Choosing between Headless & Traditional Commerce. Should You Do It?

Aniket Ashtikar

Blog / Choosing between Headless & Traditional Commerce.

E-commerce is changing rapidly, and merchants need to keep up. The latest shift is towards a  modular, API-driven approach called headless commerce.

The headless architecture decouples the frontend presentation layer from the backend commerce functionality.

With traditional commerce platforms like Magento or Adobe Commerce, everything comes packaged together.

The vendor has pre-built templates that control both site design and key commerce workflows. This coupled approach made sense in the past, but modern buyers expect seamless, customized experiences across channels.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce aka Composable commerce allows greater flexibility and customization. Instead of using the platform’s template, merchants can build custom frontends using React, Vue.js, or any other modern framework.

composable commerce architecture exposes APIs that the frontend can leverage for key functions like managing carts, checkout, and product pages.

This approach has huge advantages, unlike traditional platform offers. Developers can optimize site performance without being limited by the platform’s constraints.

Brands can deliver immersive, app-like experiences tailored to each device and audience. The composable architecture makes it easier to incorporate AI, voice commerce, IoT, and other emerging technologies.

Headless Commerce vs Traditional Commerce

The decoupled commerce vs traditional eCommerce setup debate has been heating up as brands search for the best way to meet customer demands in a rapidly evolving market.

When choosing your eCommerce architecture, should you decouple the front and backend or take a packaged approach?

Before ripping out your entire tech stack, it’s important to dive into the tradeoffs. A headless architecture offers the allure of flexibility and innovation.

But is it right for your business? Traditional platforms promise turnkey solutions to get online fast.

However, they limit your ability to customize experiences.

Pros of Headless Commerce

Legacy Platforms promise turnkey eCommerce, but at what cost? Their rigid templates and bundled architecture severely limit frontend potential.

With a headless commerce solution, the possibilities are endless.

Unchained from pre-built templates, developers can stretch their creative muscles. Deliver immersive WebAR shopping or build a voice app Google Home. Optimize sites for lightning-fast performance.

And easily add new frontend channels like IoT devices or in-car online stores. The headless allows you to control the user experience instead of being boxed in and easily integrated with other systems.

These frontend freedoms also make omnichannel personalization a breeze. Tailor experience for each device and audience without relying on the platform's capabilities.

Craft bespoke customer journeys that engage across channels. Using a headless approach, you’re free to optimize and innovate.

When it’s time to scale or revamp experiences, changes happen at frontend rather than disrupting the core digital commerce engine.

The use of headless commerce allows features like flexible expansion without the headaches of migrated traditional Platforms. The modular architecture means you can iteratively improve instead of embarking on risky “rip and replace” projects.

The separation of concerns also avoids frontend bloat. By leveraging modern frameworks like React, and Vue.js, sites load at lightning speed without being bogged down by unnecessary backend code.

APIs enable seamless integration with complementary services for search, reviews, and more. 

With the limitless potential for customization, innovation, and speed, headless provides future-proof flexibility and ease of use as your strategy evolves which is best for your business.

The possibilities are as boundless as your imagination. 

Cons of Headless Commerce

With great flexibility comes great responsibility. The loose coupling and DIY nature of headless commerce do come with tradeoffs. Let’s scrutinize the realities beyond the hype. 

To orchestrate all the modular pieces of a headless stack requires planning and expertise. Carefully mapping dependencies and integrations takes time upfront.

You’ll need developers skilled in configuring the headless backend, building APIs, and coding frontend experiences. 

This specialized talent doesn't come cost-effective, so development costs can spiral if you underestimate needs.

And while APIs enable endless customization, you’ll have to code or configure many experiences from scratch instead of using ready-made platform features. 

Without the end-to-end support of a traditional vendor, the burden of security, hosting, and management falls squarely on your teams. Make sure to have the DevOps resources to maintain the entire infrastructure. 

If the benefits of control and flexibility outweigh the complex tradeoffs for your business, headless CMS (content management system) and headless commerce are the right choices.

But the reliance on in-house technical skills is the elephant in the room marketers prefer to ignore.

Being realistic about the team's readiness makes the difference between headless success and a painful lesson in frustration. 

Of Course, every architecture has advantages and disadvantages. The key is choosing the right balance for your brand’s goals, culture, and appetite for innovation.

With a clear view of the pros and cons, you can determine if the benefits of headless commerce warrant the extra costs and coordination.

Pros of Traditional Commerce

For Brands Craving simplicity, traditional commerce platforms still pack a punch. Their monolithic architecture and turnkey setup offer tempting advantages if you lack specialized Dev resources. 

Configuring a robust eCommerce site is possible without coding a single line. Most platforms offer intuitive site builders and visual design tools enabling drag-and-drop creation.

Extensive documentation and training resources ensure brands can come online quickly with modular building blocks. 

These established platforms also provide proven out-of-the-box features for essential eCommerce store workflows from merchandising to promotions to fulfillment.

