Headless Shopify: Discover The Features That Will Make Your Head Spin
In general, Shopify lets you easily start selling your products after a really quick set up. You can level-up your platform by adding integrations and apps, but there is also the approach that gives you ultimate freedom: headless Shopify. Thanks to that, you can host storefronts outside Shopify… And this is only the beginning!
The competition in the e-commerce sector is fierce and online stores are relentlessly looking for solutions that would help them gain a competitive edge.
This situation is caused by the rising cost of acquiring customers, which forces brands to not only attract them but build their loyalty by providing a fully personalized, customized, and omnichannel experience.
One of the quite new, but revolutionary, approaches is headless commerce. This approach provides retailers with a chance to reach a whole new level of platform performance and offers absolutely unique and tailored customer experiences. Among other headless commerce benefits, you'll find faster time-to-market, better SEO, and enhanced flexibility.
No wonder this approach is more and more widely chosen by big e-commerce brands that rely on a heavy load of content and want to provide users with a smoother and richer omnichannel experience.
Among the most popular headless eCommerce platforms right now, you’ll find headless Shopify. Its features – as well as the overall approach – can bring profits to any company operating in the eCommerce market.
In this article, we’ll cover:
What is headless Shopify?
Headless Shopify Features and Benefits
Headless Shopify Disadvantages
When to Choose a headless Shopify Store
How to Prepare for Creating a Headless Commerce Platform
Exemplary Headless Shopify Costs
Okay, let’s go!
What is headless Shopify?
But did you know that you can connect the Shopify platform with the headless approach?
Shopify itself is highly functional but adopting it to headless enhances its possibilities while keeping the advantages. A perfect combination, isn’t it?
Completely Customized Experience with Shopify Headless CMS
Headless Shopify will allow you to build exactly what you need as, in the headless approach, using all of Shopify’s integrated backend solutions at the same time.
You are, however, no longer confined to big modules that have been designed to please everyone and may contain features you might not need at all.
With headless, you can build a layout with a look and feel that will significantly differ from standard template-based Shopify designs (even the custom ones offered by Shopify Plus).
With headless Shopify, you can customize and test the way people browse, search, and buy, creating unique landing, product, category, checkout and cart pages.
Good To Know The Difference – Headless Shopify vs Traditional Shopify
Traditional Shopify follows a monolithic approach, where the backend and frontend are tightly coupled. This means that the design and functionality of your store are dependent on Shopify's built-in templates and themes.
On the other hand, Headless Shopify embraces a headless commerce approach, decoupling the frontend and backend. With Headless Shopify, you have the freedom to create a unique and customized frontend experience while leveraging Shopify's robust infrastructure for handling e-commerce functionalities such as inventory management, payment processing, and order fulfillment.
Headless Shopify – How Does It Work?
Headless Shopify works by separating the presentation layer (frontend) from the commerce functionality (backend). By decoupling these two layers, you can leverage modern frontend technologies and frameworks to design a visually stunning and highly interactive shopping experience. The frontend communicates with the Shopify API to retrieve product data, manage carts, and process orders.
With Headless Shopify, you have complete control over the user interface, allowing for seamless customization and optimization. This approach empowers you to create a personalized and engaging shopping experience, implement advanced features, and integrate with third-party tools to enhance the functionality of your store.
Drawbacks of the Conventional Shopify Approach
While Traditional Shopify offers a user-friendly and all-in-one solution for e-commerce, it does come with limitations:
Slower loading times
Challenges in integrating third-party tools
Risk of restricted scalability
Unexpected costs when upgrading the platform
The tightly coupled nature of the frontend and backend restricts the level of customization beyond the available templates and themes. This limitation can prevent you from creating a truly unique brand experience that sets you apart from competitors and limit your ability to create a tailored design for your store
Additionally, the performance of a Traditional Shopify store can be affected by the slow load times of the built-in templates and themes. Slower page load times may lead to a higher bounce rate and potentially lost sales. Furthermore, the tightly coupled architecture can make it challenging to integrate with other systems or scale your store's functionality as your business grows.
