Headless 101

Understanding bl!nk’s frontend customer experience vs backend functions

September 2023

Learn why headless ecommerce solutions decouple the frontend and the backend for an enhanced customer experience

Ecommerce platforms, such as Shopify or BigCommerce, have made it easy for businesses to open their digital storefronts — no matter if it’s a business just starting out or an established company looking to sell their products online. And with the effects of the pandemic, shopping online has become commonplace. 

Nowadays with so many options to choose from, ecommerce businesses must do all they can to stay ahead of the curve and keep their competitive edge — and that lies directly in improving the customer experience. Everything from page speed, site architecture, and the overall design is crucial for bringing in new business and turning purchasers into longtime customers. With a traditional ecommerce approach, it can be difficult to enhance site speed and design a site that accomplishes the user experience they’re looking to achieve. While a traditional ecommerce approach has worked up to this point, merchants have been looking for ways to hurdle past these roadblocks. That solution lies in a headless ecommerce experience. 

In a traditional ecommerce approach, the frontend and the backend of the website are coupled together in order for the site to function. With a headless ecommerce solution, that framework looks a bit different but still provides businesses the opportunity to create a website experience that is unique to the company. Today, we’re going to dive into how traditional frontend and backends work, the limitations businesses have with traditional ecommerce, and how they can overcome those limitations with a headless ecommerce solution. 

Frontend vs backend: what’s the difference?

The frontend is what users interact with on a daily basis; the backend holds merchant functions that users don’t see

On traditional, monolithic ecommerce platforms, the frontend and the backend work together in a very tightly coupled system. Both work together to send information back and forth to keep online stores running smoothly. Both the frontend and the backend serve very distinct functions on your website, so let’s take a look at how both work.


As you browse through the internet, the frontend of a website is what you encounter on an everyday basis. The frontend refers to the actual website that a customer browses when leading up to a purchase. From your homepage, product page, overall site design, functionality, and mobile browsing experience — all of these elements exist on your frontend. 


Now, on the other hand, the backend is the portion of your website that regular users don’t see. Think of this part of the website as the brain. This is the server-side of your website and relates directly to how your website functions. Backends are comprised of components like web servers, application servers, and databases. 

For the purpose of this narrative, our backend refers to the merchant functions of their ecommerce store + brand. This includes: 

  • product management, 
  • order management, 
  • shipping notifications,
  • inventory management,
  • and more. 

These are functions that are happening around the clock, but the customer never really “sees” the backend. 

Exploring the backend of major ecommerce solutions

The framework for all of your ecommerce store functionality

When we look at major ecommerce solutions like Shopify or BigCommerce, the secret sauce of these platforms is in their backends. From credit card processing, transactional emails, app integrations for 3PL, order fulfillment, and returns management, these major ecommerce solutions have a wonderful framework already in place. The backend is the perfect setup for a young entrepreneur starting out or a solidified online business doing $30M a year in sales. 

So, what’s the issue, exactly? 

Well, that would be the frontend. 

Exploring the frontend of major ecommerce solutions

Enhancing themes or custom developing themes from scratch can prove taxing for many ecommerce businesses

While Shopify or BigCommerce have a great backend system in place, the frontends are where most of the problems stem. As merchants begin building their digital storefront — no matter on Shopify or BigCommerce — the options for building the frontend of their storefront are to either start with a theme or custom develop a theme from scratch. Especially as new businesses gain their footing in the ecommerce landscape, most will start with a theme. While this does serve as a great foundation, as stores grow, so does the need to expand upon what the base theme offers out of the box. For teams without technical knowledge, this requires merchants to hire developers to build and maintain these customizations to their store. 

Frontend limitations with monolithic solutions

Understanding the top frontend frustrations ecommerce businesses face

Shopify and BigCommerce are without a doubt the leading platforms for ecommerce businesses. But, with that, merchants grow frustrated with the limitations of each. From clunky code slowing down page loading speeds to limited SEO controls, there’s a lot that could stand to be improved with frontend functionality. 

Slow site speed

In today’s digital age, site users not only prefer fast websites but require them. And site speed is a critical factor for your business’s bottom line. For ecommerce sites, the highest conversion rates are on pages that load between 0-2 seconds. Those rates drop significantly with every extra second of load time beyond that. 

Of course, each ecommerce platform offers tips and advice on how to optimize your site speed, but the issue more often than not lies in the code of websites. At the end of the day, Shopify and BigCommerce both feature clunky code on inefficient frameworks. This leads to a low ceiling of load time optimization opportunities, which ultimately leads to slow websites for customers. 

Creative control

Have you ever noticed that a lot of Shopify stores look the same? While Shopify’s templates prove to be a great starting point, even the customization options aren’t enough to differentiate your brand from another Shopify store. To survive in today’s competitive ecommerce environment, digital storefronts must do everything they can to stick out among their competitors. 

On Shopify, in particular, the built-in CMS is restrictive. For teams looking to achieve their own individual look and messaging, this poses a huge challenge. 

