Is headless e-commerce on Shopify Plus the way to go?

Is headless e-commerce on Shopify Plus the way to go?

You may have recently heard a lot of excitement about headless e-commerce, and even have an idea of what it is and what it requires. But do you know whether a Headless store would be right for you? Here we will discuss both what Headless architecture is and how to decide whether it is a wise move for your business. 


The official definition of Headless Commerce:

“Headless commerces is the separation of front-end from back-end and the powering of each through separate technologies specifically designed for each purpose, to create a total optimisation of both systems.”

What is Headless Commerce?

The vast majority of e-commerce sites are built upon a platform that powers both the front-end and back-end simultaneously, and for good reason - simplicity. Having each system in one place allows for both a cost and time effective running of the site as adjustments can be easily made without the need of outside developers.

However, more and more frequently e-commerce companies want, and require, a higher level of performance from their sites. Digital technology is advancing at a near exponential rate and with that comes greater and greater demands from the market and from its customers - mobile technology is increasingly vital to e-commerce interaction, site speed must be ever accelerating, PWAs are of growing importance and Digital Flagship Stores are becoming more common. 

This progress results in the jack-of-all-trades style e-commerce platforms not being capable of keeping up with the bleeding edge of digital experiences. Don’t get us wrong, these platforms are good at what they do, and of all the platforms out there Shopify Plus is the best one (in our opinion). But imagine using the best overall e-commerce platform and combining it with the best performance framework (Gatsby) and the best content management system (Prismic or Contentful), and having all three technologies share data with one another through interconnecting APIs. If you can imagine this, you are imagining Headless Commerce.

Reasons to go Headless with Shopify Plus

So what are the advantages? Why go to the great lengths one must go to when creating a headless site? The answer to these questions are numerous but to make things easier we have whittled the options down to four key reasons to go Headless:

1. Multilingual

In our opinion, Shopify’s limited possibilities for multilingual stores is its single greatest weakness - the number of Shopify users is rapidly expanding, across Europe especially and across the world, and they often require their site to operate on a number of different languages.

The options available to such customers are to use plugins like Langify which will greatly affect site speed, or to set up a separate Shopify store for every language, which will of  course result in a huge amount of extra effort from the store owner as every change, alteration and update will have to be repeated for all separate stores.

A Headless store, however, will use a separate CMS for all translation purposes,  one that is far more powerful than Shopify’s and can hence handle as many languages as the company desires without having any effect on overall site speed. An entire continent’s worth of languages all stemming from a single store is a reason to go Headless.

2. Multicurrency 

As with languages, Shopify is limited by the number of currencies it can support with one instance of a store. And consider as well that if a Shopify user were to dedicate a separate store for each language or currency, and if all of these stores were using additional apps or themes that require a one-off or monthly payment, this amount would have to be paid again and again for every store. It goes without saying that this is not an ideal situation.

Again, Headless stores do not face this issue as they can have any number of currencies running through just one single CMS. No extra management per Shopify Plus instance for content and no extra costs for every Shopify Plus instance where you have to install all used apps again and again.

3. SEO

SEO is critical to success in today’s e-commerce market and Headless architecture can greatly improve a site’s search engine ranking in a number of ways. 

The first is overall site speed. Having a faster site will get you a better Google ranking and thus more hits on your website which will subsequently drive up your SEO, and as mentioned Headless sites operate via the best-in-class performance frameworks, making them faster than the competition.

Secondly, as Headless sites only run through a single Shopify Plus store their URLs are always optimised for best SEO results. Making numerous stores for different languages or currencies will result in a subdomain structure - nl.nameofclient.com, de.nameofclient.com, es.nameofclient.com etc - which greatly affects site traffic and search engine ranking. When everything runs out of a single store the site URL remains consistent and hence enhances SEO - e.g. nameofclient.com/nl, nameofclient.com/de, nameofclient.com/es.

4. Keeping up with digital trends

The incessantly evolving nature of digital technology brings with it greater technical demands from the market, demands that are driven by changes in digital trends. As technology expands, new features become more commonplace and more fashionable in website design and UX, and the companies that can keep up with these trends will profit from them the most.

Headless commerce gives a site the capability to be at the very forefront of digital exploration in two key ways:

  • Design/UX flexibility - Utilising the most modern, lightweight front-end frameworks will not in itself guarantee a digital experience unlike any other, but you can do worse than to put these tools in the right hands if you want a site that will live long in the memory of everyone visiting it. 