Also, if you have specific requirements or need to implement advanced features that go beyond Shopify's out-of-the-box capabilities, you may face limitations with the Traditional Shopify approach. Customizing and extending functionality may require custom development work or the use of third-party apps, which can add complexity and additional costs.
And one thing to bare in mind: when using Traditional Shopify, you are locked into the Shopify ecosystem and its platform-specific technologies. If you ever decide to migrate to a different e-commerce platform or make significant changes to your technology stack, it may require rebuilding your store from scratch, resulting in potential downtime and resource investment.
of enterprises' decision makers (that have heard about headless)
feel that headless technologies make it easier to deliver a consistent content approach and are key to organizational success
Potential of Headless Commerce Shopify Features
There are many great features that headless ecommerce platforms can offer, both specific and more general. Let’s summarize the most prominent ones and tell a few words about each one of them.
Changing the URL structure
The problem with expanding your Shopify business to international markets is often connected with URLs. Each of the multi-language sites gets indexed individually – the website isn’t treated as a whole by search engines.
Headless architecture helps solve this problem straight away, because it allows you to customize and add breadcrumbs to the URL structure.
It has a massive impact on your whole international SEO strategy and enables you to more easily build a global business.
Better performance with the Shopify headless store
Thanks to a decoupled front end, you have total control over the customer’s experience and site performance. You can update it in real-time and dynamically add new features without having to rebuild the whole site. What’s more, the speed of the site doesn’t affect its performance.
All of this provides a whole new perspective to customer-focused innovation.
Enhanced omnichannel experience
Having full control over the site’s look, functions, and UX, you can easily produce not only multichannel, but omnichannel experiences.
You can integrate any third-party system into your platform, like Product Information Management tools that let you create a custom storefront for all the channels, and devices, such as smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, and tablets.
It is also possible to easily sell on eBay, Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest – you can add buy buttons there with HTML.
Why Go Headless with Shopify
If you go headless with your site, you are no longer confined to Shopify's tools and philosophy. You have the whole world of tools and services, like product information management (PIM) solutions for more seamless omnichannel experience or CMS to menage and update all your content more easily than with in-built Shopify tools.
You can freely add new channels in the future, because you modify only the front end, while the back end remains untouched. You are also able to customize information according to the activity history or localization of certain customers and their groups.
Introducing an omnichannel experience lets your shop rise to a new level and multiply revenue, reaching new customers and answering unmet needs of the existing ones.
Use of PWAs in Shopify headless CMS
Each year, more and more e-commerce sales are happening on mobile devices. With PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) Shopify stores can have fast mobile sites that act as standalone apps – although they are neither native mobile apps, nor standalone sites.
Once the PWA is designed, the Shopify storefront can be used on any device. This solution helps reduce bounce rates and keeps users engaged.
Increased Flexibility and Customization
With the decoupling of the front-end and back-end, you have the freedom to design and build your storefront exactly as you envision. You can do this by integrating your preferred technologies, frameworks, and tools to create a unique and tailored online shopping experience. Customizing the user interface, layout, and content presentation to align with your brand identity and captivate your target audience, is what additionally extends your possibilities.
Whether it's implementing custom designs, adding interactive elements, or integrating third-party services, the flexibility of Headless Commerce empowers you to deliver a truly personalized and engaging experience for your customers.
Headless Shopify platform offers enhanced scalability to support your expansion plans. By separating the front-end and back-end, you can independently scale each component based on your specific needs.
Handling increased traffic, spikes in transaction volumes, and growing product catalogs without compromising performance, is seamless. With the ability to leverage modern technologies and microservices, you can ensure that your online store remains responsive and reliable even during high-demand periods. The main gain? The uninterrupted shopping experience for your customers as your business flourishes.
Improved User Experience (UX)
Headless Shopify empowers you to create engaging and memorable user experiences that leave a lasting impression. You can build lightning-fast websites that load instantly, reducing bounce rates and improving user engagement.
You're free to implement intuitive navigation, interactive elements, and personalized content to guide visitors through their shopping journey and increase conversions. With the flexibility to optimize the user interface and design for different devices and screen sizes, you can ensure a consistent experience across various platforms.
