architecture, it's crucial to thoroughly evaluate your business requirements and goals, choose the right headless commerce platform, and consider factors such as pricing, references, and potential challenges. It's also important to have a clear understanding of your technical capabilities and resources to ensure a successful implementation. Make sure to consult with experts, and thoroughly research headless commerce platforms and solutions. By doing so, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your business goals and sets you up for success in the ever-evolving e-commerce landscape.

Remember, headless commerce is a powerful approach that can unlock new opportunities for your e-commerce business, so plan ahead, choose wisely, and embrace the potential of this innovative headless commerce architecture. Happy selling!


How long does it take to implement headless commerce? 

The timeline for implementing headless commerce can vary depending on the size and complexity of your business. While it's not always a quick or cost-effective solution, with development times ranging from 4-8 months or even longer for a big store, it's important to understand the investment of time and resources involved.

Keep in mind, it is possible to do a simple headless commerce solution. Here is an example of a headless store using BigCommerce and Vercel that we built in under 30 minutes.

You can continue to run your store while the development process is underway, ensuring a continuous stream of revenue. 

It's recommended to research and gather cost expectations from different sources to get a clear understanding of the potential expenses for your specific business size. Rest assured, with careful planning and execution, the benefits of implementing a headless architecture can outweigh the implementation timeline.

What does a headless commerce tech stack include? 

A headless commerce tech stack typically includes a variety of components that work together to power the front-end and back-end functionalities of an e-commerce website or application. Some common elements of a headless commerce tech stack may include:

  • Headless Commerce Platform: This is the core of the tech stack, providing the back-end functionality and infrastructure for managing products, inventory, orders, and payments.

  • Content Management System (CMS): A headless CMS is often used to manage the content that is displayed on the front-end of the e-commerce site or app. It allows for flexible content creation and management without being tightly coupled to the presentation layer.

  • API (Application Programming Interface): APIs enable communication between different components of the tech stack, allowing for seamless data transfer and integration between systems.

  • Front-end Frameworks/Libraries: These are used to build the user interface and user experience (UI/UX) of the e-commerce site or app. Popular front-end frameworks and libraries like React, Angular, or Vue are often used for this purpose.

  • Payment Gateways: These are essential for processing online payments securely and efficiently. Popular payment gateways like Stripe, PayPal, or Braintree are often integrated into the headless commerce tech stack.

  • Analytics and Tracking Tools: These tools provide insights into customer behavior, site performance, and other important metrics to help optimize the e-commerce experience.

  • Third-party Integrations: Depending on the requirements of the e-commerce business, additional third-party integrations may be included in the tech stack, such as marketing automation tools, CRM systems, enhanced checkout systems, post-purchase offer tools, or ERP systems.

Where can I try a headless checkout to see how it works? 

If you want to try a headless checkout, you can utilize our demo sticker store here. This will allow you to see a headless checkout from a consumer perspective and test the post-purchase offers feature built into the Rally checkout.

If you want to test a headless checkout for your store, you can sign up for a free trial and start today. 

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© 2024 Rally Commerce, Inc.