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Headless Commerce for Shopify

One of the biggest announcements dropped during Shopify Unite 2019 was the rollout of more headless commerce solutions. A week before the announcement, Shopify also published a blog titled: “Headless Commerce is Flexible Commerce.”

Okay, you’re probably wondering, what is with Shopify’s obsession with severed online store heads? Does this mean that to be more flexible, you should cut off your store’s head? What?

In this article, we’re explaining all about headless commerce, and why you should seriously consider it for your e-commerce store.

What is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce means having separate platforms for the front-end of your store (the head), which is where customer touchpoints happen, and the back-end where the core processes of the store are executed.

Just a simple separation of these two aspects of your store unlocks so much potential (which we’ll talk about more below).

But keep in mind, these two ends (front-end and back-end) will still need handling and oversight. With headless commerce, you will need someone to handle design and processing separately.

How headless commerce applies to your Shopify store

With the traditional approach, if you would like to make changes to the design of your store, you’d have to stop operations first. This is the main inconvenience of having a linked back and front end. The codes for the design of your store are tangled with the processes for your store, because it’s housed on just one platform.

Having separate platforms for your design and core processes makes decisions for each aspect independent from each other. Changes can be implemented from each side while not disrupting the main store’s operation.

Benefits of Headless Commerce

As we have said earlier, the separation of your front- and back-ends unlocks so many benefits. Not only for your store, but for your customers as well.

Better customizability

Because external changes to your store don’t affect the workflow, you can now go wild with your store’s design. This gives you and/or your web designers the creative freedom you need without any boundaries.

One way to maximize this freedom is to get customer feedback about the appearance of the site. Inviting customers to give feedback about the store’s design can help build trust, and it shows them that customer preferences are valuable to your brand.

Without the headless approach, this wouldn’t be possible, since the store’s design codes are tied to the core processes. Customization would require for your store to be down for maintenance.

Hyper-personalization

When you have freedom over the design (without having to shut down your store to change it), personalization can be applied down to every detail--with little planning.

website design plan

Let’s say that your store’s design changes every time there is a special event. Every Fourth of July, it’s colored red, white and blue. Or your store’s design is different depending on how many times a customer visited your store or depending on the time of day, etc.

There are a lot of possibilities to be explored with hyper-personalization. Imagine a storefront that looks different to each customer. Different customers would have unique experiences when visiting your store, with the design defined by the customers’ preferences. This is only possible when your store is headless.

Site maintenance without interruptions

Most people are aware that site maintenance is important and is a regular occurence. Some wouldn’t mind your store being down for maintenance and would just come back to your site once it’s over. However, the majority don’t have time for that.

Accessibility and having on-demand support is the expectation of most online consumers. As much as possible, you don’t want your store to be down under any circumstances. Being headless makes it possible to make internal or external changes to your store without interrupting the operations.

Freedom to do A-B testing, optimization, and more

Having the freedom to make changes means that tests, experimentation and optimization are possible, even in real-time. You could adjust your store’s design or copy t, without having to plan for the store to be down.

Freedom to mix and match platforms

Going headless gives you the freedom to be platform-agnostic. This means that you don’t have to stick to one platform only for your store.

Let’s say that you want more options on your front-end, but still want the core functionality of Shopify. You can definitely try out other platforms with a headless approach, experimenting to figure out what works best for you.

More opportunities to focus on aspects of the store

Multitasking actually makes you accomplish less, not to mention makes you more exhausted. The key to productivity and finishing multiple tasks is to divide them by priority, difficulty and urgency. Then based on their hierarchy, try to finish them one by one.

Headless commerce can help you prioritize and categorize your decision making for your store. Having to make decisions for both front-end and back-end at once is difficult to get right and can lead you to wrong decisions, which could even spell the end of your store.

Instead of focusing on both the front-end and back-end, divide your staff (or your own time) to focus on one aspect at a time.

More optimized conversion rates

In order to have better sales, you should have a proper plan for your conversion rate optimization.

In a previous article on sales, we concluded that in order to get more conversions, you need to focus on taking care of existing customers and giving each customer an awesome experience every time, no matter how few your customers are.

Since your task force is separated in front- and back-end, your front-end team can now tackle customer-facing tasks such as focusing on conversion-minded design.

