The Pros & Cons of Headless Commerce for Mid-Market DTC Brands

The choice to go headless is a big question for many eCommerce businesses, online retailers, and Enterprise brands. When your goal is to build a truly native brand experience that’s fast, going headless sounds like a no-brainer. But despite all of the buzz surrounding headless commerce, that doesn’t mean the technology will help your growth.

This article explores the pros and cons of headless eCommerce to understand more about what the technology can offer. And when headless commerce creates more challenges for DTC businesses than solutions.

What is Headless eCommerce Architecture?

Headless commerce involves separating the front-end presentation layer from the back-end of an online store that’s been built with Shopify Plus, BigCommere, etc. Headless uses an API layer to enable the front and back-end to communicate.

In headless commerce, the visual side of your online store is seperated from the back-end, native eCommerce functionality of your eCommerce platform.
In headless commerce, the visual side of your online store is separated from the back-end, native eCommerce functionality of your eCommerce platform.

Top 5 Benefits of Headless eCommerce Platforms

Separating the front and back-end parts of your eCommerce store gives designers and developers more flexibility in their work. Headless commerce also enables you to create an intuitive customer experience across different devices like smartphones, laptops, or wearable tech.

Core benefits of headless commerce often include:

  • Easy scalability

  • Cost-effectiveness

  • More customization

  • Front-end & technology agnostic

  • Flexible design & development workflow

#1 – Offers Creative Freedom

With headless commerce, designers aren’t restricted by predefined front-end templates or themes. Designers have full control and creative freedom to capture your brand identity with complete precision. Headless also enables designers to freely make changes to the front-end of your storefront without worrying if their changes will impact the back-end.

Traditionally, the front and back-end of an eCommerce website are tightly coupled together. Changes made to either the back-end or front-end will impact the other. So, a designer (or your marketing team) would need the help of your developers to make changes or updates to your store’s front-end.

#2 – Technology Agnostic

Headless commerce can empower your development team to use their preferred frameworks or tools. With headless technology, developers are also able to swap out components of your tech stack for other best-of-breed applications so your tech remains flexible and adaptable. This modular approach to your tech can help you scale more easily than a traditional eCommerce platform.

#3 – Scales Easily

Headless is Supposed to “Future-Proof” Your Tech.

Since headless is technology agnostic, scaling headless storefronts can be easier than monolith storefronts. With monolith solutions, it can be difficult to scale up quickly as components are bundled together. In contrast, the modularity of headless allows you to swap out tools or services as necessary.

Headless solutions apply updates through API calls instead of manual changes made directly on the server-side codebase. So there is no need to rebuild entire websites or applications every time new features have been added.

#4 – Helps Create Unified Shopping Experiences

With a headless storefront, customers can shop seamlessly from any device or platform without navigating between different apps or their phone and computer. Customers receive a consistent experience across each user device. That’s because Headless is API-driven. APIs allow headless sites to communicate with different front-end user interfaces and devices flexibly, creating a route for omnichannel shopping experiences.

You Can Easily Localize Shopping Experiences with Headless

A headless commerce system also empowers brands to offer better personalization features for customers regardless of their geographic location. Taking a headless approach allows eCommerce companies to set up storefronts that adapt to markets around the world.

  • Why Anatta took AG1 headless: In 2019, Shopify hadn’t yet built Shopify Markets. Managing more than one storefront was a big challenge, which meant internationalization needed a lot more resources and coordination. Our team migrated Athletic Greens to a headless solution so that the brand experience would be consistent no matter what part of the world a customer was shopping from. Taking Athletic Greens headless also allowed the brand to keep the same website URL across the global market.

#5 – Can Be Cost-Effective

(Key Word: “Can”)

One of the expected benefits of headless commerce is cost savings. A business may be able to reduce some of the ongoing costs associated with maintaining multiple websites or apps for different channels by using a single codebase.

With headless eCommerce, all business logic lives in one place—the API—so changes only need to be made once instead of multiple times across different websites or apps. Reducing costs in terms of labor hours spent coding each website or app separately.

Is a Headless Website Really Faster Than an eCommerce Store Made on Shopify Plus?

It depends. The speed of your website comes down to one thing: your underlying architecture. While headless architecture was once the only way to get your page load speeds under 1 second or less, that’s no longer the case. Shopify’s TTL is also now under 0.3 seconds.

Even though eCommerce businesses are still going headless for site speed alone, there’s no guarantee your storefront will actually load faster if the headless store isn’t built thoughtfully from the start.

At Anatta, we build Shopify Themes that are on par or even faster than headless builds because of the way we design our clients’ Shopify Theme architecture.

Top 4 Disadvantages of Headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce is innovative and exciting for a lot of businesses. However, there are potential drawbacks to this technology you should consider before implementing it. The cons of headless could outweigh the benefits that it would provide you.

