Going Headless With BigCommerce (Everything You Need to Know)

February 17, 2022
Rhys Williams

Going Headless With BigCommerce (Everything You Need to Know)

February 17, 2022
Rhys Williams
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BigCommerce is an attractive option for many brands looking for enhanced ecommerce functionality in a user-friendly working environment. 

And if you already have a BigCommerce store, it’s highly likely you want to stick with it. Replatforming can be a big undertaking at the best of times, and with the great backend services you already get with BigCommerce, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

But as your brand evolves, has more complex content management needs, and attracts new customers with higher expectations of a digital experience, you’ll likely start to see the need for a more advanced, headless solution. 

The question is: how do you deliver richer frontend shopping experiences without ripping out your entire backend BigCommerce ecommerce setup? 

Is there an inevitable, long period of disruption while you ramp up your developer team and work out how to reconfigure your store? 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the options for taking BigCommerce headless, so you can see that the journey to delivering breathtaking, super-fast customer experiences can be straightforward and enjoyable.

#cta-mini-fe#Find out if your store is a good fit for headless commerce.Take the quiz

Is BigCommerce headless? 

The short answer is yes! 

BigCommerce is a comprehensive ecommerce platform that provides a range of services and functionality. 

Their robust BigCommerce headless API means it is perfectly possible—and in many cases desirable—for BigCommerce stores to go headless. 

Every commerce platform is unique, and there are advantages and disadvantages to going headless with BigCommerce. But for many people, BigCommerce provides an easy-to-use and powerful backend engine for their ecommerce site. And it absolutely can be paired with an all-in-one Frontend Platform should you want to go headless.

Why implement headless commerce with BigCommerce?

If you’re not already familiar with the finer points of headless commerce as a concept, check out our jargon-free explainer on the topic. 

But for now, we’ll assume you know the basics already and are interested in the hows and whys of taking your BigCommerce store headless. 

To start, BigCommerce’s out-of-the-box solution is great if you’re just starting out. It comes as an easy-to-understand, simple-to-use package and you can get up and running with good ecommerce services in a short time. 

Once you start to scale, however, the increased site traffic, need to coordinate your marketing efforts across a range of channels, and desire to create rich, immersive experiences for your growing customer base may have you looking around for something with a bit more punch than comes as standard with BigCommerce. 

It is possible to scale your backend functions while staying within the traditional BigCommerce setup. But all the add-ons and bootstrapping required makes for a cumbersome solution that will start to drag on site performance. 

Luckily, BigCommerce recognizes the need for brands to scale their operations and has built their platform in a way that makes it compatible with a range of enterprise-level ecommerce components. 
There are quite a few benefits to taking your BigCommerce store headless. Let’s get into them:

Advantages of headless BigCommerce

Comprehensive API coverage

92% of the BigCommerce platform is accessible via APIs, meaning you can use (almost) any of their ecommerce services in your headless environment. Their APIs are also fast, with the ability to process up to 400 calls a second.

Option to use a third-party CMS

BigCommerce provides a CMS as standard in their ecommerce bundle, but many brands find that a third-party CMS is more suited to their needs. Going headless means you can use the CMS of your choice alongside BigCommerce’s ecommerce services.

Option to use third-party backend services

As well as freeing up your CMS options, using BigCommerce headlessly (decoupling the back and frontend functions) allows you to use a wide range of third-party backend services like PIM, CRM, and Order Management tools. It gives you access to greater functionality and an increased range of ecommerce services. The breadth and depth of services you can incorporate into a headless solution, where you can compose your set-up to meet your exact requirements, far exceeds what’s possible with the standard BigCommerce offering.

Freedom to choose your own frontend

Instead of being limited to the standard BigCommerce themes to design your customer experience, one of the biggest benefits of going headless with BigCommerce is that you keep the backend structure your store is already running on while gaining access to languages and frameworks like React.JS and Vue.JS to craft exceptional frontend experiences in. Static site generators like Gatsby can create incredibly fast sites that power phenomenal customer experiences. With BigCommerce providing so many third-party integrations (see below) you don’t have to be a master-programmer to share in their advantages, and can find a user-friendly frontend environment in which to create lightning-fast static sites with innovations like PWAs.

Faster site load times

By decoupling your frontend, you’re relieving it of the burden of shared processing power. There’s no more sharing of resources, which drags on performance. If you’re also using PWAs or static sites to run your frontend store on, then the difference in site speed will be incomparable.

Excellent WordPress integration

BigCommerce has put a lot of effort into integrating with sites and stores running on WordPress. They’ve developed a BigCommerce for WordPress (BC4WP) plugin that allows you to use the features of the BigCommerce platform while keeping your WordPress site and using the WordPress CMS (more on this later).

