When John decided to move his fashion retail store online, he was looking for a solution that he could use, update and maintain efficiently. He had signed with a strong development partner with expertise in enterprise eCommerce solutions and wanted to take the fastest, most cost-effective route online – without compromising on scalability, flexibility and customization.

How would our team at Ziffity advise someone like John? We’d probably start by telling him about headless commerce. Where traditional eCommerce is designed primarily for websites and apps, headless commerce is equipped to accommodate the needs of modern omnichannel businesses that want to target multiple avenues and publish content on multiple channels. It’s significantly more scalable and flexible than traditional eCommerce options.

In a very real sense, headless commerce is transformational. It could be as revolutionary for the eCommerce sector as data analytics or artificial intelligence. When you use a headless commerce platform, you can go live faster and deliver stronger experiences across touchpoints. You can leverage all the available technologies for a great front-end experience – including web apps, mobile apps, VR and AR – without compromising on your back-end architecture.

So what is headless commerce, what is a headless commerce platform, and how do you get started?

You can read our earlier blogs on headless commerce here and here.

How do we get started?

Well, the first step is to select the right headless commerce platform, such as Salesforce Composable Storefront. We already have a blog post on that platform.

It’s important to select a platform that enables:

  • seamless omnichannel experience
  • automated flexibility and scalability
  • integration of data from an existing website, CMS, or other business tools
  • easy customization and personalization
  • frequent front-end optimization
  • shorter time to market
  • user-friendly back-end for development and management
  • fast learning and training – a rich developer community is a great asset
  • efficient customer support

Here are the top 6 headless commerce platforms for 2023.

1. Adobe Commerce

Adobe Commerce is a fully scalable and extensible headless commerce platform, using which you can build multi-channel commerce experiences for businesses of all sizes. (Having said that, cost and time to market can be prohibitive for small-to-medium-sized businesses.) While Adobe Commerce provides native integrations with all elements of the Adobe Suite, you can in theory incorporate ANY new tech into your eCommerce store as soon as it’s invented. You can integrate with any third-party CMS or front-end platform, and ready-to-use extensions exist that can help you maximize website productivity. Adobe Commerce has powerful in-built features, and strong customizability for creating personalized shopping experiences.

Since it is a headless platform, you have complete flexibility and can build a custom front-end experience using any technology. You can make changes to the front-end code, or innovate on new touchpoints, without needing to upgrade the back-end code. It provides smooth customer experiences across every channel and device, since the same in-built APIs and services apply for all touchpoints, regardless of technology. Adobe Commerce’s ready-to-use PWA Studio also enables the development of progressive web applications.

Consider prioritizing performance and minimizing cost/time to market by building an eCommerce site with Magento Open Source as the back-end and headless PWA as the front-end.

2. BigCommerce Enterprise

According to Simicart, BigCommerce Enterprise is the “perfect headless eCommerce platform for content and commerce with flexibility and customizability“.

This SaaS-based eCommerce platform offers enterprise-grade functionality and customization. It’s a headless-ready platform equipped to work with any front-end tech to create content-rich UX. It’s also highly user-friendly, feature-rich, and provides customers with flexibility and scalability.

BigCommerce’s big USP is its third-party tools and integrations. It offers flexible APIs, supporting multiple headless storefronts, and the option to grow the business across regions or brands. BigCommerce Enterprise provides the highest level of BigCommerce features, to support the requirements of enterprise-level brands.

BigCommerce offers arguably the most advanced headless integration interface. All necessary headless solutions – such as front-end frameworks, CMS, DXP and ORM – are available through BigCommerce, supported by the BigCommerce back-end. Customization and launch are faster thanks to static-site generation and server-side rendering. BigCommerce Enterprise also provides out-of-the-box PWA functionality.

While development is headless, initially it is important that the developers and the designers collaborate to build the site. Depending on the plugin or the tool, it can be challenging to integrate without connecting with BigCommerce customer support. On the other hand, the BigCommerce developer community and direct customer support are both extremely responsive.

