What keeps eCommerce enthusiasts active at night? Someone invests years developing a business with a renowned eCommerce platform and ends up outgrowing its native capabilities. Since the maximum scalability has been achieved is it possible to switch to something more flexible while refraining from starting everything from scratch?
You’ve probably heard the discussions around headless eCommerce and the enormous benefits it offers that significantly boost site speed and improve UX on a priority basis.
But what about headless Shopify? How are brands turning their existing Shopify stores headless? Is it somehow possible?
You can’t manage to lose the powerful eCommerce functions that Shopify is famous for such as payment gateways, inventory management, PCI compliance, etc. But in parallel, you may want to deploy a technology that dramatically boosts the speed of your site, or maybe you have advanced content management requirements, a lengthy product catalog, or maybe just want to surpass the limitations of your theme and ensure a unique site experience.
It’s perfectly possible to merge headless commerce with an existing Shopify platform and there are different ways to make your shift drive more smooth and directed.
This article will describe the reasons and approaches of going headless with Shopify, how can you achieve this, and the benefits you will experience as an outcome.
What is headless Shopify?
If you gear up to go headless with Shopify, you incorporate all the remarkable backend eCommerce functions Shopify provides, you’re just using a separate frontend or “head” to drive the customer-facing view of your web store.
Shopify is one the top one-stop-shops that sustain all your eCommerce requirements, with plug and play options like:
- Easy to install apps from the app store
- Mobile-friendly checkout supporting alternate payment gateways, like Apple Pay
- Great security and compliance protocols
- Advanced order management and inventory
But as you scale up your store and business, you start to feel some features or design functionalities a little inflexible. The one-size-fits-all strategy can work up to a certain limit, but when growing up to a certain limit you may find you need something more than the Shopify Storefront alone can provide. Often, brands opt for Shopify headless as a medium to ensure:
- A faster site load with quick page-to-page load time
- More control over how your products are visually appear
- More flexible content management
- A highly-customizable URL
If you’re going to expand your store, a storefront tailored to the varying needs of your brand starts becoming a necessity.
The good news is there’s no need for an across-the-platform overhaul or creating a new eCommerce store from the scratch.
Shopify was developed with freedom in mind and is able to sustain a frontend that better serves your business requirements with minimal hassle as you scale up. That’s where their storefront API comes into play.
Is Shopify a headless CMS?
It would be more appropriate to say that Shopify offers a CMS with a headless option. The primary advantage of Shopify, and what’s made it such a powerful platform for online business is its built-in tools and services. Shopify’s integrated CMS, the Theme Layer, and Editor, which you may already be known, supports the rest of its eCommerce functions.
But these functions are developed in such a way that they can also function independently from one another if necessary.
So if you need a slightly more flexible environment than your organized content in your CMS (Shopify only allows four predefined content types) you can utilize a more diverse third-party CMS like Contentful or Prismic to outline your data in a way that matters to you, and, with headless, link it to Shopify via an API.
Shopify and other providers have introduced an effective toolset that makes the process a lot easier than you ever imagine.
|Shopify CMS||Third-party CMS||Experience Platform|
|Theme layer and simple editor allow you to make changes to content in Shopify. Four predefined content types: pages, blogs, products, and collections.||More adaptable CMSs like Contentful and Prismic allow you to define content exactly how you want it.||A frontend solution that combines an Experience Manager and CMS to create an intuitive visual environment, where changes, updates, and experimentation can be done quickly and easily|
If you’re a small eCommerce business, Shopify’s CMS might well be enough to sustain your needs, but if you’re scaling, or have a mobile-first business structure primarily focused on speed, presentation, and the customer experience — the relative simplicity of Shopify headless commerce and an effective CMS option might well make following a PWA build valuable. You might opt for this option with an experience platform or a frontend-as-a-service provider who’s got a CMS built-in compatible with Shopify.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Headless Approach
As more and more customers start to see online shopping as a new norm the pandemic pushed up but certainly didn’t initiate, the need for performance at scale and across channels becomes ever more crucial.
Going headless with your Shopify store using a PWA (progressive web app) can give you faster page load speeds even on mobile. This boost in speed allows you to future-proof your business.
But there are certain factors you’ll need to consider for getting on the bandwagon of adopting a headless approach.
Benefits of Headless eCommerce
Rich control over the customer experience
Using a headless approach, you are allowed to have more customization and personalization than you’d get with plug-and-play Shopify. While the variety of themes that Shopify features are appealing enough, and up to a certain scale somehow customizable, they start to show lacks in performance in an attempt to provide an effective and responsive customer experience when you significantly scale up your operations.
Opting for a headless approach allows you to keep your branding stand out from the masses. You can surpass the limitations of Shopify’s integrated features and themes, and make a significant difference by your digital presence in terms of visuals and CX.
If you want to launch your business internationally or want to produce multiple brands or product categories, the headless approach enables you to take your content management up to the next level. If you are up for breaking your comfort zone in working with standard Shopify, you must redesign workflows and manage content from a broad perspective.
You’ll also gain more freedom in site management without expertise, and without compromising on customization.
It’s been well proven that more speed comes amidst more sales, especially on mobile, so anything you can do to automate your codebase will help you gain leads. Being able to add apps via Shopify at the click of a button is very appealing, but at a certain point, all that excess code starts slowing down your site.
The headless approach allows you to independently and freely use a faster frontend delivery approach. Using a headless PWA architecture allows your browser to load quickly a statically generated site that doesn’t cast any burden on a database by sending multiple requests.
