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How do headless e-commerce platforms work?

A headless e-commerce platform is a cloud-based service that can connect e-commerce activities and functions to mobile apps and third-party applications. Here's how it works.

In today's digital economy, customers expect to make purchases within the context of any digital experience -- on any device they have in hand -- and headless e-commerce platforms can make that happen.

E-commerce encompasses several commerce-related activities, including:

  • browsing an online catalog;
  • configuring and comparing options;
  • selecting products and services;
  • purchasing transactions;
  • arranging for delivery; and
  • returning unwanted products.

Traditionally, an e-commerce platform tightly couples the programmatic steps for performing these activities with a user interface to collect information and display results. With this approach, having the flexibility to adapt e-commerce activities to innovative digital experiences that span multiple devices and business channels is hard.

Headless e-commerce platforms offer a different approach. They separate the programmatic steps from their presentation across multiple devices. A headless e-commerce platform delivers various e-commerce activities and functions "as a service" in the cloud and makes them accessible to mobile apps and third-party applications through RESTful APIs. As a result, application developers can produce innovative digital experiences by weaving together e-commerce activities with other cloud-powered services, such as managing product information, digital assets and content, and accessing ERP data.

Design and selling tasks that used to require days or weeks with back-and-forth paper-driven processes are reduced to a matter of minutes.

For example, open source software provider Pimcore works with Bösch, a major supplier of heating, air conditioning and ventilation technology, to make it easy for engineers to deliver solar-powered heating systems. Working in the office or in the field, engineers design solar systems in real time. The Pimcore Digital Experience Platform includes a rules-driven product configurator for producing solar systems designs, complete with parts lists with hundreds of items. On the back end, a headless e-commerce platform like Pimcore's can integrate with a company's existing ERP system for determining -- in real time -- component parts pricing, as well as customer-specific discounts.

With these systems in place, engineers can take orders in the field directly from their mobile devices. Design and selling tasks that used to require days or weeks with back-and-forth paper-driven processes are reduced to a matter of minutes. Often, it even saves the engineers money. Customers know not only the configuration of the solar systems they are buying but also their personalized prices.

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