Going Headless? All You Need to Know About Headless Shopify

Last updated on May 17th, 2022 at 02:14 pm

Headless Shopify is becoming an increasingly popular technology solution for retailers as the ecommerce landscape evolves, which makes sense as we look at the culmination of new ecommerce trends.

Between 2021 and 2025, the ecommerce market is expected to grow to $11 trillion, and record numbers of new ecommerce stores correlate to sharp increases in competition. Brands are forced to focus on increasing brand loyalty through diversified, personalized experiences. We’ve also seen the death of the third-party cookie, which requires brands to up their creativity as they build these experiences.

Simply put: converting shoppers into customers and gaining their loyalty requires ecommerce businesses to provide innovative, omnichannel experiences—and do it well.

That’s where headless commerce comes in. A headless setup can unlock developer experiences that allow you the freedom to create fantastic shopping experiences for your customers. Embracing headless commerce will enable you to sell anywhere without development or design constraints.

However, while headless commerce has received a lot of attention lately, it isn’t for all businesses. There are many additional dependencies, requirements, and costs involved with going headless.

Keep reading to learn more about headless Shopify, why you should consider it, and how to get started if you decide it’s right for your ecommerce business.

What Is Headless Commerce?

A headless ecommerce setup is when a store’s frontend and backend are separate. Think of your store’s frontend operations as its “head.” Before diving further into headless commerce, let’s talk about the difference between frontend and backend.

Frontend Operations

The frontend of your store is also called the presentation layer. This is what your customer sees. However, your frontend can be much more than a website, including mobile apps, social media platforms, and other devices found on the Internet of Things (IoT), such as self-serve kiosks, smart mirrors, voice-assisted technology, wearables, and more.

Backend Operations

Your store’s backend consists of all the processes, systems, and tools that handle operations in the background. This technology ensures your business runs smoothly and helps with processes such as integrations, fulfillment, merchandising, data storage, and more.

Traditional ecommerce platforms combine the frontend and backend, while a headless setup separates the two to give you additional flexibility to create new buyer experiences. You can pull together various devices, channels, and systems with headless commerce to create endless options and customer experiences.

How Does Headless Shopify Work?

A headless commerce setup is made of two layers: a presentation layer and a backend layer. However, you can also layer other third-party services and tools. These layers communicate through application program interfaces (or APIs) that send information between software and platforms in real-time.

Content management systems (CMS) are used to manage customer-facing content. With headless storefront software, you can use multiple backend systems depending on what you need. These systems can include things like your:

  • Progressive web app (PWA)
  • Content management system (CMS)
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Digital experience platform (DXP)

These additional SaaSS tools help customers interact with your business, like a mobile app, vending machine, or website. Whenever a customer has contact with your storefront API, the API calls your backend to send that information through to your database.

Your customers don’t see anything from your head­less backend. They only see the user interface you’re using to deliver shopping experiences to them.

Headless Commerce vs. Traditional Commerce

Businesses that use headless ecommerce platforms are typically larger with complex business rules and order processes. They may also have other systems and platforms that need to be integrated with their ecommerce system.

In some cases, they might want to provide a unique ordering experience that requires custom development. In every case, businesses interested in headless commerce are seeking a way to respond to unique, evolving business needs. They’re driven by factors such as the need to lower costs associated with delivering new online experiences, the proliferation of connected devices, and the consumerization of enterprise.

There are three key differences between headless ecommerce and traditional ecommerce setups:

Headless Ecommerce Doesn’t Limit Front End Development

When working with a traditional ecommerce setup, your developers are limited when it comes to frontend design. They must work with what the solution allows. If they want to change the design or customer experience, they’d need to change the code, database, and the frontend. Making even the smallest of changes becomes a substantial risk.

By eliminating a defined frontend, headless commerce setups allow frontend developers to freely create custom storefronts that fit precisely what your business needs without worrying about modifying the underlying database.

Headless Ecommerce Offers Nearly Limitless Customization

With traditional ecommerce platforms, there is a predefined experience for the end-user (the person buying the product) and the admin (the person managing the site). Headless ecommerce setups allow you to define the precise experience you want for both buyers and admins.

Headless Eccommerce Reduces Time to Value

Regardless of which platform you use, backend business functionality, logic, and capabilities usually eat up most of the software development process. By going headless, you can begin at the point of completion. This lets you focus on the user experience, delivering the desired outcome for far less time, effort, and cost.

Benefits of Headless Shopify for Retailers

Headless commerce is flexible. With this flexibility, you can set yourself up to accommodate your customers more efficiently than your competition. A headless Shopify solution allows you to accomplish this in three critical ways:

Increased Control and Faster Scaling

57% of ecommerce and IT leaders report their current platform cannot support their business for more than 12 months. While outdated systems coded in different languages can inhibit critical integrations, headless setups play nice with everyone.

Headless allows you to integrate all your existing systems—PIM, ERP, OMS, CMS, etc.—with powerful APIs. You can build a unique shopping experience using your chosen programming language. Not only can this make your business more lean and efficient, but it gives you the power to adapt quickly to changes and move at your own pace.

Faster Time to Market

Headless commerce platforms alleviate the issue of developers who can’t work on frontend and backend systems simultaneously, allowing you to expedite changes and experiments.

With headless, you can perform customer-facing tasks independently from backend tasks. It means you can split up copywriting and coding so that each team can move forward without waiting for the other to complete their tasks first.

Advanced Personalization

Headless lets developers provide their customers with different types of content depending on the device they’re using.

