Headless commerce on Shopify Plus

An Overview of Headless on Shopify/ Shopify Plus with Calculative Pros & Cons

It has been a while since headless commerce made its way into the digital world, but it is still widely associated with Shopify development. The trend has remained to be fairly popular for the past couple of years. It is evident that headless is here to stay for a very long time. Although, people find it hard to make up their minds on the significance of headless Shopify and its impact on sales. The interesting part is, there is nothing technical in headless. It is a software architecture principle based on the concept of separation of concerns.

What is Headless

Shopify itself is developed on Ruby on Rails using a Model-View-Controller framework that segregates the layers of database management, frontend rendering, and business logic. On the other hand, headless architecture entails the employment of this pattern into the frontend structure to exonerate data rendering from theme template files. Now the same process can work in isolation while staying connected through APIs

Data – Complete content being displayed onto the page. It encompasses content-rich landing pages, blogs, articles, product images, product details, and metafields.

Business Logic – Functional activities on a page infused by the Liquid coding within the template. It can be elaborated by product recommendations displayed on the page followed by a brief tag check and user interactions using Liquid before showcasing the right product as per the rules.

Rendering – It covers visual front-end development, styling, layout, wireframing, style guide, and everything you come across during the planning stages.

The reasons behind this modification in architecture are centered on the efficiency and scalability of the platform you are trying to build with utter precision. Future proofreading of the codebase to avoid technical issues is another considerable facet headless brings into your planning roadmap. You can get a better idea of what you are getting into after reading through the following benefits:

Modularity

When you dissect various front-end concerns, you get a step closer to a modular approach that allows interchangeability. This advantage comes in handy when you are about to switch the layout of the website with a vaguely different design alignment and defined marketing campaign (review the changes of SkullCandy layout after its relaunch). It is an advantage when you are trying to provide a renewed experience to your users with the help of devices in-store or to applications.

Well-Organized Conclusion

Diving the numerous aspects of store setup redirects to a finer and more organized codebase. It might seem a little time-consuming at the beginning, but you tend to see the big picture of headless after saving time on staff onboarding and witnessing a simpler learning curve. Even your additional efforts to bring in better development resources only add up to your project knowledge. Also, each code snippet serves a single purpose which reduces the risk of bugs introduced in the system.

Independent Launch

As mentioned earlier, multiple users can be working on a similar page without disrupting or crossing over the system updates which is a game-changer in headless commerce. It also applies when multiple developers are trying to introduce a code snippet in the page without resulting in any technical conflict. Besides this, they can independently perform tests and commence the launch of new features without generating any disarrays

Demystifying Common Arguments Associated with Headless

Headless takes your digital business a few steps ahead in terms of the overall architecture which is a boon amidst the raging popularity of multichannel platforms. Spawning ideas on headless being good or bad doesn’t make much sense especially when it is influential enough to do the trick for your online venture. However, you need to embrace the fact that headless is just another outcome-driving feather in the cap, and it doesn’t guarantee any out-of-the-box transformations

There are certain factors that keep the headless method in the robust ring of arguments. The good thing is, applying suitable context to these irrelevant points can put an end to these conflicts. This is another powerful reason why you need to be aware of your projects’ functional requirements before jumping on to a conclusion. Always consider the following points before choosing headless for your online store:

For Headless

URL Structure

Let’s commence the deal with the critical point! native Shopify has a stern URL structure. Even though it is good for SEO, sticking to this structure may affect your business. It becomes a vivid possibility when you migrate a website with a well-established organic ranking. In a case like this, headless can be the only redeemer for you and your online brand

Impressive Performance

That’s the subject of argument that sustains its righteousness. It is quite simple to leverage the latest technologies such as Gatsby.js to create static pages and caching for boosting the page speed and obtaining the green lighthouse score. With Shopify being a relatively fast platform already, it remains to be an argument whether headless will elevate the site performance or not.

On the skip side, you can’t rely solely on headless for a spell-binding performance. The structure will still need the suitable SI accompanied by the right implementation methods. There are plenty of headless examples that could have been equally efficient in their native forms. Above all, Shopify is encouraging store owners to stick with the native structure for gradual improvements in the platform.

Unrestricted UX

It is one of the prominent reasons that emphatically promote the idea of headless, but without clarifying the foundation of the restrictions faced during native development. The URL structure culminates into a knock-on effect here after being fixed properly. However, flexibility doesn’t bring forth the concern of intricacies anymore and it can’t be concluded here that Shopify themes lack any form of UX restrictions in this context. Integration of an app or javascript technology like VueJS/React into the theme offers the desired experience without being dedicated to headless entirely.

Content Management

For once, distinguishing content management thoroughly from theme management can be an effective choice. Besides, the convenience of posting and editing content on various storefronts can be a fresh start itself. All in all, this segment completely supports the headless methodology. Some supporters of headless would also want to believe that it is the only streamlined way to add rich content across a store.
On the contrary, Shopify sections have a quite amenable structure to meet the content needs. Not to mention the latest Shopify release claimed to acquire a sitewide and far more manageable section. It will be an option worth leveraging when the amount of content is vast. Numerous sections on Shopify accompanied by Syncio and Shogun apps contemplate that content management isn’t going to be a chore for store owners in the forthcoming days.

PWA

Progressive web apps may be efficient enough to juxtapose against headless solutions, but that doesn’t mean that Shopify's standard building practices can put headless behind in the race. Although, it all depends on how developers tackle the scenario and devote their time to it. Nonetheless, PWA will call for a headless approach to perform on the web as expected.

