Headless ecommerce: Everything you need to know

Headless ecommerce: Everything you need to know

If you’re struggling to stand out in a competitive market, or you’re frustrated by the limitations of your current ecommerce platform, we might just have the perfect solution for you. For some ambitious brands, the future is headless.

Over the past two and a half decades, ecommerce has taken the world by storm. And since the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the growth of online retail, it’s become an even more disruptive force of business. As new brands continue to move into the industry and grow their online offerings, there are a wide range of solutions available to help retailers achieve success. One of those solutions is headless ecommerce.

But, what is headless ecommerce? How does it work? And what opportunities does it present to online businesses? We’re here to give you the lowdown.

What is headless ecommerce?


Headless ecommerce emerged as an exciting alternative to the solutions provided by many popular ecommerce platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce. These platforms are relatively straightforward to set up and maintain, and they offer opportunities to customise the storefront. This makes them a popular choice for many budding online brands.

These traditional platforms are characterised by a harmonious connection between the frontend (the user interface) and the backend (the server side) of a website.

Now, there's an alternative option that offers merchants the opportunity to develop cutting edge interfaces to give them an edge over their competitors: headless ecommerce.

Headless ecommerce decouples the closely linked frontend and backend of traditional “monolithic” ecommerce systems. The backend of the website is therefore rendered “headless”, with no fixed frontend touchpoint.

New frontend solutions can then be put into place, and a two-way connection (or data bridge) built and maintained between them. This allows for custom-built frontend user experiences to be rolled out on the web, on mobile apps, on smart devices and more, without being restricted by the limitations of the backend.


What's possible with headless ecommerce?


While the infrastructures offered by traditional online platforms are useful and versatile in their own right, headless ecommerce architecture presents a range of exciting opportunities because it isn’t limited by their frontend offerings.

The conscious decoupling of monolithic ecommerce sites opens the door to unique and creative customer experiences. It gives UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) designers a blank canvas, and allows businesses to integrate the latest trends and demands into their retail sites.

Headless ecommerce gives ambitious brands the freedom to develop new functionalities and seamlessly integrate third party features without being limited by their existing platform. This opens up exciting opportunities to scale quickly and sustainably. With headless ecommerce, the possibilities to innovate and transform are endless.

Speed up your site

As well as cutting edge design, headless solutions allow the use of advanced technologies to create revolutionary user interfaces that don't slow websites down, resulting in faster page load speeds.

It’s no secret that slow websites frustrate users and often lead them to click the close button, rather than “Add to cart”. Slow websites also hurt SEO (search engine optimisation), as Google avoids sending searchers to websites that people click off of within a matter of seconds.

As an online business, losing out on potential customers as a result of slow page load speeds is a huge issue that headless ecommerce solutions seek to resolve.

But how? Monolithic ecommerce platforms provide many of their customisation options through easy-to-use plugins and apps. These are great for user-friendliness and ease of installation, but they can also slow websites down. So, on non-headless sites, more customisations can equal slower page load speeds.

Headless ecommerce options, on the other hand, build custom functionality into the project itself, removing the need for bulky plugins and greatly reducing loading times.

A headless setup also allows you to take advantage of the benefits of PWAs (Progressive Web Applications), such as offline capabilities, improved performance, and push notifications, to provide a native app-like experience in the browser.

Fast websites are the expectation in a headless world, helping to convert online visitors into online customers more efficiently and successfully than ever. This speed also pays off in terms of SEO, helping websites climb search engine rankings by offering a smoother, and speedier, user experience.


Stay ahead of the game

As anyone who’s familiar with the online retail world will know all too well, making sure your website is always working correctly is essential to ensuring that things run smoothly and that no customers are needlessly lost. This involves continuously monitoring your site and addressing any issues that arise immediately. Headless options make this process more efficient by allowing any updates and fixes to be rolled out rapidly, without the need to interrupt regular proceedings.

Amazon is one of the most recognisable and successful headless ecommerce leaders, and the way it handles its site maintenance is truly impressive. Amazon updates its website every 11.7 seconds, on average. This uber-flexible approach allows them to stay on top of any problems that arise while still keeping things running smoothly, reducing the number (and duration) of outages, and therefore increasing revenue.

Have you found something on your site that isn’t working correctly? Do you want to introduce a new feature? Is it time to carry out an essential security update? Headless solutions allow you to update your website while maintaining its consistent functionality - and a consistent stream of income. (Though it's important to note that you'll likely need support from a developer to implement these updates.)

On top of this, having the freedom to develop new functionalities and seamlessly integrate third party features without being limited by your ecommerce platform gives your brand a prime opportunity to scale quickly and sustainably. When it comes to headless ecommerce, your imagination is the limit.