Their bundled Model means vital capabilities are ready to activate on day one without additional tools or integrations. 

The convenience does come at a cost, but it may fit your budget better than a custom headless approach.

Benefit from the economics of scale of shared hosting and security. Compliance is built-in, not a headache you have to handle yourself.

For lean e-commerce teams, tradition can mean faster time to value. 

Of course, convenience has tradeoffs. Innovation and agility eventually reach their limits within walled gardens.

But for brands launching e-commerce or prioritizing speed over customization, traditional platforms still offer a solution to get off the ground. 

The choice depends on your team’s skill, risk appetite, and readiness to maintain end-to-end operations.

For the right business, traditional commerce delivers on its promise of simplifying e-commerce so you can focus on your customers.

Cons of Traditional eCommerce Platforms

The convenience of bundled traditional eCommerce platforms comes at the cost control. Monolithic systems with tightly coupled back and frontends make progressive enhancements difficult.

Let’s examine the limitations beyond the out-of-the-box enticements. 

The predefined templates that accelerate the launch also impose UX constraints. Innovating and optimizing customer experiences within the single platform ecosystems is a challenge. 

With front and backend tightly linked, upgrades to improve page speed or integrate modern frameworks drag down the entire site.

Migrations also prove complex, as changing platforms impact everything.

Scaling and peak traffic present issues without flexible infrastructure. Brands can outgrow the standardized templates and hosting capabilities that were beneficial at the start.

Expanding to new channels and devices requires reliance on the platform roadmap.

For some businesses, the tradeoffs are worth the simplicity and convenience. However, many find traditional commerce restrictive as strategies mature.

While launching on established platforms is tempting, it can box you in down the road.

Carefully weigh whether the pre-packaged approach meets both immediate and long-term needs. With customer expectations rising, legacy platforms make continuous optimization and innovation tough.

A short-term quick win can lead to technical debt and UX bottlenecks over time.

Bringing Vision to Life: How Crate & Barrel Adopted a Headless Commerce Platform

To understand the impact of these architecture decisions, let's look at how one retailer approached the choice between a headless commerce platform and a traditional commerce platform.

Crate & Barrel is an established lifestyle brand focused on contemporary furniture and home decor.

As customer demand shifted online, its aging e-commerce platform struggled to deliver seamless omnichannel experiences.

The rigid architecture made it difficult to quickly roll out new digital experiences and push the envelope on personalization. 

After evaluating options, Crate & Barrel adopted a headless architecture. The flexibility of decoupled front-end and back-end has enabled faster release cycles and innovation.

By using React and JAMstack on the frontend, Crate & Barrel created faster, more engaging customer experiences across channels. 

The composable nature of headless has allowed the brand to easily integrate emerging tech like augmented reality furniture viewing.

Shipping times dropped from 7 days to as little as 2 hours by connecting digital and physical inventory. The new modular architecture provides a solid foundation for omnichannel growth and a rising conversion rate.

However, the increased flexibility came with tradeoffs. IT and developers had to expand skills and resources to orchestrate the headless microservices architecture.

The development costs required justifications against future-proof business agility.

For digitally-savvy brands like Crate & Barrel, the benefits of API-driven flexibility outweighed the additional complexity of complete control over their eCommerce store.

Their story illustrates how the right headless architecture strategy can enable innovation while managing the learning curve and cost across multiple platforms.

When to Go with a Headless eCommerce Store?

Key Tradeoffs

When it comes to the pros and cons of headless and traditional commerce, there are pros and cons to each approach.

Headless commerce powers you more in terms of flexibility and scalability. It enables team(s) to innovate faster and deliver personalized customer experiences, but, it comes at the cost of complex integration and potentially higher developer overhead.

Traditional commerce simplifies getting online quickly through turnkey solutions but can limit long-term agility and control.

Best Scenarios

Headless commerce works best for sophisticated teams ready to take full ownership of a modular, API-driven architecture and personalized user interface.

It allows unlimited innovation if you have the skills to build it. Traditional commerce suits brands that prioritize faster time-to-value and built-in features over customization.

The Right Customer Experience

The optimal choice depends on your specific business needs and capabilities. Consider your eCommerce roadmap, resources, and appetite for maintaining complex infrastructures.

Do you prioritize innovation and customization or turnkey convenience? Align your tech stack to your strategic vision.

Choosing between Headless v/s Traditional Commerce

With the right information, brands can make empowered decisions about their commerce architecture without having to worry.

Keep the end goals for customer experience and business growth at the center rather than technology for its own sake.

Choose the approach and model that provides the best foundation for executing your eCommerce strategy, gets you ahead of the curve, and puts your vision in the years ahead.

Still wondering whether headless commerce should be on your priority or not?

Book a project discovery call with our headless implementation consultants. 

Get an analysis of your ecom business and explore the scope and potential of your brand's digital success. No pitches, promise!

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