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A Guide To Headless Commerce

A Guide To Headless Commerce

6th August 2021
15 Minute Read

Our team of Shopify experts are here to help you discover whether headless commerce is right for you and your business.


Written by Madeleine

6th August 2021
15 Minute Read

Headless Commerce Guide 🤯

We’ve heard the words “revolutionary” and “game-changing” thrown around recently in regards to going headless and while we understand the hype, our team of Shopify experts are here to help you discover whether headless commerce is right for you and your business.

What is Headless Commerce Architecture? 🤔

Headless commerce is an ecommerce solution for online stores to manage and deliver content without the presence of a front end delivery layer.

This means that the front end of a website (known as the “head”) in most cases is a template or theme. So, when it comes to a headless website, the template/ theme will be decoupled and removed, leaving only the back end in the situation.

So, instead of controlling everything that happens at the front of a site through the back end, developers will use APIs to deliver; products, blog posts and customer reviews to any device, which can be super useful for ecommerce businesses on the likes of Shopify.

Additionally, this means that there’s an opportunity for front end developers, to present content using the framework of their choosing.

How Does Headless Commerce Work?

Similarly to headless CMSs, a headless ecommerce system functions by passing on requests between the layers of presentation and application via web services or application programming interface (API) calls.

For instance, if a digital user were to click a “Buy Now” button on their smartphone, the presentation layer of the headless ecommerce system would send a message via API to fulfil the customer's order.

Additionally, the application layer would send another API call to display the status of the order to the customer at hand, which could be handy for the likes of Shopify stores to utilise.

Headless Commerce vs Traditional Commerce 🏁

If you’re still pondering over the difference between headless commerce architecture and traditional commerce for your Shopify store, take a look at the information below to discover the three key differences:

N0.1: Flexible Front End Development

Traditional Commerce

With traditional commerce, front end developers often encounter several constraints when it comes to the design and the overall process of an ecommerce website.

Therefore, some changes can be difficult to implement due to the constraints of the framework and may require a great deal of time to implement.

These restrictions include URL structuring, which may have negative SEO implications. Custom section/content across the site, limiting the crossover of content and commerce.

This can restrict designers' choices and even cause developers to push back as they may find themselves limited in regards to what can or cannot be updated.

Headless Commerce

With the removal of a predefined front end platform, headless commerce allows for front end developers and designers updating a Shopify store to create a user experience from scratch. This will fundamentally complement the core needs of a business.

With headless commerce architecture in place, front end developers will not need to worry about modifying databases in the back end as all they will have to do is make a simple API call.

In other words, developers are set free from the chains and shackles commonly associated with a traditional commerce platform.

However, there is one drawback. With no front end presentation layer in existence. Front end developers are marketers that have been left to build from scratch.

From the likes of product pages to landing pages, it’s down to those guys to get it right. Moreover, creating an ecommerce web design that’s right for a Shopify store is no mean feat, which is why a decoupled solution is regarded as ‘superior’ in comparison to a headless solution.

N0.2: Customisation & Personalisation

Traditional Commerce

As we’re sure you know, traditional commerce platforms are well equipped with a predefined experience for both the customer and administrative users. While this is all very well and good, these platforms provide little room for customisation or personalisation, which can cause an issue for some businesses.

If you are happy with the experience provided by these traditional platforms, then more power to you, but if you are not happy, headless commerce architecture may be the better option for you.

Headless Commerce

As we've mentioned, traditional commerce platforms can constrain developers and users on platforms such as Shopify, but since the predefined front end of a headless platform is decoupled, developers will need to create a unique user experience from scratch.

Ultimately the benefit of this is control and power. Merchants on Shopify will have full say over the look and feel of their commerce platform and that’s without considering the control that will be gained over user experience for customers and admin users.

N0.3: Flexibility

Traditional Commerce

In traditional commerce solutions, the front end is tightly coupled with back end coding and infrastructure. As a result, this leaves little or no room for flexibility. So, the thought of desired customisations is out of the window.

For instance, one single customisation may require a team of developers to create a custom app that is built on top of the preexisting framework.

Headless Commerce

However, since headless commerce has a decoupled front end and back end, endless possibilities are created in the making for customisation. In short, if changes are required, all that is needed here is a front end developer.

From implementing a custom checkout flow to adding a new field to a customer account, both procedures are very straightforward for Shopify stores, making the execution of tasks like this much simpler with headless commerce architecture.

The Benefits of Headless Commerce

What are the benefits of headless commerce? Here are 7 reasons why we believe brands on ecommerce platforms such as Shopify have made the switch:

N0.1: Truly Omnichannel

A headless content management system helps to propel content.

So, for an ecommerce brands on platforms like Shopify, this means delivering; products, product videos or blog posts to any channel that has emerged. So, get ready to sell through Alexa Skills, digital signage and progressive web apps, because it's all been made possible.

N0.2: Competitivity

Headless commerce enables merchants to deploy rapid updates without impacting the back end of a website. Changes can be made with ease to the front end of a Shopify website that will coincide with the speed of consumer technology.

Major commerce brands using a traditional platform typically roll out an update every few weeks, whereas the likes of Amazon deploy updates every 11.7 seconds, which reduces both the number and duration length of outages.

As the front end system is not tightly coupled to the back end, online businesses will not be required to roll out an update to the entire system. This means that ecommerce stores can deliver what their customers want on a faster and competitive scale.

