Welcome to the fourth installment of our series Speak eCommerce and Enter, a basic glossary of key eCommerce terms and acronyms that can make you go OMG WTF.
In this edition, we'll continue our exploration of the ever-evolving world of e-commerce and dive into more essential terms to help you navigate the confusing sea of eCommerce acronyms.
Headless: I don’t think it means what you think it means
Let's begin with one key eCommerce term that can be particularly confusing and, frankly, sounds a bit creepy too. Headless commerce is a revolutionary approach to ecommerce architecture. Whereas in traditional monolithic systems, all components, processes, and interfaces are tightly integrated into a single framework, headless architecturecommerce takes a different path by decoupling the front-end (the head) and back-end (the body).
This offers businesses unparalleled flexibility to tailor customer experiences, adapt to market changes, and easily integrate new touchpoints and technologies. The decoupling is achieved through the use of APIs that connect the front-end and back-end systems seamlessly. So, that’s headless. We know, it sounds bad, but it’s a good thing.
In a related story: Composability
If you’ve heard the term “headless commerce” it’s quite likely you’ve also heard of composability. The connection between headless commerce and composability is that they both emphasize flexibility and customization. Headless commerce lets you separate the front-end and back-end, while composability refers to a modular approach to building eCommerce systems by assembling different best-in-class components and services that work together seamlessly. Instead of one big monolithic system, with composability you can choose the specific components you need and put them together like building blocks.
MACH's the word
It is possible to evaluate whether a technology truly aligns with the principles of composable commerce and offers future-proof technology by looking to the industry tech standard set by the MACH Alliance. MACH represents a modern approach to eCommerce architecture that prioritizes flexibility, scalability and interoperability. The acronym stands for microservices, API-first, cloud-native SaaS, and headless. Microservices? SaaS? We haven’t covered all of those yet. Let’s get to it. Fast. You know, at MACH speed. Sorry, we just had to.
M for Microservices
Microservices are an integral part of the MACH architecture. If Headless and Composable are siblings, Microservices is their cousin. They all involve decoupling, allowing various components of an application to operate independently. But whereas headless commerce separates the front-end presentation layer from the back-end commerce engine, Microservices refers to a software development modular approach that involves breaking down an application into small, loosely coupled services that can be developed and deployed independently. This approach enables agility, scalability, and easy maintenance of eCommerce systems as each service can be independently scaled, avoiding bottlenecks common in monolithic architectures.
Also, because each service is independent with firm module boundaries, they can be written in different languages and even managed by different teams.
Switching to a microservices architecture can be challenging, requiring organizational changes and introducing complexity to manage numerous interconnected services, but the scalability, flexibility and customization provided outweigh the potential issues for companies seeking to create agile and changeable customer experiences across channels.
Next stop: types of eCommerce platforms.
There are various types of eCommerce platforms to choose from, each offering its own set of features, advantages, and considerations. In the next section, we'll take a closer look at each platform type.
Open Source eCommerce platforms like WooCommerce, Prestashop, and Magento Open Source provide access to their source code, allowing users to modify and customize them according to their specific needs. This open nature grants businesses greater customization options and freedom in tailoring their online stores to meet unique requirements. The downside is that extensive customizations can lead to increased complexity, potentially affecting the performance and stability of the platform and may require high technical expertise.
Open source platforms have an active, large community of developers and contributors that can help with continuous development, bug fixes, and security updates. However, businesses don’t have the same level of support as they would with a licensed platform, and often struggle with their responsibility to secure installation and staying up-to-date with patches.
Software-as-a-Service eCommerce platforms, also known as licensed platforms, operate under a recurring fee model. Users pay a fee to access and use the platform, but the code and infrastructure remain the property of the platform provider. Examples of SaaS eCommerce platforms include Shopify and enterprise solutions offered by Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, and SAP.
This model provides businesses with a convenient and hassle-free way to set up and run their online stores, as the platform handles much of the backend infrastructure and maintenance. They can easily accommodate for growth without needing extensive upgrades, and with regular updates and improvements.. SaaS platforms usually offer dedicated customer support, ensuring timely assistance with any technical issues and security management.
However, this comfort may come at a price. Compared to Open Source solutions, SaaS platforms are much more limited in their customization options and although SaaS platforms have lower upfront costs, recurring fees can add up over time, especially for larger businesses.
The best of two worlds, Open SaaS platforms, such as BigCommerce, offer a balance between the control of open source platforms and the convenience of SaaS. They provide a customizable environment while still handling infrastructure management.
Businesses can extend and modify the platform to meet their specific needs, without the burden of managing servers and hosting. This approach combines the benefits of both worlds, providing flexibility to scale and accommodate business growth and traffic spikes, without sacrificing ease of use or security, as the platform provider handles server maintenance, security, and updates, reducing the business’s technical burden.
Moreover, Open SaaS platforms typically provide customer support, ensuring businesses receive timely assistance and, although .they have recurring fees, just like standard SaaS platforms, Open SaaS can offer businesses a more cost-effective solution than self-hosted solutions.
PaaS stands for “Platform as a service”. This type of solution provides a platform for developers to build, deploy, and manage their eCommerce applications. It offers a set of tools and services that simplify the development process. PaaS allows businesses to focus on building their applications without worrying about underlying infrastructure management.
It's an attractive option for businesses that require greater control over their application's code and functionality and it provides a scalable infrastructure to accommodate business growth and changing demands. Businesses considering a PaaS solution must weigh these advantages against the challenges, which include the need for a solid, skilled dev team to manage the application, do maintenance, updated, security and performance optimization and the fact that building and managing a custom eCommerce application through PaaS may take more time and resources than using pre-built solutions.
Finally, CaaS, or Commerce-as-a-Service, is an emerging concept that takes composable commerce to the next level. It provides businesses with a pre-built commerce platform, consisting of modular, best-in-class components that can be assembled to create a custom eCommerce solution. CaaS platforms offer the flexibility and scalability of composable architecture while providing a ready-to-use foundation.
Commerce as a Service (CaaS) provides businesses with an all-in-one e-commerce technology package that uses scalable cloud computing resources. It combines technology, marketing, data, and operations on a single platform, making it easy to share content across different channels and access all organizational data in one place. CaaS includes storefronts, back-office features, data analysis tools, and more. Businesses can choose the specific components they need and seamlessly integrate them to create a tailored eCommerce system.
In CaaS, there's a special thing called Content-as-a-Service (also CaaS). This CaaS is a content management system using APIs to store and deliver content for various channels. It's flexible, secure, and fast. Big businesses find CaaS appealing as it simplifies content creation, offers customer insights, and automates important processes for better online sales and profits.
With CaaS, online stores can have cool websites with personalized experiences, responsive design, and exciting branding. It's perfect for meeting the needs of today's shoppers and adjusting to the ever-changing e-commerce world.
Examples of CaaS platforms include Commercetools, Spryker, and BigCommerce. They allow businesses to leverage the power of microservices architecture and combine it with SaaS or Open Source models, providing a comprehensive solution for building flexible and scalable eCommerce systems.
Each approach has its merits, and the choice depends on a business's specific requirements and preferences. In summary, Open Source provides extensive customization options, SaaS wins at convenience and ease of use, PaaS enables greater control for developers, CaaS takes composable commerce to the next level with pre-built modular components, and Open SaaS strikes a balance between customization and infrastructure management.
In our next installment of Speak eCommerce and Enter, we will continue to demystify the language of eCommerce and help you navigate the intimidating sea of terms and acronyms that make you go OMG WTF TL;DR. Contact us if you have any questions or comments. We like ideas. They make us click.