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Ben Kennedy Answers Your Questions About Going Headless

Posted by Lucas Walker on
Ben Kennedy Answers Your Questions About Going Headless

Ben Kennedy, co-founder and CTO of The Feed, joins Lucas and Pitstop to answer some of your most frequently asked questions about headless commerce.


Taking your Shopify and e-commerce sites headless seems to be the hottest new trend for store owners, but for those who worry it’s more a matter of hype and hope than high performance, questions remain about whether going headless is the best option and avenue for their business. Together, Lucas and Ben address some of your most pressing questions about making the switch to headless -e-commerce.

Why should I go headless? A faster website is a better experience for the customer, which leads to a higher conversion rate and a better profit-per-visitor. When visiting a Shopify page, customers may get any sort of experience, based on how much the store owner is asking from both the site and their theme build. While they may be offering many key and important features, the sheer size of the theme may lead to a draggy experience, as each new page effectivly has to load twice. Using a headless build, de-coupling the front-end customer experience  from the e-commerce tools, will greatly increase the performance of your store, improve your user experience and lead to a marked increase in sales.

How do I know headless commerce is right for me? Is your Shopify store large enough to spend the time, money and resources on a headless build? Will you benefit from it, or is it too soon for you? No store owner wants to fall down a rabbit hole chasing hype over a new and exciting approach to business when the old model may currently suit them better. There is no set line, no clearly defined profit margin or inventory size when you should make the switch, and it will depend on the particulars of your own operation, but if you’ve reached a point where you feel like you want to be growing faster, like you can handle expansion, possibly even rapid expansion, and that your current size has become only limiting to what you can do, then headless may be the tool you need to take your store to the next level. Above all, you will know when it’s time go to headless, it’s more a matter of realizing that what you need to do next.

How do I make my operation headless? Be careful, headless commerce is still very new, and the marketplace can be full of pitfalls and false promises. When chosing a provider to help you go headless, go for quality and reputation over flash, big claims and overhyping. Make sure that not only the provider you choose is ready, with a depth of knowledge and experience, but that your own team is ready to handle it too, so that you’re not locked in to the choices and claims of your provider, and so that you can take the power back and walk away if they prove to not live up to expectations, without losing the headless build. Shogun, show sponsor of Pitstop, provides exactly this perfect balance of reliance and control.

Going headless is not a quick fix that will solve all of your store’s problems, nor even guarantee a faster experience for every Shopify user, but for many it will prove an effective and helpful tool to take their e-commerce operations to the next level, while building bridges of trust between your team and your provider.

How can going headless improve my site's speed?

So now that you are certain a headless build is the best approach for your store, and you've contacted and contracted a service provider, how do you actually move forward? What do you do first to get the speed your customers require? As mentioned in the previous episode, one of the primary draws for going headless is the potential boost in speed you can bring to your store and the quickness and efficiency of your users experience. But how exactly do you achieve this boost in speed?

First, what  actually is site speed? We all know as users what constitute a fast or slow loading time for a site. It varies over time and with circumstance and expectation, bit it's a fine line that you feel more than know. Google and other aggregators however are a little more specific on how they define it, using a series of equations, primarily based on two factors: first contentful paint, and largest contentful paint. First contentful paint a score of how long it takes for the very first pixel to appear on a page once it loads, while largest contentful paint racks how long it takes from that moment until the largest aspect of the site is visible that the majority of the page can be considered loaded, even if additional minor details are still coming in.

Be sure to check your speed often, don’t just assume it’s working. Use a service like Lighthouse, and listen to the feedback from your customers to constantly gauge how well your store is operate as a site. 

While free services like Lighthouse will track this information on your initial landing page, they will not track further activity as your customer moves through your site. For that, you would require a provider like our sponsor Shogun, or other headless developers, who can help speed up your load time by as much as 43%.

What impact do third-party apps have on my speed? Third-party Shopify apps are and have been a fantastic collection of useful tools kind of haphazardly and patchwork put out there, and applied as store operators see fit. Some of them don’t work together, some of them are meant to work together and yet don’t, or people don’t bother to use them together, and some of them out right will not work or have to be manually adjusted under a headless build. This may seem like a lot of work, and a lot more complicated than it was when you were simply installing add-ons and moving forward, but in the long run this will make those add-ons work more effectively in efficiently. 

