Is it time to go headless with Shopify?

By Emma Moody, 5th October 2023

Shopify has been a go-to solution for many eCommerce businesses looking to establish and manage their online stores using a market leading platform. However, the world of eCommerce is fast-evolving and ambitious retailers are looking to innovate beyond the capabilities of a classic Shopify store. Headless Shopify is an eCommerce solution that provides the flexibility for retailers to innovate, meet consumer demand and stay ahead of their market.

What is headless Shopify?

In a traditional eCommerce setup, the “front-end” (the part of the website that users interact with) and the “backend” (the part that manages the database, transactions, and operations) are tightly integrated. However, a headless eCommerce approach decouples these two components, allowing greater flexibility and customisation.

In a headless setup, the front-end is detached from the backend, enabling businesses to utilise various front-end frameworks, libraries, and technologies to build a more personalised and engaging user experience. The backend is typically managed through an API-driven structure and handles the business logic, data, and transactions.

A headless Shopify website will use Shopify as the backend system to manage the product catalogue, transactions and markets, and will use a different technology to deliver the front-end interface that the user sees.


Why use Shopify headlessly?

There are a number of reasons that a retailer may choose to go Headless, however the underlying reason is usually to achieve greater flexibility and performance from the front-end of the website than a classic Shopify Store can deliver.


1. SEO improvements

The Shopify platform comes with some SEO limitations that can prevent retailers from ranking at their full potential. Although not a dealbreaker for SEO, retailers operating in highly competitive markets may find that they struggle to compete in organic search.

The right headless approach can overcome Shopify’s SEO challenges and enable best practice SEO optimisation. Many of our clients use WordPress with Shopify in their headless approach as a way to deliver a website with optimal SEO.


2. International targeting

Classic Shopify offers international targeting using the Markets function which allows regional stores to be created on different domains, subdomains or subdirectories. Customers can browse products available in their region and pay in their local currency.

For many retailers, this is enough. However, businesses that are looking to provide a tailored international experience and optimise each territory for local search engines often find that they need a more flexible solution. Although technically doable on standard Shopify, it is difficult to create unique regional content and multilingual content that can be easily managed without developer support.

This has a knock on effect on SEO optimisation as it makes it difficult to optimise copy in line with a regional keyword strategy. Key ranking factors such as meta descriptions and page titles are also tricky to update without developer support.

Therefore, marketing teams who need autonomy, the ability to run regional campaigns, and make changes quickly will often benefit from a headless approach that provides them with more flexibility.

Our Cole & Son case study is a great example of how we leveraged Headless Shopify to internationalise an eCommerce website and drive performance. Our campaign recently won the Best Cross Border Campaign Award at the eCommerce Awards.


3. Flexibility and customisation

By decoupling the front-end from the backend, retailers gain the flexibility to use various front-end technologies. This allows for a highly customised user interface and seamless integrations with other platforms and applications.

Shopify offers a generous amount of flexibility as standard, but many businesses reach the stage where they need to go beyond what comes out of the box with Shopify and create a unique and branded user experience.


4. Speed

Speed is a common complaint with classic Shopify, with stores slowing down over time as Shopify servers fill with other eCommerce sites.

Headless architecture often results in faster page loading times and better performance. This is because the front-end can be optimised and hosted independently to prioritise speed and user experience.


5. Personalisation

Separating the front-end and backend systems enables eCommerce stores to offer personalised user experiences and product recommendations based on the data they hold for that customer. eCommerce trends are very much heading in this direction, making headless Shopify a popular solution for retailers looking to provide the unique user experiences.


6. Omni-channel experience

Headless eCommerce facilitates a consistent user experience across multiple interfaces, including websites, mobile apps, smartwatches, voice assistants, and social media shopping. This ensures a cohesive brand presence and experience for customers on multiple platforms, delivering consistent data on products, stock, pricing, and even personal user data across each customer touch point.


7. Future-readiness & scalability

With a headless approach, scaling becomes easier and more efficient. Businesses can scale the front-end and backend independently to handle increased traffic and growth without impacting the overall performance.

