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Headless Shopify Explained with Examples.

By: Taru M. Taru M.
10 Jun, 2022

With Headless Shopify, eCommerce stores can push beyond the native features of Shopify. It is one of the advanced and future-proof approaches to solving the following eCommerce challenges:

  • There is a feeling in the marketing team that to solidify customer loyalty, your online store needs rich personalisation and an omnichannel strategy.
  • The performance analysis has revealed that the mobile experience is not optimum, and hence, you are losing out on potential clients.
  • Adding and launching new features is limited and time-consuming. As a result, your eCommerce store is not hyper-reactive to accommodate customers’ needs.
  • Covid has affirmed the reliability companies enjoy when they are flexible and, without disruption, can migrate to fast and scalable frameworks.
  • You dislike vendor lock-in.

In simple terms, Headless commerce decouples the presentation layer or ‘front-end,’ i.e. chops the head from the back-end. Thereby unlocking endless possibilities as businesses can develop custom experiences not possible with out-of-box features of a specific eCommerce platform. The true headless architecture offers microservices and APIs to connect with the frameworks, CMS (Content Management System), DXP (Digital Experience Platform), and PIM (Product Information Management).

Do check out 51 concepts every eCommerce business owner should know.

Is Shopify Headless?

A simplistic view of Headless architecture with Shopify plus as an eCommerce platform.

Shopify, like other leading eCommerce platforms, offers headless commerce solutions. The Shopify Storefront API let developers connect smoothly with the front-end of your choice like React.js, Next.js, Gatsby, Nuxt.js, etc.

You may be familiar with Shopify’s in-built CMS. It is well-suited for managing less complex catalogue and content management. But if you are thinking of scaling ( which is the objective of any business), then you can combine Shopify Headless with the third-party Headless CMS as well. Some of these are Contentful, Prismic, Storyblok, etc.

You see, the strength of the Headless platform is that we can continue to use Shopify or another specific eCommerce platform for what it does the best and integrate it with other powerful tools to craft unique and personalised experiences.

But Shopify’s back-end is not completely Headless as it doesn’t support microservice architecture yet. With microservices, custom solutions can be built for services like payment, shopping cart, search, etc. Since in this architecture each service is a sort of component which is independent or loosely coupled, system security is strengthened as an issue in one service doesn’t propagate to other services. Overall, developers enjoy more agility.

Nevertheless, you can still gain a lot with Headless Shopify as SaaS.

What will you achieve with Headless Shopify?

Display content to multiple channels and fine-tune omnichannel strategy

The content today is not just on mobile or the web. Voice-assistant devices, smart wearables, Virtual Reality, etc., are slowly fusing into our daily life. People can directly buy from Instagram shoppable posts, QR codes, etc. It is then reasonable to reach out to people on multiple devices they frequently hop to.

Around 47% of customers who used more than 10 channels to engage with a retailer, bought from its website at the minimum once a week. – Fluent survey

The omnichannel strategy involves unifying multiple devices, touch-points like social media and QR and also physical stores. It is complicated and expensive to embrace omnichannel marketing with monolithic eCommerce platforms. And sometimes downright impossible. Though you can create a limited multi-channel experience. Even that is quite tiring as there is no single repository for content.

In a multi-channel approach, every platform like e-mail, Facebook, Pinterest, etc are independent selling points. Whereas in omnichannel strategy, all platforms work as a team i.e. these platforms are coupled. Customers’ behaviour is analysed and appropriate targeting messages are delivered across the multiple selling points to derive sales.

Since, in headless Shopify, the front-end is independent, it is relatively swift and inexpensive to display content over different channels with excellent UX and UI.

Do you know the differences between UX & UI? If not, then check out our blog on it.

Highly personalized User Interface to enhance customer experience.

With a unique UI, businesses can create eCommerce websites that are accessible, inclusive and usable. Shopify offers pre-built themes but its downside is that your storefront doesn’t accurately show the personality of the brand. It looks similar to other thousands of online stores. There are options for custom themes but those are expensive when compared with the limitless options businesses have with a headless approach.

