An Introduction to Headless Ecommerce in 2021

  • January 11, 2021
  • Misc
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To comprehend what headless e-commerce is, it’s useful to understand why it exists in the very first location.

Throughout this century e-commerce has actually been progressively substantial. Especially in the last 5 years – culminating in 2020, where COVID-19 lockdowns drove more companies online than ever previously. We’re at a point now where a consumer’s online experience is as essential as their offline experience – maybe a lot more so.

Brands invest big quantities of time and cash making certain their offline shops are kept fresh and appealing – typically upgrading each month, week, or perhaps every day. The shop style is constantly made with the consumer in mind. A strong brand name message exists from the entryway to exit, and consistent redesigns keep the brand name sensation pertinent in the mind of their consumers.

If brand names invest these efforts into their physical shops, and if online shopping is now as essential as offline (if not more so), then they need to invest them into their e-commerce shop too. They need to make the online equivalent of the brand name experience that consumers enjoy in the physical shops. This is where headless architecture is available in.

What is headless architecture?

Headless architecture is the separation of the front and back-ends of a shop. Often described as ‘decoupling’. As an outcome, a variety of various software application can power a shop – each of them particularly developed for the job they’re offered. Ultimately developing an optimised, and advanced, online store.

Traditionally, e-commerce platforms were all-in-one affairs. The front and back-ends sat together on the exact same application, in a so-called ‘full-stack’ or ‘monolithic’ structure.

There are great factors for why this held true, primarily to do with simpleness. Shopify’s terrific strength depends on providing users whatever they require all in one location. They can construct a strong e-commerce shop from scratch without understanding a single line of code. Its monolithic structure makes this possible. But when a strong shop doesn’t cut it any longer, when brand names require something amazing, by doing this of doing things is outdated.

Because the difficulty with a full-stack method comes when you request for more from your e-commerce platform. Shopify is a great all-rounder, however in specific locations, it just can’t deal with the really top-end. A headless Shopify shop utilizes Shopify’s outstanding back-end (the ‘body’), however the front-end (the bit the consumer sees, the ‘head’ of the shop) has actually been separated and positioned in the hands of an advanced system.

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Contentful is a top-end CMS, efficient in dealing with hd media and multilingual translations. In other words, it’s capable of doing things the Shopify platform cannot.

Modern e-commerce shops require high-definition media – images, videos, animations, 3D modelling – to offer consumers unforgettable brand name experiences that today’s market needs. Providing this on Shopify, for that reason, needs some technical wizardry.

Contentful rests on the front-end of our Shopify Plus headless shops and is incorporated into Shopify’s back-end with an API. This implies Shopify can look after the things it does finest – stock management, consumer info, order histories – whilst Contentful concentrates on the material. This is headless architecture at work.

Why go headless?

Besides those we’ve currently mentioned, there’s a variety of benefits to a headless shop:


1. Performance

Separating the front and back-end implies the groups dealing with each particular location can do so without influencing on the other. The advancement group has the liberty to pick the most recent coding structures to establish the front-end, instead of being bound to the coding basic offered by the platform you utilize. We’ve seen that greater efficiencies are accomplished with structures like React, instead of with HTML and CSS.

2. Flexibility

With the day’s most sophisticated tools at their disposal, style and advancement teams working on headless are free to create a more varied experience for the customer.

Today, we shop on our phones, tablets and watches. We shop on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. With voice recognition devices, interactive mirrors and augmented reality. Meeting all of these touchpoints is essential for the brands that want to get ahead in e-commerce. And doing so requires a level of flexibility that a monolithic structure simply doesn’t have.

Additionally, there’s always another technology edging its way over the horizon. Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are both becoming more and more prominent, and before long will be points of sale. Headless architecture places e-commerce stores in the best position to meet these future developments, rather than get left behind.

3. Innovation

With the freedom to use any technology on the front-end of your platform, you can easily adopt the latest advancement trends. This will subsequently have a positive impact on your developers, giving them an improved workflow.

4. Multilingual stores

As we’ve explained in more detail elsewhere, multilingual stores are a common reason for brands converting to headless. Shopify’s lingual limitations are an issue for businesses selling across international markets, and the two standard ‘solutions’ are both sub-par. Headless swerves the issue by taking translation out of Shopify’s hands and delegating it to a superior CMS. Read more about the whole issue here.

Pros and cons of headless e-commerce

We’ve covered a lot of the benefits of headless architecture above, but as a quick round-up, we’ve listed them below. Whilst reading, it’s important to keep in mind that traditional e-commerce architecture cannot achieve any of them. These are not only the benefits of headless architecture but the reasons that distinguish it from full-stack development.

1. It uses the best-in-class software

Headless separates all the tasks for running an e-commerce store, and developers can designate them to specific softwares that are tailor-made for that role.

2. Flexible customer experience

From browsing on their laptop to scrolling through Instagram, customers can reach a checkout through a multitude of channels and receive a consistent brand experience whilst doing so.

3. Multi-channel content from one CMS

It keeps things simple, keeping all content in one place and dispersing it across all points of contact.

4. Future-focused

New technologies and trends arrive all the time. Headless stores can incorporate them quickly, keeping brands at the cutting edge.

5. Multiple languages and currencies

International markets are there for the taking as headless stores can add new languages and currencies with (relative) ease.

6. Faster sites and better SEO

No matter how much functionality they have. No matter how many languages and 3D models. Headless stores stay fast, which subsequently improves conversion and SEO rankings.

On the flip side, certain strengths of a monolithic platform are lost when converting to headless. Some of these strengths are important to many brands and many projects, and could therefore be reasons not to go headless.

  • Development time and expertise. Headless is not something a novice will be able to accomplish. Advanced understanding of coding is a prerequisite, usually requiring the time and skill of a professional developer. Both of which cost money.
  • “Plug and play” / “click and drag”. Finding a new application and simply dragging it onto an e-commerce store becomes impossible with headless. For those brands who like to have complete control over their store, and enjoy building it themselves using the blocks provided in Shopify’s app store, headless may not be the way to go.
  • Theme templates. With the front-end no longer attached to the back, site themes can no longer be used after converting to headless architecture. This means stores need specialised style, which again often leads to the services of a professional.

Examples of headless Shopify stores

To end, we’ll leave you with some examples of headless stores that we’ve built on Shopify.

  • STOX – Compression running socks from Amsterdam. Taking advantage of multiple currencies and improved site speed.
  • Miista – A multilingual, immersive brand experience for the East London fashion brand.
  • Fest Amsterdam – Headless B2B and B2C stores for the Dutch furniture style brand, with enhanced truth features to merge offline and online shops.
  • Easywalker – High-quality animation and interactive items.

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