Headless vs. Monolithic eCommerce: A Deep-Dive Comparison

Headless vs. Monolithic eCommerce: A Deep-Dive Comparison

Headless vs. Monolithic eCommerce: A Deep-Dive Comparison

eCommerce has come a long way since the humble beginning of virtual shopping which started in the 1960s with the emergence of teleshopping. This year, eMarketer predicts eCommerce revenue will reach $794.50 billion in 2021, up 32.4% year-over-year.

As with most new technologies, eCommerce is constantly evolving. The first eCommerce company—CompuServe—launched in 1969. Teleshopping emerged in the 1970s thanks to computer time-sharing services (an early form of the internet) that allowed multiple users to interact at the same time on one computer.

In the 1980s, the Boston Computer Exchange, a computer-based bulletin board marketplace, was formed by tech users for the purpose of buying, selling, and trading computer equipment. By the 1990s we got web browsers, a burgeoning internet, and the first true eCommerce players including Amazon and eBay.

These early pioneers in the eCommerce space created the foundation of what is now a thriving digital shopping ecosystem. Now, nearly two decades later, eCommerce continues to evolve to meet the expectations of consumers, retailers, and everyone that exists to connect the two. For many eCommerce businesses, that increasingly means moving from a monolithic to a headless eCommerce platform.

What’s the difference between monolithic and headless?

Monolithic eCommerce platforms contain both front-end and back-end functionality under one virtual eCommerce roof.

The monolithic approach couples your website and presentation pages (the stuff shoppers engage with) from the backend technology that controls how your store functions (e.g., shipping, fulfillment, inventory management, etc.)

Because the frontend is tightly connected to the backend, monolithic platforms are difficult to scale, particularly as consumer shopping behavior shifts rapidly and the need to personalize and expand content (above and beyond what’s on your website and product pages) grows.

In answer to the demand for more flexibility, headless eCommerce has become increasingly popular. Headless platforms decouple the frontend presentation layer of your eCommerce architecture from the backend data and transaction layer. The headless approach uses API-driven microservices which allow developers to easily scale your commerce system across all channels.

There is a third approach—composable/modular eCommerce—which falls somewhere between a monolithic and pure headless commerce system. Modular commerce is considered part of a headless commerce strategy, but it contains built-in CMS functionality that nontechnical users can leverage. Modular platforms enable you to scale your commerce approach within one provider.

So while you can be headless, but not modular. You cannot be modular without being headless. This is a differentiator for platforms like Kibo because it enables us to offer many eCommerce components to our partners in a modular fashion, using a microservices model that supports headless commerce strategies, but gives your marketing and digital commerce teams a best-in-class eCommerce front end.

Why choose headless over monolithic commerce?

The key benefit to a monolithic platform is the built-in front end, making it easy for nontechnical users to create an online storefront quickly. This, unfortunately, is also its Achilles heel.

Tying the frontend to the backend is limiting for both technical and nontechnical users.

Monolithic systems inhibit your ability to be flexible by locking you into one vendor’s preexisting development environment and limiting you to the most common use cases. A monolithic system becomes outdated very quickly, so major upgrades and changes are slow to roll out and can become prohibitively expensive.

Another huge drawback—since the frontend and backend are coupled, system upgrades and changes can knock your storefront offline or slow load time, hindering usability and costing you sales.

For these reasons, many retailers are migrating to headless eCommerce platforms which offer a host of benefits, not the least of which is the ease of customizability.

Benefits of Headless eCommerce Platforms

  • Decoupled front-end: A decoupled front end means that developers can customize your eCommerce system and upgrade functionality without impacting the presentation layer. This translates to much more flexibility for developers and less website downtime for marketing and commerce teams (not to mention shoppers). This also makes it much easier to expand the commerce experience to different digital channels, creating a unified shopping experience for your customers.
  • Personalization/experience optimization: And speaking of experience, it’s much easier to personalize eCommerce messaging, content, and offers with the frontend decoupled from the backend. Headless allows marketers to create content independently from developers. It also lets developers easily incorporate personalization tools and applications into the commerce platform, further improving the shopping experience (e.g., personalized recommendations, custom shopping features, user-generated content integration from social platforms, etc.)
  • Flexibility and scalability: Headless architecture allows you take a microservices approach  to building your commerce capabilities. Microservices-based architecture means that you use only the products, services, and capabilities you need, easily evolving your capabilities based on customer needs and industry trends. For example, you can add pricing and promotions features that auto-generate coupon sets, manage discount variants, and optimized pricing based on specific customer segments (for B2B catalogs).
  • Omnichannel fulfillment: Headless platforms give retailers the ability to deliver true omnichannel order fulfillment. The pandemic drove an increased need for flexible fulfillment options like buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) and buy online pickup at curb (BOPAC). Seamless order fulfillment requires centralized product and catalog management that enables you to understand exactly what’s in stock and where, so the customer can make the best fulfillment choice for them (in real time).

Headless (not monolithic) is the future of eCommerce

Composable/modular eCommerce platforms like Kibo that take a hybrid approach to commerce are enjoying rapid growth. This approach includes a CMS for nontechnical users, but maintains the headless (e.g., decoupled) backend and API-first functionality favored by developers.

Nearly $2 billion in funding has been raised for headless technologies in the past two years. Legacy platform providers are jumping on the headless bandwagon, investing in their own headless solutions or purchasing existing companies.

That’s because headless commerce is “future proof,” allowing retailers to be much more flexible and proactive within a constantly changing (and connected) retail ecosystem.

Headless commerce architecture transcends the limitations of traditional monolithic platforms, offering flexibility and speaking to the very real push retailers face to adopt new channels and platforms based on shifting consumer demand.

“The demand for headless software is gaining traction as more organizations look for a better solution to compete in the digital-first economy. Commercial e-commerce tech for mid-market and enterprise organizations has not seen significant changes in 30 years.”—Faisel Masud for Forbes.

A trillion-dollar industry

eCommerce revenue will exceed $3.2 trillion this year and is expected to grow over 6% by 2025. Flexibility, agility, and scalability—all inherent components to headless commerce platforms—will become increasingly critical for retailers.

Kibo’s API-first headless platform takes a hybrid approach to headless commerce, enabling your non-technical teams to take control with minimal reliance on developers.

At the same time, Kibo gives developers the endless freedom of a headless backend, enabling you to create custom shopping experiences across channels, devices, and platforms including both traditional retail touchpoints and cutting-edge channels like wearables and smart devices.

Learn how you can leverage the tools you need to sell everywhere by going headless with Kibo.

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