People will spend almost 40% more than planned when they engage with a highly personalised shopping experience.

eCommerce stores need lots of customisation and optimal use of space to pack-in dense information. The eCommerce website often has many categories and sub-categories. To help people process information fast and act quickly, there is no choice but to create a super optimised navigation system. Predictive search, filter, sorting, breadcrumbs, even placement of filter bar, etc. are some of the methods to design intuitive navigation.

A Headless eCommerce platform such as Shopify plus provides designers freedom to use their creative prowess and sculpt immersive customer experiences.

Superb performance with Progressive Web App (PWA)

Your monolithic Shopify store can be converted to Headless Progressive Web App. The benefits of PWA are enormous. I will briefly point out its benefits for those who are not so much familiar with PWA.

One of the clear advantages you get with PWA is in size of the apps. There is more than a 95% reduction in size. For example, the Starbucks PWA version is 233 Kb compared to the native 150 Mb app. Likewise, Tinder PWA is just 2.8 Mb whereas its native android app is around 30 Mb. This vastly improves the performance and it is well proven that revenue is directly proportional to performance.

Just like native mobile apps, a PWA icon can be added to your mobile home screen. Users will tap on the icon and it will run on the browser. No need to download from the app stores. You don’t have to care for updates with them ‘cause these are automatically updated on the server and do not require explicit updating as we do with native apps. You can now even publish your PWA on the Play Store and Microsoft Store. However, the iOS store currently doesn’t provide a publishing feature.

PWAs can offer a nice user experience in network latency or even when the network is not available. Network independence in context with PWA means people can engage with the content that they have previously visited, and be able to go through meaningful content in case of disconnection or choppy network. It is achieved with Service Workers, Cache API and client-side storage methods.

To read more about PWA, read our blog on examples of PWAs.

Control and Improve SEO

If you are running your eCommerce store with Shopify plus for a considerable time, it is likely that you found you cannot benefit from customizable URLs. And there are issues related to duplicate content as well. The cumulative effect is poor SEO.

Duplicate product links are created on the category page, through pagination or with product tags. To add to the woes, you don’t have control over robot.txt, only four pre-defined URL structures are available and inability to create custom fields. Fixing some of them is easy while a few other requires knowledge of JS.

With a Headless approach, you can lay strong foundations for technical SEO, and from then on focus on useful strategies to become discoverable on the web, social media or other channels.

Ability to be ultra-responsive to the needs of people and eCommerce trends.

With a headless Shopify store, eCommerce businesses can reduce time-to-market. To have sustainable and continuous growth in such a competitive space, online businesses must be able to analyse, test and launch feature swiftly. And with headless commerce, you have the future-proof tech stack to develop products or features aligning with people’s changing behaviour and evolutionary technology.

McKinsey & Co in a study showed a product garners 33% less profit if it enters the market six months late.

To avoid it, the product development process must not be rigid and follow an agile workflow. Combining it with the ‘Sprints’ product strategy, you can launch features or whole new categories of products in a few weeks.

But traditional commerce platforms lock businesses in a linear development. By adopting a headless commerce platform, the front-end, back-end and marketing teams are not dependent on each other. They can experiment on stuff without hampering the workflow of other teams. As a result, your Shopify store becomes adaptable and it strengthens the overall organisation’s antifragility.

In case you are wondering about antifragility, Nasim Taleb, author of Black Swan, says – “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

Challenges with Headless Shopify

Your Shopify apps may not work with a Headless Shopify plus storefront.

Shopify applications depend on the theme engine or App proxy. So, when you stop using in-built themes and implement Headless Shopify, it is likely the apps may not work. To be able to make them run with headless Shopify plus, those app vendors must have APIs so that they can interact with the front end of your Shopify store.

