Every retailer renovates their stores occasionally, and they often go well beyond adding a fresh coat of paint.

The layout of the aisles may get reconfigured for easier browsing.

New displays and signage clarify where shoppers can find their favorite product categories.

Point-of-sale systems get moved and self-checkout kiosks are set up to streamline purchasing.

Even if they make major changes, though, brands are essentially working within the same three-dimensional space of four walls, a ceiling, and a floor.

An eCommerce renovation – even a minor one – is more complicated. That’s why the difference between composable commerce vs. headless approaches matters.

What is the difference between composable commerce vs. headless?

When brands set up their first eCommerce sites, they couldn’t have anticipated the way shoppers would not only browse on desktop PCs but also on their smartphones.

The same goes for social media platforms, which evolved from places to share content with friends and family to a showcase for all manner of fashion and luxury goods.

Who would have realized that brands could not only sell through their site but Amazon, Zalando, and even online marketplaces from the likes of Macy’s?

Every new digital channel that emerges represents a huge opportunity for brands. Think of each one as a new door that gets added to a physical store. In reality, however, adding those doors can prove daunting. Existing technology platforms can prove rigid or inflexible to integrate more channels.

If you’re weighing composable vs. headless options for the future of your eCommerce business, it’s probably because they each represent a more fluid and dynamic way to tackle these challenges. Here’s how to distinguish between the two:

Headless architecture

The design of an eCommerce site may vary largely among brands, but the underlying architecture is usually the same. There is a front end that customers see, usually based on a content management system (CMS) to display creative elements like images and text. There is also the back-end, which can handle everything from capturing and processing orders to feeding into a CRM and other systems.

The key characteristic of headless vs. composable commerce is that it essentially consists of decoupling or separating these two areas of functionality and using an API to facilitate communication from one to the other.

This allows the backend to continue running as it should while allowing brands to optimize the CMS to work with social media, wearables, and even VR/AR channels. It opens up the ability to create customer experiences based on particular personas, segments, or business models.

Composable commerce architecture

What sets composable commerce vs. headless, on the other hand, is an even greater ability to customize eCommerce experiences.

A composable commerce architecture uses microservices to treat functions as a series of modules.

When you migrate to composable commerce with the right partner solutions, for instance, it becomes far easier to orchestrate the connection between a brand’s product catalog, order management system, inventory management system, and ERP via that API.

Composable commerce architecture

Whether your business goal is to enhance ad retargeting, adopt a new social media service, or sell on an online marketplace, a composable commerce platform allows you to “compose” your tech stack without introducing performance or interoperability issues. Instead, those front-end customer touchpoints and back-end operations can be mixed and matched as required.

Just as fashionable consumers create a perfect ensemble by selecting the ideal top, shirt, shoes, and jewelry, a composable commerce architecture provides brands the freedom to curate the ideal tech stack.

What are composable commerce vs. headless pros and cons?

As you assess the potential headless and composable commerce benefits, keep in mind the following:

Headless architecture pros:

  • Faster time to deploying new eCommerce experiences such as smart mirrors and progressive web applications (PWAs)
  • More options in terms of the CMS used to adapt emerging digital channels
  • The ability to make changes to the CMS or backend without one negatively impacting the other.

Headless architecture cons:

  • Greater complexity and maintenance requirements based on potentially using more than one CMS
  • Greater costs to build eCommerce experiences specific to each digital channel
  • Platform limitations: Depending on your business needs there may not always be a large number of platforms that support headless commerce.
  • Potential API rate limits and GET request limits based on fetching multiple product catalogs to support multiple markets

Composable commerce architecture pros:

  • The greatest possible range of features and vendor integrations to build into an eCommerce experience
  • Increased scalability of new features and channels as your business grows
  • A utilization model based on business need, reducing the risk of over-investing in technology
  • Increased speed to modify or make changes by substituting or upgrading specific modules without a negative impact on other modules or core systems

Composable commerce architecture cons:

  • Potentially larger pool of vendor relationships to manage as additional microservices are added to the overall eCommerce experience
  • Greater onus on orchestrating microservices and modules without jeopardizing performance and security
  • Increased complexity in integrating with multiple online marketplaces in addition to a brand’s own eCommerce website.

Choosing between composable commerce vs. headless architecture

Resolving the debate over headless vs. composable commerce should begin, as with any critical business decision, by looking at your current and future customer needs.

Use existing data about customer behavior to indicate how their digital habits are changing, and whether providing the best possible experience will require adding more channels. Complement this with market research that helps validate the shifts in customer journeys you’ve perceived.

Next, consider the impact of your eCommerce evolution on your team. A composable commerce platform or headless CMS, for example, could provide greater uptime, faster upgrades, and more manageable growth. This is the thinking behind what is now known as MACH principles, where architecture is microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native, and headless.

Best practices in adopting either headless or composable commerce architecture

There is no uniform IT playbook that’s specific to composable commerce vs. headless architecture. In general, though, you’ll want to:

1. Plan based on reduced manual effort

Greater agility should not come at the expense of increased time and effort from internal resources. While a headless CMS and a composable commerce platform can bring a lot of efficiencies, there can still be considerable integration and orchestration work involved. Look for a trusted partner with the experience and solutions that will ease the transition and set you up for greater flexibility in the long term.

2. Expect a continued diversification of online shopping channels

With more consumers using their smartphones to shop than ever before, you’ll need an eCommerce platform able to support advanced sales and marketing tools such as Local Inventory Ads (LIAs). At the same time, more online marketplaces are being introduced every year to target specific geographies or niche interests. Determine how, if you migrate to composable commerce, you can keep ahead of these new needs and channels.

3. Keep your options open with APIs

Your preferred architectural approach will lead to a more bespoke strategy based on your data, your maturity in managing product catalogs, existing CMS, and many other details. What you can be sure of, however, is that the need to sync APIs transcends the headless vs. composable commerce debate.

Decoupling the front and back end of your eCommerce website and embracing APIs, for instance, could be a starting point to introducing greater composability throughout your tech stack.

4. Treat use cases as an opportunity to test and learn

Even if you have specific eCommerce outcomes you’re trying to achieve, you should migrate to composable commerce or headless commerce with care. It’s not like flipping a switch.

A pilot project based on adding a single new digital channel could provide insight into what you’ll need to change or do differently. These learnings will make it easier as you standardize on a headless or composable commerce architecture. You’ll also be able to set more ambitious targets to maximize the potential of specific use cases.

5. Think of continuous improvement as a metric

Brands always want to do better in terms of serving their customers, but they don’t always measure it.

If you migrate to composable commerce, you can use cost, time to execute, and degree of internal efforts as part of a more holistic continuous improvement metric. In other words, resolving the headless vs. composable commerce debate is really about overcoming the rigidity of traditional eCommerce architecture.

Why does composable commerce matter?

Online shopping is only going to get more competitive, just as customer expectations are only going to rise.

A composable commerce platform gives you a foundation to address both of those business issues at once, especially when you have help to get you there.

Highstreet.io, for example, can play a pivotal role as you migrate to composable commerce or headless commerce. Our product feed management and social commerce solutions are designed to simplify integration with third-party marketplaces and digital channels.

On the other hand, the orchestration capabilities of Highstreet.io can reduce the complexity of putting together different parts of a composable architecture instance.

In fact, Highstreet.io can be classified as a vertical composable commerce platform because our solutions are wholly focused on commerce channels, rather than integrations pertaining to systems such as the PIM or ERP.

Let’s talk about how we can get your journey to headless or composable commerce started.