Time for a revamp of the old narrative of headless e-commerce

Headless e-commerce can mean so many different things. Is it composable? A front-end framework? Separated content management and commerce management? We think it's time to look back at what we meant with it when we started to use the term.

We have built headless, or composable, e-commerce solutions for a very long time. Without being too arrogant, we can call ourselves pioneers in that space, being all-in on the approach long before the buzzword. In Scandinavia, we were even part of the ”launch” of the headless term, establishing it through PR, content marketing and events.

In Scandinavia, we’ve had several e-commerce platforms that natively were engineered to be headless, already 10+ years ago. Norce and Centra in particular were pushing this direction, and since we were one of their first agency partners, we have together defined how headless are perceived in the market.

The problem is, though, that the term “headless” has become synonymous with many different things. Even the old legacy monolith platforms are now called headless. Along the way, the word composable was launched, with confusion over what is headless and what is composable. Best of Breed went Best of Perplexity. When we now work more and more in the UK and talk about headless, the concept is perceived very differently than the narrative we have established in Scandinavia.

We think it might be time for a revamp of the old (the Scandinavian?) narrative of headless e-commerce: the separation of commerce and content management. When we began with headless it was before the big wave of Jamstack and Javascript-based frontends like React, Vue or Angular, so the big thing was the separated CMS and e-commerce engine. For many, headless is a separate frontend layer on top of an e-commerce platform. For us, it’s that, too, but more importantly, it’s a separation of CMS and e-commerce engine.

Norce and Centra in particular were pushing this direction, and since we were one of their first agency partners, we have together defined how headless are perceived in the market.

We are true believers and frontiers with the new possibilities of modern frontend technologies. As a leader within creative, design-led e-commerce sites, we are more than all-in on that. But as a headless agency for so long, we’re also keen on remembering the foundational business value of headless, with a separate CMS and e-commerce engine. Without that part, it’s just a nice frontend, but it does not really enable brands the way headless could.

One clear distinction of the Scandinavian headless e-commerce engines from more international competitors (Commercetools in particular) has also been a stronger feature set. Norce and Centra have the same depth in features and advanced commerce functionality, such as pricing, campaign management, e-commerce-first PIM, order management as monoliths like Adobe Magento or Salesforce Commerce Cloud, but they are natively headless on cloud and API-first. This is why we tend to call this headless and not composable. They are composable, and every feature can be switched due to the API-first approach, but not in the way Commercetools and MACH Alliance might define it. They are also uniquely built with advanced commerce functionality out of the box, which makes the Total Cost of Ownership quite competitive. Overall, a much better price-to-value ratio than most “composable commerce projects”. You are still reliant on putting together a best of breed stack with Norce and Centra, but much more focused on the customer experience stack such as CMS, search, recommendations, personalisation, user generated content, payment and shipping checkout solutions, rather than operationally heavy systems like PIM or order management.

We’re not saying our narrative is the correct one, but we think it’s time for a revamp of it. So here it goes, our Scandinavian definition of headless e-commerce as of 2024.

  • Separation of CMS and E-commerce Engine
  • API-first architecture (Native Headless E-commerce Engine, CMS and 3rd party services such as Search, Recommendations and Checkout)
  • Frontend Framework based on Jamstack etc.

There are many reasons why going headless can be a good idea for a brand, but the endless opportunities to be more creative with a modern CMS are definitely one of the main ones.

PublishedbyAnton Johanssonanton@grebban.com

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