Scaling to meet the needs of rapidly growing businesses is a key challenge for any eCommerce platform. Custom storefronts and headless architectures are one solution to this problem, as they offer brands more flexibility and design control. Shopify’s recent launch of Hydrogen is their way of jumping on board the headless commerce train.
With Hydrogen, Shopify is allowing its customers to expand outside of what its traditional front-end is capable of. But what exactly is Shopify Hydrogen? Does it mean the death of Shopify themes? How does it work with Shopify’s existing platform? And is it worth investing in? In this article, we’ll explore these questions and give you an introduction to Hydrogen. Let’s get started.
What Is Shopify Hydrogen?
With the release of Shopify Unite 2021, Shopify announced their new headless solution called Hydrogen. This React-based framework is designed to help developers create custom Shopify storefronts that are more personalized and performant.
Allowing for greater flexibility, the headless architecture will allow developers to create unique shopping experiences without sacrificing speed or performance. With dynamic caching, quick-start build environments, and out-of-the-box components, Hydrogen is set to revolutionize how we build Shopify storefronts.
To start, existing Shopify stores simply need to add Hydrogen as a sales channel from their dashboard and connect their GitHub account. Developers can begin creating custom storefronts tailored to their specific needs.
What Is Shopify Oxygen?
The hosting solution for Hydrogen storefronts, Shopify Oxygen, is designed to help your store handle huge traffic volumes. It’s easy to add Oxygen within the Hydrogen sales channel on the Shopify dashboard.
Oxygen can help maintain excellent site performance, even when large brands crash their sites with huge amounts of traffic. This is perfect for successful flash sales or social campaigns that bring in a lot of visitors. Also, adding Oxygen to your Hydrogen storefront can help with loading speeds since Shopify’s hosting servers are distributed globally.
With speed and performance in mind, Oxygen is the perfect solution for brands that want to take advantage of the headless Shopify store.
How Does Shopify Hydrogen Work?
The Hydrogen platform is built on top of the React framework. This allows for extremely fast performance and endless customization options when setting up your store’s front-end. Compared to other headless solutions, Shopify designed Hydrogen specifically to address the shortcomings they saw in other JAMStack frameworks.
With Hydrogen, the front-end of your online store is only connected to the back-end Shopify servers via APIs. This makes for a much more flexible and scalable solution than the traditional Liquid-based Shopify themes.
The pre-built components and hooks make it easy to migrate your existing store over to the new platform. Also, the Storefront API allows brands to connect certain third-party integrations directly to their new front-end. This way, you don’t have to rely on Shopify apps that can slow down your store’s performance. With Hydrogen, everything is designed for speed and reliability. Having endless customization options and lightning-fast performance, Hydrogen is the future of eCommerce.
Liquid Vs. React Framework For Shopify
With Shopify’s move to the Hydrogen framework, they are leaving the Liquid templating language behind in favor of React.js. This is a big shift for those used to working with Liquid, but it opens up many new possibilities for front-end development.
There will be no need to use Liquid to build and modify custom Shopify themes with Hydrogen. This shift opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Shopify front-end development.
Also, the UI library React has become known for its declarative style, re-usability of components, and ease of development. „Learn once, write anywhere” is one of the key phrases React developers use to describe their framework.
With this in mind, Shopify’s move to Hydrogen is exciting for those in the front-end development world. It opens up new possibilities and simplifies the process of building custom Shopify themes. There is much to explore, from RSC development to using React.
Pros And Cons Of Going Headless With Shopify Hydrogen
As with anything, there are pros and cons to using Shopify Hydrogen as your eCommerce platform. Let’s take a look at some of the key points:
Advantages of Shopify Hydrogen
Several benefits come with using Shopify’s new headless solution, Hydrogen. From smoother workflow to a significant performance boost, it has numerous features perfect for businesses of all sizes.
With Shopify’s stamp of approval, React.js is the future of dynamic and fast customized commerce. This makes Shopify’s investment in React a big statement for the industry, which credibility to React.js as the next big thing in eCommerce. Also, with the help of Node.js, React.js can now be used on the server side to improve performance and stability further.
2. Starter Kit
With Shopify’s new headless solution, you get a starter kit with multiple starter templates and a bare-bones demo store. Having pre-built components to start with is a big bonus, though you will still need to create some elements yourself. The kit takes much of the guesswork of starting a new project from a design perspective.
