Platforms & Apps

Are Big Changes Coming to the Ecommerce Stack?

Headless content management systems and site generators are driving a new content-centric web. The changes could be coming to ecommerce, at scale, very soon.

The setup of ecommerce websites has not changed much since Amazon launched in 1994.

A database stores the product information. The site’s code resides on a server. When a person shops online, the browser on her device sends a request to the server, which gets the product info from the database, and runs the code to create the page. This process takes place every time a shopper requests a page.

Certainly there have been many improvements since 1994. Content delivery networks, caching, and load balancing, as examples, improve performance and add new features.

But some developers are now changing their entire approach to site-building, including ecommerce.

Headless CMS

First, there are so-called “headless” content management systems. These platforms decouple the content, such as blog posts or product information, from how it is presented. A headless CMS facilitates the creation and storage of content, not the publishing of it.

This headless approach can make it much easier to deliver content to various systems and present it in any number of ways. For example, product information could be stored in a headless CMS and delivered to an ecommerce website, a mobile app, internal administrative systems, or a marketing automation service.

Leading ecommerce platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce already facilitate headless commerce.

The headless approach also allows for businesses to use more than one data source. A site could pull product information from, say, Shopify, update drop-shipping inventory from a Google Sheet, and publish blog posts from DatoCMS or WordPress.

Similarly, a multichannel merchant could use a relatively older inventory management system in a headless way. The merchant could thus take advantage of exciting web technologies without changing its back-end systems.

Site Generators

Headless CMSs are not also responsible for themes, cascading style sheets, and presentation. That’s the role of a site (or application) generator.

Consider, as an example, Gatsby, an application-generation framework. It takes in data from various sources, including Shopify, WordPress, or a spreadsheet, and then creates a fast, search-engine friendly website.

Gatsby is written in JavaScript, a widely-used scripting language. It uses React.js, Facebook’s popular JavaScript framework.

Gatsby can produce the content in dynamic or static pages. The latter option makes for fast load times and creates pages that search engine spiders can crawl with ease.

The latter option makes for fast load times and creates pages that search engine spiders can crawl with ease.

What’s more, static pages don’t have to be stored on a server. Gatsby can serve a site from object-storage services such as Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) or deployment platforms such as Netlify. And Gatsby is not alone. Other site generators such as Next.js, Nuxt.js, Jekyll, and Hugo have similar capabilities.

Gatsby, however, has a new service, Gatsby Cloud, which makes working with a site generator relatively easier. For example, the company has a ready-made template that creates an ecommerce site using DatoCMS as the headless content manager, Gatsby to build a static site, and Snipcart for transactions.

The resulting site could live on cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Netlify, Fastly, or similar.

Faster, Safer, Better

A headless ecommerce website has many advantages over sites that dynamically create every page, every time a user wants to see it. These advantages include fast load times and easy Google indexing.

It is difficult to tell how soon ecommerce businesses will embrace headless content management and site generators. But as these services — i.e., Gatsby Cloud or similar — become more readily available in 2020, business owners and managers may be enticed to try these ultra-fast offerings. And leading ecommerce platforms may encourage it.

The authors of “The New Era of Commerce is Headless,” a BigCommerce whitepaper, addressed legacy ecommerce sites. “What happened when you wanted to start an online store 20 years ago? You purchased a monolithic system that wasn’t easily customizable. Your choices were limited in terms of using any best-of-breed solutions without employing an army of developers to integrate it, or you used a solution separate from your monolithic system.”

The more modern approach “gives you full creative control across all your touchpoints for a cohesive customer experience,” the Shopify website said, adding. “you can plug in all your business tools and systems to create custom storefronts as expressive as your brand. And without needing to replatform your content management system, you save time, money, and development resources.”

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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