Non-web channels are becoming more significant elements of most organizations’ digital presence. Easy to use APIs accelerate application development and enable opportunities to create new types of applications that were previously unattainable. This has continued to drive interest in headless CMS/commerce.

This is the second article of our headless architecture series, in which we take you on a journey to create a better understanding of the headless architecture concept and why it is worth considering for your digital commerce platform.
Click here to read our first article.

<<< Start >>>

Headless commerce why it is needed

<<< End >>>

Headless architecture might look very appealing at first sight, but we must apply some critical thinking and try to understand both sides of the coin. We will support your decision-making process with a short summary of the major advantages and disadvantages of both flavors of architecture—headless and traditional—in digital commerce.

Traditional platforms

<<< Start >>>

<<< End >>>

Advantages

Let's start with the so-called 'traditional platforms'. Be it a commerce or CMS platform, the first major advantage is the shorter time to market as these platforms often come with ready-to-use frontends.

They are particularly recommended if you have less complex digital commerce requirements—that would be a very common product data model, checkout, and payment integration. If this is the case for your enterprise, with a bit of styling and data setup, you are almost ready to go live within a few months, if not weeks. These platforms have, due to their high adaption rate, already achieved a certain level of maturity thanks to continuous use, testing, and improvements based on customer feedback.

Furthermore, these platforms come with advanced out-of-the-box features that have been added because of customer demand—which might be lacking or not possible in new API-only platforms. A few examples that fall into this category might be, but are not limited to:

  • A live preview of the content changes without doing additional customizations, which are needed in API-only platforms.
  • A well-evolved promotion engine, offering the ability to determine potential promotions on your cart page; and product detail pages without writing a lot of custom code.
  • Built-in customer segmentation and personalization features to tailor the experience.

<<< Start >>>

<<< End >>>

<<< Start >>>

Headless architecture. Why it's becoming the new normal

A headless architecture gives you more flexibility in building customer experiences and offers easy adaptations and transitions for future changes. However, it also takes professionals to build and manage it. Read more on the pros and cons of headless architecture.

<<< End >>>

<<< Start >>>

<<< End >>>

Disadvantages

In contrast of course, if traditional platforms would have been so good, there wouldn't have been a need for new architecture in digital commerce. This means that they're coming short in a number of places. Find a couple of these shortcomings below.

In most cases, UX possibilities are restricted by the front-end technology used by the platform. This means that your UX designers should produce designs that can be implemented using the platform’s existing front-end technology. This also means that you staff and retain developers in those specific technologies. However, many platforms are evolving and are now offering more open-source technologies to enable the creativity of designers and developers.

With traditional platforms, adding a new front-end channel often requires changes in the backend APIs to support the new channel, which adds complexity and might increase the effort needed for regression tests. Ultimately, this makes it harder to deploy smaller changes in the future.

When there is extra load on your website, the whole application needs scaling up. As most of the traditional platforms are designed as monoliths, it’s not possible to scale up only the front-end application, for example.

Enterprises often end up not using all the features from the platform and may end up integrating special platforms for special needs, like a specialized CMS or search engine. This, in turn, can result in extra costs as you pay twice for the same functionalities.

<<< Start >>>

Headless commerce

<<< End >>>

Headless commerce architecture

<<< Start >>>

<<< End >>>

To understand more about headless architecture as a concept, take a look at our previous article in the series:  Headless architecture. Why it’s becoming the new normal.

When it comes the Headless commerce architecture, in some cases you will have full control of the front-end (UX) technology and just use APIs for commerce, CMS, search, et cetera. While in other cases, you will still use a specialized front-end from a CMS vendor and use APIs for the remaining functionalities. And naturally, there are also hybrid patterns, combining both.

While it’s hard to sum up the advantages and disadvantages of each pattern of headless architecture in one article, we try to explain the advantages and disadvantages common to all patterns. In our next article, we'll dive deeper into the different patterns.

Advantages

As outlined before, a headless architecture can provide more freedom to UX designers and front-end developers to choose the right toolset and to build a truly customer-centric customer experience. They are not restricted by the technology provided by any platform.

Commerce and content features are centralized across channels in the same consistent manner, which strongly supports an omnichannel strategy. This means you just have to set up your data and content once and all your front-end channels (web/non-web) receive it in the same way through APIs. This can also enable your organization to introduce a new channel in your application quickly, like adding a POS application to the architecture.

A headless commerce setup can help to independently build, deploy, maintain, debug and scale different back-ends and front-end services, avoiding time-restrictions on the release intervals.

In all cases, you will be enabled with the freedom to choose and combine best-of-breed solutions—built for doing one thing and doing it right—to build your digital commerce application.

Another big advantage is the 'pay what you use' aspect. This means you don’t have to pay twice for a functionality in your application. For example, the CMS provided by a traditional platform and then having to procure and integrate with a specialized CMS.

<<< Start >>>

It's crucial to ‘do one thing and do it right’ for all different pieces in a headless architecture to achieve the greatest benefits.

<<< End >>>

Disadvantages

 Similarly, there are also disadvantages. As an example, a live preview feature of content is usually not possible without some alternative customizations. In most cases, it's achieved by setting up a separate server just for previewing.

Even though a headless architecture enables 'pay what you use', the total cost of ownership increases based on the number of individual platforms and integrations used. The number of different components, their deployments, hosting, storage used, maintenance: it all adds up and the total cost can be higher than a traditional platform in some cases.

In the absence of the right technical people, a headless architecture can also turn into a monolith after time, containing many functions in one component/ building block. It's therefore really crucial to follow the philosophy of ‘do one thing and do it right’ for all different pieces in a headless architecture to achieve the greatest benefits.

Lastly, delivery management can be a tough job as you need to manage multiple pieces, multiple vendors, multiple teams focusing on their own individual area (different blocks).

<<< Start >>>

<<< End >>>

Headless or not?

Looking at the quick comparison above, there is no very straightforward choice between the two flavors of digital commerce architecture. Your business, organization, expectations of customers, required functionalities, and budget to expand on digital commerce are factors that can drive the final decision. In all cases though, a thorough analysis of the whole digital landscape of an organization and future roadmap should be executed before making a choice between a traditional commerce/CMS platform and headless architecture.

<<< Start >>>

Whitepaper: Agility in online shopping with experience-driven commerce 

Customers don’t just buy products, they buy experiences. For any organization looking to remain
competitive, adapting your services to meet customer needs and support a smooth journey is essential. Especially now that COVID-19 has accelerated e-commerce growth like
never before. Get our whitepaper to put customer experience at the core of your commerce platform

get the whitepaper

<<< End >>>

Our team within Accenture Interactive is specialized in content, commerce, and marketing platforms. Feel free to reach out to our author or e-commerce lead Mehmet Olmez, if you want to find out how we can support your decision-making process.

Jasvent Singh

Digital Business Integration Manager - Accenture Interactive, the Netherlands

Subscription Center
Subscribe to Accenture Insights Subscribe to Accenture Insights