Recently, there has been a lot of discussion and a fair amount of hype around Headless Commerce. But, what does the concept really mean in practice and is it an approach that makes sense for your business?
At Liferay, our Digital Experience Platform (DXP) provides out-of-the-box site management and page building tools as well as support for a Headless option. The concept of Headless isn’t new. It is a reference to separating the presentation layer and its associated tools from the other main functional components of an eCommerce platform. It’s been a discussion point for at least the last 10 years. As far back as 2013, some eCommerce software vendors elected to remove the UI tools from their integrated stack and to team with complementary vendors to provide the presentation UI on top of their core eCommerce platform.
An oft-stated benefit of the Headless approach is the ability to utilise the most appropriate presentation technology for a specific use case. For example, the in-built UI tools of your CMS may be fantastic for creating and maintaining your corporate website and eCommerce store, but there may be better options for developing a native mobile app or for creating targeted offers on social media. There is also the growing need to integrate with a variety of IOT devices and touch-points, which require specialised connections and UIs.
Another trending term is “Composable Commerce”, which typically means combining various micro-service based applications into a fully “Composed” eCommerce stack. This is the antithesis of a “Monolithic” system architecture which was the prevalent approach in the early days of eCommerce systems. In a Monolithic architecture, components of the program are interconnected and interdependent rather than loosely coupled as is the case with modular software programs that are used in most modern eCommerce platforms. Composable has echoes of what used to be termed “Best of Breed”, where companies that weren’t able to offer a complete solution teamed with other companies that had complementary components. A big difference today is that modern technology around front-end development tools and advances in API management, make it easier to integrate solutions from different vendors. A common argument for a Composable architecture is that you can select the best functional components to create a complete Commerce solution. And, because the components each represent a separate micro-service, you would be free to adapt or swap that component in future if a better option becomes available or when your requirements change. However, users need to balance the promise of flexibility of this approach against the possibility of a more complex and expensive initial integration task and the ongoing management of the overall solution.
The right approach for you
So, what is the right approach for your company? Our view at Liferay is based on working with hundreds of global enterprises across many industries. We’ve found that a middle-ground approach to system architecture works best for most mid-to-large companies. This approach enables users to leverage the simplicity of a full-stack solution with its integrated presentation tools to achieve a quicker path to go-live, productivity and ROI along with a lower long-term TCO. Business users can utilise page templating and editing tools to manage their sites and eCommerce stores without reliance on technical developers. A full-stack solution will be sufficient for the majority of most corporate use cases, while putting the minimum burden on internal IT teams. Additionally, this approach lessens dependency on a system integrator or contractor to support the various integrations that typically comprise a Composable/Microservices solution. Should you decide in future that it makes sense to swap out or add additional applications, you are generally free to do so through available APIs.
Getting back to Headless. Does that mean that there is no role for Headless when using a full-stack Commerce solution? No, not at all. We believe that you can achieve the best of both worlds by combining Headless and full-stack. There are many circumstances where Headless makes sense and your platform should be able to easily accommodate a Headless approach by providing an OOTB API structure to support modern front-end development frameworks. Headless website development empowers frontend developers with the capability to deliver specialised and responsive user experiences using their preferred tools.
At Liferay, we support our B2B Commerce customers by providing them with both a full site building and portal management platform, including a Headless option. Depending on your project and resources, you can choose to build sites using Liferay’s native site management and page building tools, or use popular front end frameworks like Angular or React. For most organisations, a combined approach works best because it gives business users easy-to-use tools for maintaining and modifying their websites and eCommerce stores, while providing the flexibility to create unique experiences across many other digital touch-points.