We are excited to bring you an interesting conversation with Aaron Sheehan on how SaaS eCommerce platforms and headless commerce can enable eCommerce success for brands.

Aaron is the Director of Competitive Strategy at BigCommerce. He has amassed in-depth knowledge in 8+ years of working with major eCommerce platforms like Magento, Shopify, and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Aaron has helped renowned brands to achieve their digital commerce goals. His experience has given him valuable insights into what businesses expect from platforms to match consumer expectations. Also, he has sound knowledge of how platform providers are playing catch up to deliver it. In this interview, Aaron shared his ideas on one of the most exciting topics, the ‘Headless Commerce approach for businesses.’

Introduction for Part 1 starts

The Headless Commerce approach has traveled far from being just a buzzword in the eCommerce industry. Brands that have already adopted it are witnessing results.

For aspiring and growing brands, there is still a truckload of doubts about adopting Headless and especially when they prefer a SaaS-based eCommerce platform. In this interview, we will be answering some of the most pressing questions that brands might have, like:

  • Why should an eCommerce brand think of going headless?
  • Is it better to use a SaaS CMS or custom build the frontend in a Headless approach?
  • What are the key business considerations that hint at the need for a headless approach?
  • Is the Headless approach advisable for enterprise-grade organizations? Why?
  • How to overcome the challenges like ownership costs and managing multiple systems in a headless approach?
  • Best platform choices in the market that facilitate the Headless+SaaS approach
  • Future of Headless commerce

Read on…

Before we could get into the nitty-gritty of the SaaS + Headless Commerce approach, Aaron gave us a run-down of the basics of Headless Commerce to set the stage. Headless, in simple terms, is having your frontend and backend on different systems. A third-party or custom-built system plays the frontend. The pages built for the frontend communicate with the backend to pull data and populate different page experiences.

Why should an eCommerce brand think of going headless?

There are a few major reasons why eCommerce brands will think of taking a headless commerce approach.

Improve their frontend experience

eCommerce brands that need to improve their eCommerce experience opt for a headless commerce approach as it offers a great deal of flexibility. Headless gives brands much freedom that a tightly coupled monolithic frontend wouldn’t provide.

Familiarity with the frontend

The second factor that drives the headless commerce decision is when you want to migrate to a better eCommerce platform but want to retain the CMS you are already using. Let’s consider a store operating on WooCommerce looking to migrate to another platform for advanced eCommerce capabilities.

Though the administrative team would prefer more backend options to manage operations better, the marketing team would have other ideas. They might not want to change the Content Management System (CMS) that they are familiar with and serves them well. In such cases, a business might want to retain the WordPress CMS for the storefront and use the eCommerce provisions of a new platform for the eCommerce operations.

Vendor lock-in

In a monolithic eCommerce system, you’ll have to depend on the platform provider to get the upgrades be it the storefront or the admin console. Headless relieves you of this dependency and provides complete control over the frontend.

Headless commerce can enable many other advantages, like true omnichannel experience, accommodating frequent frontend optimizations, and launching products and new features to market faster.

Is it better to go for a CMS (SaaS) or custom build the frontend in a Headless approach?

Aaron’s inputs were centered on the technical strength a brand has. Here’s what he shared in detail. It depends a lot on the technical team a brand has. If you have a mature technical team or an eCommerce agency partnership that does the work for you, it is better to choose a custom-built frontend. Also, a custom-built frontend is better if you prefer to manage your store’s data in your database without allowing a third party to own it. While building a frontend, you will have to host and maintain it. These add to your other crucial responsibilities like sales, marketing, fulfillment, and operations.

When choosing a CMS platform (a SaaS), you might get loads of responsibilities offloaded from your plate. This allows more time to focus on sales goals, development and revenue-driving operations. The CMS provider will oversee functions like upgrades, patching, security, significant industry compliances, and regulatory procedures. Especially if you are a brand that runs multiple storefronts or webpages, a SaaS-based CMS can save time and free up resources to improve eCommerce efficiency. However, your ability to customize depends on the levels of flexibility the CMS offers.

So it boils down to whether you want to own all of the responsibilities for the sake of total control and pay for maintenance. Otherwise, you can offload it to a CMS provider that covers a lot of essential functions, saving time for you.

Key factors to consider while choosing a SaaS CMS for your headless initiative

APIs are an integral part of your headless commerce system. APIs act as the replacement of the source code. They do the job of presenting a storefront to your users and are used to manage processes like ordering, cart, order tracking, shipping notifications, wishlist, reviews, etc. In simple words, every user activity or functionality at the frontend relies on APIs.

So, if you are choosing a SaaS CMS in a headless approach, here’s one thing you shouldn’t miss. Make sure your CMS allows a high volume of API calls and enough API call management capabilities. As we said, APIs here are the source code, and managing them determines how well you can provide bespoke storefront experiences.

API calls or requests allow an application to request data or services from another application. API call capability can be determined by how often your frontend or backend is allowed to call an API to communicate with other APIs.

Example – A common scenario would be updating orders to the orders database in the backend and updating the inventory levels in the frontend when an order is processed. API calls act as a bridge between your front and backends in both these scenarios.

What type of eCommerce businesses should go for the Headless Commerce approach?

Headless commerce is much needed if experience matters the most for your brand. It offers a creative control that facilitates the baseline to build new experiences.

Apart from appealingly showcasing your products in your home, PDP, or PLP pages, customers might demand features like product optimization. For example, options for customers to make their mix of perfume. If you are a ‘Skincare’ brand, you might offer a guided selling experience to your customers for selecting the right product for their skin. Another example would be the fashion industry. Fashion needs to be visual. You need a visually appealing website that is experience driven.

The frequency of change in product portfolio or the season’s ‘new arrivals’ nudges you towards the ‘headless’ option. In the fashion eCommerce industry, brands need to bring their new products to the limelight and run campaigns to grab the attention of the audience. If you are a fashion eCommerce store, you need to change your product portfolio frequently and bring products to market faster; headless is the go-to option.

On the other hand, take the automobile industry. Products needn’t be refreshed as often as in a fashion store. People don’t buy from your website because it looks cool. It’s the demand and supply that drives business. However, if an automobile brand wants to do anything anything that demands frequent frontend optimization, headless would better suit the need.

So the key considerations are – To become more experience-driven, facilitate a brand-first approach, accommodate frequent frontend changes and bring products to market faster.

These business considerations show that the decision to go headless is not limited by the industry or market segment your brand belongs to.

Check out our part 1 video