What Is Frontend as a Service?

Victoria Burt

The world of eCommerce has undergone a tremendous transformation over the last few years. According to data from the US Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division, eCommerce sales in the US were $870 billion in 2021, a 14.2% increase over 2020 and a whopping 50.5% increase over 2019. 

Customer habits have changed as they've been exposed to a variety of new channels where they can do their online shopping. Nowadays, a potential customer can browse a brand's social media profile on Instagram or TikTok, toggle to the catalog of top products and then navigate to the main website to make their final purchase. 

With customers now capable of going through the entire buyer's journey on their smartphones or tablets, coupled with access to a host of new channels, the digital experience presented to them has never been more critical.  

To deliver the most appealing experiences that entice visitors enough to turn them into customers, brands need a high-quality and immersive front-end interface. Brands that have opted to embrace headless commerce often enjoy the benefits of selling on multiple channels but may struggle to create the right front-end experience for their customers. That's where the new concept of frontend as a service enters the fray.

This article will explain what it is, the benefits, why some headless CMSs absolutely need it, and why hybrid platforms like dotCMS don't.

What Is Frontend as a Service?

Frontend as a service (FEaaS) is a way to build and deliver engaging frontend experiences, particularly in eCommerce. It enables you to combine various components to build a front-end interface faster and more cost-effectively.

Gartner's Composable Commerce Must Be Adopted for the Future of Applications research highlights that given the importance of the front-end experience today, many companies may find it difficult to source the developer talent they need. To counter this, a number of frontend as a service vendors have appeared to fill the gap.

Frontend as a service allows developers to pull different components from multiple sources and combine them to create a front-end interface. For eCommerce stores, this could include a search bar, a checkout icon, product images, written content descriptions, promotional videos, and more. These elements can come from a CMS, an eCommerce platform, a CRM, or any other tool in the tech stack. They can then be pieced together using FEaaS, saving developers the time they typically spend building these solutions from scratch. 

Frontend as a Service Benefits

There are several reasons why frontend as a service is becoming so appealing to brands looking to enhance the customer experience. 

Composability and Microservices

The principle of composability is growing in popularity among modern enterprises that demand more flexibility and freedom when building their software stacks. Breaking down large monoliths into microservices and then integrating them with each other using APIs provides that flexibility and freedom. Frontend as a service and the vendors who offer it follow these same principles and allow businesses to leverage MACH architecture. 

Ease of Use

Frontend as a service is easy to use as the component-based approach enables developers to easily select the different pieces they want to use for the frontend and fit them together like a puzzle. 

Faster Time to Market

While monolithic approaches to eCommerce can make it difficult for brands to launch quickly and pivot campaigns to react to new customer demands, FEaaS allows brands to go to market faster with new campaigns and products. 

Reduced Workload for Developers

Since developers don't need to construct the entire frontend experience from scratch, their workload is greatly reduced, and they have more time to focus on other high ROI tasks.

Why You Need FEaaS For a Pure Headless CMS

Frontend as a service is especially useful for eCommerce brands but the concept has applications for other use cases as well. However, the reality of the situation is that companies that opt for a pure headless CMS are likely to need frontend as a service.

For brands with a pure headless CMS, it provides the missing or rather subpar content authoring component. Many frontend as a service vendors also cater to less technical users as they can make both their lives and developers' lives easier. Here are some of the reasons why you'll need FEaaS when using a pure headless CMS: 

Low-Quality Frontend Experience

Headless platforms decouple the front-end presentation layer from the backend content repository. While you're able to store content as you would in a traditional CMS, on the frontend you're getting APIs and not much else. 

For many companies and the developers working with these platforms, this can be hugely beneficial as it provides increased freedom and flexibility to choose different frontend frameworks. 

However, what developers gain in freedom, marketers, and oftentimes the customer loses in quality. After the frontend is created, it still needs content to attract customers. Since many pure headless platforms neglect that content authoring experience, marketers aren't always able to capitalize on the flexibility of a headless CMS as they would want. 

Expensive Developer Dependencies

Since so much developer input is required to get the most out of a headless CMS, many companies need to employ large teams to get everything done. This negatively impacts the bottom line, especially at a time when businesses want to be as cost-efficient as possible. In addition, it makes companies dependent on these developers for more than they thought they might need since marketers aren't able to do much content management without them. 

Frontend as a Service with dotCMS: A Hybrid Headless CMS

While pure headless systems need frontend as a service assistance, hybrid headless CMSs have frontend as a service built-in. A hybrid headless platform like dotCMS combines the freedom given to developers through an API-first architecture and combines it with a traditional content authoring experience for marketers. This allows marketers to truly manage content again and provides all of the tools for the brand to elevate the frontend experience for their customers, no matter the channel. 

dotCMS offers greater flexibility for marketers as well as a visual editor that allows them to work independently. They can leverage drag and drop experience builder with preview mode to create visual experiences. 

Through dotCMS' headless capabilities, commerce experiences don't need to be limited to just apps either. Developers can use REST and GraphQL to build front-end experiences anywhere. Plus, developers and marketers have access to the NoCode and LowCode tooling to simplify their jobs and remove the need for a frontend as a service solution.

For example, dotCMS can be used as a FEaaS on top of Salesforce or any other eCommerce platform. A best-in-class eCommerce platform handles all of the critical eCommerce functionality while dotCMS handles all of the content and front-end orchestration needs. Plus, dotCMS' future-proof architecture means that the latest innovations in technology won't see your company having to scramble for a frontend as a service solution later on. Marketers and less technical users can get up to speed quickly, while developers can innovate as they need to without restrictions. 

Frontend as a service is just a piece of the eCommerce puzzle. Learn more about headless commerce in our webinar: Headless Commerce: Rethinking eCommerce to Stay Ahead in the IoT Era

Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez
Victoria Burt
Director of Product Marketing
July 25, 2022

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