What is Headless BigCommerce?

What is Headless BigCommerce?

Headless is the new trend in technology. Is it just a fad, or does it have real benefits for merchants?

Headless BigCommerce is BigCommerce architecture that decouples storefront from the backend. Headless BigCommerce uses APIs to connect with various channels - mobile, web, in-store, email.

The power of headless BigCommerce is the flexibility of creating integrations.

Think about different aspects of ecommerce - search, content, storefronts, orders, payments. There could be different products that you use for each of these aspects. And headless BigCommerce will allow you to do that with ease.

The modularity of headless architecture allows you to create custom integrations with the channels that matter the most for your business. Headless is like middleman between technology and business processes.

Example headless architecture

An example of headless BigCommerce architecture might look like:

  • BigCommerce - Admin, Multi-channel, Customer Data, Payments, Tax
  • Fluent Commerce - Order management
  • Next.js - Frontend/Storefront
  • Algolia - Search
  • Content management - Sanity CMS

Headless BigCommerce lets you pick the best products for each of the aspects of ecommerce. All together, it creates a new level of flexibility that you can't find elsewhere.

Example graph of headless architecture.

Is BigCommerce headless?

Yes, BigCommerce Enterprise plan offers headless. It's a SaaS ecommerce platform that has hundreds of API endpoints that companies can use to build custom functionality for their store needs.

BigCommerce has been pushing for headless in the recent years because they understand the power headless brings to their enterprise customers. These companies have specific needs that are not addressed by BigCommerce without customization.. But with BigCommerce's headless architecture, they can integrate other powerful products such as ERPs, CRMs, or any other service that has APIs.

Screenshot from BigCommerce headless documentation.
Is BigCommerce planning to go complete headless?

Advantages of headless BigCommerce

The main benefits of headless BigCommerce are:

  • Better control over content
  • Multi-storefront
  • Customization and personalization
  • Speed, agility, flexibility

Control over content

I see a lot of content-heavy companies move to headless. It makes sense because they want to maximize the use of their content. Instead of relying on limited content management integrations that exist for BigCommerce, they can use powerful content management systems.

For example, a platform such as Contentful might be a great headless CMS to use, because it enables you to have a better layout control and customize headings, paragraphs, product descriptions. In that way headless BigCommerce allows for more content freedom.

Because of headless, you can distribute content across various channels - web, mobile app.

Customization and personalization

One of the headless BigCommerce benefits is that you can maximize the power of product personalization. You can create a variety of products, with custom attributes and options, so each customer gets exactly what they want.

The intelligence headless BigCommerce provides will empower you to personalize your brand across all channels.

Multi-storefront

Multi-storefront is having different front-ends for different market segments or audiences. For example, you can have one site for US visitors and another for International ones. But the same BigCommerce backend powers both.

Another example might be a B2B and a B2C storefront. With BigCommerce, you can separate the two and keep everything streamlined and efficient.

Speed, agility, flexibility

With all these systems decoupled, you can have your teams work independently.

For example, marketing can build a new store or add a product using headless CMS while IT team is working on the API integration.

For big companies, the separation of concerns is an enormous advantage. You can have experts in each field work in their own environment. As a result, the ecommerce experience becomes better for the customers.

Disadvantages of headless BigCommerce

Headless BigCommerce is not for everyone. It is an overkill for most companies because not everyone needs extensive content management, custom integrations, and separation of concerns. It would be extravagantly expensive solution and a pain to maintain.

Most can get better results with traditional BigCommerce ecommerce platform.

Do you need all the things I've talked about as advantages?

Disadvantages of BigCommerce to consider are:

  • High complexity
  • Expensive development
  • Loosing support for some BigCommerce plugins

High complexity

Headless BigCommerce can do so much. But how is that a bad thing?

The more systems you have, the more moving parts there are to break down.

You can end up spending more time and money on maintenance than you would with simpler solutions, like traditional BigCommerce.

84% of ecommerce companies are at a beginner or intermediate level of digital maturity according to Forrester's 2020 tech reports for both B2B and B2C. There are so many technological options, but they don't always bring value.

