What is a Headless Shopify Store: Benefits, Use Cases and Examples
The Pocket Guide to Headless Shopify
Headless eCommerce has become a key trend for many companies seeking to build loyalty through personalized, diversified experiences. And while Shopify already offers multiple customization options that are already in-built, creating a headless Shopify store helps businesses harness creative, omnichannel experiences to convert shoppers into customers, and keep those relationships.
Although Shopify is a full-stack architecture platform, it also gives businesses the option for a setup that separates the front-end and back-end for more flexibility in the buyer experience.
Headless Shopify: Article Overview
What is Headless Shopify?
Headless commerce is a new architectural approach that allows brands to move beyond the limitations of traditional eCommerce platforms and take complete control over the look and feel of their website. With less interference, the front-end and back-end parts of your website behave independently and excel in their respective fields. This way you can have a UI/UX expert create the face of the portal and a back-end developer handle the base.
What attracts many users is Shopify’s integrated services, including a content management system (CMS), Themes Layer, and Editor (which comes with templates). Those features work seamlessly with Shopify’s eCommerce functions.
But the platform also provides a chance to go headless so that you can use different designs as a building block for larger applications. Headless interfaces allow you to focus on the logic and data of your application instead of being bogged down by the details of how that data is transmitted and stored. The headless approach allows for flexibility in customization, meaning your website can scale with the needs of your business.
The ability to use APIs and especially after the 2.0 update, makes it very easy to work on a more flexible CMS and transfer the progress on Shopify. The tool where all this “magic” happens is called Storefront API, and the developer portal is called GraphQL.
Is Headless Right for Your Shopify Store?
Headless Shopify stores are an amazing option for merchants who want to make their stores more customizable, attract clients with better visuals, and embed many useful tools, such as chatbots, voice commerce, social commerce, etc.
Here are the main benefits of going headless with your Shopify store:
- Complete customization: Unlike monolithic CMS where you might need to give up on the exact customized on-brand experience you were hoping for, there are no such design sacrifices when you go the headless route.
- Faster page loading times: Traditional eCommerce platforms were not built with site speed as a priority. If you go headless, you can create fast-loading pages across desktop and mobile devices since the back end is separated.
- Less IT support: Front-end developers can make changes to the front end of an online store quickly without the need to rely on the back-end team.
- More control: You can integrate all your existing systems using any programming language you like. Not a fan of Shopify’s Liquid? No problem.
- Safe for testing: Developers can work on the front and back end at the same time, without depending on the other to finish first.
What Shopify Stores Should Consider Going Headless?
Here are some specific cases when you might want to consider the headless approach for your Shopify business.
- Multichannel content delivery: For big companies with multi-channel customer experience. The headless approach makes it very easy to deliver content to radically different channels without the need to manage the experience by using separate tools and processes for each channel.
- PCI compliance: Fortunately, if you’re already using Shopify, the platform is already certified Level 1 PCI DSS compliant. However, using Shopify with your headless architecture will reduce the work for your internal back-end development team and smooth the process of staying compliant and secure without the need to rely on Shopify to do that for you.
- Going fully custom: The open architecture allows full freedom in personalization. You can use pre-built ERP or CRM; or go for custom builds using API and SDKs, there are no limits.
- Additional flexibility: You can integrate content from one platform to another. For example, if your mobile app needs to be developed with the same content as your web app.
But is it a Good Choice for Everyone?
There is one thing to consider before turning your Shopify headless – it is not a good fit for every eCommerce store.
Going headless requires investing a significant amount of financial and time resources. If your business is doing fine with traditional architecture and you already have an established system, you don’t need to make the switch.
In addition, using a headless architecture requires a lot of development work. Storefront API, which is responsible for the headless Shopify solution, will disable some applications and plugins you have used before. But it’s okay – a headless CMS could replicate the functionality you might lose.
Traditional CMS is the better option if:
- You have a smaller business or you don’t necessarily have the resources to use headless effectively.
- If you have neither a development team nor an external partner
- If you have a simple website or app that utilizes the in-built functionalities of your traditional CMS.
