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Pros & cons of headless commerce with Shopify?

Last updated: 14 June 2022

As more customers start to see online shopping as their natural first choice. The pressure is on eCommerce brands to deliver an experience that matches customers’ expectations. Luckily headless commerce is allowing brands to do just that.

Pros of headless commerce with Shopify

Increased site speed and conversion
Customizable URLs for better SEO
Better customer experience
Improved multi-language & multi-region capabilities
Expand digital selling points (omnichannel)
Faster speed to market

Increase site speed and conversion

Online shoppers are impatient. If a page does not load quickly, they don’t hesitate to do another search and find a competitor's store. It’s, therefore, no surprise that fast websites get better conversions, lower bounce rates, and better SEO rankings. Unfortunately, Shopify’s monolithic commerce solution is not optimized for speed.

With the traditional monolithic architecture, merchants are reliant on third-party plugins and apps to bring new functionalities to the platform. At some point, all the extra code that comes along with these apps and integrations starts to weigh down your site speed. 

Because the frontend and backend website functions are not coupled together with a headless architecture, site speed is not impacted by any third-party integrations. This way content on your site can be served or displayed to your customers very quickly.

In addition, it's only the frontend that needs to load for customers and search engine crawlers to access your webshop, resulting in even faster website speed.

Related to site speed, headless commerce can actually add a lot of SEO value to your webshop. Since July last year, site speed has become part of Google’s search results algorithm. On top of that Google started to give penalties to slow websites. Having a fast-loading webshop is therefore vital to rank high on Google.

One of the limitations of a monolithic eCommerce platform like Shopify is that there’s limited flexibility with regard to URL structures. Shopify has fixed URL structures such as product detail pages that live at /product/ or collection pages that always start with /collection/. 

However, the structure of your URLs play a big part in how people can find you on the web. Especially for brands that have a large number of products or sell in multiple countries, this fixed URL structure can be very limiting. It can even get to a point it starts to affect SEO efforts and the user experience. 

Fortunately, headless commerce eliminates this fixed feature and allows you to fully customize your URL structure.

Having a flexible URL structure is especially important for merchants that switch over to Shopify from another platform. Since a mismatch in URLs can have a negative impact on your SEO. Luckily headless commerce eliminates the risk of SEO migration because you can copy and utilize the same URL structure you had before. 

Better customer experience

Headless commerce helps you stand out from the competition. Since there’s no predefined frontend, you can create a user experience from scratch without any constraints. This way you can create a webshop that suits your brand’s image and identity. 

Creating a better customer experience also involves quick and easy integrations with systems like PIMs, OMS, ERPs, and shipping logistics. Headless commerce is powered by APIs, meaning you can simply use the APIs of other software solutions and connect them to add functionalities.

Improved multi-language & multi-region capabilities

Today, to sell abroad with Shopify, brands are required to run a Liquid Shopify storefront for each country. Meaning each region has its own codebase that needs to be managed. This presents a few challenges:

  • Managing multiple codebases for multiple stores requires more human capital or even duplicate teams to handle all the workload of managing multiple codebases.

  • Making slight regional nuances from products to discounts or copy requires a lot of repetitive work which can complicate going global and leaves more room for human error.

  • It’s also common that apps, add ons, and tools only apply to one store. Duplicating the functionality across multiple stores will multiply the cost of the tool by the number of stores you have.

With the right headless commerce solution, you can have one codebase to manage everything, —one codebase for every store in every region. In addition, selling in multiple countries requires a multi-language approach, which can be very difficult to manage within Shopify’s 3rd party translation plugins. Lucky a headless CMS like Storyblok has advanced translation management functionalities.

Expand digital selling points (omnichannel commerce)

Omnichannel commerce means delivering messaging, content, and products to any existing channels or channels that will exist in the foreseeable future. 

Customers expect to interact digitally with your business, and that used to mean you only needed a website. Now, more than ever people use their smartphones to buy products and in the foreseeable future, smartwatches, Alexa-type devices, and VR/AR will be part of the regular digital touchpoints.

Since the backend and frontend are decoupled, you can deploy your frontend to any channel or device while keeping track of everything from a single backend.  

Faster speed to market

With headless commerce you can make changes to your front-end, the customer-facing side of your webshop without disturbing the backend, and vice versa. Because of this decoupled nature, you can add new functionalities and integrations in much less time compared to monolithic commerce architectures. 

The separation of the frontend and the backend also means that the marketing and content team can work independently from the development theme. Adding content, creating landing pages, and playing around with the site layout can all be done without impacting the backend resulting in fewer dependencies and faster speed to market.

Cons of headless commerce with Shopify

No-more Shopify theme editor
No “plug-and-play" install of Shopify apps
Dependency on developers or development agency

No-more Shopify theme editor

Since you won’t use Shopify as your frontend but only its powerful eCommerce backend engine, access to the theme editor will no longer be available. On the other hand, working with the right headless CMS should make editing your storefront even easier, but it is another tool that you need to get acquainted with. 

No “plug-and-play" install of Shopify apps

When you stop using the in-built Shopify theme some apps will stop working. Not every app will be out of use, since most of the popular apps have APIs that allow you to connect them. However, there might be some apps that can’t be coupled because they don’t have an API. 

If you’re going headless with a frontend as a service platform, they’ll have pre-built integrations you can pick and choose from. If you are going to build a headless Shopify store from scratch with an agency or in-house, custom code needs to be created so that Shopify’s API can recognize your third-party apps. 

Dependency on developers or development agency

A major selling point of Shopify is that it’s an all-in-one and no-code solution. Headless commerce on the other hand is a complex process and requires developers. As a result, merchants might lose the control they once had over their webshop and become dependent on in-house developers or agencies.  

Luckily solutions like Instant Commerce are solving these cons but more on that in a later chapter. First we're diving into another disadvantage of headless commerce with Shopify, the costs and duration of building a headless webshop.

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