Headless or die.

By Filippo Conforti on March 26, 2024

Let's be clear: Going headless in 2024 is no longer an option, it's a necessity. For companies to survive in the digital age, they have to change how they do business. It is essential that they adapt quickly to changing customer needs if they want to remain relevant and competitive. Businesses that fail to invest in the right technology and hire the right talent today risk becoming obsolete and facing extinction in just a few years.

This is especially true for larger organizations, which are inherently slower to move and adapt. Every day, I still hear stories of brands stuck with legacy technology that can't deliver the simplest things. They cannot ship new features, expand into new markets, or even change the layout of their websites.

So, is headless the panacea? Not really, but it can make a huge difference. The concept of headless development extends beyond separating the frontend from the backend. It means decoupling business logic from customer touchpoints and supporting any business dimension from a single infrastructure.

In fact, there are three main dimensions that measure the complexity of a commerce project: namely markets, channels, and brands. Markets are the regions or customer segments that the business will serve. Channels refer to the different touchpoints the products or services will be sold through. Brands refer to the different companies that own those products or services.

Businesses that sell internationally have to deal with multiple localizations, including content translations, local currencies, payment methods, delivery methods, and promotions. A monolithic ecommerce platform that is inherently single market typically requires you to duplicate all your data and workflows by creating an instance for each market. This data duplication creates inconsistencies, security issues, and delays in responding to customer requests. It also requires more resources to manage and maintain the various instances.

Now consider the case where each store must support multiple channels, such as a B2C and B2B with different business configurations. Similar to multi-market stores, it is likely that a monolithic platform will need to be cloned for each channel, adding more duplication of data and creating other inconsistencies across all channels.

Multiple markets and channels create a matrix of combinations that makes data duplication exponential. In multi-brand groups, the situation gets even more challenging, as each brand will require its own matrix of combinations across markets and channels, resulting in a three-dimensional cube of possibilities.

I think it's clear what the pattern is. It's either you can manage all these combinations with a unified headless stack, or you'll be overwhelmed by your architecture's complexity, cost, and technical debt. So unless you're a small merchant selling in one market on a single ecommerce site, you should consider a headless architecture now, or you'll be stuck soon.

This is a biased post, of course, but it is honestly what I think. The main validation of headless technology comes from legacy platforms themselves, as they try to modernize their offering in this new digital era.

Nowadays, all incumbents claim to be headless, composable, or MACH. Those who say they're API-first are my favorites. Yes, you can add an API to your monolith, but that's not the same as following an API-first approach from the beginning. I think we can all agree with that. So brands, stop being fooled. Educate yourself before making a decision. In the end, it's your business, but don't tell me I didn't warn you if it doesn't work out.

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