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Why choose headless ecommerce on Shopify?

Last updated: June 24, 2022

Thinking of going headless on Shopify or Shopify Plus? This guide provides you with all the information about headless ecommerce and it's benefits. Headless is definitely not for everyone, we hope this guide gives you everything you need to know and why you should choose headless as an ecommerce solution on the Shopify or Shopify Plus platform!
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What is headless ecommerce on Shopify?

Headless ecommerce implementation involves separating the front-end of your store from the back end unlocking the flexibility to design and build beyond the limitations of the back end system. We power headless ecommerce store's back-end with Shopify and build the front-end to leverage a javascript framework called React. Headless ecommerce developers gives merchants unlimited levels of complexity, as the front end is built in line with the specific requirements for the store and only communicates with the back end when it needs to. Headless ecommerce naturally brings other benefits such as lightning-fast site speed, the ability to build very unique shopping experiences, and not being limited by what the back-end system has to offer. Are you looking for a Headless Shopify Agency?

What are the benefits of headless on Shopify?

The main benefit of choosing a headless approach to building your Shopify store is speed. Headless stores leverage a javascript languaged called React that were built to be lightning fast. If you are looking for the highest scores on performance reports such as Google Lighthouse, then headless is the way to achieve it. A headless store is not confined by the limitation of monolithic platforms and the developers have ultimate control on what loads and when. The benefits of improved site speed have been widely reported with some merchants seeing a reduction in conversion rate by 2% for every second longer a site takes to load.

Complexity is also another key benefit of choosing headless on Shopify. When you choose a non-headless approach you are limited by the capabilites of the platform in questions, however with headless the codebase is entirely controlled by you and you build features and complexity that communicate with other platforms such as Shopify exactly when you want them to. Headless is often recommend for merchatns who require highly bespoke or complex customer experience due to the nature of their product offering. Whilst the Shopify & Shopify Plus platforms are highly advanced and have solutions to suit the majority of merchants needs, there are still some limitations that make it a challenge to achieve specific outcomes for customers.

Cost is an contraversial arguement to make as a benefit of headless Shopify solutions, whilst development resource does have higher cost implications, the return for the work may be higher due to more tailored customer experience, faster load times, higher conversion rates and less reliance on third parties for expensive features.

What are the limitations of headless on Shopify?

As an expert headless Shopify agency, we must stress that headless is not for all merchants and the decision to go headless should be carefully considered. There are a number of associated limitations that won't suit most merchants when choosing a headless architecture of your store.

Firstly, the main limitation of headless is the associated costs. Developers who specialize in React-based framework tend to attract higher fees due to the added complexity. Higher costs naturally means that a headless ecommerce project do tend to cost more than a
custom theme shopify build project.

Another key limitation with headless in current times is the lack of "out-of-the-box integrations that exist between Shopify and amazing eco-system of tech providers. This means you will be required to pay development teams to manually integrate features such as reviews, instagram feeds, logistics providers from scratch. Whilst we do expect (and already seeing) leading platforms offering headless integrations to Shopify Hydrogen, it is still a challenge to over-come at this time.

Ability to manage the store will come with a higher development requirement. Whilst amazing tools such as Shogun Frontend, bring a higher degree of control over the content of your store - some of the great features that work out of the books that give merchants complete control over their store without developers - will often need developers to make changes. The on-going development requirement of a headless store will naturally be higher!

Is there different ways to build a headless ecommerce store?

There are several options when thinking about going headless (in terms of the way you approach it with platforms and tools). But, often, the biggest choice brands face is: Should you construct your frontend entirely custom from scratch, or do you go the route of frontend-as-a-service which offers the core skeleton to how the frontend should be structured. In option one, the completely composable, bespoke route, retailers team up with developers or an agency to handpick all the backend functions, microservices, third-party add-ons, and middleware components of the build — stitching everything together. We feel platforms like Shogun can improve the efficiency of development resource and control over the store post build. On the other hand, option two is the frontend-as-a-service approach. Implementing a headless PWA build with a platform like Shogun Frontend, for example, wherein you get all the benefits of enterprise headless commerce, without the unwieldy ecommerce stack management issues. With a frontend-as-a-service platform, everything to achieve a decoupled frontend is entirely end-to-end — helping merchandising teams realize the benefits of headless in a low-code environment.

Is Shopify a headless CMS?

You’re likely already familiar with Shopify’s CMS, but what you might not know is that it is perfectly possible to use their ecommerce platform without being tied into their frontend themes. Shopify's storefront API allows retailers to use Shopify’s CMS as part of a headless solution but only for key database related data such as customers, products and settings. However for front-end related content that would usually be managed by a theme or the 'Theme Customizer', you would need a third party content management system, such as Shogun Frontend or Contentful if you wish to edit content without the need for a developer.

How does headless ecommerce work on Shopify?

By the nature of headlessn, Shopify can be entirely used as a back-end only feature and the front-end can be hosted and powered entirely independently. Many developers opt for hosting with providers such as Netlify and power the front-end with React frameworks such as Gatsby.js.

Shopify does have their own solution to headless on the platform to improve the efficiency of the store that levarages everything that Shopify has to offer. Developers can opt to use Shopify's Hydrogen that is an opinionated React framework that easily integrates to Shopify's back-end via Shopify's Storefront API. What's more, you can deploy Hydrogen stores for free to Shopify's global hosting solution called Oxygen. Functionality such as add to cart, customer data management and content management can easily be integrated between Hydrogen and Shopify's backend databases.

How much does headless ecommerce cost on Shopify?

The good news is Shopify's Hydrogen is free and open-source for developers to use. What's more, Shopify Hydrogen stores can be deployed free of charge to Shopify's global hosting infrastructure called "Oxygen". Of course you'll need an active Shopify plan.

When is headless available on Shopify?

Go go go! Headless is available now aswell as Shopify Hydrogen & Oxygen too!

Do I need Shopify Plus for headless ecommerce?

You do not strictly require Shopify Plus, however some APIs may require a Shopify Plus membership to use. Shopify's Oxygen does require a Shopify Plus membership. Learn more about Shopify Plus.

Summary of why choose headless ecommerce on Shopify?

So that's a wrap, we hope it's helped bring some much needed clarity to headless Shopify ecommerce solutions and why you should choose a headless approach to your store. In summary, Headless is not for everyone due to the complexities, associated upfront costs anad on-going development requirements and the lack of "out-of-the-box" integrations. That said where Headless will cost more and require complex skills, it definitely makes up in performance and ability to tackle almost any challenge for the complex on-site experience.

If you are looking for a headless ecommerce store with Hydrogen and Oxygen, learn more about our headless services here.


Interested in a Headless Shopify build with Hydrogen & Oxygen?

We are an expert Shopify team supporting merchants to launch custom store experience for merchants all round the globe. As accredited, Shopify Experts, we work with Shopify at the very core of what we do and have adopted Shopify's Hydrogen framework to deliver cutting-edge headless Shopify stores with world-leading merchants.

If you are looking for a headless ecommerce store with Hydrogen and Oxygen, learn more about our headless services here.

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