The solution? You guessed it — custom development. For teams without technical expertise in Shopify development or with no developer on staff, even simple changes to the site or site theme can require a lot of time and budget. 

Core functionality

Ecommerce functionality on Shopify and BigCommerce is pretty limited. To achieve the functionality needed on these sites, a merchant’s only options are to either add third-party apps or outsource custom development. 

Around 87% of merchants use the Shopify App Store, and on average, most stores have at least 6 apps installed. Not only can those app subscriptions add up, but certain apps may not work with their theme or may require some modifications in order for the app to work. Every app that’s installed introduces an additional frontend functionality, causing the website to become even slower. 

Merchants who outsource custom development can expect to pay a pretty high price in order to build and maintain the functionality they need. 

SEO limitations

It’s no question that SEO is a critical element of any website. After all, how can users discover your site if you’re not showing up for relevant search queries? While Shopify does tout some features that drive SEO success, the platform still comes with SEO limitations. Many of the SEO problems that merchants encounter stem from Shopify being a closed platform, meaning that it doesn’t support full customizations to your storefront. 

  • Sitemaps - Shopify does automatically generate XML sitemaps for your site, but the software does not allow users to edit their sitemaps. 
  • Blog features - Shopify’s blog interface is simple and straightforward, but features like adding no follow tags for outbound links, CTA button inserting, and advanced filtering  are not available to users. 
  • Fixed hierarchical structure - Shopify is positioned on a fixed hierarchical structure without the option to add subcategories. As your business grows, it becomes much more complicated to organize your products in an effective way for your users. 

When we take a look at BigCommerce, SEO functionality doesn't get much better. It has the same amount of limitations, if not more. 

  • Limited SEO Support - BigCommerce does have some type of SEO support, but even at that, it’s not of much help. 
  • Subdomain Blogs - On BigCommerce, blogs are automatically placed on a subdomain. The issue here is that Google treats subdomains as independent entities, which means your blogging efforts on a BigCommerce site don’t add much SEO value to your site. 
  • Blog functionality - Much like Shopify’s blogging functionality, BigCommerce misses the mark. Adding features as simple as CTA buttons or showcasing related products isn’t possible without the help of a developer. 


In a fast-paced environment with a scaling ecommerce business, agility is key. No matter if you’re pushing new marketing initiatives or big site updates, the limitations of these ecommerce solutions’ frontends completely inhibit your business agility. When you rely on custom development for pretty much everything on your site, you’re now working on a developer’s time — not your own. 

Now, let’s take a step back. 

Remember, we love the backend of Shopify. It is just its frontend — the source of our slow customer load times, limited creative control, and business agility — that we are looking to uproot. 

If only we could separate these two things — now there’s an idea. 

But, is it possible? Yes. 

The headless ecommerce approach

Decoupling the frontend and the backend with a headless ecommerce solution for a better customer experience

While our big players, Shopify and BigCommerce, couple the frontend and backend functions together, headless commerce changes everything. Headless commerce is a type of architecture that effectively decouples the frontend, or the head, of the website from the backend. This type of architecture allows businesses to make changes to the customer-facing portion of the website without interfering with the backend functionality. 

So, what is Shopify and what isn’t Shopify when we’ve gone headless?

What does headless look like for the customer? Are they ever even touching Shopify?

In a headless approach to ecommerce, you can create the frontend look you want while still utilizing Shopify’s backend functions. 

The beauty of headless is that your customers only ever touch Shopify directly once they have initiated a checkout event. Up until they are thrown into the all too familiar checkout portal, they are living exclusively on your frontend. We are seeing Shopify product data in real time, like product information, descriptions, and prices — but the customer is never directly interacting with Shopify until they hit the “checkout” button via the cart page. You control the entire narrative to that point. Once they are back in Shopify’s realm, your job is done. You’ve successfully allowed your customers to navigate through your entire store independent of Shopify. Only once they are ready to virtually swipe their credit card does Shopify take over to secure the transaction. 

What about our Shopify backend?

Keep using what works, you’ll experience practically no difference in the day to day use of Shopify’s backend functions

Now we have defined how a headless site’s frontend might function, let’s confirm a few backend functionality pieces before moving on to the more technical details of a headless Shopify store. 

Shopify wins in backend management. Anything it can’t do natively, it integrates with a series of apps to accomplish. 

From label printing to automated warehouse management, and everything in between — Shopify has an integration for it. Why compete with that? There’s no point. Here are a few things that will forever remain in Shopify if you decide to go headless with your store:

  • Product & inventory management (mentioned above) 
  • Transactional Emails
  • Post order optics (printing shipping labels, editing orders, etc) 
  • Customer management 
  • Discount codes
  • Taxes
  • Shipping rules
  • Gift Cards
  • Legal policies (ie return policy)
  • Anything related to checkout experience

All these workflows will remain constant. See, headless doesn’t mean everything has to change—just the parts that require some innovation.

