Headless Commerce: A No-Brainer for Subscription Businesses

The benefits of headless commerce are a perfect match for the needs subscription merchants face every day. Here’s why you should consider going headless.


November 9, 2023

Merchant using a headless commerce architecture

In 2010, around 4% of retail spending was conducted via ecommerce. By 2020, that number was closer to 15%. In that decade, consumers gained access to new payment methods like Google Pay and Apple Pay; retailers launched branded apps to drive mobile spending; and marketing moved to a social media/influencer model.

Each of these changes was a chance for ecommerce merchants to get ahead in this ever-growing market. As the online shopping experience continues to evolve, sellers who focus on innovating to meet customers’ changing needs will outperform those who offer a last-decade experience. If your biggest competitor launched an industry-changing product tomorrow — one as influential as Amazon’s subscribe-and-save program — would you be able to counter without re-building your entire subscription tech stack?

This rationale is behind the rise of headless commerce, a more advanced platform architecture. A headless architecture refers to any setup where your store’s frontend (the “head”) is detached from its backend. Some may pass it off as a buzzword or fad, but it’s much more than that. A headless commerce setup is key to maximizing your store’s flexibility and your control over the consumer experience. It’s a model built to help you scale your ecommerce business and beat the competition.

An Introduction to Headless Commerce

Let’s start by going beyond the buzz to get to the facts. Here’s what you need to know about headless commerce.

Headless commerce definition

How Headless Commerce Works

A headless commerce setup separates your store’s frontend from its backend to give you more control over both parts. With a headless setup, you create a completely custom frontend that incorporates your branding and a unique design. Then, you build a backend that includes every functionality you need for your store.

Data is passed from backend to frontend via API calls and other web services. This loose integration is the calling card of headless commerce and the reason it offers so many benefits to merchants.

Headless vs. Traditional Commerce

First-generation ecommerce platforms fully integrated the backend and frontend to make online sales a cinch for merchants who didn’t have internal tech teams. However, for sellers who want to customize their storefront or shopper experience, headless commerce is now the easier option.

With a traditional ecommerce setup, every change you make to your store’s backend affects the frontend, and vice versa, which has several downsides. Updates take longer because you need to test each change for unexpected side effects. Additionally, it’s impossible to make a unique shopping experience unless you have a team of developers who can code solutions for both the backend and front-end of your store. Most traditional ecommerce platforms lock users into a limited set of available functions and consumer experiences.

A headless architecture allows you to update the backend and frontend separately and test new options without having to overhaul your entire site. While these builds do require some internal tech knowledge, you won’t need a full team of developers on staff. Many headless tools come with tech support who will help you configure your store. With a modest investment in technology, businesses can take advantage of headless commerce to rise above the competition.

Who Is Headless Commerce Good For?

Merchants who want to provide a smooth and personalized customer experience will find headless commerce meets their needs better than traditional commerce. The flexibility and scalability of headless work well for:

  • Mid-market and enterprise sellers who have the internal resources to create a headless build that replicates in-store branded experiences.
  • Digital-first and direct-to-consumer brands that want to provide a unique online experience with perks like loyalty programs or heavy personalization.
  • Brands in competitive industries that need to quickly test and launch new updates so they can stay ahead of other merchants.
  • Ecommerce companies that have a frontend or CMS they like but want to add more capabilities to their store.

Of course, you may see headless commerce as an opportunity even if you don’t fit into any of these categories. The benefits of the headless model make it a smart choice for many types of ecommerce sellers.

CP industry headless commerce trends

Benefits of Headless Commerce for Subscription Businesses

Subscriptions are a relationship-based business model, so customer experience is key for merchants in the space. Headless commerce supports some of the top must-haves for a successful subscription business.

  • The flexibility inherent in a headless build makes it easy to configure your subscriptions any way you want to, including setups like variable billing periods and customizable shipments.
  • Headless allows you more agility, which means it’s easy to change your product offerings, subscription settings and even site functionality to adapt to customer demand or behaviors.
  • You’ll get more control over your storefront, which means an aesthetic that meets your specifications and a more cohesive customer experience.
  • Separating the frontend and backend increases scalability by making it easier to upgrade your subscription offerings or store functions for new markets or customer segments.

