Vue Storefront — setting the storefront standard for headless commerce
We at Earlybird Digital East are thrilled to announce our participation in the $17.4m Series A round of Vue Storefront, a software platform for the development of frontends of headless commerce software stacks, together with Creandum and Paua Ventures.
As the early backers of some large e-commerce platforms in the last decade, we have been keen observers of the digital commerce software space for a long time. Not surprisingly, one of the major trends that became apparent especially in recent years was the rapid shift in the market towards a headless architecture, which offered e-commerce players and developers flexibility and configurability in building their software stacks. As a wave of well-funded companies focusing on the backend functions of these systems was rapidly gaining market share, the frontend remained to be the missing piece of the puzzle. When we met Patrick, Filip, and Bart, we were particularly impressed by the way they positioned Vue Storefront as an e-commerce frontend platform that can address the needs of both the merchants and developers in this domain, by putting the flexibility and pre-built integrations into the core of their product’s value offering.
With this post, our aim is to share our learnings & perspective on the evolution of digital commerce software and how Vue Storefront addresses some of the key challenges in the market.
The evolution of e-commerce software architecture
In the early days of online retail, like other software verticals at the time, e-commerce software was built with “monolithic” architecture, in which single vendors provided all components of a commerce system. Among others, this approach has been employed by some of the large enterprise software vendors entering the market: SAP, through its acquisition of Hybris; Adobe, through its acquisition of Magento; and Salesforce, following its acquisition of Demandware. These players managed to accumulate a large market share when the monolithic architecture was the market standard.
Monolithic architecture had its shortcomings, though. The fact that every element is provided by a single vendor severely limited the capabilities of e-commerce players when it comes to choosing best-of-breed solutions and flexibly configuring their software stacks. Each element having different scalability and resource requirements, too, made it difficult to scale the digital commerce stacks in response to surges in customer demand. And it was difficult to change to new vendors for particular modules or the setup without disrupting the operation of the whole system. These shortcomings made it impossible to make continuous lightweight improvements in the stacks, leaving room only for one-off, lengthy and costly implementations, and updates.
The proliferation of cloud-based and API-first paradigm in software development and increased customer expectations led to the advent of an alternative to the monolithic model in e-commerce software stacks: modular — or headless — architecture
Headless architecture allowed e-commerce players to choose best-of-breed solutions from different vendors for each of their frontend and backend components (frontend: storefront components which consumers will interact with during their customer journey, such as the homepage, search results, and product profiles; backend: business-logic and operations-related components, such as product management, search and filtering, CMS, and payments). Then, by using APIs to integrate these components, developers can flexibly and continuously configure and update their software stacks to suit their needs.
The opportunity for headless frontend platforms
The shift of the e-commerce software stack away from the monolithic model toward a headless, API-first architecture is here to stay, as in almost all software categories. The modular nature of this approach has created many fast-growing players that specialized in particular functions and features. The initial set of companies in this space came from backend-focused solutions backed by large funding rounds, such as Commercetools and Elastic Path. Given the distinct natures of frontend and backend modules, these headless backend providers tend not to have a native frontend offering (or have a basic one), and instead, opt to integrate with frontend-focused platforms in their implementations.
Some of the larger, traditionally monolithic players are now also gradually switching to a more modular and API-oriented approach. While these efforts are still at an early stage and will take a while to reach maturity, these players with huge customer bases becoming more modular also open up a large market opportunity for emerging players that excel at particular e-commerce components, including the frontend.
Due to the customization and implementation-heavy nature of digital commerce software and since many e-commerce businesses don’t have the resources or the capability to implement their own stack, they instead rely on implementation partners to do the heavy lifting. This makes implementation partners a very critical stakeholder in the ecosystem. And since carrying out custom development work can be labor-intensive and implies lower margins for them — they need robust platforms to lighten their workload and accelerate the implementation processes. So, it’s in these partners’ best interests to push for the use of third-party frontend platform providers.
Vue Storefront provides a complementary and compelling e-commerce frontend platform to backend providers (increasing in number) and global/local implementation partners alike
Recognizing Vue Storefront’s key differences
Vue Storefront provides a software development platform for the frontend (or the “head”) of headless e-commerce software stacks. Its collection of e-commerce-focused libraries and modules, and pre-built integrations with a range of widely used e-commerce solutions (backend systems, CMSs, and payment providers, etc) gives developers the flexibility to create highly customizable, state-of-the-art digital commerce frontends, while saving them significant amounts of time.
Vue Storefront is not the only player in the e-commerce frontend development platform market, but we believe there are key differences that make it stand out from the crowd. Vue Storefront gives developers a true vendor-agnostic approach, enabling them to build frontends integrated with any other vendors of their choosing, and easily switch between those providers. And while some other low-code frontend development platforms can be used by non-developer personae, they lack the flexibility and customizability that Vue Storefront provides to developers while continuing to let merchants own their code. Such solutions are usually more suitable for the smaller customers who require less complex solutions and lack the resources to build one.
What’s more, with an open-core model that has one of the largest open-source repositories dedicated to e-commerce frontend, Vue Storefront’s platform is constantly updated by developers on the front line, ensuring it will remain current and updated against the latest challenges and needs in the market. While Vue Storefront’s main product proposition is more suitable for mid-to-large-sized businesses, the long tail of smaller merchants can benefit from its open-source offering.
We believe these differentiators put Vue Storefront in a unique position to become the market standard for the frontends of headless commerce stacks, and we are excited to support the VSF team on this journey.