N0.3: Agile Marketing

A headless commerce system can support new technology which is perfect for designing new customer experiences. With this approach, marketing teams are put back into the driving seat where they can roll out multiple Shopify stores across different; brands, divisions and portfolios.

Thanks to the flexibility and agility provided by headless commerce, marketing teams can set up a new site in days as opposed to months.

N0.4: Personal Customer Experience & Consistency

Even though the needs of a customer change over time, they should still receive a consistent customer experience across all devices and/ or business channels.

See, consumers want to buy from ecommerce brands that understand this and to help things along, the back end of a headless website will already know what the customer has purchased.

This data will then be utilised to power the personalisation engines across; CMSs, mobile apps and social channels on a headless commerce Shopify store.

N0.5: Seamless Integrations

A headless commerce solution must have an API to make integration and communication with other platforms easier. Brands on Shopify can be added to any new device, expanding their opportunities and customer outreach. What's fantastic is that it'll only take a matter of days to integrate a commerce platform to a new device, as opposed to months.

N0.6: Improved Conversion Optimisation

With headless commerce architecture in place, ecommerce stores can try testing different templates and approaches. For instance, try experimenting with a different back end search solution whilst running the same search at the front end of a website.

As a result, continuous tests and optimisation cycles can be run alongside one another, which helps businesses on the likes of Shopif to achieve a better understanding of the customer, while improving their learning rate (which will be faster than most retailers).

N0.7: Faster Market Time

If you build a multi-channel or omnichannel retail experience with a traditional ecommerce platform, time to market will be painfully slow and don’t get us started on the scaling process. It’ll be arduous.

On the other hand, headless commerce with Shopify enables brands to focus on building front end experiences across different devices and/ or touchpoints.

So, as the content and products are housed centrally, they can be delivered via API anywhere. As a result, this facilitates a faster time to market when adopting new channels and entering new regions.

The Drawback of Headless Commerce ❌

We’ve covered the benefits so, it’s only fair that we go through the two key issues that we feel need to be addressed where headless commerce is concerned:

Ongoing Costs

Since headless commerce platforms do not provide merchants with a front end, Shopify developers for instance will be in the position where they need to build their own.

On one hand, this is a good thing, as it enables the likes of Shopify developers to build front ends that are bespoke to the device and/ or touchpoint.

On the other hand, building templates and user interfaces from scratch can become time-consuming and costly, so there's a little something to consider.

Additionally, developers will be required to troubleshoot their front end creations on a headless commerce website, which will lead to ongoing costs beyond the initial build.

Furthermore, costs will rise even further with an isolated marketing team. This means that the IT team will be dependent on launching new landing pages and content across different devices.

Omnichannel Retail Support

For those of you who are new to the concept, the idea of omnichannel retail simply refers to the fact that every customer can use the same online platforms to shop both online and offline, from any device, at any given time.

As the primary objective of headless commerce is to offer a seamless experience for users, naturally, each platform is an essential element of the omnichannel retail mission.

Based on research and study it has been concluded that consumers who use multiple channels to purchase goods online spend more as opposed to the consumers that browse a business' products through one channel.

Additionally, it is the consumers that surf multiple channels that purchase more at brick-and-mortar stores compared to those who browse via a single channel alone.

A Headless Commerce Platform To Consider

Headless commerce is an emerging trend and there is a range of ecommerce platforms offering APIs that facilitate a headless or decoupled approach to ecommerce. Of course, we know all about each option, but Shopify Plus and BigCommerce are the only commerce platforms that we'd recommend moving forward with.

BigCommerce? Yes, that’s right, We have some exciting news... The Karmoon team is excited to announce that we are now a partner of BigCommerce. Right now, we’re in the process of experimentation, but we’ll have more information to update you with shortly.

To learn more about Shopify headless commerce in further detail, click the link provided for more information.

The Future of Commerce 🔮

So, what does the future look like for online stores that use headless commerce?

If we had to place a guess, we'd say that in a year or so, headless commerce will likely be seen even more widely across ecommerce platforms such as Shopify than it is today.

However, the team here at Karmoon like to think of ourselves level headed, unable to be drawn into a solution based on a trend but substance and as we've stated throughout today's guide, while headless commerce does solve many problems, it does in some instances create them too.

If you’ve read our article from top to toe, you’ll understand why the future of commerce is decoupled and not just headless. The way we see it is that a decoupled commerce system is similar to a headless system in the sense that both the front end and back end of a website are decoupled.

However, unlike headless CMSs, a decoupled content management system doesn’t entirely remove the front end delivery layer from the equation.

Has ecommerce lost its head? Absolutely and for those of you who are not 'tech-savvy', a decoupled commerce system provides ease-of-use for stores on Shopify (similar to a traditional commerce system) but it is operated with the flexibility and adaptability of a headless system.

We could go as far as to say that a decoupled CMS provides users with the best of both worlds, which is why we believe that the future of ecommerce is decoupled, but hey, that's just our take on things.

Is Headless Commerce Architecture Right for Your Business?

Is headless commerce a good prospect for your online business? We’re calling all Shopify merchants to get in touch and tell us about the project that you have in mind. Our team is more than happy to help!

Get Started with Shopify

Looking to get started with Shopify? Take advantage of Shopify's 14-day free trial, no credit card is required.

If you're actively looking to work with a Shopify agency designer or developer to assist you with your business, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch to get started!

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