The Role of API in Headless Commerce

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The Role of API in Headless Commerce



February 22, 2022

In this piece, you will learn about the matter of API in headless commerce . Starting from the definition of an API and API-first commerce, we are further discussing its role in forming flexible and scalable websites driven by headless commerce approach. Instead of dealing with the technicalities, we took on the business issues that API solves. 

Ready to start digging? Then let’s take a deep dive into API in headless commerce.

Headless Commerce 101


What is API? 

API – Application Programming Interface – is a software intermediary that allows independent applications to smoothly communicate with each other. 

Let’s describe the API with an example. 

Each time you search for the most convenient flight connections via 3rd party services, like Kayak or Skyscanner, you type in a departure and return municipality, dates, and other available options. An online travel service sends requests to the airline database about the availability of options under predefined requirements. The service communicates with airlines’ APIs and delivers back the necessary information via the interface. 

In other words, API enables efficient communication between various instances in a blink of an eye. 

Another explanation of the API’s role in a software ecosystem is the restaurant metaphor. Let’s imagine, a client requests at the front of the restaurant for a selected item from the menu. The chosen position will be prepared and delivered to the client from the restaurant’s kitchen. And all will be served by the waiter. The waiter serves the requests made at the front of the restaurant, delivers them to the kitchen, and brings back an ordered dish. 

To reflect this metaphor to the IT world, a client is a user, a restaurant’s kitchen is a back-end storing all the information and a waiter is an API – the binder of requests made at the frontend and the deliverer of such requests from the backend. 

API in headless commerce

The role of an API in headless commerce is to keep running efficient communication between services that form a headless ecosystem. Headless commerce API fills in for one of the paradigms of the MACH approach which is "Future proof enterprise technology and propel current and future digital experiences". 

What is headless commerce?

Headless commerce is a term for software architecture in which the central assumption is separating the UI (frontend) from the business logic (backend). These two layers communicate via API, and there are no strict dependencies between them.

The MACH Alliance 

When talking about APIs in headless commerce, it's essential to mention the main proponent of a mainstream approach to modern software development – the MACH Alliance

MACH stands for Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and Headless tech ecosystem. Born in 2020, the non-profit organization aims to facilitate the accurate spread of knowledge about a new, open, and best-of-breed enterprise technology environment.

The role of a headless API and microservices 

A headless ecosystem consists of microservices – small, standalone applications designed and deployed individually. Thanks to low coherence, the entire integrity can be developed in parallel.

To each microservice, one can add new functionality like a shopping cart, payment and search functions. Microservices are modular, which means each can be developed and released independently. Loosely coupled (microservices) form a flexible, and efficient ecosystem.

A microservices-based architecture reduces the dependency of marketing and IT teams. Daily operations, thanks to well-tailored dedicated services, are performed much faster than in the case of all-in-one monolith systems. At the same time, the eCommerce team doesn't risk putting the entire system down with a minor update. 

However, to perform together well, all these independent applications (microservices) must smoothly communicate with each other, and the exchange of information must be designed accordingly. APIs are the way to do it. 

So, can we distinguish something like a headless API?

What is headless API and how does it work? In short, a headless API or an eCommerce API is an orchestrator in a headless ecosystem. A headless API architecture is present in any loosely coupled system (and this includes headless architecture ).

In a headless commerce system, API is responsible for sending and receiving requests of only necessary data. The data is gathered in back-end microservices and transformed into a relevant outcome. This outcome is exposed at the frontend layer of the system.

API specifies how software components should interact. In other words, a headless API creates an interface framework to deal with the logic without the need to learn anything more about what's underneath the bonnet. API masks the complexity and makes it easy to use in the broader loosely coupled systems (e.g. modern eCommerce architecture ).

Why has a headless API gained traction in eCommerce?

The use of API, headless commerce and microservices significantly improves the overall performance of eCommerce websites. And for the eCommerce industry performance is now more crucial than ever before. 

