Strategies to Migrate from Monolithic to Headless eCommerce

Anurag Mehta

Blog / Strategies to Migrate from Monolithic to Headless

Headless commerce represents a modern architectural approach that decouples the frontend user interface from the backend infrastructure. This model offers greater flexibility, scalability, and agility versus traditional monolithic commerce platforms.

In Headless architecture, the frontend presentation layer is separated from various backend services like the content management system (CMS), ecommerce platform, payment gateways, etc. These services communicate via APIs in a decoupled manner.

This contrasts with monolithic platforms where the frontend code is tightly coupled to the backend ecommerce functionality. Any changes require tweaking large portions of code impacting the entire platform.

Some major capabilities enabled by headless commerce architecture include:

Decoupled Frontend: The presentation layer or storefront can be built using modern frameworks like React, Vue.js, etc. This allows faster iterations of user experience.

Backend Microservices: The business logic and data layers are split into reusable and independently scalable microservices for catalog, cart, checkout, etc.

Simplified Integrations: Services integrate via clean REST APIs instead of complex code dependencies. This makes incorporating third-party tools like CMS, and payment gateways easier.

Omnichannel Experiences: Consistent customer experiences can be delivered across devices and channels by leveraging a common backend service layer.

Headless commerce unlocks flexibility, innovation velocity, and consistent omnichannel experiences by transitioning from monolith to a decoupled architecture of reusable microservices.

Key Benefits of Migrating to Headless Architecture

Flexibility and Agility

A headless architecture provides flexibility to make changes and add new features faster without impacting other parts of the system. Companies can leverage microservices and packaged business capabilities (PBCs) to develop and deploy new customer experiences across channels rapidly.

Enhanced Scalability

Headless commerce allows independent scaling of the frontend and backend. The decoupled infrastructure can better handle traffic spikes during peak seasons by easily adding more hosting capacity and optimizing site performance.

Shorter Time-to-Market

By decoupling the presentation layer, headless makes it easier to quickly test and launch new features for more compelling customer experiences. Brands can deliver consistent omnichannel personalization faster.

Higher ROI Over Time

While initial development costs may be higher, over time headless improves return on investment by reducing hosting, maintenance, and development expenses. The flexibility also leads to higher revenue.

Lower Total Cost of Ownership

Headless drives significant total cost reductions in the long run by minimizing integration and maintenance costs. The independent infrastructure requires smaller teams to manage, lowering human resource requirements.

Strategies for Migrating from Monolithic E-commerce

1. Gradual Migration Using Strangler Pattern

The strangler pattern approach entails incrementally rebuilding each monolith component as a separate microservice while keeping the legacy system operational. This minimizes risk allowing existing systems to handle requests until new services are tested thoroughly before redirecting traffic.

Typically, less complex functions like catalogs or checkout are migrated first.

2. Leveraging Cloud Hosting and CDNs

Migrating to cloud infrastructure brings autoscaling capabilities to easily manage fluctuations in traffic. Content delivery networks (CDNs) offer low latency by distributing cache servers globally. Cloud hosting and CDNs are leveraged during the transition process to prevent performance hits as components get incrementally decoupled.

3. Mapping Architecture and Content

The current ecommerce data model and system dependencies need to be understood to plan migration. Also, content is exported from the monolithic CMS, and data schemas are translated for the headless platform based on how content is leveraged within the website architecture. This mapping sets the foundation for the move.

4. Prioritizing Core Functions

The order of transitioning components is based on revenue impact and complexity. Catalog and search functionality that manages product discovery is typically transitioned first.

Subsequently, customer identity, promotions, checkout, payments, and orders capabilities are migrated as they directly influence conversion funnel performance. Peripheral modules like reviews can be scheduled afterward with minimal impact.

Adopting cloud infrastructure and CDNs while following a phased strangler pattern transition focused first on revenue-critical functions can enable gradually unlocking headless benefits without disrupting monolithic eCommerce operations.

Key Technical Elements in a Headless Commerce Platform

Decoupled Content Management System (CMS)

A headless CMS focuses on the content repository and delivery layer. It enables managing content independently and publishing via APIs and SDKs. This content can then be consumed across devices and apps. Examples of headless CMSes are Strapi, Contentful, Storyblok, and Prismic.

Headless ecommerce platforms

The headless ecommerce platform handles business logic around catalog management, shopping cart flows, pricing rules, promotions, and transaction processing independently via APIs that any front end can integrate with. Examples are Shopify, Magento (Adobe Commerce), and Commercetools.