Manage multiple channels from one place

BigCommerce provides an all-in-one view of your inventory and stock levels across channels, so you can monitor sales and keep up with reorders without having to manually reconcile stock against the different places you’re selling online. 

Run faster testing

With the standard BigCommerce setup, conducting tests on different customer segments can be a bit of a grueling process. With the various parts of BigCommerce’s platform coming bound together out-of-the-box, making a change in one area can have unforeseen consequences in another. Separating the head from the body lets you test and iterate quickly on the frontend layer without the need for backend developer input.

While all these things may be worth it to your brand, there are also some downsides to consider before making the switch:

The disadvantages of headless BigCommerce

Multiple platform management

The whole point of headless commerce is that it separates out different functions, allowing them space to perform the tasks they were designed for without having to rely on other parts of the system. This is great in general, but does have the side effect of increasing the number of platforms you need to engage with to keep your store running. With a bit of ingenuity, you should be able to keep the proliferation to a minimum, so it doesn’t need to be a big deal. But it’s something to bear in mind when building out your tech stack. 

Things can get complicated

If you’re building your own entirely custom frontend, there is potential for your tech stack to become unwieldy and impractical. After migrating to a headless solution, you’ll have to add back all the apps and plugins you’ve gotten used to using in your BigCommerce store. Even with BigCommerce’s high standards of third-party integration, you’ll likely need developer help to make it all work. 

Some features might not work

Because you’re replacing at least part of your ecommerce solution, there’s potential for things to go wrong. An app or plugin that has been working away in the background, quietly doing its job, might be incompatible with some of your new headless features and suddenly stop. There are usually fixes for this, or other, more compatible tools you can use, but the disruption can be real while you look for a workaround.

A note on BigCommerce headless checkout

Some developers working with BigCommerce see the checkout feature as a disadvantage of headless BigCommerce, but there are some significant advantages alongside the drawbacks. 

The big plus: 

  • Having your checkout hosted by BigCommerce means they take security and PCI compliance off your hands. They build and host the checkout and take responsibility. 
  • The checkout can also be embedded in your store, meaning when a customer pays for something, they stay on your site while the payment is processed. 

The big drawback: 

  • Even though the checkout form is embedded, it’s still BigCommerce’s form, regardless of who’s checking out. So even if you’ve logged in as a repeat customer, you’ll still need to fill in the exact same long-form as a brand new customer. 

Headless BigCommerce examples from innovative brands

Now that we’ve whetted your appetite with some of the essentials for going headless with BigCommerce, let’s take a look at some stores who have successfully made the move. 

#cta-mini-fe#Find out if your store is a good fit for headless commerce.Take the quiz

Discount Electronics

(BigCommerce + Shogun Frontend, implemented by digital agency oBundle)

Discount Electronics product page
(Image Source)

A successful BigCommerce brand for eight years and counting, Discount Electronics teamed up with Shogun agency partner oBundle to transform their site using Shogun Frontend in July 2021. 

Just four months after the launch, the brand saw ecommerce conversion rate increase 40.6%, and they boosted revenue per user by 36.5%. What’s more, now their site’s First Contentful Paint (FCP) is an incredible 1.2 seconds on desktop and 1.7 seconds on mobile. 

A product page on DiscountElectronics.com
(Image Source)

Ice Robotics

(BigCommerce + Shogun Fontend, implemented by digital agency oBundle)

ICE Robotics website
(Image Source)

Before, this B2B company used solely a WordPress frontend. Now, with oBundle’s help, Shogun Frontend serves up the frontend user experience while using BigCommerce as source of truth for all product information management.

As Andrew Riggin’s, founder of oBundle shared about the site’s checkout function:

"Because a salesperson needs to finalize Ice Robo deals, we use the [BigCommerce] cart functionality to have visitors shop for what they want, and instead of checkout or payment, visitors fill out a form as a last step for now. The migration to a faster, easier to use frontend, has set the client up for great success in the near-term future.”

Since launch in August 2021, the Ice Robotics team now has an incredibly high-performing frontend and a powerful ecommerce system waiting in the wings for when they’re ready.

After taking BigCommerce headless with Shogun Frontend, Ice Robotics recorded a 13.5% increase in sessions and a 113.1% increase in page-views. 

A product page on icecobotics.com
(Image Source)

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Exceed the limits of modern ecommerce<cta-title>See how Shogun Frontend can help you take your BigCommerce store to new heights. Learn more

Does BigCommerce use WordPress?

As is hopefully clear by now: yes, BigCommerce has spent a lot of time and effort on its WordPress integrations. If you have a WordPress site you can definitely use it with BigCommerce.

WordPress was the first headless integration that BigCommerce turned their attention to, and they have developed a BigCommerce for WordPress (BC4WP) plugin , meaning you can continue to use WordPress CMS capabilities alongside BigCommerce headless functions.

