Part 1 – What is headless e-commerce?
Laurent: If like me you have seen some of the Front-Commerce jokes on Linkedin with statues missing heads or photos of illusions more or less well done, you should know that behind this touch of humor there is a very serious subject and current issues. Challenges that concern the whole web world today. So without further ado, Christian, if you would start by explaining what Headless Commerce is.
Christian: The idea is to demystify this subject which is often discussed by tech teams, because it is indeed an IT architecture. To put it simply, Headless in this context literally means “without a head”, a term that is not necessarily well chosen, but the subject is indeed that! It is about dissociating the head (the frontend) from the body (the backend), which was something that was not possible before.
Monolithic solutions are often contrasted with so-called “headless” solutions. What is a monolithic solution? The head (frontend) is completely embedded in the body and, in fact, generated by the body. When we talk about the body, we are talking about the backend in e-commerce platforms.
So, you have this backend part that is administered internally or with your agency partners, and then you have this frontend part that is the only part visible to consumers. The frontend can now be dissociated from the backend, which will allow you to manage the content, the products, the catalog, etc. separately. Basically everything that is not visible and that will send information to be presented in the frontend.
The interests are multiple, we will see them during this presentation. What we need to remember about the term “headless commerce” is that we are going to dissociate the body from the head to be able to act on each of the subjects independently of the other with different technologies on the frontend and on the backend. So ensure the head is no longer screwed on to the body so that we can choose a new frontend and position it on this backend, which remains identical.
And so emerged a new market in e-commerce solutions – the frontend-as-a-service market. On the screen you have a first slide that illustrates the topic. Often there is information that is not really put forward on the subject of headless commerce. There is a feeling that to do headless commerce, it is necessary to change the backend and choose a headless CMS solution, whereas in reality it is possible to do headless commerce without touching the backend. Removing the frontend, which is intimately connected to the backend, to add a frontend that is agnostic of the backend is a first and simple way to go headless. This was the first method that appeared in the 2010s and some people call this approach the hybrid approach. On the screen you have some solutions that are more in line with the monolithic architecture. Even if some of them want to go headless by integrating what we call API functionalities, they are not native headless in terms of backend.
By cutting off the head of your monolithic solution and replacing it with a frontend that is ready for headless commerce will allow you to enter this world without having to completely replatform your solution, as was the case in previous years with classic cycles of platform changes every three to five years. So on the screen you have an example of an architecture with a headless frontend while keeping its so-called monolithic backend.
Then, starting in 2015, we saw the emergence of e-commerce platforms or CMS solutions known as native headless. These are solutions that will offer bricks of functionality that are able to communicate with each other thanks to APIs. By choosing a headless solution also for the backend, we will facilitate the possibility of connecting new services much more quickly and much more targeted to its online consumer. For example, we can very well choose a headless e-commerce solution with perhaps an integrated search system, but if we are not satisfied with this search system, we disconnect it and replace it with a best-of-breed brick from a search player on the market. This integration will be much easier than in the old “monolithic” world and a natural evolution of e-commerce solutions.
An example of a native headless backend solution is BigCommerce. There are others, we can mention Shopify, Commerce Tools or Sylius, for example.
Laurent: OK, thank you Christian for these insights. And now, Florent, what is the situation with TwicPics regarding the adoption of a headless architecture?
Florent: What we’re seeing is a particular interest in this type of architecture. And we can see it on this graph from Google Trends. Personally, I think it’s more than just a trend. I think it’s an evolution that is completely logical and I think it’s particularly due to the fact that the technical ecosystem today has reached a certain level of maturity that allows us to respond to many problems encountered by e-merchants. On this technical maturity, I’m thinking in particular of the maturity of JS frameworks such as React, Vue, and Svelte, which today allow us to do things on the frontend that we couldn’t do before. I’m also thinking of all the modern CMS and e-commerce platforms that now offer a headless approach natively.
Today we are lucky to have solutions like Front-Commerce that allow us to make this shift towards a headless architecture without pain while being guided to respect good practices. And I think this is the key that allows players to take the plunge more easily because they are in a context where it is a little more reassuring to evolve in an ecosystem like this.