3. Commercetools

This leading headless commerce platform is differentiated from legacy suites as it uses modern MACH architecture (microservice-based, API-first, cloud-native and headless), a best-of-breed approach and composable commerce. It enables complete customization of customer experience, as well as based on the needs of your business.

Thanks to its API-first approach, the commercetools back-end can be connected to any front-end or third-party application. All features and functions are available via open APIs, and the front-end and back-end can connect seamlessly. How the APIs behave can be specified, and the APIs can be modified to match business needs. Commercetools also provides ready-made building blocks, using which the back-end infrastructure can be created or supplemented, at scale.

The downside is that commercetools’ headless commerce structure is a bit difficult for some developers. That’s because if you want to get the most out of the platform, you require coding to integrate several tools and features. It’s also not very suitable for enterprises as it doesn’t have features like promotion of config across environments, and the developer community is on the smaller side.

Having said that, it’s a highly scalable and flexible platform, with powerful features and great functionality, so if you feel the API-first approach is right for you, commercetools could be a good fit.

4. Salesforce Commerce Cloud

Salesforce Commerce Cloud (SFCC) is a scalable SaaS eCommerce solution based on the cloud, and offers best-in-class functionality for enterprises. This agile API-first commerce platform is built on the Salesforce CRM. It integrates seamlessly with all products in the Salesforce suite, and leverages the Salesforce library of pre-built integrations to develop mobile applications and enhance the website experience. When you’re trying to integrate tools from outside the suite, however, it can be challenging.

Thanks to Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s API-focused headless approach, you can build an excellent front-end experience and stay flexible with Salesforce’s powerful back-end. This reduces the infrastructure overhead, but maintaining a lightweight tech stack on SFCC is difficult. It’s not a very appropriate platform for small-to-medium-sized businesses, as it’s quite technologically challenging and expensive. There’s a high learning curve, and there have been complaints about slow customer support.

With the SFCC PWA kit, it’s easy to develop mobile-first storefronts. SFCC enables the customization, management and maintenance of storefronts across devices and channels.

5. SAP Commerce Cloud

SAP is the world’s market leader in enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. SAP Commerce Cloud (formerly SAP Hybris) is an exclusive headless eCommerce platform. It’s suitable for both SMEs and enterprises. The major advantage is its seamless integration with the rich SAP ecosystem. At the same time, if you don’t use SAP software, SAP Commerce Cloud may not be the most efficient option.

Multiple storefronts and customer touchpoints can be managed from a single account, with built-in support. Similarly, eCommerce sites with a global audience can be managed in multiple languages.

SAP Commerce Cloud is also extremely flexible, agile and scalable. This improves the customer experience and allows your business to handle heavy concurrent traffic. Unfortunately, its customer support systems aren’t quite as strong as the other major eCommerce platforms.

6. Shopify Plus

Shopify is the world’s leading SaaS eCommerce platform, with over 1 million live stores using Shopify in the United States alone. Shopify Plus takes Shopify’s features to the next level – it’s suitable for larger enterprise businesses, as it enables headless commerce and omnichannel sales experiences. It may be expensive for growing businesses, but it’s comprehensive and cost-effective for larger enterprises.

Thanks to headless architecture, using Shopify Plus, any device can become a sales channel; several seamless integrations, including third-party tools, are available for unlimited extensibility; and any front-end framework can be used for the different channels based on the requirement. You gain complete creative control and can manage all digital sales channels from a single location. Customization of the front-end is intuitive through the UI editor. You can also access the code directly for complete transformation.

Shopify Plus’ backend provides fast performance, scalability, workflow automation and omnichannel sales. However, there are certain limitations on how much you can configure the back-end compared to the open-source headless commerce platforms.

Since headless commerce decouples the front-end and the back-end, developers gain unparalleled flexibility and merchants gain great functionality on all front-end touchpoints managed from a single back-end. The best part? It future-proofs the website. As new touchpoints emerge, the same eCommerce site can be extended to serve shoppers on those channels too, without recreating the website from scratch.

Future-proof your eCommerce site today. Contact our team to discuss how to get started on headless development for your next eCommerce project.