Going headless gives you the means to stay competitive in an ever-changing subscription market. With more control over your site and more options, you’ll find it easier to build loyalty and retain customers.

What Subscription Sellers Need From a Headless Solution

When you’re looking for the right headless subscription billingplatform, make sure you find features made to help companies like yours succeed.

A Checkout Flow That Closes the Sale

Shopping cart abandonment costs ecommerce companies a big chunk of revenue: The Baymard Institute found that nearly 70% of online carts are abandoned before a sale is completed. The smoother and easier your checkout flow, the better you’ll do at keeping these customers around.

With a headless setup, you can build a robust checkout process that simplifies the buying process without sacrificing performance. It’s easy to support advanced functions like mixed-cart capabilities, so customers can make subscription and one-time purchases in the same transaction. You can also connect with multiple payment gateways and processors so customers can pay with their method of choice — a priority for 80% of subscription customers. And you can increase average order value (AOV) and customer lifetime value (CLTV) with tools that allow you to cross-sell or upsell customers during the checkout process — when the right offer can encourage an impulse buy.

Complex and Flexible Billing Logic

Flexible billing and shipping schedules make it easy for each shopper to get exactly what they want from your subscription. Find a tool that allows you to bill customers on a specific date (e.g., the 5th of every month) or a relative day (the second Wednesday of every month). Or, create a billing cycle keyed to a customer’s sign-up date. Once customers are signed up, give them control by making it easy to pause or skip so their subscription shipments match their needs.

Decline Management Tools

Churn is the enemy of a strong subscription business, so you’ll need a toolset that helps keep your customers around for the long haul. With a headless solution, it’s easy to add on services that help you prevent declines and recover failed payments.

The basics, like dunning email automation, help you keep customers by prompting them to update account information when a payment fails. You can go a step further to detect expired credit cards in your system with Account Updater. For payments that return a soft failure, set up Decline Manager or Smart Dunning to automate your rebill strategy.

Finally, make sure you’re ready to deal with chargebacks by investing in chargeback alerts. This tool allows you to refund a dissatisfied customer before their dispute officially enters the chargeback process. You can also integrate with a representments service to fight chargeback cases on your behalf.

Smart Dunning recovered 20% more revenue compared to traditional recovery methods.

Robust Data and Analytics

With an agile headless build, you can constantly test new features and perks to further monetize your customer base. Make sure your platform comes with robust data-tracking capabilities that show you what’s working and where you can continue to innovate. Basic tools that track key subscription metrics help you spot trends and address potential issues before they turn into problems. Strong analytics also help you optimize everything from payment performance to inventory management.  

Beyond that, look for a headless subscription platform that helps you understand customers by tracking their onsite behavior. You’ll see new ways to personalize the shopping experience and serve promotions that address your customers’ immediate wants.

Finally, look for dashboards that visualize your business. When you can break out customers by CLTV, cohort and more, you can understand common buying patterns among your top subscribers. And visualizations of your churn rates and reasons show you where you should update your site to better serve your users.

Making the Move to Headless

Changing your ecommerce tech stack can be a daunting process, but it’s an effort worth undertaking once you find the right partner. The many benefits of a headless setup mean you’ll start seeing returns shortly after making the switch.

We built to have a quick and painless setup process, whether you’re a new business or an established retailer looking to switch platforms. It’s easy to migrate your existing data to our platform — no need to manually re-enter your products or customer information. Plus, with over 400 partners and integrations available, you’ll be able to keep working with your favorite tools and service providers. Our robust value-added service offerings make it easy to upgrade your store with functionalities that address your biggest needs.

Our goal is to limit the potential for disruptions as you make the change to headless. And once you start selling, our support team is available via email, live chat or telephone.

It’s time to join the future of subscription commerce. Contact our headless commerce experts to see how easily you can start selling with