E-commerce is constantly evolving and makes it easy to sell products to customers across the globe. By incorporating a headless architecture design at the core of your e-commerce business, the storefront, you can integrate CMS seamlessly.
Not long ago, having an online store meant inventory management modules, content editors, and a payment gateway all attached to a single database. A content management system (CMS) would then be programmed using a single unifying framework. A good example of this is Shopify, which is largely a Rails framework project.
A headless architecture decouples the aforementioned functional modules into separate, standalone, seamlessly integrated elements. However, if you want to move towards a headless e-commerce architecture, you don’t have to ditch your original CMS.
This article introduces you to headless e-commerce architecture, its benefits, and shows you how to seamlessly incorporate a headless architecture design with your current CMS platform.
What is Headless E-commerce?
The best way to envision a headless e-commerce platform, is to separate the frontend from the backend. On the frontend, you can have numerous interconnected elements delivering a unique user experience while not requiring any backend effort. Unified CMS platforms like WordPress, Shopify, and Joomla do not offer this functionality.
The entire headless maze of functions hinges on APIs that create an ecosystem of calls and data pushes between frontend elements. For instance, a button with a converting call to action (CTA) lives on a content component, pressing it can trigger processes in one inventory management element and/or a payment processing sequence that's managed by another standalone module.
There are so many advantages to running a headless e-commerce model, including:
Smoother Inventory Management
A self-contained inventory management system allows for a specialized experience for both the owner/admin and their customers. Often, such a tool allows for changes to inventory levels to be applied from the frontend. This removes any skill gap that hinders nontechnical team members from participating in inventory management processes.
Supports Multiple Frontends
Multiple frontend options inflate the number of choices that e-commerce store owners have when designing their applications. It also means their target market can undergo a tailored commerce experience based on where they are and when they visit the platform, among other factors.
Using polls and specific customer categories, companies can create a story that users can use to explore products. A personalized experience makes a big difference in sales.
Flexible Payment Solution
Older e-commerce platforms often specify what payment solutions are compatible (and thus mandatory to comply with) with their underlying frameworks. This limits the total calling population to individuals already using those select payment solutions, and often passes the processing costs to the customer.
Flexible payment options open e-commerce businesses to the world by accepting the latest financial solutions (cryptocurrencies) as a means of tender.
Fast Content Updates
A frontend content management portal entirely cut from other e-commerce modules, performs faster compared to mainstream CMSs. Unless necessary, content lives on the files it’s written and not in a central database. This makes for a lighter overall application to load, and encourages changes to be made through A/B testing where you can craft and test the perfect copy and images.
Better Team Input
When you detach the majority of your storefront's elements from the backend, it simplifies the effort required for their upkeep which allows for more participation from individual team members across departments. In addition, the input has less impact on the rest of the e-commerce platform, which reduces the risk of having everyone actively taking part in content, inventory, and support functions.
Less Prone to Downtime
If one component of the headless e-commerce store fails, the chances that it affects other modules is remote. This allows for a near perfect uptime performance and better SLA objectives satisfaction. Whereas with uni-framework and CMS-only storefronts, one component failure is certain to cause ripples (errors and total failure) across the platform.
Combining CMS and Headless Builds
Even with the advantages listed above, you may still want to build on top of an existing CMS so that you can pair the advantages from CMS models with those of headless builds.
To paint a clear picture of such a setup, consider a case where you're enhancing a WordPress (WP) e-commerce theme with external APIs. This implementation reserves some features that are “stuck” to the core WP Engine, while still bringing new pages and plugins that don't depend on the default database for content. The same would be true for other CMS options like Strapi and Shopify.
Because the integration happens on a separate web application from the default CMS interfaces, you can experiment with the most optimal, shared service delivery.
Benefits of Mixing Headless Builds and CMS
When you combine headless development methods with an existing CMS, the benefits are numerous and include shared performance boost, better usability, and wider customization options.
Shared Performance Boosts
When done well, having sections of a CMS managed through APIs, removes the number of connection requests (and subsequent processing) required to serve interactions on the frontend.
In fact, when some features have totally different interfaces from the CMS, while still under the same domain (users barely notice), features perform faster and more efficiently. The state of being untethered from the storefront means the CMS works in the background, when needed. You don't have to reload the entire CMS's state to execute simple page navigation requests.
Better Usability of the CMS
An underlying CMS with the fewest necessary modules installed has a speciality for which you included it in the overall architecture. This allows for full usage of its required purpose. The resulting low workload on its resources also adds to its usage.
Wider Customization Options
When a storefront is detached from a CMS, it allows for a wide range of options to make a unique product. CMS features can be altered to match the overall brand appearance, which differs from a situation where you have to use generic product catalogs because of your particular CMS.
Issues Building on Existing CMS
The main issue when using a CMS and API based functional modules is data storage. While it may be slower, CMSs like WP are some of the most high-ranking websites on the internet. When you factor in SEO performance, and combine it with a flexible content management mechanism synonymous with a headless setup, you can combine the best of both worlds.
You can mitigate the multiple sources and storage locations of data by using data warehousing tools that pool data together to strain any business insights and centralize storage. Accepting this requires you to turn a blind eye to separate databases in favor of the improved overall performance. Either way, any API from which you pull and push data is a resource you reserve for use when needed.
Another factor to consider is that the CMS and added components have to work hand-in-hand for a boost in appearance and user experience. If you're into full-fledged inventory management systems, this could mean keeping with the Woo-brand on the CMS. However, if you intend to sell to a worldwide market, a universally compliant and compatible payment processing module would need to be integrated as part of the headless side of your e-commerce strategy.
Why Use a Hybrid Approach?
Even though the effort of combining a CMS with headless architecture can be time-consuming, its advantages make it worth the effort.
Most CMS platforms, while useful, haven't evolved fast enough to meet the demand and speed at which end users consume data. Adding custom functionality through API integrations allows business owners to leverage what’s still good about their original CMS platform.
In addition, when you mold the two programs together you can quickly build a fully-fledged business application by leveraging APIs for rapid implementation of features like authentication (with social media logins), content delivery, and payment processing. In the background, full-featured product management systems served by a CMS make for an easy and efficient symbiosis.
Headless e-commerce builds bring custom content experiences to storefronts. You can incorporate the convenience and ease associated with headless architecture with your current CMS to create the best user experience possible and increase sales.
By combining CMS and headless builds, you can offer wider customization options, shared performance boosts, and better usability. Keep in mind that data warehousing tools will need to be implemented to strain business insights and centralize storage.
When you combine CMS platforms, like Strapi, that can handle product management, and use an API to fetch and deliver content to a unified storefront, incorporating a CMS and a headless build is easy.
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