February 1, 2023

Headless 101: Explaining the Biggest Trend in Ecommerce

Dylan LeBeau

Creative Copy Lead

If you’ve been exposed to ecommerce recently, you may have heard the term headless. It’s a growing trend in the online retail world, one born out of a need to increase both flexibility and scalability as ecomm businesses grow. But what exactly is headless commerce—and how does it work?

What is headless commerce?

It might sound a little strange (even a bit violent!), but “headless” is simply a way to describe how some ecommerce sites are built. Every ecomm site has a frontend and a backend, and headless is one way these two can interact. Let’s start by defining some of the technical jargon before we go any further.

A site’s frontend is what you see and interact with when you visit. This is essentially the site’s storefront, with all the bells, whistles and pop-up coupons designed to get you to add to your cart. Home pages, product pages, index pages—these are all part of the frontend.

A site’s backend is the layer of technology that facilitates online shopping. It manages inventory, processes payments and does everything else that makes ecommerce possible. Operating behind the scenes, the backend is the true workhorse of any ecomm site.

Traditionally, the frontend and the backend of an ecommerce site are closely tied together. Changes to the backend affect the frontend—and vice versa. This can make it difficult to quickly update a site to keep up with competitors, follow industry trends or test new marketing strategies.

A headless site, on the other hand, solves for this challenge by separating the frontend from the backend. In addition to quick updates, there are a number of other benefits to building a headless site, including faster load times, better data and increased design potential.

How does headless commerce work?

The headless ecomm process can be summed up in three letters: API. An application programming interface (API) allows two pieces of software to communicate with each other. In a headless site, an API is what connects the frontend to the backend and creates a seamless shopping experience.

You’re probably familiar with Shopify, one of the world’s leading ecommerce platforms. Shopify offers users a quick way to get started with ecomm by leveraging their powerful backend technology coupled with a number of pre-made frontend templates. This is the traditional model we mentioned—great for getting started but not as flexible as a headless setup.

With a headless site, you can use Shopify’s backend to power your transactions while selecting a separate, more versatile content management system (or CMS) to control what users see on the frontend. The two are then connected through the magic of API, and a headless site is born!

Is headless commerce right for me?

Building a new headless site can seem daunting, but for a lot of ecommerce brands, it makes a ton of sense. It’s important to consider the benefits of going headless and determine if it's worth the investment.

If you’re just getting started in the ecomm world, you may not need a headless site right away. Shopify provides great frontend templates for small businesses that will probably serve your needs effectively.

If you’re an established brand looking to take the next step, however, a headless site could be your answer. Fast, flexible and ready to scale, headless sites are taking over the ecomm space, with major brands like Nike, Target and United Airlines taking the leap.

Get a free site audit

At CrateBind, we leverage headless architecture to transform ecommerce, giving our partners unparalleled control over customer data and experience while dramatically increasing performance and sales—all without moving away from Shopify.

Not sure if headless is for you? We’d love to take a look at your current setup and help you determine your next step with a free site audit. Get in touch and book a meeting with us today.