Frontend Framework and Presentation Layer

The presentation layer and storefront UI in headless are decoupled from the backend. You can build the frontend using frameworks like React, Vue, Angular, etc. This offers UI flexibility and leverages the latest web capabilities like optimized mobile experiences.

Backend APIs and Microservices

The backend business capabilities are exposed as configurable APIs and reusable microservices for catalog, cart, checkout, wallet, orders, etc. These services scale, operate, and upgrade independently.

Progressive Web Apps

PWAs offer app-like mobile experiences in the browser combining the best of web and native apps. Features like push notifications and icon installs make PWAs built with React, and Vue on the frontend preferred for headless stores.

Choosing the right headless CMS, tech stack, ecommerce platform, and front end framework and building the backend as microservices lay the technology foundation for transitioning successfully.

Moving to Headless Architecture

Exporting Content from Monolithic CMS

The first step is to migrate content from a monolithic CMS to a headless e-commerce platform. CMS data with product info, categories, images, and other metadata needs to be exported, typically via JSON or XML. Custom scripts may be required to extract all required fields. Appropriate content modeling in the target system is vital for import.

Data Transformation and Cleansing

Exported data must be transformed to align with headless data structures. For example, formatting variations, and consolidating content fragments need fixes.

Reference data like image URLs may need remapping. Duplication checks and consolidation must be part of cleansing to maintain integrity before import.

Testing Headless Implementation

The decoupled services integrate via contract-based APIs and thorough testing is essential as changes can break integrations leading to regressions.

End-to-end user journeys must be tested extensively covering various scenarios of product discovery, promotions, order workflows, etc. Performance testing also ensures the system can handle projected traffic.

Launch Checklist

Before launching, old product and content URLs must redirect to the new headless front-end using 301 redirects to retain search rankings. Site performance should be baseline tested for page load times, request counts, etc.

Moving from a monolithic, onboarding guide covering platform capabilities, integrating analytics and debugging methods accelerates developer ramp-up.

Meticulously migrating data, testing functionality, and optimizing SEO and web performance before launching reduces business disruption and eases transition when executing a shift from monolithic to headless.

Managing and Optimizing the Headless CMS Platform

Improving Site Speed and Conversion Rates

Migrating from monolith to headless architecture, front-end performance can be optimized independently without backend constraints. Core web vitals like page load speeds, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), and First Input Delay (FID) can be monitored and improved through techniques like code splitting, caching, lazy loading, image optimization, etc. This directly uplifts conversions.

Migrating from monolith to headless architecture, front-end performance can be optimized independently without backend constraints. Core web vitals like page load speeds, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), and First Input Delay (FID) can be monitored and improved through techniques like code splitting, caching, lazy loading, image optimization, etc. This directly uplifts conversions.

Expanding Omnichannel Experiences

The unified content and catalog from headless CMS and ecommerce backend can fuel consistent experiences across web, mobile, in-store kiosks, etc. As new devices and touchpoints emerge, headless commerce simplifies expanding via new presentation layers connecting to the same back-end.

Adding New Features with PBCs

Packaged Business Capabilities(PBCs) bundle together composable services like cart, browse, search, and records as readymade building blocks that can snap together to accelerate rollouts. Instead of developing custom solutions, pre-integrated PBCs jumpstart feature development.

Monitoring Uptime and Scalability

The decoupled services can be independently monitored using capabilities like health checks in cloud infrastructure. Autoscaling policies based on demand metrics can be implemented to assure high availability even during traffic surges. Proactive monitoring safeguards SLAs as the transition stabilizes.

Post-launch - Optimizing web and business KPIs by leveraging the flexibility of headless is enabled while working towards a unified view of the customer.

Key Takeaways and Long-Term Vision

Transitioning from tightly coupled monolithic architectures, to decoupled composable commerce unlocks manifold benefits for retailers to deliver innovation, adapt to emerging consumer demands, and sustain growth in a dynamic market.

Some of the key highlights for companies embarking on this digital transformation journey are:

  • Headless or composable architecture breaks down interconnected systems into best-of-breed microservices to gain focus, flexibility, and speed
  • APIs help seamlessly reuse capabilities, integrate third parties, and try out ideas faster
  • Omnichannel experiences keep customers engaged as new touchpoints emerge
  • Experiments can run in production without destabilizing systems

Importantly, this migration to headless must align with the long-term vision of creating a composable business equipped to adapt to a competitive landscape.

The future roadmap should enable adding capabilities like personalization, payments, fulfillment, etc. rapidly via discoverable building blocks that abstract underlying complexities.

With the right foundation, headless commerce kickstarts the path to assembling experiences that continually excite customers.

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