A realistic headless commerce go-live timeline

4 min read
November 8, 2021

This week's blog is a guest post from our partner BlueSwitch.

There are many benefits to considering a headless build for your eCommerce website. However, the process itself may seem a little daunting from a distance. It’s easy to get turned off before you’ve really even explored the option, just because it may all seem a little… confusing. We’re here to break it down for you.

Let’s start by defining a headless build. Going headless essentially means fully customizing your website and user experience from start to finish. If you work in development or even if you’ve ever tried building your own website, you may often use a website theme or template to create your build. The tools of the modern commerce stack, such as Nacelle as our data orchestration layer, help us streamline the customization of your site to quickly build a faster, more effective site that aligns with your brand and vision to a T. 

Like we said, there are lots of benefits to going headless, but what’s the real difference? For one, a headless build allows you to customize as much as possible without slowing down your site – in fact, we can actually make it run even faster. This is ideal for sites that anticipate a high volume of visitors. It also allows you to bypass API limitations, meaning you can make as many special requests and changes as you want without Shopify slowing down the process. And ultimately, with any customized build, you are able to offer your users richer content and an experience that is unique to meeting their needs. 

Now, all of this information is helpful in deciding whether or not it makes sense to go headless for your eCommerce build. But all that customization may sound complicated or time consuming. The truth is, with any unique build, there are going to be factors that affect your individual timeline. But that doesn’t mean there’s no structure at all. Let’s break down each step to give you a better picture. Read on to see our realistic headless commerce go-live timeline.

Step 1: design

For this scenario, let’s assume your eCommerce setup is happening on Shopify Plus. Your first step, before any other work can begin, is design. 

Now, if you’re already using a Shopify Plus theme, you’ll need to eventually transition from that to a headless experience. This gives you a lot more freedom from a design standpoint. You’ll need a full set of designs for all pages across your site.

It’s important to note that this step will happen before we come in. Whether you’re working with your own designer or a Shopify Plus agency, designs need to be fully realized before we can move forward with our part of the building and customization.

This step will likely take a couple of weeks at minimum, depending on who you’re working with and how many rounds of revisions are necessary. 

Step 2: setting up CMS

Step two is where we bring those designs to life. In this stage, we’ll set up your content management system (CMS). Together, we’ll choose the CMS that makes the most sense based on your needs – some popular options are Contentful and Sanity. From there, we’ll configure everything.

The initial setup for this typically takes a few hours, but there will likely be additional time added so we can configure any additional fields that may be present in your designs. This will allow you to really optimize your site and make the most of your content, as well as any additional content you may want to add. 

Step 3: sut together your build environment

From here, you’ll need the help of an agency or web developer.

In this step, things get a little technical. But essentially, they’re designing the infrastructure and framework of the site in order to get the build started. While there's no theme to work with, there are APIs, connectivity and data flow to address. That's where Nacelle comes in and greatly reduces the time it takes to go headless. As the data orchestration layer, Nacelle makes sure all the pieces have data that is in sync and fresh. Further, with them in place there's one less piece of technology to maintain and improve over time. As most merchants don't have big IT budgets to throw around, it makes going headless much more achievable and cost effective over time.

After this, we’re almost done and ready to build your site!

Step 4: buildout period 

Now, we have finally arrived at the buildout period of the project. This is where you really get to see your website come to life. Your web developer will handle this portion, building your site with all the customizations we created. 

It’s important to note that this build will likely take longer than a traditional build using a theme. Because everything is being customized from the ground up, your developer will want to make sure each customization looks the way it should and provides a seamless experience for your users. It will also be necessary to budget on the frontend, since this is all being made from scratch. An agency can help you make sure all your customizations fit within your allocated spend. 

So, what is the realistic time estimate for a headless build? Probably a minimum of 4-6 months. Sure, it’s not as quick as choosing a theme on Shopify and populating it with your content. But if you are looking to build a superior user experience, with fully customizable content, features and applications, headless is the way to go. Not only will your site be exactly what your brand and audience is looking for, but it will be a quicker, more streamlined experience for everyone who visits it. Find out how BlueSwitch and Nacelle can help you get started on your headless build

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