Headless lets you instantly split test what you’re building so you can optimize the user experience and your conversion rate. You can deploy changes to your store at any time, regardless of which storefront your customers are shopping from.

Did you know that online consumers are 40% more likely to spend more than planned when they’re presented with a highly-personalized shopping experience? Going headless provides your team with advanced agility to keep up with evolving customer acquisition trends.

Better SEO Performance

Improving front-end performance is one of the most significant factors affecting your site’s SEO. Embracing a headless setup allows you complete control over your storefront’s SEO.

With no limitations imposed by the platform, you can choose how to set up your shop URLs and meta descriptions. If you are importing products into Shopify from other ecommerce platforms, you can keep the original URL structure intact, eliminating the risk of SEO migration. A headless system allows for a faster, cleaner, app-like user experience and faster load speed.

Benefits of Headless Shopify for Your Customers

A headless Shopify setup doesn’t just benefit your developers, but it’s good news for your customers and target audience, as well. They benefit from increased trust, personalized shopping experiences, and an authentic omnichannel experience.

More Trust and Brand Loyalty

Today, online shoppers are more concerned than ever about privacy. However, customers still report remaining open to sharing sensitive data if they receive a personalized shopping experience in return.

We’re in a world where online privacy is top of mind for anyone shopping online. However, research supports the fact that consumers are still open to sharing customer data in return for personalized shopping experiences. Nine out of ten shoppers are willing to share behavioral data in return for an easier and cheaper shopping experience.

True Omnichannel Experience

With headless commerce, you can collect that behavioral data and share it across your platforms. If a consumer creates an account on your ecommerce website and continues their shopping journey on a different device (such as a smartwatch), a headless architecture allows you to sync that data across devices.

How does this benefit your customer? You can now allow them to save shopping carts across devices, provide personalized product recommendations, and offer them preferred payment options based on previous order history.

The easier you make it for a customer to shop, the more likely they’ll become a loyal customer and return to you in the future.

How Do You Get Started With Headless Commerce?

There are two main approaches if you’re thinking of getting started with headless commerce. You can build a headless commerce architecture from scratch, or you can leverage platforms that already offer headless architecture.

Here’s a quick overview of the process to get started.

Decide Whether to Keep Your Existing Ecommerce Platform or Switch to Something New

If you’re a small business, adding APIs to your current ecommerce platform might be the best way to go. If not, many small-to-mid-size or enterprise companies opt to switch to a SaaS solution, which offers more flexibility and scalability over time.

If you’re already a Shopify Plus retailer, you have access to plenty of APIs that can help you go headless without starting over.

Choose a Headless Content Management System (CMS)

If you’re already delivering content to shoppers on multiple channels, a headless CMS is the solution for you.

With a headless CMS, you can create content specific to each channel and individual user experience. Your API integrations will sync your frontend and backend and deliver the right content to the corresponding touchpoints.

You can select an open-source content management system or use one provided by a SaaS solution. While an open-house system offers the most flexibility, you will need a team of knowledgeable developers to build and deploy it. If you’re hoping to get started more quickly (and remain lean in the process), SaaS is the best option.

Sync Your CMS and APIs

Next, it’s time to sync your content management system and APIs. In a way, you’re giving your headless content management platform a makeshift head. This is necessary to integrate the frontend and backend systems together, allowing data to flow between them.

It’s best to take small steps if you’re switching from a traditional ecommerce platform to a headless solution. Instead of jumping in all at once, try building out APIs in sections—such as connecting a landing page or blog post. Along the way, you can test and optimize your processes, allowing you to scale with confidence.

Is Headless Shopify a Fit for All Ecommerce Retailers?

While headless platforms are becoming more and more popular, headless doesn’t make sense for all online stores. If you’re scaling with traditional ecommerce software, it may not be worth the time and financial stress required to invest in a headless setup. Whether it’s worth it really depends on your business goals.

If you’re hoping to create a highly-personalized customer experience and have the resources to jump into a development project, headless Shopify may be the right next step.

Consider the following statements. If you relate to more than one of these, headless ecommerce is worth taking a closer look at for your business:

  • Your Shopify storefront theme or template is not as customizable as you like.
  • You already have an established infrastructure, and it’s not easy to re-platform another tool into your existing technology.
  • You want to provide a fast shopping experience for all shoppers and to have more control over the elements that affect performance and site speed.
  • You think you’re moving slower than competitors because your developments can’t simultaneously make frontend and backend adjustments.
  • You don’t have a native mobile app for iOS or Android, or your mobile shopping app isn’t as user-friendly as it could be.
  • You want to build a unique storefront ecommerce experience that isn’t achievable with your current platform (i.e., wearable tech, smart mirrors, vending machines, etc.)

Finally, you must consider costs and time. Don’t forget to scope out fees you pay to external agencies or any monthly expenses such as subscriptions for a headless CMS platform you use.

How Flxpoint Can Help You Go Headless With Shopify

Whether you’re building a headless Shopify store or looking for ways to optimize and automate your existing ecommerce platform, you can’t be successful if you’re not using the right tools for the job.

Flxpoint exists to unify and automate every aspect of your ecommerce operations. Our experts begin by asking what your business’s most significant challenge or mission is. We’ll recommend a strategy for achieving your goals, whether that means using an off-the-shelf product or discussing a custom solution with our development team.

Talk with an expert to learn more about how Flxpoint can give you complete control over your entire ecommerce tech stack.

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