What Merchant-Focused Headless Commerce Means for Ecommerce Agencies

October 12, 2021

615f5c3258e3a97a24eed550 XCOM RECAP The implications of merchant first headless commerce merchant-focused headless commerce

For the longest time, unless you were a developer or had a team of developers at the ready, building a headless site was a tall order.

For non-devs, it’s been tough to wade through the landscape, tools, and (frankly, jargon) to understand the different components of headless software and how they work together.

But, recently, we’re seeing a move to headless technology that’s more accessible. For ecommerce agencies, this new tech opens up a whole new kind of service offering. And for your merchant clients, this means achieving “headlessness” is a real possibility—even for brands who maybe never had the option before.

Some might call it an ecommerce revolution. We know it as merchant-first or merchant-focused headless commerce.

Today we explore what this means for your agency and how you can use the best technology available to build the online shopping experiences of clients’ dreams.

But before we dive in, let’s go over why there’s been a shift to putting merchants first insofar as headless, and why this is great for your agency.

Once, only massive brands could go headless, but this is changing

Put simply, merchant-focused headless commerce is the idea that headless stores can be achieved with merchants and their needs at the forefront (instead of being exclusively dev-focused). It’s anything empowering ecommerce teams to design and launch a headless site with less developer reliance than ever.

Traditionally, headless builds have been a huge undertaking, requiring significant back-and-forth with dev teams.

This is partly because agencies and brands have only had the option to custom-build a frontend from scratch with code. Up until now, this has required working directly with developers to choose each and every component used to build the site, like the content management system (CMS) and the server-side rendering (SSR) framework.

While a typical custom frontend build offers a great deal of control and oversight, this time-intensive route has meant that—to date—only massive brands could go headless. As Mark Shesser, the Founder of ecommerce agency Coldsmoke Creative shares:

615f6c9bed0a875551d495bd mark20quote merchant-focused headless commerce

Ecommerce is barreling toward a future where merchants will not only have the ability to update and customize their frontends themselves but can actually create software.


Packaged frontend platforms bridge the gap between headless technology and non-devs with features like codeless store updates and a native content management system.

The vision for a platform like Shogun Frontend is to enable merchants to drag and drop codeless components to not just build an ecomm website, but their very own progressive web app (PWA). In other words, merchants will eventually be able to drag and drop together the software that powers their online shopping experience’s frontend.

Shogun Frontend's drag and drop dashboard
Building a site with drag and drop tools doesn’t mean you’re not working hard, but rather you’re working smarter (and faster). 

Merchant-first platforms like this make headless commerce, in general, more accessible to merchants at a reduced cost.

Your agency can now confidently offer headless implementations, faster
With a packaged frontend approach, agencies like yours can now confidently offer headless commerce to clients giving them all the benefits of headless with faster implementations, and much more autonomy after the site’s been built.

You can implement a site for clients that they can more easily maintain. And, your agency no longer needs to Frankenstein together all the complex parts:

615f6cb4103a9a21b2086717 andrew20quote merchant-focused headless commerce

What’s more, the cost of implementing a headless build has decreased with more merchant-focused platforms and tools.

“Over time, as things got cheaper, more and more brands were able to go headless,” says Mark Shesser.

Just like how it became table stakes to build mobile responsive web experiences, Mark now sees this shift happening anew:

“A similar thing is happening for headless commerce with tools like Shogun and other folks that are making it a lot cheaper to build a headless experience.It’s still expensive, but much cheaper than it would be to build everything from scratch.”

#cta-mini-fe#Take clients headless (without the headache) with Shogun Frontend. Learn more

How merchant-focused headless tech benefits your clients 

Aside from making headless commerce more accessible, merchant-first tech helps brands with other business-critical functions like faster go-to-market, improved site performance, and more control over their content management.

Let’s look at each in more detail:

Faster go-to-market 

With merchant-first headless commerce, or using an end-to-end approach to create the frontend layer, your agency gets more control over the build process and can implement headless sites much faster.

No more completely relying on developers to bring a client’s site to life. Instead, you can allocate tasks like content and media updates to non-dev team members while devs work on other core components of the build.

615f6cef059e3af7934a7cd7 kyle20quote merchant-focused headless commerce

With Shogun Frontend, your agency gets a full Starter Kit to begin work on a clients’ headless site. Our Starter Kit integrates with your GitHub and gives you everything you need to help take your clients headless faster.

