What is Headless Commerce? The Ultimate Guide for Retailers

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E-commerce has undergone rapid innovation in recent years. Stores are constantly looking for ways to provide better and more personalized digital shopping experiences to stay competitive. One architectural approach that has been gaining popularity is headless commerce.

Headless commerce, aka composable commerce, is a way of structuring an e-commerce platform where the frontend and backend are separated.

Traditionally, e-commerce platforms have been "monoliths", with a tightly coupled frontend and backend. The headless commerce approach decouples these elements, connecting detached front-end interfaces to modular commerce services via APIs.

Using a headless approach provides several benefits over traditional systems. It allows companies to optimize different parts of their tech stack, speed up iterations, provide consistency across channels, and improve scalability.

With many futuristic use-cases, headless commerce promises to transform how brands and retailers approach their online stores.

This article provides an in-depth insight into modern eCommerce, components of headless architecture, and why your brand should go headless!

What is Headless eCommerce aka Composable Commerce?

Headless commerce refers to an architectural approach where the frontend presentation layer is decoupled from the backend commerce functionality.

This differs from traditional monolithic e-commerce platforms like Magento or Adobe Commerce, where the frontend and backend are bundled together.

In a traditional setup, the frontend and backend are tightly coupled and reliant on each other. This makes iterative changes and optimizations more difficult. A change to the frontend requires going into the core backend code.

A headless architecture separates the front end is separated from the back end via APIs. The front end could be a mobile app, website, wearable device, etc.

It consumes commerce data and functionality from the backend via APIs, not a shared codebase. This allows the front end and back end to be optimized independently.

The "headless" backend is made up of back-end services like a commerce engine, CMS, order management, and more.

This is where key commerce logic lives. The backend services make content, products, checkout functionality, etc. available via APIs.

Some key advantages of decoupling the front end and back end include greater flexibility, the ability to optimize each layer separately, and improved developer experience.

Headless commerce allows easy building of cross-channel experiences.

How Headless Commerce Platforms Work?

A headless commerce system might sound complex, but it's quite simple. Imagine a traditional online store as a sandwich – the bread and the filling are tightly connected, representing the frontend (what you see) and backend (what happens behind the scenes).

In contrast, headless commerce is like deconstructing that sandwich into its components: bread, fillings, and condiments, each functioning independently yet harmoniously.

In the same way, a headless eCommerce system separates the frontend storefront from the backend commerce functionality.

The backend eCommerce system manages inventory, orders, pricing, and more. The frontend consumes that data and accesses functionality through APIs, not shared code.

The frontend or presentation layer can be any customer-facing interface - a website, mobile app, IoT device, etc.

The backend services handle the core commerce logic. This separation via APIs provides flexibility and fuels innovation on both sides.

Decoding Headless Commerce Architecture

Let's delve further into understanding how headless commerce works and how it trumps monolithic commerce in terms of performance, scalability, freedom, and more.

Frontend Layer

The frontend presentation layer is built using modern web development frameworks like React, Vue, Angular, or Svelte. Some implementations:

  • Progressive web apps built with React allow enhanced capabilities and installability.
  • Native mobile apps built with Swift or Kotlin provide mobile-optimized experiences.
  • IoT-embedded software written in C++ or Rust powers smart displays.

The frontend is hosted separately from the backend, often on a CDN like Cloudflare for performance.

It interacts with the backend exclusively via APIs over HTTPS. The frontend handles UI/UX concerns:

  • Fetching and displaying product/inventory data
  • Supporting customer login and account management
  • Providing the shopping cart and checkout user flows
  • Dynamically updating pages and components in real-time
  • Securing customer data with encryption and tokenization

This adds to the popularity of headless commerce, enabling swift headless development, a faster, flexible, and reliable platform to build modern eCommerce experiences.

API Layer

The API layer connects the frontend to backend services using REST or GraphQL protocols.

  • REST APIs have predefined endpoints that return JSON data.
  • GraphQL has a singular endpoint that allows flexible data querying.
  • The APIs are documented using OpenAPI Specification (formerly Swagger) for discoverability. Authentication uses JWT tokens or API keys.

Typical commerce APIs expose catalog, cart, checkout, account, and content functionality. Caching, rate limiting, and DDoS protection are implemented for performance and security.

Backend Services

The backend includes purpose-built microservices for commerce capabilities:

  • Headless CMS powered by a database like MongoDB or MySQL.
  • Commerce engine, likely API-first SaaS platforms.
  • Cloud-hosted PostgreSQL or Oracle DB for orders and transactions.
  • Payments integration using tokenized PCI-compliant gateways.
  • Docker and Kubernetes are used to containerize and orchestrate microservices.
  • CI/CD automation pipelines enabling rapid deployment.
  • Observability platforms provide monitoring, logging, and tracing. Data streaming with Kafka facilitates event propagation between services.

This backend framework allows precise scaling of resources to meet demands.

The flexibility of headless provides the capabilities to integrate your e-store with best-of-breed cloud platforms.

Case Study: Klépierre Moved to Headless Commerce

There are many successful stories of brands switching to headless commerce and witnessing exponential results.