With a headless Shopify website, the infrastructure is in place to achieve functionality and performance beyond what is achievable with a standard Shopify store. This provides a flexible platform that can be grown and scaled, while maintaining the user friendly backend that Shopify is known for.


Things to consider before going headless with Shopify


  1. Complexity

    Implementing headless Shopify is more complex than a traditional Shopify setup. It requires expertise in both front-end and backend development, demands a longer development time and more maintenance.

  2. Integration effort

    Integrating various front-end technologies and ensuring seamless communication with the backend requires careful planning and execution. The API-driven nature of the backend demands meticulous attention to detail.

    Shopify will continue to update their API in order to provide the best service for their customers. With this, comes the need to continue to update the website to ensure the API connection is functioning as it should and that data is being passed correctly.

  3. Costs

    Implementing Shopify headlessly will incur higher initial development costs due to the specialist skills and additional time required to manage the intricacies of creating a decoupled architecture. Standard Shopify is designed to be accessible and anybody can create their own store. Creating a headless Shopify store is far more complex and requires an experienced eCommerce agency or team.

    Although the up-front and ongoing costs are higher for headless Shopify stores, a headless approach can unlock a huge amount of value for the business and drive a return far beyond the investment.

Is it time for your business to go headless with Shopify?

Whether it’s time to adopt a headless approach with Shopify depends on your business’s specific needs, goals, and growth trajectory. If your business is reaching the limit of standard Shopify and requires a more customised, performance-driven, and scalable solution then going headless might be the right choice.

However, it’s essential to carefully weigh the benefits and challenges, considering factors such as your budget, ongoing maintenance, and timeline for implementation. A headless approach isn’t right for every business so consulting with an experienced eCommerce agency can provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.

In conclusion, the eCommerce landscape is continually evolving, and the headless approach offers exciting opportunities for businesses seeking to enhance their online presence and stay ahead of competitors. Assess your requirements and evaluate if a headless Shopify architecture aligns with your business vision and strategy.


If you would like some advice on Headless Shopify and whether it’s a good fit for your business, you can book a complimentary consultation by emailing us at [email protected] or calling 0203 0111 641.




Headless Shopify FAQs

Which headless approach is right for me?

This is a huge topic in itself. The majority of our clients opt for Shopify Headless with a WordPress head. This approach provides all of the benefits of using Shopify Headless while also providing great content management and an established ecosystem of support.

However other CMS solutions can be used such as Craft, Prismic, Storyblok and Strapi which all use module based CMS systems like WordPress and a classic Shopify store.

There is an almost unlimited number of ways to go headless with your Shopify store. Our digital agency can help you discuss possible solutions and find the right approach and technology for your business.


Do you have any examples of headless Shopify stores?

Cole & Son and RSL Awards are both examples of headless Shopify stores that went headless to achieve international targeting, greater design and development flexibility, and enhanced SEO optimisation.


Does Shopify support headless?

Shopify supports headless eCommerce and has a storefront API that can be used to decouple the front-end and backend systems.

Shopify also has its own headless solution called Hydrogen.


How much does headless Shopify cost?

A headless Shopify website is likely to cost upwards of £80k + vat, with some sites reaching the multiple hundreds of thousands of pounds. The cost will be determined by your start point, the size, complexity, approach and your ambition for website performance.


Do you need Shopify Plus to go headless?

No, you don’t need Shopify Plus to go headless


Is headless Shopify bad for SEO?

On the contrary, headless Shopify has the potential to improve SEO performance. This is because standard Shopify has some well known SEO limitations. However, an appropriate technology selection needs to be made in order to reap the SEO benefits. The selection of an inappropriate headless Shopify strategy or technology has the potential to harm your SEO performance.


Does my eCommerce website need to be on Shopify already to implement headless Shopify?

If your existing store uses another eCommerce platform then your products and data will need to be migrated to Shopify. We can advise on the best approach to replatforming your eCommerce.


Can I go headless with other eCommerce platforms?

Yes, most eCommerce platforms are able to be delivered headlessly. Shopify is most popular with our clients because of its user friendly product management interface and the vast amount of functionality available within the platform.


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