Simply put a headless commerce is a commerce application which does not have defined user experience layer.
Traditionally e-commerce stores were taken up as a custom development which was more of coupled architecture. When the market size grew and the online sales grew, these custom built stores were not able to scale up. Retailers started to adapt to the COTS product for building the online stores. Some of the packaged solutions were good to scale up and most implementations were going well.
Typical online eCommerce stores get only 2-5% of conversion of sales. What this means is, there are lots of people browsing for products, learning and comparing and the not completing the buying process. However, a business cannot falter on the browse experience of the people. Users expect a fast response from the e-commerce sites. Any slow response can quickly lose customers to a competitor. When we look the architecture of these platforms, they follow the monolithic architecture. The traditional monolithic product platforms need to scale with all modules on a horizontal scaling mode. So, to scale the “browse module”, You will have Member module, pricing, order, trading, all of them deployed on servers and scaled up as well and not using resources efficiently.
The millennial and the Gen-X are brutal in their expectation from the online stores, especially on their experience. The CMO organization demanded agility in IT. The COTS products became larger with many features and difficult to customize and maintain. The cost of licenses was also shooting up. The COTS product now became an elephant which was not moving fast.
A new breed of Customer experience platforms came to market called “experience manager”. It was more directed to the CMO’s office. One of the major players was able to convince the CMO organization to build sites around their customer experience platform and wanted to take control of the online store. It made sense to manufacturers who wanted to have more branding than sales. But for a retailer, the browsing response time and the introduction of features are more important.
One of the trends emerging in the online store where the customer experience took a major role was to take the customer experience platforms to the front end and the commerce becoming a more transaction platform. The Front-end becoming more agile and decoupled from the service layers.
With the popularity of microservice architecture and ‘2 speed IT’, separation of concerns from the UI and core commerce functionality was getting prominent. Off the shelf Commerce platforms also started addressing this issues. First approach most products took was to bring API’fication by making a REST layer on top of their commerce modules. Architecture community from the clients wanted a more liberal approach to move towards the building major commerce functions as microservices. The front end was decoupled from the framework of the services and could now be built on any jazzy customer experience platforms of CMO’s choice or custom UI/UX layer with latest Angular or Polymer components. From the scalability perspective, only certain service could be scaled up, for example, we could have only the browse services scaled up or perhaps move the browse functionality to cloud for that extra scaling options during the holiday period.
Ways of decomposing monolithic application could be another topic to discuss, but moving from COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) to microservice architecture or re-architecting off the Shelf products separating UI layer is catching up in the industry. It will be interesting to see how leading Off the shelf commerce product vendors take on this challenge with their own cloud platforms.