While the concept of disconnecting front and backend services from a webstore may sound complicated, it’s actually just a matter of implementing connections. These connections are referred to as APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. These are simply bits of code that allow plug and play functionality.
APIs are not new. In fact, they’ve been around about as long as ecommerce has. They just haven’t been used to their full potential. Any website which implements an automated third-party payment and download system is likely using an API, as are sites that implement third party fulfillment systems across multiple webstores.
Many small online merchants use PayPal website payments, for instance. To do so, they must use an API to connect their website to the PayPal payment processing system. This API allows the merchant to sell products or services securely, without having access to the PayPal backend. This creates a more secure transaction for both parties and is simpler to implement on the merchant’s side.
The majority of online ecommerce stores do not take advantage of these flexible systems, however. Instead, they design the backend database, inventory, customer information, and support systems tightly with the user interface. This makes the backend information and security heavily reliant on how the website itself works and vice versa. This heavy integration and reliance is rigid, and systems can break if changes are made. The rigidness also makes it difficult to quickly or easily integrate new sales channels such as those available through social media or smart home devices.
Headless commerce disconnects these dependencies and puts an API in between. If you think of an API as a mediator, it helps to understand how this works. The API works as a communicator between the user interface and the backend systems. With the API in place, developers are free to update, expand, or change the backend at will without having to worry about what the front end is doing.
At the same time, front end marketers and designers can quickly build interfaces for new entry points without having to concern themselves with how each will tie into the backend. All they have to do is have the new interfaces talk to the API.