Blog, Ecommerce, Technical Development

3 Limitations to Traditional Ecommerce Platforms (and Why Headless Commerce is the Answer)

When brands first started selling their products online, it made perfect sense to purchase an all-inclusive ecommerce platform. When you only had one or two customer touchpoints, a full-stack solution made it easy to streamline the sales process.

As ecommerce continued to unfold and evolve, as any new technology does, it quickly became apparent that an all-inclusive ecommerce platform wasn’t the right fit for everyone. Now, brands have customers coming from all different channels: social media, mobile apps, in-store, etc. As new channels emerged, it became more difficult to adapt the front-end system for each channel without disrupting the backend business—shedding light on the limitations of traditional, all-inclusive ecommerce platforms.

Top Three Limitations to Traditional Ecommerce Platforms:

1. Lack of Flexibility

In a traditional ecommerce platform, you’re getting a full-stack solution which includes both the front-end customer-facing systems and the backend systems. This strategy could be an ideal fit for companies just starting to sell online or companies that want to essentially “check off all the ecommerce boxes” and get everything they need from one system.

However, as your company grows its commerce presence and learns more about the target audience, you’ll likely want to customize the site based on your consumers’ shopping behavior and what works best for your business model. Josh Brinson, Senior Solutions Engineer at Blue Acorn iCi, says, “When using a full-stack solution, it’s difficult to make adjustments or add integrations to the front-end or backend without disrupting other systems.”

This not only limits the flexibility of updating the ecommerce experience but also limits the level of innovation your brand can integrate and test on the site. Newer solutions may not be immediately available with the ecommerce platform—forcing brands to wait for a system upgrade.

2. Costly and Timely to Update

When using a full-stack ecommerce solution, this typically means the front-end and backend systems are coupled together. As a result, you run the risk of affecting the backend when making changes to the front-end or vice versa. For example, if you need to update the checkout flow, you would need to update the entire system—possibly disrupting the shopping experience.

Brinson adds, “This also becomes a timesuck for the ecommerce, marketing, and development teams because front-end changes usually require the backend to be adjusted as well.” For example, if the marketing team wants to push out a new promotion, they would need to involve front-end developers.

3. Slow Load Times

Upgrading an entire system to make changes to either the backend or front-end systems isn’t a quick task. In a full-stack ecommerce solution, the systems are dependent on one another. As a result, upgrading one system will cause the other systems to lag.

Many studies have proven that the slower the site, the less chance a customer will convert into a purchase. This is particularly true for B2B customers where speed is a top priority. If it becomes too time-consuming to research or shop for products on your site, they will likely turn to competitors.

The Answer to Traditional Ecommerce Platform Limitations: Headless Commerce

What is headless commerce?

Magento Commerce defines headless commerce as: “In a headless approach, the front-end of your ecommerce shop and the backend of it are ‘decoupled;’ they stand independently of one another.”

Why is headless commerce the answer?

Essentially, Magento clients have the option to use its core ecommerce platform on the backend, but they have the flexibility to use other solutions for customer-facing front-end capabilities and functionalities.  Brinson says, “You’re essentially separating the backend from the front-end and replacing the front-end with other solutions for things like content, products, and payments.” Magento made this possible by investing heavily in its REST APIs. The APIs allow for ultimate customization, easy setup and enables each module to talk to one another. As a result, each module can run independently from one another, avoiding the lag and disruption of system upgrades.

Additionally, Magento created a way for each module to send specific small bits of information to one another without the need to send all the data from the backend or front-end system. This prevents the systems from slowing down due to a bulky amount of data transfer.  

This headless approach is ideal for companies who want to use their current front-end systems and want the flexibility to customize the customer-facing systems based on the unique needs of their target audience. Each module can seamlessly connect to the core ecommerce platform without adding additional weight to the backend system. Many brands—Burger King, Coca Cola, Shinola—rely on this approach to provide the ultimate digital experience for their customers. In a recent press release, Mark Lavelle, CEO of Magento, said “We are constantly evolving our offerings to help merchants scale faster and adapt to the changing expectations of buyers. The companies we work with strive to offer customers unparalleled experiences while finding ingenious ways to stand out among competitors.”

Companies that are rich in content will find this approach easier to implement than a full-stack solution. For example, a B2B website typically has a lot of content such as specs, downloadables, and product information. The headless strategy would allow these companies to simply connect their content management system to Magento’s core ecommerce platform without having to migrate all of the content to a new system.

Brinson says, “The most valuable part of headless commerce is its flexibility.” Each brand has a unique target audience and business model. Headless commerce gives brands the power to create an ecommerce experience that best fits their needs.

To chat with one of our experts about headless commerce, or you need a partner for optimization or a new site implementation, feel free to reach out here.

Shannon Kenneally
After graduating from Clemson, Shannon started her career in marketing, focusing on content creation and engagement. As Blue Acorn iCi’s Media Marketing Specialist, she keeps clients and customers up-to-date on the latest trends and news in the ecommerce world. In her free time, she enjoys running with her dog and checking out the local breweries in Charleston.
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