3. Improved Workflow
Shopify’s new headless solution offers an improved workflow that makes managing your store and making changes on the fly easier. The biggest benefit is seeing changes in real-time, saving you time and effort in the long run.
4. Reuse The Components
Create initial elements that you can repeatedly use throughout your Shopify site as needed. With a starter kit available, you can start and then use the same components repeatedly. Having these basic building blocks will save you time and energy.
5. Pre-Built Connections
With Shopify’s new headless solution, Hydrogen, a handful of apps come integrated. This includes popular CMS solutions like Sanity and Contentful and top apps like Klaviyo, Gorgias, Recharge, and Nosto. This makes the transition to Hydrogen much smoother for store owners.
Disadvantages Of Shopify Hydrogen
While Hydrogen has a lot of advantages that make it an attractive option for Shopify headless storefronts, there are a few potential disadvantages to consider as well:
1. Developer Heavy Workflow
Being a code-heavy initiative, the Hydrogen framework from Shopify requires everything to be built from scratch by developers. This can be seen as an advantage of going headless, as it allows full customization. But your non-technical team members won’t have access to the front-end layer of the site to make changes. There’s no short or long-term drag-and-drop tooling available on the roadmap.
2. No Built-In CMS Or Middleware
Working with Sanity, Shopify is bringing CMS functionality to Hydrogen storefronts. Sanity is a developer-oriented CMS that enables teams to create schemas of content data (images, text, videos) for low-code content management. This means that you’ll need to connect your own CMS. Also, web storefronts are the only type of custom storefront that Hydrogen can be used to create at this time. This includes smart devices, mobile apps, and video games.
Alternatives To Shopify Hydrogen
Several alternatives to Shopify headless platform exist, each with its benefits. They include choosing a composable or JAMStack build or opting for a frontend as a service (FEaaS) solution.
1. The JAMStack route
With the JAMStack route, brands have much control over the individual services that make up the architecture. This provides greater flexibility but comes with higher technical and managerial complexity.
You’ll need the skills of a headless agency to implement and maintain your build and manage all the individual services. Also, remember that this option will require more time and money to maintain.
2. Frontend As A Service (FEaaS)
To put it simply, FEaaS is a platform that provides everything you need to build and manage your eCommerce front-end, all in one place. This includes your website design, product pages, checkout flow, and more.
With FEaaS, you don’t have to worry about managing multiple vendors or contracts for each component of your eCommerce stack. This can be a major advantage, particularly if your store is scaling quickly.
In addition, FEaaS platforms often offer pre-built middleware and other features that can save you considerable development time and costs. While these platforms may require a larger upfront investment, they can be well worth it in the long run.
Blue Owl Agency is a certified partner of Shogun Frontend, one of the most popular FEaaS solutions for Shopify Plus.
1. Why Is Headless Commerce Important?
Compared with traditional eCommerce platforms, headless commerce provides many benefits that help increase ROI for businesses. Some of them are:
- Faster Time To Market: A headless eCommerce platform enables you to launch your online store faster as it decouples the front-end from the back-end. This means that the front-end development can be done independently of the back-end, speeding up the overall process.
- Better User Experience: Since headless commerce separates the front from the back-end, it gives you more flexibility to create a unique and personalized user experience. You can also easily integrate third-party applications to enhance the user experience further.
- Increased Scalability: With headless commerce, you can easily scale your online store and add more features or products without affecting the performance of your website.
2. What Are The Common Use Cases Of Headless Commerce?
With headless commerce’s benefits, it is no surprise that more and more businesses are starting to adopt this approach. Large enterprises with the resources and need to scale quickly are the most common users of headless commerce. However, small businesses and startups can also benefit from headless commerce as it gives them a faster market time.
3. Is Shopify Hydrogen The Future Of eCommerce?
Headless commerce is one of the most popular trends in the eCommerce industry right now. With its benefits, it is no surprise that more and more businesses are starting to adopt this approach. While headless commerce is not suitable for every business, it is a great option for businesses needing to scale quickly or create a unique and personalized user experience.
Shift To Headless Shopify Storefront With Blue Owl
Being a Shopify-partnered agency, we have the know-how to develop Shopify stores that can scale per your business needs. We also hold expertise in other eCommerce platforms like WooCommerce, Magento, etc.
Whether you want to shift to a headless CMS for your Shopify store or build a new eCommerce store from the ground up – we can help. Get in touch with us for your eCommerce development needs!