Expensive development

Development is expensive as well as maintenance. If you have a small team or need to scale quickly, BigCommerce headless can be a bad choice.

For developers, it can be even more complicated if they have to learn how to make different systems work together. Every product usually has a different requirement, which means developers have to learn a lot of systems and code. You could also hire an expert in each field, but that will also be expensive.

Losing support for some BigCommerce plugins

Not all BigCommerce plugins work with the headless CMS. So if you are considering going headless, check with your developers and make sure they can work with all the plugins you have.

Otherwise, you may have to create a custom integration.

When should you consider going headless?

Headless is not a one size fits all solution. Every business needs to assess their own needs.

The following questions can help you decide if you need headless BigCommerce:

  • Are you using custom services and Middlewares such as CMS, Search, custom payment?
  • How much flexibility do you need in the store frontend?
  • Are your teams experienced with JS frameworks, React, Node.js etc.?
  • Do you have a large digital footprint that requires substantial automation of business processes and complex integrations?

Is now a good time for a headless solution?

Yes, the technology to create a headless BigCommerce platform is ready.

Gartner's research predicts that:

  • By 2023, 50% of all new commerce capabilities will be delivered as API-centric software services.
  • Organizations that have adopted a composable approach will implement new features 80% faster than their competitors.

Headless BigCommerce uses JavaScript based framework for the frontend. Modern JavaScript frameworks such as Next.js make it easier than ever to create single page applications (SPAs) to power your frontend. SPAs are much faster, provide better user experience, and are cheaper to maintain.

Another big aspect of headless architecture is APIs. For years now, APIs have been the best option to integrate with external data sources. There are so many different types of APIs available for any need you can imagine.

Next.js Commerce

Next.js Commerce is a React starter kit for building high-performance headless ecommerce frontends. Out of the box, it connects to BigCommerce via the API.

Frontend developers love Next.js because it has excellent development experience. And you can get up and running right away because it comes with no-configuration out of the box.

It is also well documented and has a vibrant open source community. You can find support for all your needs online at Stack Overflow or GitHub issues section.

Screenshot of Next.js Commerce website.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

All the integrations are not possible without APIs. After many years of development and modifications, BigCommerce APIs are solid. Hundreds of thousands of stores have been using these APIs for years. APIs are battle-tested and can handle huge traffic without issues.

Is headless the future of BigCommerce?

Headless BigCommerce is the future of ecommerce for large companies. Big companies get more value from a headless platform because they can work independently and have full control over different segments of ecommerce.

For smaller shops, it's not the best choice right now. It's complex, expensive and hard to maintain.

Headless architecture is here to stay though, and it will keep growing in the ecommerce industry.

Headless commerce vs decoupled commerce

The main difference between headless commerce and decoupled commerce is that headless completely separates systems. In the decoupled model, the entire platform is part of a single system, but it's managed separately and owned by different teams.

Companies, such as Amazon, eBay, Netflix, and Google have been using a principle called Microservices for a long time. This principle involves developing, deploying, and managing systems separately. This allows companies to break down their capabilities into decoupled services.

Headless commerce uses existing ecosystem components. It requires each segment of ecommerce to be developed and managed separately. For example, the marketing team can use their existing CMS for the blog, and the product team uses separate system for the product catalog.

Monolith vs headless

The main difference between monolith and headless BigCommerce is that monolith architecture locks in front-end and the back-end, while headless allows you to decouple them.

Since monoliths are usually limited in their customization capabilities, it's difficult to create content that looks good on different devices. Since the back-end and front-end are coupled, the same content must be created multiple times to fit each platform.

Headless creates a better user experience by allowing the front-end and back-end to be developed independently.

Conclusion

Headless is a big buzzword in the ecommerce world. But approach it with caution.

I think many companies are not ready for headless and should keep the monolith architecture.

It's important to understand business processes that power ecommerce.

For small teams that work well together, headless would introduce confusion and additional work. It's still too early in the headless technology development.

But for large companies, headless is a true blessing. Companies can use their existing ecosystem components and have full control over different segments of commerce.

BigCommerce is talking about it a lot. And this is a great sign for the ecommerce industry.

In the next few years, we'll see headless becoming more popular and taking market share from monoliths.

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