Benefits of going headless 

Put frontend frustrations to rest with a headless ecommerce solution

Headless ecommerce has garnered a lot of buzz in the past few years. As more and more businesses consider a headless approach, many are lost on how it will actually change their day-to-day while managing their online storefront. Opting for a headless ecommerce solution is no question a big undertaking, but the benefits pay off significantly.  

Faster site speed

In a traditional approach, ecommerce businesses rely on apps and integrations in order for the website to include the functionality teams need. With every request sent through a plugin heavy website, there are multiple steps and actions back and forth between the frontend and the backend in order to perform the function. This leads to an incredibly slow site speed. And, too, with a headless approach, companies no longer rely on themes with clunky code. Without the need for clunky code and a large stack of apps, you’ll see a faster loading time on your site with more efficient functionality. 

Greater creative control

Gone are the days of relying on a Shopify theme or a developer to achieve the look and feel you want on your website. With a headless ecommerce approach, you will unlock unlimited customization and personalization opportunities on your website. By decoupling the frontend and backend, you can change content layers without interfering with crucial backend functionality. Headless architecture uses an API to centralize content, eliminating information silos present in a traditional, monolithic approach. This makes the information customer’s require to make a conversion decision accessible, and more importantly, flexible with how it displays on the frontend. 

Improved frontend functionality

The core functionality of your website will remain the same as you still use the backend of these major ecommerce platforms. From a user perspective, you can enhance the frontend functionality further to provide a better shopping experience for your customers. By using APIs, you can connect integrations seamlessly and open up a new world of possibilities for the frontend functionality of your site that was either not possible before or would require heavy development in order to achieve. 

Enhanced SEO capabilities

Site speed and SEO are linked hand-in-hand. On a website that loads slowly, you’ll likely see your website engagement metrics plummet. And your page speed impacts your website’s SEO performance, too. Page speed is a ranking factor in Google SERPs, so the faster your website is, the better your SEO performance can be. 

Beyond site speed, a headless approach also gives teams full control over their page structures. While Shopify leaves teams cornered with predetermined site structures, a headless approach gives you full control over your site structure and allows you to make changes easily. By going headless, you’ll have so many more opportunities to improve your site’s SEO performance. 

Better company agility

It’s important for any business to stay ahead of the competition, and a headless ecommerce solution will provide you with better agility. Your team can iterate more freely and introduce new concepts not otherwise possible when using Shopify’s frontend solution. A headless approach can also help improve time to market for new launches. Teams can launch multiple sites across brands or implement new shopping experiences much quicker. 

Welcome to headless commerce. You can use your favorite ecommerce platform with all of its backend integrations and separate the frontend. Shopify has set the stage for this, and they support its execution. So, why not take advantage of the frontend benefits of headless ecommerce while maintaining Shopify’s robust backend? Now we’re getting somewhere. When you opt for headless ecommerce solutions, like bl!nk, you will finally be able to achieve the ecommerce experience you’ve been dreaming about.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec ullamcorper mattis lorem non. Ultrices praesent amet ipsum justo massa. Eu dolor aliquet risus gravida nunc at feugiat consequat purus. Non massa enim vitae duis mattis. Vel in ultricies vel fringilla.


Mi tincidunt elit, id quisque ligula ac diam, amet. Vel etiam suspendisse morbi eleifend faucibus eget vestibulum felis. Dictum quis montes, sit sit. Tellus aliquam enim urna, etiam. Mauris posuere vulputate arcu amet, vitae nisi, tellus tincidunt. At feugiat sapien varius id.
Eget quis mi enim, leo lacinia pharetra, semper. Eget in volutpat mollis at volutpat lectus velit, sed auctor. Porttitor fames arcu quis fusce augue enim. Quis at habitant diam at. Suscipit tristique risus, at donec. In turpis vel et quam imperdiet. Ipsum molestie aliquet sodales id est ac volutpat.


“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”

“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”
— Olivia Rhye, Product Designer

Dolor enim eu tortor urna sed duis nulla. Aliquam vestibulum, nulla odio nisl vitae. In aliquet pellentesque aenean hac vestibulum turpis mi bibendum diam. Tempor integer aliquam in vitae malesuada fringilla.
Elit nisi in eleifend sed nisi. Pulvinar at orci, proin imperdiet commodo consectetur convallis risus. Sed condimentum enim dignissim adipiscing faucibus consequat, urna. Viverra purus et erat auctor aliquam. Risus, volutpat vulputate posuere purus sit congue convallis aliquet. Arcu id augue ut feugiat donec porttitor neque. Mauris, neque ultricies eu vestibulum, bibendum quam lorem id. Dolor lacus, eget nunc lectus in tellus, pharetra, porttitor.
Ipsum sit mattis nulla quam nulla. Gravida id gravida ac enim mauris id. Non pellentesque congue eget consectetur turpis. Sapien, dictum molestie sem tempor. Diam elit, orci, tincidunt aenean tempus. Quis velit eget ut tortor tellus. Sed vel, congue felis elit erat nam nibh orci.

Other resources

  1. kbhbkbbbbbb
  • bkj

headinh 3

Heading 4