Monolithic architecture served us well in the past. It provided a tightly coupled system with a codebase that pulled in everything necessary from a content management system, payment and checkout system, through a shipping component.
In 2014, however, mobile usage began to exceed that of desktop, and development teams had a difficult time providing users the most optimal digital experience for the variety of devices and channels. The “all-in-one” aspect is more of a hindrance when adding new functionality – even making minor changes to a single function requires a rewrite of the entire application.
As monolithic systems become too large to deal with, many enterprises are drawn to breaking them into a “headless” architecture through microservices. This solution is ideal when businesses are faced with one or more of the following challenges:
- Updates or new features aren’t seen for weeks because a.) everything is a part of one large build and the app must be redeployed on each update or b.) the app is so large, it cannot make changes quickly and efficiently
- Teams cannot work independently
- The start-up time is slow due to the app’s size
- Page loads are slow
- Extensive manual testing is needed to understand the impact of a change
- Freezes or crashes occur when there is a surge of traffic (ie. on holidays or during sales)
- Dependencies on restrictive infrastructure’s frontend tooling force unwanted decisions
- One bug brings down the entire site
- Changes in frameworks or languages are extremely costly in both time and money
- Adopting new technologies is cumbersome or impossible to do
While these eCommerce platforms once dominated market share position, monoliths are being eroded by newer and more advanced solutions, namely: headless commerce.
A headless eCommerce architecture is one in which a site’s presentation layer, or fronted, is decoupled from its backend logic. Communication between the two layers becomes orchestrated via APIs and microservices are utilized to independently deploy separate functions.
- Frontend presentation layer: The top layer that displays UI, which includes CMS, custom storefronts, mobile, social, wearables chatbots, and any other shoppable customer-facing touchpoint.
- APIs: The middle layer that ensures the frontend and backend communication takes place in an orchestrated fashion.
- Backend commerce: The bottom layer that handles the business logic and commerce services, including commerce functions like cart, catalog, pricing, and promotions, and integration framework to backend systems, e.g. ERP, PIM, CR, etc.
- Microservices: A microservices-based application consists of a collection of small services with unique codebases that can be deployed independently for rapid, frequent, and reliable delivery of large, complex websites.
A headless, microservice-based architecture leads to improved performance, enhanced configuration, and better organization for complex apps. Some types of companies most likely to go headless sell through a large number of channels and who want to add commerce capabilities to any existing CMS.
According to Gartner, API-driven or API-based headless commerce was one of the top investments for 2019 and has continued to be a top initiative for many retailers in 2021 and beyond for three main reasons:
- To gain freedom from the limitations imposed by the frontend tooling offered by their
monolithic eCommerce platform, while reducing vendor lock-in and increasing agility
- To speed up their website significantly and improve search engine ranking (SEO)
- To easily support future use cases and endpoints
Increased Flexibility and No Vendor Lock-in
By decoupling the frontend from the backend, headless commerce frees teams from the limitations imposed by their eCommerce platform’s frontend tooling, which are perpetually behind the open-source options available. Some eCommerce platforms offer proprietary frontends that are geared specifically to their platforms and run on them exclusively. This is meant to keep you locked into their ecosystem.
A headless website is based on code you own and can invest in with confidence, knowing that you can take it to the best or most cost-effective eCommerce platform. Those investments in, for example, the 30-plus integrations you have with third-party tools and analytics don’t need to be rewritten if you choose to move to a new platform —you only have to swap out the APIs of the old platform with those of the new one.
A headless website is a permanent, portable website you can improve upon for years and on your schedule, not that dictated by the frontend upgrade cycle of your eCommerce platform.
Better Speed and SEO
It’s widely understood that improving your website speed improves the user experience, and therefore leads to higher traffic, conversions, and revenue. Google and Deloitte found that a mere 100ms improvement in page loads lifts eCommerce website conversion rates by 8.4%. Furthermore, Google rolled out its biggest initiative in April 2021 to try to improve the overall performance of web pages through the Page Experience Update. This update officially made website performance a ranking factor.
The impact of website speed is so significant that teams are choosing to adopt a headless architecture to optimize for performance. Monolithic eCommerce platforms negatively impact speed in four ways that headless solves:
Monolithic apps are often accompanied by real physical servers, so the shopping experience slows down when traffic increases due to increased server load. In a headless architecture, website capacity scales to the level of traffic from the get-go.
