Headless Ecommerce vs Traditional Ecommerce Explained

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The world of eCommerce is evolving. As more consumers become comfortable with purchasing through mobile apps and other channels, businesses are turning to ‘headless eCommerce’ as a solution. However, not every business can benefit from this structure.

As a result, it’s important to understand the difference between traditional and headless eCommerce. For example, a headless solution can provide you with more customization and personalization but requires a more tech-savvy approach.

In this piece, we’ll explain what headless eCommerce is and how it works. Then, we’ll discuss some considerations to help you choose which is right for your business. Let’s get to it!

An introduction to headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce decouples the back end commerce functionality from the front end presentation of your store.

In this way, headless eCommerce stores manage and deliver content via API calls without a connected front-end layer. This gives you more flexibility to create a unique, user-friendly experience for your site’s visitors.

In comparison, with traditional eCommerce, any change you make to the back end must also be done to the front end. This is because your commerce functionality is connected to your front end framework, such as your website.

In other words, a headless solution offers more flexibility, because your content is not tied down to your website’s other components. You are free to offer customers a highly-personalized experience not limited by your front end template. However, it should be noted that it does require a higher level of technical knowledge to implement effectively.

For example, a simple headless eCommerce approach might have you use WordPress as the content management system (CMS) for managing your store, and a separate eCommerce platform to power its functionality. Services such as those offered by BigCommerce enable you to set up a headless system by embedding content, products, and checkout capability wherever your customers are.

BigCommerce is one way to implement headless eCommerce

Choosing between traditional eCommerce vs. headless eCommerce (3 key considerations)

As we mentioned, headless eCommerce requires a higher level of technical knowledge to use. In addition, if your store has very few systems that need to plug into the front end, traditional eCommerce may actually be a better fit. Let’s take a look at three key considerations to help you choose which is best for you.

1. How do they compare for front end development?

As far as the front end is concerned, traditional eCommerce is certainly easier to set up. With one of the many eCommerce platforms available (such as WooCommerce or Shopify,) you just need to pick a suitable theme and add your content and products. However, it does take time to customize all of the moving parts on the platform to work with each other.

In contrast, headless eCommerce requires you to build your entire front end from scratch. This may mean it takes longer to configure your web store to your needs. While this may sound like a lot more work than traditional methods, you’ll have greater customization opportunities and design flexibility. What’s more, you’re free to build functionality to match the personal needs of your business — although it helps to have some development knowledge to ensure everything works properly.

Overall, traditional eCommerce comes with design and engineering constraints but is easier to create and faster to launch. On the other hand, headless eCommerce provides greater flexibility for front end development but generally takes more time to implement.

2. Which option is more flexible?

As we said, headless solutions give you greater flexibility when it comes to putting together your front end, but what about the back end and commerce functionality? Well, let’s consider a traditional system first.

With traditional eCommerce, you are usually working with a template that connects directly to the back end. This does, of course, put some limitations on what you can do, even though it makes development easy. For instance, it’s a simple process to display and sell a few choice products on your website. However, as you grow, you may find it difficult to scale and market your business without additional solutions.

Conversely, headless solutions are fully customizable. This means they’re flexible when it comes to front and back end development. What’s more, you’re free to design personalized experiences for different target markets (more on that in a minute). All in all, headless eCommerce is the obvious winner when it comes to flexibility.

3. What level of pre-existing knowledge is required?

As you may have figured out at this point, traditional eCommerce requires far less tech knowledge over a headless system. For those who do not have the budget or knowledge for advanced development, there are many platforms that make setting up your web store easy. As such, many all-in-one solutions exist.

However, for those who do have the knowledge, headless eCommerce offers endless customization and enables you to create more targeted experiences for different groups of consumers. This, coupled with its scalability and increased personalization, make it a top choice for many larger and growing enterprises.

In short, to start and maintain a headless eCommerce solution, you will need some knowledge of development or access to developers who can help. On the other hand, traditional eCommerce is simple and a solid option if you are just starting out.

How to choose which approach is best for your needs

For starters, it’s important to realize that some businesses have very little to gain from a headless approach. Traditional eCommerce is a tried and true system that continues to work for many. In other words, if you have a simple storefront, it may be all you need. Also, once it is set up, upkeep is easy. Nevertheless, major changes can be a headache.

Even so, many businesses prefer a headless approach, given the advantages. For one thing, it’s easier to adapt to mobile technology. For another, it offers endless customization. Furthermore, you can create targeted experiences for different demographics and groups of customers, which can be especially helpful for niche products.

Overall, headless eCommerce is a great option if you have a lot of products to sell and you need scalability.

On the other hand, the traditional model may still be the best choice for small and simple businesses focusing on just a few products.


As new technologies become available, eCommerce practices change. The good news is that with every innovation, there are fresh opportunities for marketing and selling products and services. One such practice that is enabling many online stores to keep up is headless eCommerce.

In this post, we’ve compared headless eCommerce with the traditional approach. To summarize, traditional solutions are still a solid choice for small operations and certain niches. However, a headless option – while requiring a bit more developer experience – can provide the flexibility and customization to tailor your product experiences to different demographics and mobile devices.

Do you have any questions about traditional versus headless eCommerce? Ask away in the comments section below!

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