The plugin connects BigCommerce to your store, giving you the ability to scale your ecommerce services effectively. 

If your catalog and transaction volume have grown since you first opened your store, you’ll likely have also outgrown WordPress’s go-to WooCommerce plugin. The BC4WP plugin allows you to use all the catalog and checkout features of BigCommerce, a more powerful commerce engine.

You can connect up multiple WordPress sites to BigCommerce and run them as separate channels. It provides a clean environment to keep an eye on your various online stores.

Once you’re set-up, you can import and sync all your products from your BigCommerce store into WordPress, letting you manage, maintain, and update your catalog without getting confused or having to switch back and forth between platforms.

#cta-paragraph-fe#If you want to roll your sleeves up and connect WordPress to BigCommerce, there’s a step-by-step guide on BigCommerce’s site.

Doing this can be a daunting prospect, however, and even though BigCommerce has put a lot of effort into making their WordPress integration as seamless as possible, you’ll still need the help of developers to make it work, especially when extending and customizing WordPress and BigCommerce features to meet the specific needs of your store.

Using an all-in-one, unified platform like Shogun Frontend can be a great solution if you don’t have the expertise or time resources to get your hands dirty with coding and development. An all-in-one frontend platform can give you the best of all worlds: lightning-fast sites with easily accessible multi-channel selling, all while removing the development or tech stack worries.

Is BigCommerce a Headless CMS?

The short answer is yes! 

BigCommerce offers a CMS as part of its overall ecommerce solution, and this can be taken headless, just like all the other parts of the platform. 

The CMS that BigCommerce provides is pretty good, allowing you to run a blog and manage multiple channels from one pane. But many brands want to go headless so they can use other, more powerful tools alongside BigCommerce’s basic offering. 

This is something that BigCommerce themselves recognize and they make it possible for you to link up your CMS of choice to their backend platform. 

So whether you’re happy with the built-in BigCommerce CMS, or you’re looking at a more heavy-duty third-party solution, you will be able to use either in a BigCommerce headless set-up.

As we’ve covered, BigCommerce lets you continue to work with your WordPress site and CMS, but they’ve long since expanded their integrations and are no longer a WordPress-specific headless backend. 

Some of the other CMSes and experience platforms that BigCommerce partners with are:

  • BloomReach
  • Sitecore
  • Adobe Experience Manager
  • Acquia ACF 
  • Drupal 

Other ways to take your store headless with BigCommerce

The flexibility of BigCommerce’s headless solution means that you can access their platform in several different ways. In addition to being able to integrate with a third-party CMS, they provide integrations with a myriad of third-party services, meaning you can select the exact service that works for you and have full control over your ecommerce solution.

If you’re using a CMS to take your store headless, this acts as your store’s frontend. BigCommerce has developed their headless architecture in such a way so that as long as your CMS is capable of handling custom integrations, it will work. 

You can also design your frontend completely from scratch, picking the best-in-class of every ecommerce service and creating a totally bespoke solution. 

Both of these methods are going to require a fair amount of re-plumbing behind-the-scenes, and, if your store is already up and running, the disruption might be too much, especially if you don’t have much developer experience or a strong team to support the transition. 

Another option is to use an all-in-one frontend platform to take the headaches out of going headless. Shogun Frontend provides a simple, low-code way to do it. 

The all-in-one solution has been developed to meet the needs of modern commerce, using static web pages, PWA technology, and an integrated frontend approach to deliver beautiful sites with breathtaking load times and unique customer experiences. 

If you’re a scaling brand who wants to take your online store to the next level but are wary of the development and coding logistics involved in creating an ecommerce solution from scratch, Shogun Frontend can give you the benefits of headless commerce without the convoluted technical processes. 

Create unique customer experiences by taking BigCommerce Headless

If you feel like you’ve outgrown BigCommerce’s out-of-the-box capabilities and have been exploring options for a more versatile headless solution, chances are you’ll have come to the conclusion it’s complicated, messy, and time-consuming. 

The tips and pointers in this article are designed to help you through, and dispel the myth that it needs to be a difficult undertaking. If you go headless with BigCommerce—considering all your options—you can take the pain out of the process.

Soon you’ll be effortlessly crafting powerful and unforgettable experiences that will delight your customers, enhance your brand and take your ecommerce business to the next level.

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Exceed the limits of modern ecommerce with an all-in-one Frontend Platform<cta-title>See how Shogun Frontend can help you take your BigCommerce store to new heights. Learn more

Rhys Williams

Rhys is a writer specializing in enterprise software, ecommerce, and SaaS. He describes himself as a geek and a wordsmith and relishes making complex, technical topics come to life in easy-to-understand web copy.