Why? A Deloitte’s study showed that 70% of consumers acknowledge that page load speed affects their willingness to make a purchase. It turns out that even a 0.1s change in load speed can impact every step of the user journey, ultimately increasing your conversion rates. Deloitte reports that speed improvement of 0.1s translates into 10% higher spending from customers. 

Like microservices, APIs have emerged as a modern approach to performance, flexibility, and extensibility. With decoupled architecture, any implementation at the frontend can happen fast and without interfering with the entire eCommerce system. As a consequence, the API-first approach became a BFF for developers and businesses. 

With modular architecture and APIs, the entire eCommerce ecosystem gains a solid boost, which results in:

  • Quicker time to market and innovation
  • Savings (both time and money)
  • Higher productivity (because implementations are not restricted by dependencies)
  • Better and faster modernization of legacy systems 
  • Higher security and control

The economy of an API

Although APIs are primarily a favorite solution in the hands of developers, the overall impact on the economy of any future-proofed system is tremendous. 

Businesses face a new wave of challenges related to digital transformation . Incorporating technology is one way to innovate. Yet, keeping up with dynamic changes requires continuous improvement and best-of-breed solutions. That’s the other side of a successful digital shift. 

Monolithic legacy systems are the backbone of many online shops. However, these all-in-one solutions block eCommerce businesses from growing, scaling, building new brands and developing new segments of products. For this reason, to enable quick adoption and innovation, modern businesses need to pivot to composable commerce and an API-first approach.

The rise of cloud, IoT, big data and mobile has forced a relatively more agile and IT-oriented strategy. To be one step ahead of the competition pushed a breakthrough in the monolithic scene. Nowadays, creating an eCommerce stack is mostly about composing, testing, and tailoring to a brand's capabilities, rather than getting locked into a single platform.

APIs are seen more like a service (or a product) rather than code. They are documented and edited, so users know a certain range of expectations of its maintenance and lifecycle. APIs are designed in a very standardized way. They provide a more powerful domain for security, performance and scale.

This forward-thinking change in shaping technological infrastructure results in APIs’ broad use. Instead of point-to-point integration modern eCommerce businesses embrace the API-first paradigm. APIs’ flexible connectivity contributes to agility, efficiency, innovation, and expansion.

APIs’ tangible business advantages cover:

  • Linking people, places, systems, data, and algorithms
  • Greater range of options for transactions, data sharing, authentication
  • Utilizing third-party algorithms
  • New product and services development
  • New business models testing options 
  • Creating and shaping user experience

API-driven consumer approach

Customers are at the end of any elaboration on eCommerce technology. As an API-driven headless commerce embraces omnichannel shopping that meets vast customer expectations, re-thinking eCommerce directs to a headless approach and API-first paradigm. 

In the context of headless commerce, API can be described as an orchestrator responsible for proper communication between various components. This is a linking element that enables a pure omnichannel experience in a headless ecosystem. Gathering data from platforms, devices, and channels into one location for further analysis is a dream for every business owner. 

At first, connecting the data together seems a bit overwhelming, however, the outcomes will be surprising. A clearer and more specific view of customers will enable shaping and creating better shopping experiences. APIs keep all of the complexity of the data and deliver the only relevant insights of a customer, a product, or a channel.

API is one of the key pillars of headless commerce 

Embedded in the MACH Alliance approach – Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and Headless tech ecosystem – APIs serve the headless ecosystem well. From combining features that ease the shopping experience to creating true omnichannel commerce . The APIs help businesses overcome their tech debt, streamline their business logic, build customer loyalty and increase ROI.

Want to start your headless commerce transformation? Start with the frontend

Because the entire customer journey happens on the frontend, online stores need a fast, mobile-first presentation layer to drive conversion and revenue. With an API-based headless architecture, which allows to detach the frontend from the backend, building a performant frontend becomes much easier.

With Alokai, which is a Frontend as a Service  (FEaaS) for composable commerce, you can build custom storefronts at the fraction of cost and time, and with lightning-fast page loads to achieve better conversion rates and higher revenue. 

Download the whitepaper to learn how to speed up your headless commerce transformation with Alokai!

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