Do I need an in-house team, or can i just rely on my provider? Headless builds are really less about web development, treating your store like it's a traditional site, and more about programming and app development. You're not writing or designing a page that will load faster, you're changing how many individual apps behave and interact with each other. This requires specific but common enough expertise, and you should absolutely have at least someone on staff who knows how to make any changes or address any problems you may run into at any time. The more self sufficient your company is at implementing and managing your headless build, the more control you'll have over your site and the better chance you'll get exactly what you and your customers want out of it.

Going headless isn't just a matter of switching over to a one-size-fits-all build that is pre-optimized for your ease though, there are many small but important decisions that you'll have to make along the way to get the specific performance out of the site that you and your customers are looking for.  For instance, does your data tell you that the majority of users interact with items and aspects of your site that are near the top of the page? Then you can choose to not have some of the heavier parts of the page load, such as pop ups, images, active apps and other features, until the user themselves scroll to and engage with them. 

These small but important decisions will help you to tailor your site not just to some measurably faster speed, but to what feels faster to both you and your users, based on your own hands on experience and their evident behaviour. Headless builds allow you to focus on what parts of your site are the most popular and successful, and reorient your site's resources to best serve what works rather than wasting them on what doesn't.


Why is Shogun my best bet for going headless?

Ben Kennedy, co-founder and CTO of The Feed, is back one final time for part three of your most frequently asked questions about headless commerce and what providers like Shogun can do for you.


You've decided that going headless with your Shopify or e-commerce store is the best option for growing your brand and company, you've learned how headless builds can be tailor made to fit the needs of you and your customers, now's the time to figure out who you're going to choose as a service provider. Yes, you could hire a team of developers, or rely entirely on your own in-house team if they have the skills, but chances are your staff aren't experts on Shopify app building, or ecosystem integration, or any of the various aspects and problems that could arise in trying to develop a headless approach yourself, and any new, specialized hires will cost far more than contracting out one of the many services available. Here's what you need to know about picking your headless platform.

Why should I choose Shogun as my provider?  For Ben and The Feed, Shogun seemed like the best option available due to its balance of offered features and off-your-hands reliability. This allows them to be as invested in the details of their headless build as little or much as they want to or need to be, with direct control over nearly any aspect of their headless build when they feel something needs to be changed, or carefree disregard and trust that it will be maintained and operational when they need to focus on other aspects of their business. 

Other providers tend to choose one side of that balance over the other, either giving companies the tools they need and more or less walking away, or custom development and retaining control over the build, with any changes having to be brought to the company and applied how they see fit. 

Only Shogun allows you full control over your code base, while giving you a worry free customer experience, allowing you to focus on what you're good at and what you want to build, while trusting and relying on Shogun to be good at what they're good at, and build what they want to build. 

How long does it take to implement, from decision to live? How fast or how slow it takes you and your site to go from choosing to go headless to launching your build very much depends on your familiarity with the technology, how clear your plan of attack is, how focussed you are on your goals, and how comfortable you are with the finished product once it's delivered. 

For Ben and The Feed, it was a brief three months in total, which may be considered an atypically speedy rate of return, thanks to factors like high technical familiarity.  Your build won't happen overnight, nor should it, considering the data driven decisions you'll have to make about how you implement your build. 

Be patient, be careful, it will take time but it will payoff in the long run.

How much should going headless cost? In the end it's all about making you more money, and while you have to spend money to make money, there's a fine line between spending and wasting. How do you know you're actually paying a fair price for your provider? If you consider your store as your virtual retail space, a physical store rendered as ones and zeroes, you can get a better sense of the importance of investing in it. If you owned a traditional brick and mortar shop, you wouldn't hesitate to make sure the door worked, the windows were clean, the floor didn't have holes in it, etc etc. Approach improving your site the same way; you're not just buying an expensive blog, this is your store, your business, and it deserves investment.

You'll have many cost considerations going into a headless build; first your provider, who may be pricier than other do-it-yourself options, but will be well worth every penny spent when chosen with care. Second is an in-house expert, either someone you train up or hire, who can be your direct hand in operating the build (training is cheaper, but hiring gets you a better outcome). 

Depending on your provider, what you ask of them, and your in-house team, this can cost anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, no small chunk of change, so be very sure what you want and what you need before dropping a single dime.

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