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What is a Headless Shopify Store: Benefits and Use Cases

A sketch depicting the integration of a headless Shopify with Next.js, CMS, hosting, and Shopify itself.

If you are familiar with traditional Shopify stores, you know it already offers plenty of built-in customization options and design tools for improving the user experience in your store. Yet, upgrading to headless Shopify can shoot the user experience through the roof and lead to a whopping 300% increase in conversions.

The Shopify headless architecture speeds up page loading times, reducing bounce-back rates and keeping more customers within your online store. As a result, your business will likely see increased subscriptions and average order value, translating to more sales.

In this write-up, we examine the best use cases of a headless Shopify store to help you see how to leverage this novel technology. We’ll also cover the benefits you’re likely to realize from a headless Shopify store.

Headless Shopify: What is it?

A headless Shopify store is one with a separate (decoupled) front-end presentation layer from the back-end functionality or core ecommerce engine.

With this decoupled architecture, a Shopify store offers businesses greater flexibility, customization options, and the ability to create unique and high-performing online shopping experiences for their customers.

It represents a unique approach to building ecommerce stores on the Shopify platform.

Notice that a traditional Shopify store has a platform with the front-end layer (head) and the back-end infrastructure (body) in the same codebase. This means you cannot make changes to either the ‘head’ or the ‘body’ independently.

Any changes to one layer directly affect the other layer because they exist in the same codebase. The design, layout, and user interface of the online store are tightly integrated into a traditional Shopify store setup.

On the other hand, a headless Shopify store comes with no ‘head’ or front-end presentation layer. So, you can custom-create the customer-facing part of the site from scratch using technologies like React, Angular, and Vue. Js.

How the Store Works: Headless Shopify Explained

A headless Shopify store has three main components: a headless backend, a headless frontend, and an API integration layer.

Headless Shopify backend

This is the main Shopify solution powering your ecommerce store, hence, the ecommerce engine.

In a traditional setup, the Shopify solution comes with a built-in front-end theme used to design and customize the look and feel of the online store.

However, the headless option comprises Shopify’s robust infrastructure but lacks a front-end theme. It handles the core ecommerce operations and essential functions like inventory, product management, order processing, and payment processing.

Headless frontend

The powerful headless backend requires a custom frontend to enable customer interfacing. This is where the ‘headless’ frontend comes in.

It can be built using a different (third-party) framework or tech stack in line with the business needs. Front-end developers typically use modern JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue.js to develop this customer-facing part of the headless Shopify store.

It constitutes the ecommerce website layout and user interface, creating the overall customer experience.

API integration layer

Since the store’s front and backend exist separately, there must be a way to link them to work as a unit. Welcome the API (application programming interface) integration layer.

Shopify uses its Storefront API to connect the front-end presentation layer and the back-end functionality, enabling data exchange between these two sides of the platform.

Developers must build the right integrations to enable the API interface to work properly.

Benefits of a Headless Shopify Store

While the headless technology is a relatively new way of building Shopify stores, it is already incredibly popular. This popularity is thanks to the headless technology’s many benefits.

A headless Shopify store allows you to harness the power of creative, omnichannel customer experiences to convert leads into buying customers. It also goes a long way in helping you keep gainful relations with your customers.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a detailed look at the benefits of headless commerce Shopify.

Increased page loading speeds

Since a traditional Shopify ecommerce platform consists of a single codebase for the front and backend, it has a lot of code to render each time a customer sends a request. This can mean significantly slow loading speeds.

Decoupling the customer-facing frontend from the core ecommerce engine means reducing the amount of code that must be rendered to display a page to the customer. The result is a much faster website from the customer side of things.

Why is that important?

47 percent of your customers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. And if your webpage does not render within three seconds, you risk losing up to 40 percent of your site’s visitors in favor of the competition.

Internet users want to get what they need online fast. Thankfully, going headless helps you increase page loading speeds, enhance customer retention, and ultimately increase conversions and sales.

Reduced time-to-market

Separating the front-end layer from the back-end infrastructure of an ecommerce store allows teams to work on each end separately. Your front-end developers can work on the customer-facing side of the website while back-end developers set up the behind-the-scenes operations.

With two teams working on the same platform simultaneously, your Shopify store can be ready in half the time.

Once everything is ready, all they have to do is assemble the final product using the requisite API integrations. This way, you will be ready to put your products up for sale sooner than competing businesses using traditional ecommerce development approaches.

Full customization

The whole idea behind a headless system is to create a headless front-end from scratch.

Even though you can use a FEaaS (Front-End as a Service) platform to create a headless storefront, it does not exempt you from customizing your frontend. The package only reduces the amount of code your developer must write from scratch.

Now, that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it means the liberty and ability to create and customize your customer-facing products in ways that resonate best with them.

It is even better for a business with diverse customers. You can create different experiences for each customer segment and make everyone happy. This way, you can end up with a large section of satisfied customers, boosting your sales.

Reduced dependence on IT support

You may remember we said that decoupling the frontend from the backend means your front-end developers can work on the customer presentation layer of your ecommerce site independently.

There is only one codebase for a monolithic system, so the front-end developers depend on the back-end team for their progress. Such dependencies can significantly slow down the development process.