Measuring Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

The business environment and market demands are never constant. To incorporate these changes, retailers or eCommerce stores have to update or re-platform their traditional tech stack every 2-4 years. This huge burden makes them victims of sunk cost fallacy.

When you are using headless commerce, there is no single vendor. You are dealing with multiple solutions each having different pricing models. So you might not be able to gauze the total cost of ownership as easily as you would have done with any monolithic or out-of-box platform. Though, this doesn’t mean that headless commerce is way expensive.

Now, cost shouldn’t just include a monetary aspect, it must take into account the velocity and agility your business receive by adopting a growing technology. In this case, headless Shopify or MACH (Microservice, API, Cloud, Headless) architecture.

Licensing costs may be a little heavy on your budget initially but if headless is done right, it contributes to positive ROI in later years. There will be hardly any update overheads. Moreover, you will experience fewer rollbacks, a reduction in development costs, and faster delivery. As you now know, time-to-market reduces as the product and marketing team can latch on to new opportunities and with an iterative approach deliver swiftly. All these lead to long-term cost savings.

The cumulative effect of Headless commerce is a structural improvement. As a result, it very easily outweighs the initial investments.

In a broad sense, you will have to consider costs related to the eCommerce platform, developers, front-end & integrations, and maintenance & fixing bugs. And measure it with the growth your headless Shopify store will experience in future.

Examples of websites that are using headless architecture

All Birds

A footwear brand that focuses on sustainability. With continuous R&D, the co-founders developed a wood fabric that is environmentally friendly and used in all their footwear. For them, the environment is an important stakeholder, and make use of recycled cardboard for packaging.

Recess

Recess sells beverages to help people calm down in a stressful environment. Its ingredients include hemp and adaptogens that create a cool and relaxed state of mind. Recess’s website oozes out calming effect and has fun scrolling animation. The overall website is engaging and fresh.

Plenaire

A skincare brand that is sustainable. Their FAQs section mentions that Plenaire is vegan & cruelty-free, avoids toxic raw materials and follows the European Cosmetic Safety Legislation. Moreover, it is a certified carbon neutral company.

Rachio

Rachio’s main product is a device – Rachio 3. With it, you can with ease and automatically water your yard. Their trademark Weather Intelligence system by itself creates a schedule for watering. It skips watering when it is raining or windy or surroundings are too cold.

Inkbox

Inbox is a studio that creates semi-permanent tattoos and other designer accessories. They have designed plant-based ink which they call ‘For now Ink’ that fades after 1-2 weeks without harming the skin. Inkbox offers service in around 190 countries.

Is headless Shopify the only option?

No, it is not the only solution for your Shopify storefront. If your core problem revolves around design, then there are workarounds in Shopify to satisfactorily solve this issue.

You can craft a unique look and feel for your storefront with HTML, CSS and Shopify Liquid ( template language that powers themes, and is used for loading dynamic content on stores).

To enhance the functional aspect, you can utilize pre-built Shopify apps or let developers create custom apps to suit your needs. Shopify’s Online Store 2.0 offers custom code and low code features to develop apps and themes to suit their needs.

So, should you go headless or not?

Headless Shopify has the potential to transform your eCommerce business. You will not only gain a technological edge but achieve a resilient workflow that will enable fast micro decisions. Marketing and product design teams, because of the agile flow, can master the omnichannel strategy to propel growth.

But if you are currently concerned with the look and feel, and other slight functional improvements, then Shopify plus as a monolithic eCommerce platform has many features to solve your concerns. And adopting a headless approach will just be an unnecessary overburden.

Take our Shopify development services to customize your Shopify store or go headless with Shopify plus.

Taru M. Author
Taru M.

For over 18 years, Taru M. is a successful technology entrepreneur by profession and a tech enthusiast by spirit. She takes pride in offering expertise in her domain to business people's success across the globe. As a business woman and technology expert, she manages to keep her balance along with her family responsibilities. She did her masters in computers, and her work delivery shows the expertise of her education. Connect with her via Linkedin profile to know more about her exciting personality

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