In the words of the Yeah, yeah, yeah’s - “off off, off with your head” is what we're diving into today. By which we mean, we’re going to outline everything we know about Headless eCommerce, specifically with Shopify Plus.
Over the past years, we have built countless headless eCommerce websites with Shopify Plus for clients like Signify, Intersport, Bols, Nestlé, and many other big and smaller brands. Hopefully, this blog can convince you to switch to the future of eCommerce, and let “heads roll”, should it be the right fit for your business.
An eCommerce website consists of two sides, the ‘frontend’ and the ‘backend’. The frontend side is often referred to as ‘the head. To keep it simple, headless eCommerce is the separation of front and backend systems. Traditionally eCommerce sites use one system, that runs the frontend and backend at the same time, which can make it simple, as it’s one place to manage everything. However headless solutions are becoming more popular, as they result in higher performance, speed, and more flexibility.
The thing with headless, is it allows you to select the best of the best solutions, fit for each purpose. So you can power your eCommerce function through Shopify, (specifically headless Shopify Plus) and your frontend and content management with something designed to manage content (We use and highly recommend Storyblok). This means you’re not forcing one platform to do something it’s not designed for. You’re instead leveraging the eCommerce powerhouse that is Shopify and adding flexible fit-for-purpose software solutions, like a headless CMS to manage other aspects of your eCommerce website.
As mentioned above, traditionally and still to this day, a lot of eCommerce stores are Monolithic. Monolithic means that everything that makes your site run comes under one platform. This is the traditional way of doing things, which may to some sound like a good thing, but we’re here to tell you why it’s not. Technology is forever adapting and moving forward, if we were still relying on the way things were done in the past, we wouldn’t have slimmer laptops and portable phones. Adapting with technology is key to stay relevant and reap the rewards of advancements and utilization that come with new developments in this sector. Check out this blog if you want to learn more about monolithic vs headless commerce.
Shopify Plus is the leading eCommerce provider worldwide. Brands like Gymshark, Allbirds, Staples, Heinz, and Signify rely on Shopify. It's designed for globally oriented eCommerce companies, or at least those with ambitions to grow beyond borders. And frankly, in our humble opinion, Shopify Plus is the best solution for headless eCommerce.
Shopify Plus does lack some functionalities, such as a good content management system and multi-language solutions. That's why we build headless Shopify Plus webshops. With a headless architecture, we can connect the best solutions to the Shopify Plus backend, such as a headless CMS. In this way, we retain all the power that Shopify Plus can offer for a great eCommerce shopping experience and connect the best solutions where needed, tailored to each client.
As an eCommerce agency, we also often get asked what exactly is the difference between Shopify and Shopify Plus. Want to know more about that? Then check out this blog, Shopify vs Shopify Plus.
1. Checkout: The Shopify checkout is well known, tested, and applies the best checkout conventions for eCommerce.
2. Order Management: Simple order management that is reliable, easy to read, and manage. The Shopify Plus order management gives a great oversight.
3. Customer Management: Similar to Order management, Shopify customer management is easy, intuitive, and reliable. Helping you keep track of your valued customers.
4. Basic product information: SKU’s, prices, barcodes, and simple images, the core eCommerce function product information is well handled in Shopify Plus. For all the additional product information, the headless CMS system will handle the rest for optimum flexibility.
5. External integrations: Shopify is well known for its plugins, not all of them will be plug and play with a headless solution, but you still have the option to utilize their vast selection of plugins and apps to optimize and increase your eCommerce function and capacity for your customers.
6. Shopify flow: Shopify flow is basically an eCommerce automation app that takes away a lot of work that typically you would have to manage yourself. The app focuses on automating backend processes, especially handy if you have a multi-store setup. Its purpose is to help you reclaim your time, and works across customer management, promotions, inventory, loyalty programs and more.
So, now you understand the basics of a Headless Shopify plus solution, let’s recap the pros and cons, so you can see if this is a solution that will work for your business,
Unrestricted design/UX: With headless, you don’t need to force your design to fit with the Shopify Plus backend, you can get as creative as you wish and create a website that really fits your brand and specific needs. Having this level of flexibility means you can create a unique online experience for your customers.
Super speedy performance: Having a decoupled solution means both aspects can run super quickly, which again is great for your customers' online shopping experience. As both your CMS and backend are designed to do what they do best, and one part isn’t left slowing down the other.
Content-specific platform management: Because you’ve decided to split it, you can have a CMS system that is truly flexible and designed to update your content. Content-focused systems are often easier to use and are more flexible to updates in the future that are purely frontend or design related.
Futureproofing: Opting for a decouples/headless solution means you’re giving yourself more flexibility on both sides of the spectrum. Making updates for either is simpler because it's separated. Going headless is the way of the future, so you’re ensuring your eCommerce site is keeping up with the latest technology trends.
Shopify manages the eCommerce side so you don’t have to: When using Shopify Plus, you’ve opted for one of the best eCommerce solutions on the market, and don’t have to build this site from scratch yourself. It’s based on the best conventions and has been proven to work.
You may need to start from scratch: If you’ve currently got a Monolithic eCommerce site, it’s pretty much impossible to convert it, so you will have to start the development process again to convert to headless. However, with the rise of Frontend as a Service solutions like Instant Commerce, starting from scratch is no longer necessary.
Your Shopify apps may not work anymore: If you’re already running a Shopify site with plenty of plugins, especially if its template, some of these may not be as simply implemented as they are now. That being said, there is usually a solution or secondary option that a Shopify developer can help you with here.
Two systems, two subscriptions: Because you’ve decided to split the front and backend, that does mean you’re likely to pay for both your CMS system and Shopify Plus. Shopify Plus is on the pricier side but it is also worth the cost if you’re a large-scale eCommerce business. The CMS platforms are often cheaper, but it is still two billing cycles and depends on which CMS solution you go for, and how many accounts you require.
Your eCommerce ambitions should be big: Headless is not for small eCommerce stores. Headless Shopify Plus development may not be the best solution if your store is simple, small, and in one region. Headless is designed for a larger scale, to create flexibility and scalability.
In most instances, we think the pros outweigh the cons to opt for a headless eCommerce solution with Shopify Plus, but it does depend on the scale of your business and if you’re ready to take on the next phase for your eCommerce Shopify store.
No, the best part about headless is that you can create a store that works perfectly with your branding. Shopify Plus simply manages all the eCommerce actions.
That depends on your skills as a developer, if your development team is more limited Shopify has a collection of partners and experts that came make the process a lot easier for you. Like us!
Shopify Plus plans start at USD$2000 per month. Which is costly for a smaller business. This is why we recommend Shopify Plus for businesses doing at least $1 million in annual revenue.
We love using Storyblok as the CMS system to work with Shopify Plus. If you want to know more about Storyblok we have an article that outlines all it's features and why we love it here.
Since Shopify Plus is more expensive than Shopify, we recommend Shopify Plus for brands doing at least $1 million in annual revenue.
When you upgrade to Shopify Plus, the platform will partner you with experts that help you from start to finish. In addition to that, you will get access to the Shopify Plus Academy, where you can learn everything you need to know to run your store more efficiently.
Shopify Plus allows you to create multiple different storefronts for different regions. Shopify Plus allows users to create up to 9 additional stores alongside their main store, allowing you to have up to 10 stores in total without any additional costs.