Headless commerce lets brands create customized experiences shoppers crave

4 min read
July 7, 2021

In our first article in this series on the Need for Customized Shopping Experiences, we highlighted the reasons brands and merchants using Shopify Plus need new ways to customize their sites and overall shopping experiences. 

We also introduced headless commerce as an effective way to help eCommerce teams optimize their Shopify Plus themes and create highly customized shopping experiences their customers love. 

In this second article, we focus on emerging trends that contribute to the need for customized experiences. Site speed is and always will be a big factor, but here we take a look at the trend of innovation in customization.

We’ll examine why eCommerce teams need to deliver on it, why consumers demand it, and how market leaders such as ILIA Beauty and Gimme Beauty are succeeding with a buy-and-build approach to headless commerce.

Innovate or Die

Today, shoppers expect new experiences that improve convenience, demonstrate that brands know them, and reduce friction. They’re not willing to put up with stale eCommerce experiences, but they do remain loyal to brands and retailers that deliver innovative new digital experiences.

A recent survey from Wunderman Thompson shows this is the case. According to the company’s Future Shoppers Report 2021, 66% of global shoppers wish brands and retailers would be more digitally innovative and 60% are more likely to purchase from a brand if it is more digitally innovative.


“60% of shoppers reported that they would be more likely to purchase from a brand if it is more digitally innovative.”


Wunderman Thompson, Future Shoppers Report 2021

The Headless Commerce Advantage

Headless commerce is valuable because it separates frontend web stores from backend systems, including stacks built on Shopify Plus. This separation gives eCommerce teams more control over the customer experience by enabling innovative, flexible, and intuitive approaches to product display and content.

Adopting a headless commerce approach with Shopify Plus gives merchants the flexibility to buy or build precisely the components they need to deliver the customer experience they envision, while enabling them to continue enjoying all the integrated backend capabilities of Shopify.

For example, eCommerce teams can build storefronts that customize how shoppers search, browse, and buy. Or they can personalize individual experiences at each stage of shopping, tailoring everything from first click to checkout. 

Reduce Costs and Technical Debt

Cost and tech debt benefits are another potential advantage of headless commerce stacks built on Shopify. Since headless approaches can include both bought and built components, brands can avoid the tech debt associated with committing to buying all their technology (expensive, time-consuming) or building their entire commerce tech stack in house (resource-intensive, future capability issues).

Also from the cost perspective, relying on Shopify themes can expose eCommerce teams to hidden costs. Shopify says three out of four merchants use apps, with the average number of apps installed is six. Sure, some apps are free, but more advanced tools can cost over $2,750 per month each. And the sky’s the limit once you get into monthly enterprise-level app prices.

There are also opportunity costs associated with changing Shopify themes to match trends and future needs. Merchants have to make sure all the content is safe and transferred correctly, and back up or replace any custom code created for the theme, and react to additional surprises that inevitably pop up.

These costs represent time and money brands could allocate to curating a customized shopper experience that drives more conversions.

By going headless with Shopify Plus, brands can choose the right components to deliver on their vision and mine the deepened potential of the headless, modern commerce stack for innovation. They can also minimize development cycles and free in-house developers to focus on new innovation and business strategies. 

At the end of the day, headless commerce lets brands using Shopify Plus choose how and where they want to customize shopper experiences through innovation – and how much they pay. The freedom to allocate resources and break out of cycles of installing apps and changing themes is a key innovation of the “buy-and-build” headless approach itself. 

Real-World Success: ILIA Beauty and Gimme Beauty

Two Nacelle customers took the concept of innovation to heart and used headless commerce to create highly customized–and highly successful–customer programs and experiences. 

ILIA Beauty launched an innovative “Find-Your-Shade” application that helps consumers match their skin tone to one of more than 30 different makeup shades. Albert Chong, VP of Digital, describes exactly how headless commerce positioned ILIA for such an innovative experience.

“We only have one full-time developer. Nacelle freed up development time, which enabled us to focus on the most important aspects of our site: the frontend builds, and design, which ultimately impacts the customer experience.”

Gimme Beauty chose a headless commerce architecture to create online experiences that were much more aligned with its growing army of social influencers and what their young shopping fans expected from an eCommerce site: fast, mobile-friendly, highly interactive web pages.

Jeff Durham, CEO and President, highlights the value of headless commerce. With Nacelle, “we can invest in new features and capabilities – as opposed to fixing bugs or putting out fires – so we can focus on building great campaigns and experiences.” 

Gimme Beauty has already achieved significant success. In the case of the brand’s influencer audience, related average order volume has increased significantly and the overall conversion rate has improved by 20% or more – all without downtime or other service issues.

Customization for the Win

Today it takes a disruptive approach to keep shoppers happy with innovative, customized experiences – and brands must make differentiation a top priority.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series when we take a closer look at customization and present a number of recommendations and best practices to help any brand capitalize on the headless commerce opportunity. 

Visit the first blog in this series: The need for custom shopping experiences.

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