Digital Flagship Stores that are purposely engineered to deliver an immersive online experience, and in so doing deliver a strong brand message, cannot be achieved in a way that will set it apart from countless other sites online simply through an e-commerce platform. The technology that is available via Headless architecture is required to deliver something that is truly unique.

  • PWA - Progressive Web Applications are a growing trend that are difficult to create purely through an e-commerce platform. With their app-like icons for mobile devices and offline capabilities, they are not only a result of the drive of mobile technology but possibly even a glimpse into the future of e-commerce.

They are incredibly fast, forward thinking and, needless to say, not something that falls under the realm of a standard e-commerce platform. However the same technology that powers PWAs is used to implement Headless architecture on a Shopify store and thus subsequently having a Headless store will ease the transition into having a PWA.

Things to take into consideration

If everything sounds good so far and you are beginning to get excited about your new Headless store and the possibilities it could bring, let’s just have a quick reality check and remember that Headless, like everything else, is not without its drawbacks.

The central issue to take into consideration is that creating a Headless store requires a large amount of technical work.

Did you take that in? To be absolutely clear let’s run over the key words one more time: Large amount, Very technical, Work. 

The first and most obvious example of this work is the transition itself. Converting a store to Headless means restructuring and then rebuilding the flow of data from your back-end to your front-end. From scratch. It should come as no surprise then that this is both very difficult and very time consuming, and will most likely require a team of specialised developers. We imagine that most people considering a move to Headless will have foreseen the need for developers to physically make the transition, but what may not be so obvious is the continual reliance on said developers a company will have once running a Headless store. 

If you and your team enjoy using Shopify’s app store or theme editor, this will essentially no longer be possible once you have gone Headless. Apps can of course still be installed into your site but it will not be a case of simply “plug-and-play” or “click-and-drag”. Every update to change the appearance of your store (exlcuding changing images and texts) will require a developer to implement because of the added complexity with Headless architecture and the use of APIs.

If you are happy to hand over the ability to make quick, efficient updates to your store by yourself and you can cover the costs involved with working so closely with a team of specialised developers then you should seriously start to consider a move to Headless e-commerce.

Headless e-commerce architecture versus the traditional Shopify Plus architecture section 

Using the traditional Shopify architecture for one country all content is managed within one Shopify store:

Headless E-commerce Shopify - Traditional setup single store

 

Using the traditional Shopify architecture for multiple languages and currencies all content is managed across multiple Shopify stores:

Shopify Plus Headless Architecture - multi store setup

 

When using the Shopify headless e-commerce architecture for multiple countries all e-commerce data is managed in one Shopify store while all textual content and imagery for all language are managed in one Contentful instance (or another headless CMS).

Shopify e-commerce architecture - headless solution in combination with Contentful

 

Is headless e-commerce the right fit for your company?

To return to our original question, then, how do you know whether the move to Headless is right for you? We can now identify five essential characteristics for anyone making the move:

1. Your company is digital native - although it is not you doing the hard graft, you need to have an understanding of the technology involved with Headless and, more importantly, the challenging nature of the transition and future maintenance.

2. You take e-commerce seriously - Headless technology can give you more than just an online store, it hands you the possibility of a truly unique online destination, a digital world unlike anything else. To have Headless architecture in place and only create an e-commerce store would be a waste, so you must have ambitions of creating something more.

3. You want to prepare for the future - Headless is at the very boundary of what is possibly right now. This technology will never stop advancing and so if you want to be keeping up with the frontrunners and be in a position to adapt to wherever progression leads us in five, ten, fifteen years’ time then Headless is for you.

4. You want to be flexible - If your store requires multiple languages and multiple currencies and you do not want the hassle and additional costs of running separate stores for each (let’s be honest, who would?) then a move to Headless architecture could be very beneficial for you.

5. You have the budget to invest - Going headless with Shopify Plus is not the cheapest solution, but it is the best. Please keep in mind that the design and development of a headless solution on Shopify Plus starts around €45.000 for a “standard e-commerce platform”, the price goes up depending on specific requested functionalities.

If you fall under any of these criteria and you want to start the process of going Headless, or if you aren’t sure yet but want to know more about the technology and the process, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!

Email us at phill@askpill.com or give us a call at +31 (0) 20 261 5080

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