Headless PWA: The Solution for High-Demand eCommerce
March 17, 2021

Brian Anderson

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2020 upended the world in innumerable ways. But for D2C (direct-to-consumer) retailers, it exposed one of the most important vulnerabilities in modern commerce.

As was proven in product after product over the past year — the Nugget couch, Nike AirForce 1, Sony PlayStation 5 — sudden demand can rock, and put at risk, the foundations of a strong retail opportunity. Mobile websites that delivered the fastest experiences, and those with safeguards against predatory behavior, saw the highest unit sales and the happiest customers. Those that crashed, didn't.

Traditional websites are simply not designed to handle hundreds of thousands of shoppers simultaneously. Whether one person is in the checkout or 150,000, shoppers should have a good buying experience. Headless PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) are the answer.

Surge Protection

As engineers know, the vast majority of shopping site solutions are not designed to handle massive spikes in traffic, which is where headless architecture excels. Headless technology provides the necessary backend capability to enable a fast, performant shopping experience, integrating with merchant platforms that are already in place. Without resorting to building a high-performance architecture from scratch, e-tailers can achieve the world-class, "bursty" web store that keeps shoppers buying, regardless of traffic volume or device.

Headless architecture, when paired with PWA (Progressive Web App) technology, can create the ultimate mobile shopping experience. As most smartphone users know, it's not practical to download dozens of different mobile shopping apps. PWAs allow shoppers to use a browser to shop the brand's ecommerce site while enjoying the same performance as on a native mobile shopping app.

For merchants, PWAs alleviate many of the pain points associated with highly-hyped releases — high visitor traffic, competition with other fast sites, and difficulties customizing the storefront to match the brand identity or occasion. It also meets Google standards while supporting quick builds of assets, e.g., new content and landing pages, without developer assistance.

Without a headless platform, developers are looking at thousands of hours of work to build a sufficient backend API and data layer. Estimates can run to 5,000-6,000 hours of effort, not including ongoing maintenance. Yet a quality headless solution can ingest data from the merchant's systems at the necessary rate, enabling the PWA to perform efficiently in its frontend role.

Developers tasked with creating a bursty eCommerce site need to think not only about how to get the data into their PWA, but if it will scale fast enough to be able to execute effectively. This is where headless architecture comes into the conversation.

Another consideration is system integration. The best headless solutions have multiple APIs that support merchants and their engineers with a best-of-breed approach to CMSs, PIMs and other backend platforms. By not requiring in-house systems, merchants can pick the platforms that are right for their brand; this gives them maximum flexibility as they scale in traffic and grow in sales volume.

eCommerce Equalizer

Brands with positive notoriety — those who offer great products plus great support — should be able to offer a pleasant shopping experience even when there are massive, concentrated spikes in traffic. Customers demand, and deserve great service; if a shopper comes to a brand and gets frustrated because of long wait times, it damages loyalty and diminishes revenue. Ultimately the shopper will leave, perhaps never to return.

In today's world of online retailing, headless PWA technology is the slingshot growing brands need.

Brian Anderson is Founder and CEO of Nacelle
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