Headless Shopify 101

Headless Shopify 101

Headless ecommerce may seem daunting, but it’s the wave of the future for Shopify merchants who are looking to optimise site speed and user experience while managing extensive amounts of content. Here’s a primer on the world of headless.

What is a headless Shopify store?

Simply put, headless ecommerce is when the front end of your Shopify store is decoupled from the back end. In the context of Shopify, the front end is your theme, design and basically anything your customers see when they interact with your website. The backend is the code which makes your store run: the functionality that powers things like checkout and inventory management.

How to convert a Shopify store to a headless site

While classic Shopify can be a plug-and-play solution for store owners, converting your online store to a headless structure requires technical support. You’ll need an experienced Shopify development and design agency, freelancer or in-house resource to take you through the process.

Aspects of making a Shopify store headless

  1. Front-end: since the “head” of your site is no longer based on Shopify, you’ll need new front-end design and development built from scratch.
  2. Headless CMS: a headless CMS such as Prismic or Contentful would host all your content and products.
  3. Shopify headless: you would rely on Shopify to host the “shop” part of your online store, such as pricing, inventory, and other commerce data like shipping and payment methods.

What are the benefits of a headless Shopify store?

A headless ecommerce store is the perfect solution for Shopify sellers whose inventory is large and complex enough to affect site speed and usability, which ultimately negatively impacts customer experience. If you’ve reached a plateau in optimising your site speed, it’s a sign to look into a headless solution.

Why switch to a headless Shopify store

  • Much faster site speed. Instead of being hosted on a Shopify server, headless front-ends are hosted on a CDN (content distribution network) which means lightning-fast load times across the world.
  • Flexible content management. Instead of relying on metafields within Shopify, a headless CMS is built for complex content. It’s easy to add new custom types and fields, and many have built-in localisation as well.
  • Innovative ecommerce placements. With a headless build, you could turn any screen into an online store. Whether you’re selling on a website, mobile app, or smart watch, the possibilities are endless.
  • Superior organic SEO. If your store relies on organic traffic or has a large amount of SKUs which can rank well, this can be a huge plus.
  • Flexible URLs. You can use any URL structure instead of relying on Shopify’s structure.
  • More powerful marketing. Since the frontend is completely custom, marketing tasks like A/B testing are made much easier. You could have two copies of your entire site with a headless design, and some CDN hosting providers have split testing built into their offering.

Headless Shopify store examples

What does a headless Shopify store actually look and feel like? Firstly, it looks bespoke, because the frontend isn’t tied to Shopify’s theme or template restrictions, so designers can truly showcase their creativity. Secondly, it feels incredibly fast, responsive, and easy to navigate through complex products or even thousands of different SKUs. Here are some examples of successful headless Shopify stores.

Allbirds.com

allbirds shopify headless.png

Allbirds is a slick, modern apparel brand with a powerfully unique look and feel. Nothing about this site feels like a standard Shopify theme thanks to their headless build.

Babylist.com

babylist shopify headless.png

BabyList is an online baby registry service with a veritable mountain of content. With thousands of products in their own catalogue, their feature allowing wishlists from any other online store, as well as an active blog covering reviews and parenting how-tos, BabyList is still fast, reliable and easy to navigate thanks to its headless Shopify build.

Clare.com

clare shopify headless.png

When selling colours through a screen, you’ve got to have cutting edge design - that’s why designer paint brand Clare went with a headless Shopify solution. Their expansive catalogue is fast and easy to navigate, with each product being supported seamlessly by published content that flows naturally into product pages to help customers decide which paint is right for them.

Is a Headless Shopify store right for you?

While the speed and flexibility of a headless build is unmatched, you have to be prepared for a few limitations. Many Shopify apps can’t integrate into a headless build, so you’ll have to devote resources to bridging those gaps. It is also a commitment to go headless, as it’s not easy to switch back to classic Shopify if you find your needs aren’t met.

Overall, the benefits of a headless ecommerce store can outweigh the drawbacks if your brand prioritises site speed, innovation, and flexibility. If you’re keen to explore what a headless Shopify build can look like for you, give us a shout.