Headless ecommerce examples to inspire your move

Headless ecommerce architecture has been around for a while now, but its popularity has really skyrocketed within the last few years as ecommerce brands scramble at the opportunity to design stand-out websites that offer exceptional user experiences that get them noticed.

We’ve pulled together 3 of our favourite headless ecommerce examples to showcase the brands that are getting it right.

Under Armour


Headless ecommerce examples: Under Armour


Under Armour is an American sports retailer with an online (and offline) presence all over the globe. The brand was a relatively early adopter of the revolutionary headless ecommerce approach, embracing a headless site in order to make their customer journey smoother and faster, especially on mobile. Their versatile new site does just that, drastically reducing their bounce rate and, as a result, increasing revenue.


Feel Unique


Headless ecommerce examples: Feelunique


Another successful headless ecommerce example is Feelunique - one of Europe’s leading beauty retailers. With millions of visitors each month, its team understands the importance of ironing out any bumps in the customer journey in order to drive revenue. Feelunique adopted a headless approach to streamline its product searching and purchasing options, enhance the user journey and increase revenue.




Headless ecommerce examples: Chilly's


Our final headless ecommerce example is UK-based reusable bottle business, Chilly’s. Like Under Armour, Chilly’s was keen to make the most of a boom of customers embracing mobile to shop online, so they built a dynamic online store that works seamlessly across desktop and mobile. As Chilly’s is now a global business, the new store supports a variety of countries, currencies and languages. The result? An increase in traffic, a better customer experience, and a growth in revenue. Headless ecommerce strikes again!


The best headless ecommerce platforms

So, you’ve seen some fantastic headless ecommerce examples and you’re thinking that the headless approach might be right for you? Great! Now, you’ll probably be interested in hearing which are the best headless ecommerce platforms. We’ve got you.

Many platforms now offer the opportunity to go headless. Market leaders like Shopify and BigCommerce have recognised the ever-demanding requirements of the online retail industry and have expanded their functionality to permit the development of headless solutions. Clients can now use their tried and tested backend infrastructure, but shed the templates and adopt new frontend technologies.

Here’s a short (you could say exclusive) list of what we consider to be the best headless ecommerce platforms to support the backend of your headless site.

These platforms can be used in connection with flexible frontend tools to build a truly unique website experience. Our recommendation for the best headless website platform combo would be a backend supported by Shopify, with a frontend built with Shogun Frontend.

The challenges of a headless approach

There’s a reason why monolithic platforms have remained so popular since the online shopping boom. They’re easy to adopt, require less technical knowledge, and allow brands to make their online stores live quickly.

In contrast, headless ecommerce solutions require a larger investment in both time and money. A headless frontend (the storefront) must be built from scratch by developers who have advanced technical know-how, which takes time. This also requires a greater financial commitment. More time is spent at the drawing board, which means it can take longer to make a site live.

Moving to a headless site requires a lot of planning, as some of the features you rely on within your existing website platform will no longer be available.

As our partners at Shogun explain, “platforms like Shopify have done a great job of abstracting away complexity within their platform so merchants often don't realise what's remaining when they go headless and what is not. Analytics is one of those items that needs to be revisited.”

An investment in a headless ecommerce solution

For some ambitious online businesses, going headless is worth the investment. Embracing headless architecture on your site allows you to have greater control over your customer journey, enhance user experience, and embrace game-changing functionalities that make your site stand out against your competitors’.

You can quickly and easily optimise it for speed, SEO and CRO, and you can have the flexibility to make changes as and when. All of this, if carried out correctly, will lead to increased revenue. So what’s stopping you?


When should you go headless?


A question we get asked a lot at Underwaterpistol is, “when’s the right time to take my ecommerce website headless?”. And the answer is always the same: when your business demands more than what’s offered by monolithic platforms.

As Shogun explain, “Brands should go headless when there are sufficient business needs to justify it.”

“One business need is a merchant is only starting to see an incremental gain from optimising the platform-native site. If this is the case, it's time to consider the underlying architecture of the site. Is it too slow? Too rigid for the designs needed? Do more complex CMS needs arise? If so, headless is a good option.”


An expert team to support your headless ecommerce journey

Embracing an innovative headless approach and moving your site over to a versatile yet complex new platform can be a daunting task. But don’t worry - we’re here to help you make the move seamlessly, and to make a real impact as an ecommerce innovator.

Here at Underwaterpistol, we have the expertise to build stand-out headless sites with truly impressive functionalities designed for your needs. Talk to us about how we can help you achieve your headless goals - we’d love to help.