Against Headless

SI lock-in

Shopify managed to win the trust of store creators because of its immensely flexible access. Despite being a hosted platform, Shopify doesn’t make its users feel locked in with an agency. You own the complete control and access of the themes you select. However, going headless can flip the coins in a different direction. You will lose your restriction-free storefront and CMS access from Shopify while your data will potentially be exposed to other agencies taking hold of your business’ development stack. Although, there are a few ways to avoid this kind of situation and some of them are given below:

  • Audit Profoundly – it is important that you give some time to the initial SI selection, acknowledging the unconventional track of headless builds and the development process. Review the platforms your service provider presents and ask the reasons for them. Make sure they know the platform in and out, otherwise you will need to hire other people for solving minor issues in the future.
  • Acquire Your Credentials – Any account created on selected services such as AWS, Netlify, DigitalOcean, Contentful, and Prismic must contain your details. You should pay directly using your account, and the primary admin account will be connected to your email id.

The main impact of this architecture will result in a collective separation with Shopify. It means that you won’t be able to log into Shopify and make changes to the theme code. On the contrary, you will not need to do that if you already have a reliable SI. In both cases, you lose the authentication to production code. You should go for it only if you trust your SI completely

Loss of App Functions & Shopify Updates

By staying at the side of headless architecture, you will not be able to explore the app store panel and install something. Although, you may find a way to access some of those highly requires apps such as Klevu/Nosto with the help of API integration

Shopify is popular amongst the largest community of start-ups and independent businesses that utilize its various functionalities. Indeed, doing research on some apps and installing them for boosted functionality is a good idea, but it can drastically affect the consistency of the codebase. It is better to rely on SI’s version-controlled process for this.

In the segment of Shopify updates, the checkout option would still be applicable, and it’s even important. The same will go for the updates associated with the backend admin. Shopify works relentlessly on enhancing the server-side performance, which serves as a lot of benefits for the load speeds of online stores. There is a chance that this benefit will fade away with the new architecture.

Complexity

There is a myriad of undeniably essential parts in the development to be understood. Nonetheless, some of those parts result in the deep-rooted complexity of the project. An eCommerce project can either be an exclusively Shopify build with vast intricacies or just a simple, crisp, and straightforward headless creation. The clarity of this context can be carried out with house construction. You hire a plumber, electrician, and a gas engineer separately to make the fixes. You can also hire a talented handyman who can do all these jobs by himself.

Agility

Agility is one of the many reasons why development professionals around the world choose Shopify over Magento and other popular platforms. The headless architecture does require planning, coordination, and determination before developing actual functionalities on the website. This planning roadmap must also cover the problem of app integration because it is not going to be simpler anymore. Several things will take a little longer, but it will not cause the loss of agility.

Make sure that you make decisions quicker, especially in terms of architecture, development configuration, deployment, and testing. Try your best to cover more functions in less time. The modular approach of headless will make some elements reusable.

Total Cost of Ownership

Headless architecture has been ignored right out due to the total cost of ownership many times before. Market analysts haven’t come up with a single figure that can prove this approach more effective on eCommerce return on investment. Considering the lack of credibility criteria, Shopify seems to be a better fit after all.

CTO is a pivotal part of the argument in this context because the cost of starting store development with a headless structure is relatively higher. However, 3-5 years of steady retained development followed by code reuse and reduced code degradation risk can easily scale down the costing bar for a Headless build.

Alternative options

All these contradictions will disappear in the thin air with time once professionals begin to consider a headless approach for Shopify projects. Popular platforms will find a way to bridge the gap between standard theme build and headless architecture.

For one, a hybrid approach for project building can be a promising start. This method entails the use of an active theme and its complementary benefits along with more efficient technologies such as VueJS or React within the theme. Though, it can only be accomplished with a development skill-set that’s hard to find.

In addition to this, some third-party technologies are working day and night to make headless development much more accessible and simpler for Shopify users. In fact, two major platforms Shogun and Nacelle have succeeded in their initial attempts of improvements.

Every developer knows that Shogun is one of the finest content management platforms. It is prominently used as a Shopify pagebuilder to generate content pages and blogs. Shogun has been a buzz in the domain even before Shopify brought its section functionality. Shogun-Frontend is the recent innovation of Shogun presented as much more than a page builder. It allows creators to build pages in a headless way.

Nacelle was produced in the wake of an improvised platform to build progressive web applications. It made the ensemble of PWA technology into the low-performing storefront quite easy for developers. The platform has grown since then, to an extent where it is employed as the most suitable method for elevating the website and mobile performance.

Both these robust options lay the path for a microscopic foreground that proves the significance of headless and progressive web apps. While these options may not be a feasible choice for every type of project, but these are indeed cost-effective and result-oriented even for a new venture.

Key Points

So, the entire discussion on ‘should or should not’ of headless on Shopify development sums up to the following key takeaways:

  • There is no harm in trying a headless approach for a new project if it suits the particular needs of development. It is a far more superior software design pattern than it is credited for. You might experience a budget stretch in the beginning, but your concerns will go away with the streamlined flexibility of store performance.
  • The amalgamation of headless with Shopify comes with the freedom of URL structure, which is something to think about. Then again, there are different ways to achieve the goal you are aiming for in eCommerce. Remember to maintain your focus on project execution instead of delving all your time into the headless structure.
  • The initial platform selection is selectively more important than pondering on the idea of headless project development. If you are surrounded by your doubts, there is always a way to switch to headless architecture in the later phases of the development.

We would love to know your point of view, feedback, suggestions, and more on this topic. Feel free to email brad@bradadvertising.com to discuss anything further.