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Headless commerce vs. composable: What you need to know

The Contentstack TeamJun 15, 20235 min read

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The online world is constantly evolving, so companies must change how they work and develop new ideas to meet customers' changing needs. The e-commerce sector has witnessed the rise of two unique models: headless commerce and composable commerce. While they might appear similar at the outset, a deeper examination reveals critical distinctions.

In this article, we'll demystify the two approaches, spotlight their respective pros and cons. And provide insights for organizations pondering a transition to a composable architecture.

How headless commerce began

In the early days of online shopping, businesses had two ways to sell their products: physical stores and online platforms. But as technology advanced, many companies didn't keep up with the changes. This made it hard for them to stay up with what customers wanted and take advantage of new trends. The problem was that their technology wasn't flexible enough to adapt to new ideas.

To serve customers better, stores began separating their online behind-the-scenes system from what the public sees on their websites. They did this by using APIs to access the back end, which made their operations more flexible.

Headless commerce is a way for brands to keep their complicated commerce systems while making the front end more flexible to changes in the market.

Composable architecture means that each part of the system works independently and can be customized to fit a brand's specific needs. This gives businesses the power to choose which parts of their digital services to use to meet their unique business requirements best.

Examining headless commerce architecture

Headless is a new way of handling e-commerce that separates the parts that users see (the interface) from the parts that do the work behind the scenes (data, operations, applications). Most e-commerce systems combine these two parts, making it hard to keep up with the constantly changing digital market. Headless, by contrast, allows the front- and back-end systems to function independently. 

Benefits of headless architecture

Adopting a headless system introduces several advantages:

  • It delivers a flexible and customizable front end. With the visual layer decoupled, developers are no longer tied to the constraints of the back end, allowing for the creation of custom user experiences. 
  • It enables seamless integration with other systems. The back end operates independently, communicating simultaneously with multiple front ends. This allows businesses to provide a consistent omnichannel experience across various platforms like websites, mobile apps, smartwatches, and IoT devices. For instance, should a brand face difficulties in producing content for new products due to the constraints of its content model, the headless commerce system allows the integration of a different content management system with adjustable content models. This flexibility ensures a smoother operation by effectively mitigating the identified issue.
  • It accelerates the speed of innovation. Changes to the front end won't impact the back end, and vice versa. This promotes quicker updates, experiments and iterations, all critical components in today's fast-paced digital landscape.

Drawbacks of headless architecture

While headless offers clear benefits, it also carries some drawbacks:

  • This way of setting up a system can be challenging to handle. It needs someone with technical knowledge to take care of the different parts and keep them working.
  • While the freedom to customize front-end interfaces is a benefit, it also means that businesses are responsible for designing and developing these interfaces, which can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Depending on the chosen system, limited support or functionalities may be available.

Understanding composable architecture

Composable is an approach to building digital services that allows each component to exist independently. This includes things like managing product information, content and customer relationships. Businesses can choose which parts they need to create a custom digital platform.

Advantages of composable architecture

Composable e-commerce offers significant advantages.

  • It provides extreme flexibility. Since all components are separate, they can be independently updated, replaced or reconfigured, enabling a truly agile e-commerce platform. This architecture allows for continuous optimization without fear of disrupting the entire system.
  • Composable future-proofs your DXP stack by implementing task-oriented packaged business capabilities (PBCs), which are essential for faster time to market and better adoption of a digital experience. With the ability to add or replace components as needed, businesses can keep pace with technological advancements, customer demands or changes in business strategy.
  • It promotes the best-of-breed approach. Businesses are no longer confined to the capabilities of a single vendor. They can select the best software for each component, maximizing functionality, efficiency and performance.

Pivoting toward composable architecture: Points to ponder

Embracing composable commerce vs. headless architecture is a significant decision you should not take lightly. Businesses should thoroughly analyze their current and future needs, evaluating whether the flexibility and adaptability of composable commerce align with their strategic goals.

The appeal of composable architecture lies in its flexibility and potential for success. However, it's important to remember that just because something is possible doesn't mean it's a good idea. Composable architecture can be compared to Lego blocks, as it allows for the creation of many different structures. But the challenge lies in deciding what to build and how to make it happen.

The challenge is twofold. First, there's the job of putting together all the components. Second, it's essential to ensure that each element chosen is not just a fun extra but helps create the desired digital experience is essential. It's crucial to tell the difference between the "must-have" and "nice-to-have" features. Focusing too much on the latter can take away your IT team's attention and resources from the essential functions.

It's important to think about how much technical knowledge is needed. Composable gives you a lot of choices for customization. Still, it takes a skilled technical team to handle everything and ensure it works well. If you're thinking about using composable, you should ensure you have the right resources or get help from experts to make it easier.

Additionally, companies must evaluate their current system's limitations. Are you finding it challenging to innovate due to a rigid, tightly coupled e-commerce platform? Does your business plan to expand into new channels or markets that your current platform cannot support? These pivotal questions can help determine if the transition to composable is warranted.

When picking technology partners, it's crucial for organizations to choose carefully. The best partners will offer a variety of components that can be easily swapped out and will provide support and updates over time. The goal is to create an e-commerce platform that can grow and change as the business and customers do.

Learn more

Learn more about transitioning to composable in this episode of "Contentstack LIVE!" featuring Contentstack Vice President of Technical Solutions Pete Larsen.

Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack's composable digital experience platform can help your organization achieve its e-commerce goals.

About Contentstack

The Contentstack team comprises highly skilled professionals specializing in product marketing, customer acquisition and retention, and digital marketing strategy. With extensive experience holding senior positions in notable technology companies across various sectors, they bring diverse backgrounds and deep industry knowledge to deliver impactful solutions.  

Contentstack stands out in the composable DXP and Headless CMS markets with an impressive track record of 87 G2 user awards, 6 analyst recognitions, and 3 industry accolades, showcasing its robust market presence and user satisfaction.

Check out our case studies to see why industry-leading companies trust Contentstack.

Experience the power of Contentstack's award-winning platform by scheduling a demo, starting a free trial, or joining a small group demo today.

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