Also, because of the freedom to implement anything on the front-end, you can try out and experiment with different design and content to find which best optimizes conversions.

Speed and Convenience

Faster speeds and more convenience are beneficial for both your customers and your staff members. Let’s go with your team first:

  • Decisions will be made faster since each department focuses on only one aspect of the Shopify store.
  • Implementations on each end can be executed without interrupting the other department’s tasks.
  • Results from tests/experiments can be collected and analyzed in real-time.

Here are the benefits for customers:

  • Using your online store will be faster since customers will only need to access the front-end if they are just browsing. If they decide to purchase something, they will be then transitioned seamlessly to your back-end.
  • Customers can also choose when and where to communicate with you (whether on their smartphone, tablet, through a phone call, social media or more). This is called omnichannel support.

Omnichannel Support

Since customer touch points are already detached and not interfering with the core process, omnichannel support is now easier to implement.

social media channels

Customers could then have multiple options (social media, physical stores, phone lines, etc.) to reach your store on demand.

This empowers customers and makes your store super accessible--and worthy of good recommendations to their friends and family.

Disadvantages of Headless Commerce

These benefits aren’t free. Like all approaches, headless commerce does have some drawbacks.

Option paralysis

This can be a negative consequence of headless commerce’s biggest benefits, freedom and flexibility. Having all these possibilities available to you at once can be intimidating.

The more options you have, the more time you need to think about it, and the more time you will spend testing each option.

All these options can be a good thing, but they could also lead to inaction, because you can’t decide which option to take.

But option paralysis can be quickly solved by conducting a SWOT analysis.

The need for more staff/more skills

The integration and cooperation between the front-end and back-end doesn’t come inherently by being headless. You need to provide a robust communication between the two departments. These come through correspondence from both sides and through APIs.

APIs, as we have discussed in our previous coverage of Shopify Unite 2019 announcements, are software that let developers access the codes of other software. Basically, whatever coding language that was used to achieve the front-end can still be integrated on the back-end through APIs. No more recoding necessary.

Handling these APIs require technical skills to make sure that they are working properly, and you may need to hire an additional team member to focus on this.

The truth is you will definitely need people if you’re going headless. But you don’t need too many. Shopify itself started with only five people, and you can function with even fewer. However, you can’t do it completely on your own. You’ll need at least one person to man the other end of your store, either design or production, while you handle the other one.

Forming your own team can be easy. You can start with your friends, family or significant other. If you want specialists, you can now outsource for talent. It’s easier and more affordable now to get competent people to work with you.

More expenses

But even though hiring more staff, buying an API or outsourcing part of running your store are more affordable than ever, it’s still money spent.

In order to make more money, you have to spend more. However, if you don’t have the budget yet, we would suggest that going headless should be the next goal for your store, once you have the budget.

Transition bumps

Remember we are still removing “the head” of your store. It’s a major operation and it will take time, effort and skill to be completed.

The APIs and all the structures needed still have cross platform compatibility. You should research first to find out if the components you already have (or wish to have) are compatible with the platform you currently use (or will use in the future). Additionally, some exclusive features may be lost depending on the platform you use.

The benefits you get from going headless depend on the structures in between the front- and back-end of your store working properly. If they don’t, there is no point in separating your head from your store.

Get a guillotine: Go make your store headless

Going headless removes limits to your store that might otherwise hinder your growth. The freedom and the ability to make fast changes on the front-end or the back-end without destroying your store’s productivity should be enough reason for you to go headless.

person viewing a website

Think about it like this. Going headless is like changing your store’s structure from Jenga to Lego blocks. Even if you add, modify or remove blocks from specific parts of a Lego structure, the whole structure itself won’t fall down.

Keep in mind that effectiveness of your headless model depends on the communication between your front-end and back-end. APIs and proper coordination are the linchpins to your headless success.

That’s why we strongly suggest that if you are planning to start a Shopify store, consider going headless from the start. This gives you the freedom to change platforms.

But even if you already have an existing store, we still highly recommend going headless. It’s going to make your store ready to adapt for different circumstances. Your store can scale up or down to accommodate demand, or be hyper-personalized to your customer’s preferences.

Simply put: A headless model is going to be the future standard for e-commerce.