In years to come, the business world will look back at 2020 as the year that triggered the digital and e-commerce turning point with millions of businesses accelerating their digital transformation initiatives. With more businesses initiating or revamping their online presence, the e-commerce market is experiencing a digital surge fueling its growth exponentially. In 2021 alone, there's been a 25% increase in online retail, taking the total global revenue to a staggering $4.8 trillion.
With this rapid surge in digitalization comes an increase in demand for digital solutions and technologies, most notably software for brands to improve their websites, which is now their main storefront. Headless CMS platforms are taking the market by storm when it comes to web development trends. This modern architecture lacks a front-end compared to traditional CMS, which may sound like a bad thing on paper. On the contrary, a Headless approach can make a website faster, safer, and more scalable since they're API-first, meaning you can integrate different tools and systems to optimize performance.
However, not every Headless CMS platform is the same as different options in the market offer different capabilities and features in terms of the user interface, levels of customization, support quality, and API approach. We’ve shared some of our current top picks in the market to help with your research.
What is a headless CMS platform, and how does it benefits users?
A headless CMS platform operates without a front-end, hence the term "headless." This innovative architecture decouples the back-end, which can be later connected to the front-end using APIs. With this approach, users can develop fully-custom websites, product catalogues, and e-commerce stores and display their content on multiple front-ends and therefore devices. Below are some of the main benefits of a headless CMS platform:
Omnichannel content delivery
A headless CMS platform enables users to publish content on multiple destinations, such as websites, social media platforms, blogs, and software applications. For online businesses, this approach offers significantly more benefits in content delivery than traditional CMS platforms that may not be able to accommodate multiple channels.
Since a headless CMS has no front, customization is limited to your developer's creativity and technical knowledge. You can define and develop your front-end from scratch and personalize every aspect of the user experience to improve traffic and conversion.
With a headless CMS platform, you can connect to multiple front-ends using APIs via integration. This makes your system more agile and scalable compared to traditional CMS solutions, especially due to the abundance of third-party software that can be used to optimize different aspects of your website or digital store.
Top headless CMS platforms
Sanity is a premium Headless CMS solution provider based in San Francisco, California. It is used by companies like Nike, National Geographic, Netlify, and Cloudflare. Like many CMS platforms, Sanity offers a structured content creation platform for optimizing digital experiences on any device, application, and channel. However, it’s more suitable for organizations looking for a solution that improves editing workflows and content sharing. It offers a free version for starters and a pay as you go model with three packages starting from $99 per month to $949 and on to custom pricing.
Contentful is a German CMS platform founded in 2012. This API-Based Headless CMS is primarily designed to focus on a site's back-end and content. Using the solution, developers can create, manage, integrate, and deliver content across many digital devices and channels in their preferred frameworks and languages using any smart device. Contentful generally caters to small and medium businesses with plans ranging from $39 to $879 per month. As far as popularity is concerned, this solution is currently being used by businesses like Heineken, WeWork, and Spotify.
Butter CMS is a US-based Headless CMS solution provider headquartered in Chicago, IL. It offers a viable solution for businesses switching from a traditional CMS to a Headless one, optimizing the data transfers with flexible content modelling, automated scheduling, revision histories, and multi-level support. You can choose from four different plans depending on your business size. For instance, using Butter CMS for a blog will cost $40/mo. For a start-up or small business, it costs $99 and $208/mo, respectively. Special agencies are offered custom prices. As far as popularity is concerned, this solution is currently being used by businesses like IDEO, Glovo, and Contactually.
Prismic is a US-based Headless CMS solution provider headquartered in San Francisco, California. The SaaS-based platform is trusted by some of the world’s top companies like Google and Netflix as it allows users to fully customize and personalize their digital experiences from the technologies used to the framework, language, third-party applications, and SEO strategies. Moreover, it is among the only solution in the market that supports native integrations with Shopify and Magento – two of the most popular e-commerce platforms in the market.
Bloomreach is the world’s leading commerce experience cloud, designed to empower businesses to optimize their customer journeys through unparalleled personalization. The company currently serves over 850 top brands worldwide, including Marks & Spencer, Puma, and FC Bayern Munich, to name a few. Unlike most headless CMS platforms, this solution connects customer data to the platform, thus, allowing developers and content teams to deliver more dynamic, targeted content. This makes it suitable for e-commerce platforms that regularly update offers, products, descriptions, and campaigns across several digital touchpoints. For pricing information, you'll need to get in touch with them.