Daring Foods, a plant-based chicken alternative, recently launched their new PWA on Shogun Frontend in less than three months with the help of the Starter Kit.

Joe Tao, the head of platform and delivery, had this to say about the importance of the Starter Kit:

“We chose Shogun Frontend because of the Starter Kit.” 

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Daring’s new headless website is fast, vibrant, and full of high-quality visuals. Who would have thought this took just three months to build?

Because our Starter Kit helps you help your clients go headless faster, this means your agency can launch more headless builds per year than was previously possible. And more launches mean headless site builds become an efficient, repeatable service offering for your clients.

Improved site performance (and conversions!)

Any fast-growing ecommerce brand needs a site equipped to handle growth. And achieving breakneck speeds is one of the top reasons clients may come to your agency considering headless in the first place.

With platforms like Shogun Frontend, you can build super speedy ecommerce stores with all the UX bells and whistles that can handle traffic from various sources like mobile and social.

#cta-paragraph-fe#Curious how PWAs are impacting client conversions? Check out how digital agency Avex transformed OneBlade’s store speed and conversions with the help of Shogun Frontend.

This is because Shogun Frontend turns a client’s site into a Progressive Web App (PWA) to help achieve “headlessness.” PWAs load content differently, progressively populating content that’s been loaded already as users scroll down or jump to another page.

Keeping the backend and frontend of your clients’ site separate but communicating through APIs allows you to help them reach incredibly fast speeds.

More control over content management

Besides faster launch times and site performance, merchants want flexibility around all things content.

Having more control in this area helps you create that slick, desirable shopping experience —from simplifying the client’s content management process to making sure they’re enabled to maintain things after your agency’s engagement.

You can deliver sites that are truly exceptional, without the tradeoffs, like what digital agency Avex implemented for OneBlade using Shogun Frontend:

615f6d1736d88e0cf7ea9ca5 john20quote merchant-focused headless commerce

OneBlade's sleek new site powered by Shogun Frontend
OneBlade’s luxurious brand essence comes through at every touchpoint on their headless store. 

With merchant-first headless commerce, you not only have more control over your content generally (i.e., adding rich merchandising elements like background video, parallax scrolling, and other large-size content files) but you and your client can roll this out in a fraction of the time.

As Andrew Riggins, Founder at digital agency oBundle shares:

“Even something as ubiquitous and easy to use as WordPress creates so many headaches when it comes to real-world implementation and changing something on the fly….A Shogun client of ours was on a call the other day and said, ‘I want to rework this thing.’ It took us three minutes to make a new component and kind of reorganize the architecture. And he said ‘that would have taken a week with our old system’.”

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Use industry-leading headless technology at your agency.<cta-title>Learn more about Shogun Frontend

What should your agency consider before offering headless builds?

As headless commerce becomes more accessible by way of merchant-first tools, agencies that want to offer headless to clients need to understand the ins and outs before doubling down on this as a service.

For starters, your process will probably need to evolve. John Surdakowski, the Founder and CEO of Avex, has this to say about agency processes and headless builds:

“Agencies need to be prepared to change their process in general. Regardless of your developers’ skill sets, it’s going to be a different process. And it’s going to trickle down—not just on the development side, but on the project management side, on the sales side, on the content management side. You need to be able to change your process up a little bit. Just like the merchants are changing up how they manage their stores day-to-day, you need to be aware of that.”

In addition, being comfortable charting new territory as you figure out how best to approach headless is par for the course.

“You need to be comfortable with taking some risks. You’re using new platforms, new tools. These tools are new to us, and so they’re definitely new for your clients. And so there may be some mistakes or “gotchas” along the way,” says Mark Shesser. “You can try and prevent as much of that as possible with really thorough discoveries in the beginning and being transparent with the client. But you might want to build in some extra time to do your normal plot project plan, just because you may come across some things that were unknown or unable to forecast in the beginning.”

#cta-visual-fe#<cta-title>Join the fastest-growing headless commerce ecosystem.<cta-title>Shogun’s Agency Partner Program offers all kinds of resources, like product roadmaps and escalated support when you need it. Apply to join our Agency Partner Program

Kaitlyn Ambrose

Kaitlyn works on all things content at Shogun. ⚡

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