Customizable URLs for better SEO
The structure of your URLs plays a vital role in assisting customers in finding their way to your site.
To let Google know your product page is worthy to show in response to a customers’ search. So it is highly recommended to make your product page URLs scalable enough to entertain highly detailed product descriptions.
Shopify is primarily very inflexible when it comes to modifying your URLs. There are only four predefined URL types to opt from, so you can’t add all the detail you require to make Google your key partner.
Developing your web pages within a headless architecture gives you immense control over your URL structure, sparing you time and effort to maximize your SEO returns.
Reduced time to market
With a custom frontend linked with your Shopify store, your marketing team will be able to handle and create campaigns effectively and rapidly while playing around with site layout and product placement without disturbing any backend processes. You’ll also get enormous control over your look and vibe to match your brand exactly without any compromises.
Disadvantages of Headless eCommerce
Can mean loss of support for apps/services
When you abandon Shopify’s built-in themes, some of your apps and services are going to stop working. If you opt for a frontend-as-a-service provider, then they’ll have extensions and services you can pick and choose to have remained intact and working for you. But if your business is building your Shopify store’s frontend from an outsourcing firm or vendor, you’ll have to write some custom code so that Shopify’s APIs can support your third-party applications and services.
Can introduce complexity
Introducing another layer to your eCommerce stack means increasing the complexity of the operation. If you decide to opt for a dedicated frontend, you’re going to have to manage (at least) two platforms to keep your site keep going.
The app-related compatibility issues pushed by headless Shopify also apply to a multitude of frontend integrations. Considering the extra complexity, if you’re immature in the eCommerce domain and running a small business then Shopify may well be already providing you enough flexibility.
If you tend to scale up your store and operations then you’ll either need an in-house development team familiar with React, or you’ll have to go for outsourcing from a frontend-as-a-service provider and/or outsourcing firm.
Implementation partner considerations
Having someone who can deal with the technical aspects of going headless, sparing you and your eCommerce team enough time and effort to concentrate on sales and marketing. But you need to allow this under your conscious supervision.
Have a close look at your partner’s history of past services and clients. If they have experience of serving the brands like yours, that’s a strong determinator of their experience and skills-base required to turn your eCommerce presence into your success.
The Three Paths to Headless Shopify
If you’ve decided that your Shopify storefront needs a new and improved frontend, there are three main ways to do it, and pros and cons for each. Which route you choose will depend on your specific business needs:
Do it yourself – DIY
Complete control: Creating your own headless structure using Shopify Plus means that you’ll have full ownership and control of all your eCommerce functionalities, potentially allowing you more freedom and flexibility. It means you don’t have to adjust to someone else’s system and can take the necessary steps regarding development and coding.
Requires rich knowledge: going headless from scratch requires high development and coding. For instance, Shopify themes use Liquid as a template language but you can’t use Liquid in a headless approach, so if you want to build a custom storefront accessible via the Shopify Storefront API, you’ll require a team that’s used to dealing with frameworks like React.js and Ember. Or, if you want to build a static platform, they’ll need to be well-informed about frameworks like Next.js or Gatsby.
Build with an agency
Expertise: You’ll have an outsourcing vendor who’s well-informed in turning sites headless. If you choose your outsourcing firm wisely, you’ll be working with someone who has a rich experience of building headless platforms that are compatible with Shopify’s backend and will be well aware of all the potential hurdles and how to dodge them! Further, choosing an agency can allow you to make your store headless by teaming up with a frontend-as-a-service provider for the software to complete your headless transition drive.
Extra help: An agency will be able to provide you with suggestions and recommendations at the design phase and have the knowledge to turn your brilliant concept into a reality.
Experience: They’ll be able to make recommendations about the features, layout, and navigation that work best with a Shopify backend, and so help you optimize your web store.
Ongoing management: In the end, you have to manage your headless store on your own. Once the initial design and development are done, it’s up to you and your technical team to keep the whole operation going.
Use a Frontend-as-a-Service Provider
Bundled Software: If you want to absolutely free yourself from research, design, build, test, and deploy a complex platform and custom APIs, a frontend provider can take all your stress and load. What you get in the end is a complete package with everything you need to keep your storefront managed, still completely customizable and sustainable to your needs, and that too without any need to do all the heavy lifting yourself.
Lightens the load: Instead of your teams having to negotiate with multiple players at different phases of the development cycle, they’ll be able to manage all the eCommerce and marketing concerns while freeing themselves from a great number of technical headaches.
Expanded skills-base: Many frontend providers are linked with partner agencies that are specialist website builders, so not only will you get an expert opinion, and assistance for the sleek functioning of your store, you’ll have an attractive new site in your account.
Loss of control: You’ll lose active control over some core and internal aspects of your site’s functionality. You won’t be able to simply make a few coding changes whenever you want to. In fact, you’ll need to discuss some detailed, technical, and behind-the-scenes activities with your frontend provider.
Make and Crosscheck a List (before going Headless)
Now you have decided whether to go headless or not. Before going headless with Shopify, it is highly recommended to:
- Acknowledge that all the apps you’re depending on have APIs and can interact with Shopify Storefront API. Outline the apps and services you absolutely need to make it over to the headless site and consider how you’d like the experiences for each service to appear and perform with respect to their UX.
- If you’re taking a Do It Yourself – DIY approach to go headless, you’ll need a rich how-know of GraphQL, the language Storefront API uses.
- Benchmark your web store. Perform some tests and find out what your initial score is and what might be pulling it back. This way you can identify the benefits of your new headless commerce platform quantitively and measure its success ratio once launched.