GraphCMS is the world’s first GraphQL native headless CMS that has been specifically designed to optimize the user experience on high-traffic marketing sites, interactive mobile apps, and multi-language e-commerce platforms. The platform boasts a solid content management infrastructure that enables developers and content teams to centralize different types of content and streamline their workflows categorically. Pricing starts at $299 per month for professionals and $799 for high-scale projects. However, you can also opt for the free version, perfect for start-ups and small businesses.
Contentstack is among the most popular headless CMS platforms globally, with the likes of McDonald's, Mitsubishi, Shell, Chase, Holiday Inn, and many more using it to optimize their digital experiences by enhancing online customer journeys. The cloud-based API-first SaaS is specifically designed for developers and business users looking for an agnostic framework for content creation that makes integrations and publishing easy. You can opt for a free trial to see how it works. You can choose from either two fixed plans – Start ($995 per month) or Grow ($3,000 per month), or opt for custom pricing.
Kontent by Kentico is an EU based headless CMS solution provider that aims to simplify content production for non tech savvy users and teams. So, if you don't have a developer on board or want them to focus on more critical development projects, this is the solution for you. However, this headless solution is among the priciest in the market, with plans starting from $1,249 per month to $2,499 per month.
Not only do CoreDNA know how to build a great headless CMS, they are also pretty good at content marketing and have some of the best white papers and blog posts on headless CMSs around. Their headless solution aims at combining CMS, DXP and e-commerce into one solution. With their focus on digital experience, they have created position for themselves for brands wanting to give their customers the best possible website experience. If you want to find out more about CoreDNA or headless web development we can strongly recommend reading their blog or downloading their guides.
Storyblok is the world’s first headless CMS that works for developers, business users, and marketers. Using this platform, you can manage anything from corporate websites to helpdesks, mobile apps, and e-commerce stores. Unlike most solution providers, it offers a visual preview to developers and editors, which has always been a key weak point for headless platforms. It has grown immensely in terms of popularity and clientele by fixing this problem, with leading brands like Adidas, Panini, Pay One, and Marc O’Polo getting on board. Prices start at 90 Euros per month up for entry-level users to 2,999 Euros per month for larger enterprises.
Headless commerce platforms in 2022 – our top picks
The platforms below are specifically at e-commerce, there are quite different in their approach, Shopify Plus is aiming to be a one-stop solution and is developing its own front-end, Hydrogen. BigCommerce, our current favourite, is more open and integrates with other headless CMSs to produce great solutions. One example is Zwift, where BigCommerce is combined with Prisimic.io to produce an amazing solution.
Shopify Plus is among the most powerful headless CMS platforms in the market and a product of one of the most trusted brands in the e-commerce industry – Shopify. The Ontario, Canada-based digital giant offers its headless architecture solution to over 10,000 brands worldwide, especially those looking to adopt omnichannel marketing.
The platform is excellent for teams with limited web development expertise or resources as it comes with cutting-edge features that simplify content creation and management. However, the solution can be a little expensive for SMBs and better suit high-volume enterprise businesses.
BigCommerce is a SaaS-based headless e-commerce solution that offers unlimited design customization, ease of use, and consistent performance regardless of your site’s traffic. The Australian software giant caters to businesses and users in over 120 countries, including giants like flydubai, Skullcandy, Woolrich International, and Subscribe. Unlike most headless platforms, it offers templates and designs for users, making it perfect for those transitioning or upgrading from a traditional CMS.
Commerce.js is another top-ranked Headless CMS platform that specifically caters to entry-level and D2C e-commerce businesses with large product catalogues. Founded in 2016, the Vancouver based tech company has rapidly grown into a market leader, thanks to its unique architecture that enables users to rapidly build their front-end and pair it with the headless infrastructure. This way, users can easily develop no-code landing pages or product catalogues as one of many digital fronts.
Fabric is one of the most popular CMS solutions in the market and was voted as the most innovative 2020 B2B retail start-up in 2020. The company specifically caters to D2C and B2B brands that don't want to undergo re-platforming to take on a headless approach and want to build their sites and stores as quickly as possible, usually within a few weeks. However, you better have a big start-up budget as the solution can be a bit expensive due to its growth-tailored design.
Crystallize is a GraphQL API-based headless CMS platform that helps users create sites with incredible load speeds. Google rewarded the company for creating the fastest websites and boosting SEO. However, the best feature Crystallize offers is a centralized platform for product information and content management, which is great for product-based companies, especially those with a subscription model. However, it may not be suitable for entry-level businesses.
Ecwid is regarded as one of the best free-to-start headless CMS platforms in the market for marketing companies with multiple products and services to sell. It is incredibly beginner-friendly and suitable for both developers and non-tech-savvy users. However, it doesn't include a dedicated payment processor like most solutions, so you will have to integrate this feature from third-party solutions like Square or Stripe.
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