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What is Headless eCommerce and why use it?

eCommerce solutions and online retailers have been around since almost the beginning of the internet era. Well before then, traditional retailers have always counted on foot traffic to trickle in their storefronts. With the rise in eCommerce in early 90s, retail owners realized there is a market to expand beyond their brick and mortar. This was an opportunity for physical direct-to-consumer businesses to capitalize in reaching potential customers in the global market space. Additionally, entrepreneurial-minded people could easily start a business by setting up an online store.

As with any new tech solutions, there comes a point where things will eventually evolve, either technologies will become more innovative, or the users utilizing these platforms and end-consumers will start to have bigger needs to be met.

Traditional eCommerce platforms such as WooCommerce, Magento, BigCommerce, and most recently Shopify have ruled the e-tailer space for almost the last decade. These solutions were able to provide a simple set-up-and-go for merchants who are looking to get into online retailing for the first time. For any merchants starting out, these solutions came as neat perfect out-of-the-box solutions for fast go-to-market launch. The fact that most of these traditional solutions require little to no technical knowledge would reasonably come off as a strong selling point. But just imagine being a new entrepreneur and being spread thin on all the aspects of starting a new business, being able to leverage outsourced skills and future-proof tools far outweighs trying to learn and do everything yourself when starting out.

As these merchants eventually scale with their brand, products, and customer base, being able to stand apart from competitors as well as innovate on new features and tools on their shopfront become a challenge they will have to face. A roadblock will be hit working within walled environments, “templatish” user interfaces, and limiting features.

Any solution that is able to work with an eCommerce business from early stages through to their imminent growth is a solution that has their customers in their best interests. Setting up any eCommerce business is a costly and robust task let alone having to maintain it through scaling.

I recently started my tech career with an exciting startup, Commerce.js. Any knowledge of eCommerce I had before coming across Commerce.js, were traditional solutions such as WooCommerce and Shopify. Those I initially thought, were the “only” solutions to creating eCommerce websites. While going through the WordPress module during my web development program at school, we were tasked with implementing WooCommerce on our final capstone project. Coming from a little to no knowledge of programming languages and having PHP as the only option to implement the eCommerce functionality, I knew I was up for a real challenge. There were definitely a lot of hurdles to overcome as a student learning to customize WordPress and using WooCommerce for the checkout process. To build a WordPress website, a huge code base has to be ported and the challenge then comes to leaf through files and nested code to override styles through specific classnames or build custom features. The whole process was not modular at all and seemed too robust.

Headless eCommerce on the other hand, gives you the ability to use the right tools for the job and not be tied down or walled in to an existing ecosystem. Being able to choose the frontend layer, the barrier to entry to launch an eCommerce site is much lower. These are all selling points for new business owners who are looking to provide unique digital experiences and are content-driven, and for budding or experienced developers to be able to fulfill the needs of their clients. As a new eCommerce business starting out, creating your brand through to the online experience you provide your customer, is truly what will sustain a business in the competitive market. Using a headless eCommerce solution also means you are able to deliver cross-platform frontends from the same backend data, thus potentially being able to have a global reach.

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