Headless Native E-commerce Platforms like Centra vs Shopify Plus and Others: Leveraging on your Platform Native Strengths

You can build headless architectures on more or less any e-commerce platform, but is that what gives you the best ROI? The best route to get the most out of your e-commerce platform is usually to use it by its native strengths. Our experience is that it's easier to get more value from headless with a native headless platform, and vice versa.

Grebban has been a headless-focused e-commerce agency for nearly a decade, pioneering this approach long before it became a buzzword. We firmly believe that headless e-commerce offers unique advantages, enabling businesses to thrive through cutting-edge technology, fast Jamstack frontends, and flexible data models. However, we remain open-minded and acknowledge that different pathways have their merits. Our priority is success, regardless of how. We have clients on non-headless solutions where we believe going headless wouldn't be the best choice.

One crucial insight we've gained is that clients are happier when they harness the full potential of their e-commerce platform's native core solutions rather than relying on workarounds. Investing in these native solutions, whatever they may be, pays off significantly. We've observed that if you choose to go headless, it's usually best to do so with a native headless platform, and vice versa. The benefits are substantial.

The same goes for agencies, less obvious from the outside but still valid. If an agency is focused on headless, they usually have processes, competence, and all their delivery teams centred around this, while agencies just doing it occasionally don’t have the same redundancy or delivery model to take advantage of the composable/headless approach. And vice versa, if an agency is focused on Magento development, they have processes, expertise and delivery models optimised for this, making them much better at delivering on their native use case. This is why Grebban has its Shopify Plus offering separate from the headless teams, to get that team to go all-in on Shopify and all its advantages (with Shopify native as the core offering). And the rest of the company focused on our headless and composable offerings, with Centra and Norce in particular.

But back to the notion of a native approach for e-commerce platforms. Let's compare Centra with Shopify Plus, for example:

Shopify Plus is a native non-headless platform. Approximately 99% of their clients use the Native Shopify solution in Liquid. And it's excellent! You can access all Shopify Apps directly from the App Store, receive top-notch support, tap into a wealth of expertise, and enjoy all the exciting features on Shopify's roadmap.

The data models are tailored for scaling Shopify's native solutions. It has so many advantages and works great. The frontend, the apps and the data models are built so that you can scale and administrate in a seamless way. In a headless setup, you are always somewhat restricted. Neither the admin interface nor other functionalities are designed with headless in mind. You can't use all Apps as is, finding expertise can be challenging, and maintenance, particularly in relation to Shopify's roadmap, can be daunting. Shopify is built to be a platform where the frontend and the rest of the system are together, for good reasons. Shopify is in no way a bad platform to build headless, but it is not necessarily the most obvious, either.

On the other hand, with a native headless e-commerce platform like Centra, everything is custom-built for a headless setup. The APIs are the roadmap, support is exclusively for headless (API support), and the ecosystem is purpose-built for this composable headless approach. Moreover, the data models are constructed for the headless world – they are more open, deeper, and designed to offer a range of opportunities rather than a one-size-fits-all solution like Shopify.

The same principle applies to other platforms. If you want to harness the power of open source, it's far better to use native Magento or WooCommerce than go headless. They are not designed for the headless use case. Design your solution to leverage their strengths, not their weaknesses.

A similar comparison can be drawn between cloud-based SaaS e-commerce platforms and locally hosted on-prem solutions. Make the most of their strengths – if you opt for SaaS, use it as intended, and avoid hosting it on your own servers, and vice versa.

Don't try to transform these systems into something they're not. Choose a native headless e-commerce platform like Centra, Norce, or Commercetools when it's the right fit, and consider platforms like Shopify Plus, Magento, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, or others when they align with your specific needs. Both choices are valid, but it's crucial not to overcomplicate how you use them.

We know - this is simplified. There are great examples of other choices that have become successful despite going on a non-native way for a platform choice. We have a few examples ourselves. For Shopify, a native approach with some headless on some parts of the site is usually the way to go, for example. But in general, we think that whatever native route a platform has is often the best long-term solution.

If you like the Commercetools approach, you should leverage an architecture with a composable microservice stack. If you like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, you should probably go all-in on their “suites” offering and work with all their tools to get the most out of their all-in-one idea. But if you, like Grebban, believe many brands would benefit from a more “headless” approach, Centra or Norce could be great choices, with a composable architecture yet more feature-ready than a platform like Commercetools. And if you like Shopify Plus - go all in on their ecosystem and platform, the native way.

In essence, an e-commerce platform is a collection of data models that can be presented and modified, including transactions, product data, attributes, payments, and more. Each e-commerce platform has its unique data model based on its purpose. To get the most out of your solution, align its use with its intended purpose. The more workarounds you make, the more it will be harder to understand why the choice was made in the first place.

In conclusion, when selecting an architecture and approach for your e-commerce platform choice, choose based on the native most common approach for that platform. It will be the safest and usually the most successful pathway. If you like headless, choose a native headless platform like Centra. If you like Shopify Plus, go native Shopify. Or, if you want fully composable microservices, select something like Commercetools.

PublishedbyAnton Johanssonanton@grebban.com

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