By eliminating dependencies, the headless approach helps speed up things and ensure your Shopify store is ready in less time. One team can also make necessary changes to their respective layer of the online store quickly without relying on the other team.

Increased control

A headless Shopify store allows you more control over your website and its data. More importantly, it allows you to create your store’s frontend the way you prefer them.

The Shopify solution comes without a customer-facing CMS (content management system). So you can choose which headless CMS solution to use with your store and which technology to create your frontend with.

Improved UX through PWA and Mobile-first approach

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are modern web development techniques that provide enhanced user experience by combining the best of web and native apps. They allow users to enjoy swift loading, seamless offline access, and device compatibility.

With a headless Shopify, you can build custom frontend available on web apps, IoT devices, mobile apps, and more. This quality means you can make your Shopify store accessible through PWA with the help of APIs.

Your shoppers can interact with your brand via native app-like functionalities such as push notifications, offline use, quick updates, and easy installation without downloading an app to their devices.

Thanks to Shopify’s Hydrogen framework, you can build scalable PWA storefronts, resulting in an enhanced shopper experience.

Increased security for customer data

Since a monolithic platform exists as a unit, any attack on the frontend will likely affect the back-end functionality. However, the headless ecommerce Shopify architecture keeps the frontend separate from the backend. This way, any attack on the frontend is limited to that side.

This separation can go a long way in keeping your ecommerce engine safe and protecting the customer data kept safely on a separate layer in the backend.

Headless Shopify Store Best Use Cases

Now that you know some of the leading benefits of a headless Shopify store, the next question is: is it right for you?

If any of these contexts describes your situation, you may want to consider jumping aboard the headless Shopify bandwagon.

Delivering content across multiple channels and storefronts

If you have a big company with diverse customers, delivering multichannel customer experiences may be inevitable.

With a monolithic Shopify store, you would have to use separate tools and processes for every channel to manage the experience. Doing so can be costly.

Thankfully, the headless approach makes it a lot easier to deliver content across various channels while managing it centrally. You simply need to build the right API integrations to pull data from the Shopify solution and deliver it across the various channels.

The same rule applies if your business has multiple storefronts with different content to manage.

A headless architecture allows you to streamline your workflow and offer the same content across the various storefronts. You may need a headless CMS like Contentful to manage the content and let Shopify deal with the ecommerce side of your business.

This arrangement will be a great boon if your company runs multiple storefronts and wants different content on each site.

Staying PCI compliant without relying on the Shopify team

The law requires companies that process, store, or transmit credit card information to take specific measures to secure cardholder data. These measures aim to prevent data breaches, unauthorized access, and fraudulent activity.

PCI compliance is the adherence to these security requirements, as stipulated in the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, PCI DSS.

Running an ecommerce store requires you to be PCI compliant because part of the customer data you process includes personal information and payment details for credit, debit, and prepaid cards.

While the traditional Shopify platform is already certified as PCI DSS compliant, using the company’s headless solution can streamline things further.

The headless architecture separates the frontend from the backend, where the wealth of your customer data is domiciled. This decoupling represents a layer of security for the precious customer information.

Therefore, you can easily stay PCI compliant without relying on your vendor for it when you use headless Shopify.

Going fully custom with the Shopify storefront

We already mentioned that headless Shopify comes without a corresponding presentation layer. Unlike the traditional option that has a customizable CMS to design into your Shopify storefront, the headless solution allows you to build your own storefront.

You can use your preferred third-party application to build your Shopify store’s front-end presentation layer and pull data from the backend via Shopify’s GraphQL Storefront API.

Therefore, if you prefer to create the customer-facing side of your online store from scratch, headless Shopify is the perfect solution.

Gaining additional flexibility

Flexibility is the main upside of a decoupled architecture. With a headless approach, you have greater flexibility to design and customize your store’s user interface and customer experience according to their specific needs and your branding strategy.

Headless Shopify is designed to let you enjoy more flexibility in creating the frontend of your ecommerce site. You can use any supported tech stack or programming language to build the frontend.

Do you need a headless Shopify store?

Shopify has a powerful suite of tools and customization options, making it among the most popular ecommerce solutions. It boasts some 2.1 million daily active users.

With all that powerful functionality on the traditional Shopify solution, should you go headless with your store?

Let’s put it simply. Consider sticking with the traditional Shopify solution if:

  • Your business is small in size.

  • You have a simple website thriving with the traditional Shopify’s built-in functionalities.

  • You have no development team to work on a headless platform.

Otherwise, consider adopting a headless Shopify store if you want more flexibility, faster page loading, or more control over the product display on your storefront.

Recap: Best Use Cases of Shopify Headless Store

In this article, we’ve said that a headless Shopify store is one with a separate front-end presentation layer from the back-end functionality. The best use cases of such a headless Shopify store include:

  • Delivering content across multiple channels and storefronts

  • Staying PCI compliant without relying on the Shopify team

  • Going fully custom with the Shopify storefront

  • Gaining additional flexibility

In our subsequent posts, we will introduce headless Magento and explain in detail when you should consider one for your business.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Shopify experts can help you create a custom headless Shopify store. Take the free call. Sign up for a free discovery call.