However, if you want additional tools that your traditional CMS platform can’t provide, a headless CMS might be better.
The Pros and Cons of Going Headless on Shopify
Shopify is a powerful one-stop-shop for all your eCommerce needs, mobile checkout supporting alternate payment methods, PCI Compliance Level 1 security built-in, and sophisticated order management and inventory. However, you can still choose to use its backend eCommerce functions and ditch its frontend capabilities such as theme editor and themes.
If you want to achieve more control over how your products are displayed; faster loading; more flexible content management and content creation workflows, the headless storefront is a necessity.
So let’s have a look at the pros and cons.
Headless Shopify Advantages
Shopify’s Storefront API, written in GraphQL is what allows the front end and back end to communicate. It gives third-party providers the ability to be compatible with Shopify. This opens endless possibilities for how you want your store to look, feel, and function while still keeping the essential elements of your Shopify.
🔗 URL Flexibility
With a headless solution, you can keep your existing URL structures while still taking advantage of Shopify’s great tools.
🔀 Content management on multiple storefronts
Separating content management from theme management is a boon for brands, as it allows them to streamline their workflow and offer the same content across multiple storefronts. This is especially useful for companies that run multiple storefronts and want different content on each site.
🖌️ UX freedom
Shopify offers a wide variety of design tools to help brands improve their user experience. You can achieve a lot if you utilize the built-in theme design. For the average store, themes will be more than enough. However, if a brand decides to go headless, it can gain an edge in this area by developing a more streamlined experience for users.
📱 Mobile-first approach and PWA
Progressive Web Apps (PWA) fill the gap between mobile apps and websites. Using a PWA, users can enjoy native app-like functionality, including push notifications, quick updates, offline use, and easy installation without downloading an app from an app store.
💨 Reduced time-to-market
The whole concept behind headless development is to make teams work faster together. Instead of working one piece at a time, you can build different modules simultaneously and then assemble the final product.
Headless Shopify Disadvantages
Here’s what to consider:
💷 Big Initial Investment
Shopify Themes are easy to install and you could do it yourself. Then, you can apply some apps and plugins and you are all set. When you hire an agency to build you a headless store, however, you may pay up to $70,000. And even if you go for a cheaper option, you can’t find many great solutions under $5,000.
👨💻 Technical expertise is required
While the headless approach gives you tons of options to modify your eCommerce website, one of the biggest tradeoffs is that you should hire someone with technical expertise, or you should be capable of manually updating and upgrading your modules.
🧩 Third-party apps will require integrations
If you are used to installing apps from Shopify with ease, it might come as a piece of bittersweet news that you might not enjoy such a seamless experience anymore. Instead, you should start writing code. There is no need to panic, as most of the big apps have APIs. Still, it is possible that some of them may not be available anymore.
How to go Headless?
There are many options to make your Shopify headless, and we will summarize the primary ones.
Probably the most popular way to do business (and run stores) is by doing it all by yourself. You can create a headless architecture around Shopify Plus that gives you complete ownership of your eCommerce platform. This could give you the ability to take the initiative with development, which could lead to improved flexibility and agility. Since you’re in control, everything you order will be executed the way you want.
However, full control doesn’t always mean a financially-wise decision. The headless approach requires hiring developers who are experts in React, Gatsby, or other frameworks. This is associated with onboarding costs, seeking talent, and sometimes – limited access to talent.
Hire an agency
Working with agencies has plenty of benefits. You only pay for received services. If you need 50 hours of development work, you pay for 50 hours. No onboarding fees, no need to hire a headhunter to find developers, and no promotion of expensive job postings. Shopify storefront owners who prefer working with an agency could also benefit from the reduced time to market since they can hire extra talent when they need it.
Of course, if you’re going headless, don’t jump in for the first agency you find. Research is key. While low fees might be red flags for worse quality and lots of manual work, overspending is also not synonymous with guaranteed success.
Utilize FEaaS (Frontend as a Service)
Frontend as a service provider is in demand for its ability to decrease startup costs, lower overhead costs, and provide a quick time-to-market for web applications. The entire stack of technologies you need to launch a functioning e-commerce site or storefront is available when you use frontend and backend as a service solution.