Headless Commerce on Shopify enables you to elevate your customer's experience and foster long-term relationships by providing a delightful and user-centric shopping journey.
Headless Shopify means better marketing results
All those features of headless Shopify websites lead to more marketing possibilities.
The introduction of third-party tools and new solutions as they hit the market, full customization, enhanced performance and SEO effectiveness, personalization of the experience, and simplification of the sales process – these are the main marketing possibilities.
They all translate into access to new customers, better conversion rates and more trust and loyalty to brands, which in the end leads to higher sales numbers that can rise dramatically once you go headless.
Disadvantages of Shopify headless commerce
It is fair to say that there are also some disadvantages of going headless in Shopify, so you should be prepared. These include:
No theme customizer – which also means no theme previewing and no version control (but of course you'll receive a design project from the visual designer if you decide to go with it)
Loss of some of Shopify’s functions, such as rich text editor, some front-end applications and plugins, certain fonts and styling (but you'll have yours)
Being ready to build the whole platform from scratch, which requires time and skills (although there are some platforms that already have headless architecture available)
The deactivation of customer accounts
Integration with Third-Party Apps
While Headless Shopify allows integration with third-party apps, it may require additional effort compared to the traditional Shopify approach. If your company is accustomed to working with the internal interface and extensive app marketplace of traditional Shopify, adapting to the headless architecture might require a deeper understanding of API integrations and backend development.
Coordinating the integration of various apps and ensuring smooth communication between systems may present a learning curve for your team. However, the advantages of Headless Commerce, such as the freedom to choose the best-in-class solutions for your specific business needs, can outweigh the initial challenges of integrating third-party apps.
Technical Expertise Required to Start
Implementing Headless Commerce on the Shopify platform does require a certain level of technical expertise. Decoupling the front-end and back-end demands an extended understanding of development principles.
Setting up the necessary infrastructure, managing APIs, and designing a custom front-end experience may require the involvement of experienced developers or partnering with a skilled development agency. The technical expertise gained throughout the process enables you to leverage the power and flexibility of Headless Commerce to create a unique and tailored shopping experience for your customers.
Lack of Shopify Themes and Customizer
Headless Shopify provides flexibility and customization options, but it's important to note that it deviates from the traditional Shopify theme and customizer experience. With a headless approach, the front-end is decoupled, allowing you to build a custom storefront using modern frameworks and technologies.
While this unlocks endless possibilities, it also means that the pre-built themes and intuitive customizer of traditional Shopify are not readily available. Creating custom designs and implementing unique user interfaces requires collaboration with designers and developers who can craft a tailored front-end experience that aligns with your brand. The absence of pre-built themes in Headless Commerce presents an opportunity for businesses seeking a distinct and personalized online presence.
When should you choose a headless Shopify store?
Shopify, although a very versatile platform, perfect for budding businesses, has its limitations. If your users expect more in terms of performance and experience, and those restrictions start to sabotage your ability to attract them, communicate your business value and reliably measure results, it’s time to think about switching to a headless solution.
What size of businesses are we talking about? Well, if your shop grows year-over-year by double digits and has annual revenue exceeding 8 million dollars, it generally means you’re ready. But don’t worry – it’s not a condition you are obliged to meet!
You can also consider this solution at an earlier stage of development, especially when:
You find it difficult to include new tools into your existing technology
You think you are moving too slow because you can’t make simultaneous changes to both the back end and front end
You want to have more control over site performance and speed
You want to have an extremely user-friendly mobile app
You need to build specific elements of the e-commerce experience on your platform (such as smart mirrors, wearable tech, vending machines)
You want to conform to the specific needs of your customers, being able to process and utilize advanced information about their preferences and history
You need to use another CMS (you have quite an impressive choice of headless CMS, like Contentful, Storyblok, Sanity, Strapi and Amplience, to name a few)
How custom should your headless Shopify architecture be?
If you go headless with your site, you are no longer confined to Shopify’s tools and philosophy. You have the whole world of tools and services, like product information management (PIM) solutions for more seamless omnichannel experience or CMS to manage and update all your content more easily than with in-built Shopify tools.
