The movement toward headless or decoupled sites involves giving site builders freedom to use the platforms and tools they already have, instead of locking them into an ecosystem that won’t evolve with their development practices.
When talking to developers considering switching to a headless eCommerce platform as a solution to specific problems with monolithic or traditional eCommerce sites, here are a few things they mention:
All-in-one eCommerce Platforms Lack Key Features
If you have a traditional eCommerce site, and it doesn’t manage your content marketing collateral effectively, headless eCommerce patterns allow you to integrate other headless CMSs that do a better job of creating and managing content.
API-driven Development of Headless eCommerce Enables Flexibility
If your business or organization has unique requirements, such as offering products for both wholesale and retail or supporting multiple storefronts, it may be easier to support those use cases with the API-driven development patterns that headless eCommerce enables. In addition, API-driven commerce can more easily enable sales in non-standard channels, such as in-game transactions or AR/VR environments.
Headless eCommerce Offers Total Control over the Site Experience
While all-in-one eCommerce solutions can be great for getting a small business up and running quickly, at a certain scale, online sellers may need more control over the site experience than all-in-one platforms can provide. Whether the goal is increased speed, scalability, performance, or improved aesthetics, a headless approach can provide more granular control over these aspects of your eCommerce site. Anecdotally, this is what we see from larger brands and stores that want a higher degree of control than any all-in-one platform can offer.
Choosing a Headless eCommerce Platform
With an increased interest in headless eCommerce, it’s no surprise that both existing and new companies are creating solutions to fill this demand. As a part of our own research into the space, the WP Engine headless developer relations teams spent some time looking at the most popular headless eCommerce platforms. This list isn’t exhaustive, so if you think there is a service missing from this list, please let us know so we can add it to the roundup. We’ll do our best to keep this list updated with the latest features as these platforms grow and evolve.
BigCommerce provides a variety of eCommerce solutions, and headless eCommerce is one of those features. There is already a Vercel/Next.js integration with BigCommerce. The BigCommerce platform has fairly robust documentation for its REST APIs, and it looks like they are in the process of building new APIs using GraphQL. The platform also offers a service for generating webhooks based on certain events.
Shopify is one of the largest players in eCommerce and will likely be the most well-known name on this list. It advertises headless options as a part of its Plus offering and overall has a long reputation of being friendly to developers. Headless commerce is enabled on the platform using a number of different APIs. The Admin API offers features in both REST and GraphQL, while the Storefront API offers developers a GraphQL API that they can use with a number of different SDKs, including Node.js and PHP.
Swell is an API-first, as opposed to API-only, service for modern eCommerce. The Swell platform provides developers with backend and storefront REST APIs to create both custom administrative back-office experiences as well as custom storefronts. In addition to these headless features, Swell also has a system of events and webhooks that developers can use to run custom business logic based on platform events.
Since Swell is API-first and not API-only, it also provides some of the traditional tools you might expect with other eCommerce platforms, like a visual shop builder and admin interfaces to manage data, but also a hosted checkout page in case developers want to offload this portion of development to the platform. A GraphQL API appears to be in beta.
CommerceLayer bills itself as a composable commerce API for developers, and this developer-centric positioning is apparent both on its website and in its onboarding process, which asks you to create inventory and run a test purchase all via CLI commands 🤯
In addition to 400+ REST API endpoints, the platform also offers real-time webhooks and a few dozen integrations with other platforms. While it is positioned primarily as an API tool, it includes hosted checkout pages and carts, as well as an admin interface to manage back-office data.
One intriguing feature of Commerce.js is its positioning around alternative methods of payment and varying points of sale, advertising things like payment via Crypto gateway or with a QR code and taking payments inside of video games or from IoT devices. Some of that is likely possible on other commerce platforms, but it is interesting to see it highlighted like this on the Commerce.js platform because it really speaks to where eCommerce is headed.
As a WordPress-focused company, we can’t talk about headless eCommerce without mentioning WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a plugin-based add-on that turns WordPress itself into a commerce engine. For most WooCommerce users, this means WordPress gets used in a traditional or monolithic way, but WooCommerce also enables headless development using both core features and additional plugins. For example, WooCommerce extends WordPress’ REST API, which allows developers to integrate with WooCommerce in a variety of creative ways. If you’re looking to use GraphQL, WPGraphQL has a community-supported add-on for WooCommerce that should enable that. WooCommerce comes with a lot of built-in tools for inventory & commerce management, but also includes a system of webhooks as a part of the API.
|Management UI||REST API||GraphQL API||Webhooks||Hosted Store Components|
This table was last updated on 09/12/2022. If you believe something has changed on one of these platforms, please let us know.
Did We Miss Anything?
If you think that we need to add another eCommerce platform to the list, feel free to let us know on Twitter or through our Discord. We are always interested in growing the list of tools we can recommend or hearing about the cool things you’ve been building.