The Pros and Cons of Headless Commerce
While headless commerce is an increasingly popular solution for ecommerce businesses, many brands are still trying to figure out why it matters and if it’s right for their business. In our last post, Headless Commerce, Explained, we broke down what it is, how it’s different than a traditional ecommerce setup, and the anatomy of a headless commerce stack. Today we’re taking that discussion a step further. In this post, we’ll outline how to know if you should look into this solution as well as the pros and cons of headless commerce.
Quick Background on Headless Commerce
You can get the full rundown in our post here, but let’s do a quick refresh before we dive in.
Simply put, headless commerce is a term for an ecommerce site structure where the store’s customer-facing front end and operating backend are separate. One tool or platform is used to build the homepage, landing page, product pages, and other customer-facing pages. Meanwhile, other platforms handle the checkout and the store’s backend processes.
Headless commerce provides a middle ground between the “old way” for building an ecommerce store and the single platform-based stores that emerged in the late 2010s with Shopify and others. Owning all of your infrastructure and building it yourself is very expensive, but it provides total ownership and flexibility. Going the platform route with Shopify (or others) reduces the cost and hassle. However, it also removes ownership and control over your site. While Shopify is great, relying on a single platform comes with some risks to be aware of, which we’ll get into below. Since headless provides some middle ground it’s important to consider from a business strategy perspective.
How to Know If You Should Consider Headless Commerce
Before we get into the pros and cons of headless, let’s first discuss a few indicators of whether it’s right for business. Do any of these statements apply to you?
- Your ecommerce channel is the sole selling channel for your business or it’s a channel that contributes significant revenue to your business.
- It would be devastating to your business if your current store platform shut down your store. To decide whether “devastating” describes that predicament for you, try putting a number to how much investment and sales would be lost.
- When it comes to expenses vs. being in total control of the store, control is more important to you.
- Platform resilience is important to you. In other words, you value the ability to pivot quickly if your platform fails you.
- You have a strong tech partner or internal team capable of managing a more complex infrastructure (or you have the budget to hire one).
- Your business has design needs or user experience needs that your current platform can’t deliver.
- Your brand or product falls into a scrutinized industry. Now, “scrutinized” is a subjective term, and there is not an official list. But if your brand or product is fairly controversial or polarizing, it is possible that Shopify or other store platforms may not “like” you. If that’s the case, being on a single platform comes with the risk of being shut down.
If several of these statements are accurate, headless is likely worth considering.
The Pros of Headless Commerce
With some context in mind, let’s dive into the pros of headless commerce. There are four main benefits we see:
- Diversity: When you use multiple tools and platforms for different components of the store, that means there is less reliance on one single platform for everything. This brings enhanced safety for your business. It’s likely the largest benefit of headless, and depending on the size of your business, diversity can far outweigh the cons.
- Flexibility: Another positive is that a headless structure provides fewer restrictions on design, user experience, or functionality. This gives you room to be creative and make a more customized site.
- Redundancy: Headless also means you can build in redundancy to your systems so that there is less room for single points of failure.
- Creativity: You can accomplish more of what you dream up for your store!
The Cons of Headless Commerce
While diversity and flexibility are great, there are a few cons to consider with headless commerce as well:
- Complexity: With headless, you’ll be responsible for more infrastructure, so it will be more complex. This isn’t quite like it used to be in the pre-Shopify era when you needed a large team to build and maintain the website. But it is not as simple as setting things up on one platform. That means you’ll need strong partners or a larger in-house tech team.
- Cost: A headless site will cost more to build, manage, and maintain. You will have multiple platforms playing different roles for the store. This increases platform costs as well as the effort to build and manage it.
- Growing Pains: Since this is a new development in the ecommerce world, there will naturally be growing pains attached to jumping into this type of solution.
- Integrations: Integrations are required for platforms to play nicely together on a headless site. As more tech platforms adopt this concept, this will become less of an issue. But for now, you will be limited to the platforms that currently support headless sites.
Is Headless Right for Your Business?
Headless is a huge opportunity and can be very beneficial for businesses that rely on ecommerce as a main channel. You no longer have to be reliant on one store platform, which brings increased resilience and stability as well as creativity. The cost is higher, but it’s still a far cry from building, running, and managing all of your own technology as was necessary before modern platforms.
Ultimately, every business should evaluate the benefits and costs we’ve discussed and begin planning a headless strategy— even if it’s just a backup to their current platform. A small investment now in planning can mean massive savings should something happen to your primary platform.