One such headless commerce example is Klépierre, a European shopping mall leader who transitioned to headless architecture.

Faced with the challenges of the digital revolution and transformative shifts to the shopping experience, Klépierre decided to undertake a massive overhaul of its web presence.

They operate over 150 malls in 14 European countries and have hundreds of content authors and stakeholders across their 98 web properties.

Their existing Sitecore architecture worked well for content authoring, but Sitecore’s heavy infrastructure didn’t allow for the lightning-fast experience their customers expected.

Klépierre engaged a creative and technology agency to undergo a global platform redesign and develop 98 sites in just six months.

With only three months left in the project, they rearchitected the Jamstack model to dramatically cut their Azure costs.

With Sitecore as their headless CMS and Netlify as the distributed edge network (an advanced CDN), they massively reduced cloud spend while delivering performant sites on the client’s timeline.

While the initial motive behind adopting headless commerce was cost-savings, the team soon realized additional benefits of this decoupled Site core architecture.

Switching to a headless system also meant improved workflows, simpler cloud management, and great website performance.

This case study explores the technical decision-making behind the change in framework and what the Jamstack has enabled for Klépierre so far.

Types of headless architecture

There are three primary types of headless commerce platform(s):

API-Driven eCommerce Platform

This framework relies on a purpose-built, API-first commerce platform as the backend engine. Examples include:

  • Commerce tools - Java-based headless platform on Kubernetes
  • Elastic Path - Microservices for cart, checkout, pricing
  • Saleor - GraphQL API with dashboard

These provide cloud-native, headless commerce functionality like:

  • Product catalog management with API access
  • Shopping cart and checkout process APIs
  • Order management and fulfillment via APIs
  • Customer account management capabilities

The platform vendor handles the backend infrastructure, scaling, and DevOps.

The merchant focuses on building the customer-facing frontend layer consuming the commerce APIs.

API-Driven Headless Commerce Solution

In this solution, a decoupled headless content management system (CMS) like Strapi, Contentful, etc. provides the product catalog content repository that is accessible via APIs. The CMS manages:

  • Product details, inventory, pricing
  • Categories, faceted navigation
  • Assets like images and videos
  • Content APIs to deliver content to any channel

Separate microservices or APIs would handle eCommerce functionality like the shopping cart.

The frontend leverages the headless CMS for content along with commerce APIs.

Microservices-based Headless Solution

A pure micro-services architecture decomposes business capabilities into atomic services. For example:

  • Product API - Catalog, inventory, pricing
  • Cart API - Add/update items, promotions, checkout
  • Order API - Manage orders and fulfillment
  • Payments API - Process transactions, taxes
  • Customer API - Accounts, profiles, authentication

The frontend interacts with these discrete microservices via their respective APIs. APIs from the headless commerce platform provide connectivity, security, and telemetry.

This provides ultimate flexibility and scale but also complexity.

It requires more custom development effort. Merchant teams must build out the microservices, unlike leveraging a vendor's platform.

Why Choose a Headless eCommerce Solution?


A decoupled headless commerce platform separates the frontend presentation layer from backend systems and provides immense flexibility for brands.

Frontend developers can implement improvements and optimize customer experiences faster without being tied to a monolithic backend.

The frontend can leverage modern web frameworks and best practices without worrying about backend constraints.

On the flip side, the backend commerce logic and integrations can be upgraded as needed, or swapped out entirely, without affecting the customer-facing frontend.

This makes it easy to experiment and find the ideal tech stack.


With a headless implementation and unified commerce APIs, brands can quickly activate new channels and devices.

Want to launch on a gaming console, smart speaker, in-car navigation system, or any emerging device?

Connect to the existing backend APIs. New client apps and sites can provide consistent experiences across all touchpoints leveraging the same catalog and commerce capabilities.


Headless improves operational efficiency in several ways. Independent scaling of the frontend and backend only provisions precisely the resources needed.

Automation and cloud infrastructure optimization reduce overhead.

Clean separation of frontend and backend systems leads to improved productivity within development teams. Collaboration also improves without tightly coupled systems.

Developer Experience

For developers, headless commerce removes the need to work on monolithic systems, improving satisfaction. Frontend developers can use familiar modern web frameworks and libraries like React and Vue.js.

On the backend, composable APIs and services abstract away complexity so developers can focus on delivering value not just integrating with legacy platforms.

This makes hiring and retaining talent easier.


The flexibility, developer experience, and productivity improvements with Headless allow brands to bring innovative ideas to market faster.

Testing new technologies and experiences is much easier without a tightly coupled tech stack.

Incremental and rapid innovation is key to staying competitive, and headless enables this agility.

Planning to Go Headless?

There's a lot of ifs and buts when it comes to implementing a headless architecture on your e-store. It all begins with understanding the ROI of headless commerce. This will help you understand if your brand needs it or if it can wait.

WPSteroids is a partner to multiple ecom businesses, powering lightning experiences, and driving 2x conversions while saving 3x on infrastructuer costs!

Want to know how your brand can achieve this?

Schedule a call with our modern experience experts to understand the full potential of your brand!

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