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How and Why Headless Commerce is Making SaaS More Open

According to the Baymard E-Commerce Checkout Usability study, the average cart abandonment rate is close to 70%. And while half of cart abandonment cases are related to added costs, like shipping or taxes, many people never complete a purchase because of user experience issues, including complicated checkouts, security concerns, or a sluggish interface.

Why Headless Commerce

Source: Baymard

Headless commerce can help ecommerce companies address many of these issues and drive more sales. In this article, we’ll consider how. 

What Is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is a fairly new concept in ecommerce, but the basics are easy to understand, even if you aren’t a web developer or coder. 

Imagine that an ecommerce site is a person. There are two major parts to this person. There’s the head, which includes the ears, eyes, and mouth. All the input and output that communicate with other people come in and out of the head. 

If the head was part of an ecommerce site, it would be the part you see when you shop. The place where you view pictures and descriptions of products, see the costs, click to buy, and enter your credit card information. The head, then, is the “presentation” part of the system.

Meanwhile, the body houses all the moving parts. It supplies the head with the busy work that makes it possible to survive.

If the body was part of an ecommerce site, it would be the part you can’t see, working quietly in the background. This is where inventory is cataloged, orders are processed, payment methods are charged, and shipments are managed.

Traditionally in ecommerce, the head and the body came as a single package. You either purchased or built one large software system that did all of these things, which was cumbersome and presented problems with agility and customization.

Headless commerce separates the head (front-end presentation layer) and body (back-end ecommerce functionality). The two separate entities communicate via APIs (Application Programming Interface). The API layer allows you to connect and manage various apps and add-ons.

Headless Commerce Architecture

In short, with these solutions, you can purchase or build a backend and choose from a variety of front-end systems to connect with consumers.

Headless Commerce: Bridging SaaS and Open Source

For a long time, the benefits of SaaS (software-as-a-service) and open source systems were pitted against each other. But headless changes that.

With SaaS, you get out-of-the-box functionality that makes it easy to quickly launch and run an ecommerce store.

But traditionally, these software solutions were seen as a black box that didn’t leave you a lot of room for flexibility and innovation. 

In contrast, open source systems publish their code for anyone to see or manipulate. For ecommerce firms with in-house developers, open source made it easier to add customization and functionality to serve consumers and business goals.

That leaves smaller ecommerce businesses out, though, and limits the benefits to those who can afford to hire or pay developers. The costs of keeping an open source system secure and up-to-date are also higher than with a SaaS system which covers security, hosting, and maintenance for you. 

Headless commerce makes it possible for businesses to get the flexibility of open source with the cost and maintenance benefits of SaaS. You don’t get access to the source code, but you aren’t stuck with out-of-the-box functionality because you connect and manage your headless solutions with APIs.

Benefits of Headless Commerce

Why would anyone want multiple systems when you can have one that does it all? Headless commerce comes with a variety of benefits that can make it faster, easier, and cheaper (in the long run) to manage your online store. Here are just some benefits of headless commerce:

1. Customization.

Headless makes it easier and faster to customize since you’re not tied to a single frontend. Instead, you can choose what makes the most sense for your business strategy and audience whether that’s a content management system, a digital experience platform, a progressive web app, or something else. 

It also  makes it easier to create a personalized experience for consumers for everything from marketing to customer service options. Since 90% of U.S. consumers find personalization very or somewhat appealing, that capability is important for any business that sells goods or services online.

2. Flexibility.

Headless commerce is also flexible  on the backend platform. It’s also far easier to swap the backend system once you’ve outgrown it without changing your frontend.  This allows for zero downtime upgrades and running concurrent platforms during the transition period.

3. Launch faster. 

Whether you’re launching a new brand store or product or simply updating existing products with new options, headless supports agility.

Consider the example of Burrow, a furniture store that created a series of modular products that hit the market and grew quickly in popularity. One of Burrow’s challenges as an ecommerce company was to quickly provide unique, customized content for consumers. Templates didn’t cut it, but cumbersome integrated systems might drive up labor time.

Headless Commerce Site

Burrow solved the issue and supported speed to market by pairing a SaaS commerce system on the backend with a custom content management system on the front.

Opening SaaS = Access to APIs

Technically, what you end up within a headless commerce system is OpenSaaS. That’s because the APIs become the equivalent of source code — and the customizations that you can make to source code.

In headless system, APIs are used to manage marketing, presentation to the customer, ordering and cart logic, payments, shipping notifications, and many other processes.

If you choose this type of architecture, it’s important that your platform provides a high volume of API calls and everything you need to manage them for a seamless user experience.

API calls refer to how often, in a period of time, your front or backend can call on APIs to communicate with each other or perform functions. If your API call volume is limited, then your customers are going to experience errors or longer wait times when processing searches or orders. While it’s not the same thing, the impact of low API volumes can be similar to that of low bandwidth or page speed, and your customers may get frustrated and go elsewhere.

Other things you want in a good open SaaS solution include:

– Multiple endpoints.

– In-depth developer documents that make it easier to integrate APIs into systems.

– A heavy focus on API development in the product roadmap — i.e., you want SaaS that was designed to facilitate openness.

Headless commerce lets ecommerce businesses enjoy the best of SaaS and open source systems — and it provides a number of other benefits that range from improved customer experience to increased control over your operations budget.

When you choose headless commerce solutions, you’re in greater control of your overall ecommerce system. Depending on your business and brand needs, you can choose front-end systems with easy-to-use templates for fast set up or custom CMS that lets you tweak everything about your presentation to the world.

And all this control comes, in part, thanks to the integration of APIs into headless systems. You can add or remove APIs for almost unlimited flexibility, gaining a similar level of customization as you would on an open source platform. But you get those benefits without the security risks or maintenance.

About The Author
Leigh-Anne Truitt
Search Engine Optimization Specialist at BigCommerce

Leigh-Anne Truitt is a Search Engine Optimization Specialist at BigCommerce where she researches and discovers strategies to increase organic traffic. Prior to joining the eCommerce industry, Leigh-Anne perfected her marketing skills at The University of Texas at Austin and CanIRank.

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