However, utilizing this model means a lack of ownership, resulting in a lack of control. Once you stop paying for the service, you lose access to the tools you’ve used.
Examples of Successful Headless Shopify Stores
Here are some Shopify businesses with headless functionality.
With Peloton centralizing its services into a headless architecture, everything comes together seamlessly. Not having to worry about maintaining a front end allows the team to focus on other aspects of the product, such as designing and delivering new classes and software features to its users. Plus, Peloton can execute updates more frequently without affecting its current customers.
Bamford chose to re-platform its e-commerce store by using Shopify Plus and Contentful. This setup allowed the brand to host its website on a platform known for high-quality hosting and performance while also allowing Bamford full control over the design of its online store. By selecting Shopify Plus and Contentful, Bamford was able to enjoy fast loading speeds and a clean, secure design. The result was evident – a 140% revenue increase.
For years, Staples had been dissatisfied with its online platform due to its complexity and dependency on sizeable internal personnel to manage it. A new corporate restructuring allowed the company to improve its own strategy, and going headless could help it achieve 100% uptime during peak times. With Shopify, the platform totally changed its digital presence in less than 12 months and saved around half the price of other alternatives (like SAP Commerce Cloud).
Verishop sells a wide variety of products, from fashion to beauty items, to health products and home goods. Being a multi-brand retailer, Verishop is able to offer customized experiences at brand-specific URLs, improving SEO.
Their site loads quickly, in part because they can load different products on separate pages without slowing the page down. The headless architecture, a mix between Shopify Plus and Contentful CMS, seems like the perfect solution.
Victoria Beckham Beauty
In order to build a luxury brand, you have to build a website that projects luxury. A monolithic architecture might work for a small business like mine, but you definitely don’t want your website to look like that when you’re selling millions of dollars worth of products. A headless CMS like Contentful is the recipe for success for Victoria Beckham’s store, as well as a robust e-commerce shopping cart from Shopify Plus.
Inkbox has only been around for the past three years, but it has already garnered a large fan following. This is especially impressive because the company’s website gets over a million visitors each month. Inkbox plans to continue growing thanks to its Shopify loyalty programs and the headless design, which increased repeat purchase rates by as much as 28%.
Shogun General is an eCommerce store powered by its own solution. It is a progressive web app with a sleek, lightweight interface and loads the website quickly. The shop also takes advantage of Shopify’s e-commerce functions to give users an easy shopping experience. Because its headless architecture separates the content from the code, it allows for greater scalability.
The company uses Shopify to power its e-commerce side while using WordPress to operate the front end. By combining Shopify, a shopping platform, with WordPress, a content management system, the brand Rebel Girls can achieve significantly more from operating every aspect of the business from a single hub.
Yoga Girl has gone headless with its headless Shopify website, boosting performance and user experience for a variety of business functions. By removing the gap between marketing, design, and development create a website that performs each function to the best possible standard without having to compromise on design.
FIGS has turned to Unbounce and Next.js to give their customers the best shopping experience possible on their website. These platforms let FIGS customize and create landing pages, connecting them with their product pages on Shopify, which is integrated with Unbounce and Next.js. The integration helps FIGS control orders and inventory from within Shopify, saving minutes here and there that could have been spent making sure everything was correct.
With a combination of Contentful and Shopify Plus, Grass Roots comes up with a powerful PWA that stands out. As their CEO Cody Hopkins states, “Our progressive web app significantly increased our mobile average order value. With the increase in revenue, we support our sustainability efforts”. Indeed, a Contentful front end backed up with a shopping cart functionality from Shopify is a very strong combination.
Considering going headless?
Schedule a meeting with our tech-savvy managers to discuss if a headless Shopify store is right for your business.
To Sum Up
Over the past years, Shopify has built a reputation as a rock-solid platform for creating great eCommerce experiences. But the platform also provides a chance to go headless so that you can use different designs as a building block for larger applications. The headless approach allows for flexibility in customization, meaning your website can scale with the needs of your business.
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