#1 – More Complexity = More Room For Error

The tradeoff of a flexible, headless eCommerce website comes with increased complexity. Headless relies on APIs, multiple systems, and custom integrations, so managing the platform can be difficult for those without technical expertise. Depending on how complex your setup is and how many third-party services you use, debugging errors can become tedious due to how challenging it can be to pinpoint where an issue is arising within the tech stack.

And, any downtime or store bugs because of the technical complexity of headless can hurt user experience. Ultimately costing your business sales.

#2 – Implementation & Maintenance Costs of Headless

Another disadvantage is the cost associated with headless implementation and maintenance. As mentioned previously, more resources may be required to properly implement and maintain a headless solution because of its complexity.

This might include hiring developers experienced with web development or investing in specialized software tools such as API management platforms. The costs from all of these investments are strong points to consider when deciding if headless makes sense at your current stage of growth.

#3 – The Problem of Self-Hosting a Headless Store

With headless commerce, you’ll need to find a hosting platform to host your site. Platforms like Shopify Plus or SalesForce Commerce Cloud take care of hosting for you. But the costs and consideration of hosting will fall back onto you in headless eCommerce.

#4 – Headless Lacks of Out-of-The-Box Features

Since most headless solutions rely heavily on APIs, they may lack certain features found in traditional eCommerce platforms, such as shopping cart functionality or product catalogs. With monolith platforms, these features come ready out of the box.

In a headless environment, you’ll need to build app integrations for yourself. You’ll also need to maintain those apps and plug-ins. And if something breaks? You’re the one who will need to fix it.

Analytics Integrations

For example, with a headless platform, you’ll need to build and maintain your analytics tagging that natively exists in Shopify or other eCommerce platforms. You’ll also need to cross-reference these tags for accuracy.

Why Does Anatta Not Recommend Mid-Market DTC Brands Go Headless?

Brands at the mid-market and enterprise level should ask themselves if they can solve their original problems without going headless. Often, a headless eCommerce system can become cluttered, which only distracts from the more important parts of your business. Like your customer experience. In short, headless is more likely to parallel your tech stack than level it up.

Shopify has dramatically beefed up its integrations, performance, and offerings over the past few years. To the point that going headless can easily cost you more and deliver less than expected. Even for an Enterprise brand. 

Questions to consider before diving into headless eCommerce:

  • Is your brand truly a tech-first, eCommerce-second company?

  • Do you have the tech resources to maintain a headless eCommerce solution?

  • What are software platforms, like Shopify Plus, lacking that a headless approach would help close the gap?

Overall, going headless has no guarantee of improving your store experience or internal processes. Both headless architectures and monolith architectures can be slow to load, difficult for team members to use/maintain, and sometimes, a big obstacle to your growth.

It all comes down to how you build and optimize your architecture.

Not 100% satisfied with your current eCommerce platform? Get in touch with Anatta for answers, support, or to plan a smooth platform migration.

Anatta’s team has led platform migrations for D2C brands like Thesis, Berkey Filters, and M.Gemi. The Shopify Theme architecture Anatta builds matches and even outpace headless storefronts. Feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation. We can explore the best platform options for your brand depending on your current needs and long-term goals.

Tell us about your current eCommerce platform.

Pros And Cons of Headless Commerce FAQs

When should your D2C business go headless? Is there a right time to go headless?

Headless eCommerce is a powerful technology for mid-market D2C eCommerce brands. Headless offers flexibility and scalability that traditional commerce solutions cannot match. However, headless also requires more technical expertise to implement and maintain than a traditional eCommerce platform. A headless commerce environment built without using Shopify’s headless frameworks, or another eCommerce platform’s headless solutions, is also more challenging to maintain.

What are the benefits of headless commerce in comparison to a monolith platform?

Flexibility is the key benefit and difference between a headless architecture and a traditional eCommerce platform. Headless enables your marketing and development teams to work independently on your website’s front and back-end without worrying about how their work will impact the rest of the site. The flexibility of headless commerce also allows you to pick and choose best-of-breed applications for your tech stack without relying on a legacy platform’s core features.

Deciding Between eCommerce Platforms? Our Team Can Help

If you’re considering a migration to a new eCommerce platform, Anatta is here to serve. Just send us a message, and we can talk about your business, challenges with your current platform, and what platform might be best for your current stage of growth. All at no cost or obligation to you.

Send us a message for a free consultation.

  • avatar
    Surinder Singh
  • Surinder is the Senior Vice President of Engineering. Shortly after completing his Computer Science degree, he joined Anatta in 2011 as its second employee. Today, he runs a 15+ person team and oversees a dozen projects simultaneously. Surinder’s expertise includes Wordpress, Magento, Shopify, and creating Progress Web Apps (PWA) using AWS infrastructure.