Navigating Headless E-Commerce: When Is It Worth It?


We recently onboarded a client with a Sanity x Hydrogen e-commerce architecture (aka headless); meanwhile, over the last few weeks, we've been fielding more questions from prospects about a headless approach to Shopify.

All this talk about headless reminded me of a client we began working with a few years back. At the time, 'headless' seemed to be a topic of discussion everywhere in e-commerce.

The client was pre-revenue with big ambitions. Our key point of contact was firm on a headless build. Unfortunately, the brand didn't see the initial sales they expected after launch. We had identified several opportunities for conversion rate optimization; however, much of our retainer time was consumed by simple tasks—like configuring Google Tag Manager and implementing subscriptions—that should have been quick but were complicated by the headless architecture.

After some strategic conversations with leadership, they decided to invest in consolidating the website under Shopify Plus; the project cost them more than a third of the initial website build budget a year before.

This experience reinforced what we recommended to this client from the start: Shopify Plus can handle most of a brand's needs. Rather than lead with a headless approach, identify what specific requirements make it worthwhile, then weigh the tradeoffs. Often, headless adds unnecessary complexity and cost.

All that said, headless can be a good investment for certain businesses, especially those with extensive large-scale operations or complex product catalogs. It decouples the website's front-end from the backend logistics, offering more flexibility. In essence, brands can leverage Shopify to manage products, inventory, customers, and orders, without having to work around the URL path and page template constraints. It can also offer performance enhancements by sidestepping the impact of Shopify and third-party app scripts.

Shopify continues to improve the platform to offer merchants more and more flexibility, like allowing for content modules to be re-ordered across templates and improving how product variants are managed on the front and backend. While it may not be possible to accomplish all that a headless approach offers, it can get you pretty far and in the long run, save significant costs on maintenance and support, allowing you to reallocate those funds to optimization and enhancements.


This post originally appeared in #76 of The E-Commerce Corner. Subscribe here.

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