With a tightly integrated backend and content management system (CMS), it’s hard for companies to add functions or make changes to their eCommerce platform without influencing their CMS. They’re connected closely, and adding a new commerce function will inevitably affect the CMS. Over time, there becomes an overly complicated system designed to perform a simple function, which translates to a sluggish eCommerce experience that’s slow to load.
A microservices architecture involves smaller applications deployed independently as loosely coupled services, tied together through application integration. A developer can update part of the system without changing the whole. This leads to simpler web architecture, efficient and effective performance improvements, and more manageable web architecture.
Inconsistent deployment cycles
With a coupled architecture, developers see changes slowly, since everything is part of one large build. The next deployment may not be for weeks, while highly-trafficked pages are underperforming. A developer can work hard to squeeze every millisecond out of various optimization techniques, however, the work may go unnoticed for weeks or longer, losing potential customers along the way.
Through microservices, updates are broken in chunks for specific functions, leading to more frequent deployments and reducing the risk of breaking the parts of the application. Amazon deploys updates every 12 seconds on average, reducing the number and duration of outages drastically.
Limited optimization techniques
On a monolithic platform, developers are bound to predefined templates of their eCommerce platform, deterring any creative opportunities for optimizing frontend experiences. If the chosen platform doesn’t support portable frontends, teams are limited on how they can optimize their website for performance.
With headless APIs, you can choose the best-in-breed technologies for your existing system easily. Progressive Web Applications (PWAs), Server-Side Rendering (SSR), and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), for example, can be utilized to enable websites speeds that were previously unattainable.
These four drawbacks have a major impact on a website’s speed capabilities and, in turn, will negatively affect the digital experience and a business’s bottom line.
Support for future use cases and endpoints
Headless commerce reduces the effort and cost associated with the bold initiatives that traditionally have been a large undertaking for an enterprise eCommerce site. This includes seamlessly supporting omnichannel commerce across touchpoints and devices, as well as augmenting or replacing some of the eCommerce platform’s functionality with best-of-breed vendors.
In a headless commerce architecture, the frontend has been decoupled from the backend and the two communicate through APIs. As a result, the frontend and backend can now easily accommodate changes, from adding additional endpoints (e.g. native apps, kiosks, clienteling, etc.).
On top of that, developers have the flexibility to replace the entire frontend and backend or choose to work with their preferred programming language. The image below depicts the various solutions a developer can piece together with a headless architecture for a highly optimized tech stack, completely of their choice.
Putting APIs in the center is key to reducing migration efforts, however, there are a few common concerns to understand before taking on a headless project or you risk costing your business precious time and money.
Challenges when creating a headless commerce solutions
The benefits of flexibility and scalability also mean that a headless solution can become very complex. The mixing and matching of multiple frontends and other integrations may require continual oversight and separate development teams.
Go headless through Jamstack with MoovForge.
Break Away From Your Legacy Platform with a Headless Solution
Site Speed and SEO
MoovForge develops websites using the latest JS frameworks and specializes in building headless websites that decouple your frontend from your backend. Breakaway from your monolithic or legacy platform and gain the scalability, performance, and optimization that comes with going headless.
Concerned about speed? Speed is our specialty. Our team has been focused for years on delivering extremely fast experiences. While the definition of website speed has varied over the years, we have been working with customers on the metrics that matter to them, no matter what they are. Not only will we commit to bring your Core Web Vitals to the highest thresholds defined by Google for a majority of your pages in the Google Search Console, but we will also optimize your Lighthouse score, and in most cases will be able to get it to 85+.
Logos for Past Work
While native apps are downloaded from an app store, web apps are accessed through the web browser like a website, because of this web apps do not require separate development projects for multiple device platforms. Websites are primarily information-based, but web apps enable greater functionality and user interaction.
Web Apps are closer to websites than what most people think of when they think of an app. They function in very much the same way that a website does, but just have greater functionality.
Dirk Hoerig, Founder, and CEO of commercetools – a leading company in the headless commerce space explains the term well:
“Headless eCommerce platform gives companies the full potential of best-in-class online retail without the boundaries to specific touchpoints and ensuring a great user experience. A true headless commerce platform provides robust commerce capability such as shopping cart, product information management, promotions, and merchant tools no matter the customer entry point. On top of that, a headless eCommerce system can easily connect – via API – to any customer experience frontend.”
By going headless, a business frees itself from a restrictive eCommerce platform and gains the flexibility to choose which tools best complement its online shopping experience. Having to rewrite the entire website for added functionality becomes a concept of the past, and freedom to control the entire look and feel of the website becomes the future.