There are also optimization tools, thanks to which you can make small changes and refine your website constantly, alongside a plethora of other options you can explore.
How to Approach Creating a Shopify Headless Commerce Platform?
There are a few possibilities – you can do it yourself, with freelancers, or build it with an agency. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each approach.
Building on one’s own
In this case, you maintain complete control over the whole process, which of course gives you more flexibility and independence, but on the other hand, you have to possess very advanced development and coding competences.
The direct financial costs are the lowest in this case, but this is the most time-consuming approach and can be applied only with smaller shops.
Building with freelancers
Hiring freelancers can be relatively cheap compared to other options, but you as the business owner must possess quite developed managerial skills and know everything about the process.
Cooperation with freelancers may also be difficult to coordinate and rather unmanageable in the case of bigger projects.
Building with an agency
For most complex and advanced projects, especially for big shops, we recommend cooperation with an agency that has a wealth of experience in introducing headless Shopify projects. They will know the potential pitfalls and will guide you through a path to avoid them.
The agency also has a team of developers, designers, business analysts, and other specialists with overlapping competences, as well as project managers that will get the process going.
The co-operation will be less time-consuming than with previous options, but you will have to deal with the ready system and be prepared to bear a significant cost for the implementation.
Question to Ask an Agency While Deciding on Headless Shopify CMS
Before signing the contract, you should ask your agency a few questions that will help examine their expertise and attitude.
Some of them concern the technical side, like what kind of maintenance support is required for a headless website, how the agency manages different environments, or how they approach source control and measurement.
You, as the shop owner, or one of your employees, should get at least general knowledge about these subjects.
Other questions concern the cooperation process, its stages and the exact scope of works. Let's break it down by showing you exemplary project's scope and costs, so you'll se what questions can be about.
How much does it cost to create a headless Shopify site?
Building a working website on modern tools, with the best headless Shopify development practices, takes a team of experienced experts – usually developers, engineers, project managers, architects, designers, business analysts, and testers.
For a project lasting from 2 to 5 months, the cost may amount from ten thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars. There are also maintenance costs afterwards, which may be a few thousand dollars per month, and additional costs like monthly subscriptions to a headless CMS platform.
Exemplary headless Shopify costs
To make it more understandable, we want to show you a cost scenario of a custom headless Shopify implementation that we made for a company from the medical sector.
The total cost amounted to about 60 thousand dollars and the components of the price estimate were, among others:
Preparing the navigation structure, footer, customized homepage and product pages, collection pages with all the features such as link structure, navigation, graphic design, and functions
Implementing the user accounts, shopping cart and checkout
Implementing a blog with homepage, posts, and author pages
Making store overview pages with localization and the sitemap
Implementing the headless CMS and all the Shopify backend functions
Internationalization and translation
Integration with external tools, such as Hotjar and Google Tag Manager
Preparation of design guidelines, and responsive web design
How long does it take to launch a headless Shopify solution?
Going headless means rebuilding and customizing certain parts of your eCommerce store to increase the user experience and comfort of your customers. Depending on the complexity of the front-end visuals and additional functionalities required, it will definitely take longer than implementing a traditional Shopify store.
The timeline may be from 2 to 5 months, depending on your existing assets (well-structured data in Shopify, well-defined process of generating images and content, and so on), the complexity of the project and the readiness of your team when it comes to changes.
You should also remember about the testing phase. A good idea is to create a minimum viable project (MVP) or show the new layout first to a chosen group of customers, before making it accessible to a wider audience.
Work With Us – Discover the Best Headless Ecommerce Shopify Experience
At Naturaily, an eCommerce development company, we prepare each cost estimate based on the specific scope of work. Having implemented numerous headless Shopify sites, we can thoroughly advise you on what should be done in your project before we come up with the final pricing.
If you would like to try out our comprehensive approach, send us a brief and let’s talk about the great things that we can do together to make your e-commerce thrive!
Let's talk about e-commerce!
Contact us and we'll warmly introduce you to the vast world of headless e-commerce!
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