Hydrogen + Oxygen: Everything You Need To Know About Headless Commerce As Announced In Shopify Editions

You've probably heard the terms headless commerce, headless eCommerce, and single-page commerce. But what do they mean exactly? How are they any different? How can you tell if your business should use them? And if you decide do you go about it?

Headless eCommerce has been the talk of the town for the customizations and the flexibility it has to offer. But so far it has been all about complexities and high dependencies on developers and developer dependencies on tools. 

Shopify intends on changing that with the introduction of Shopify Hydrogen and Oxygen. The idea is that we should be able to sell a product without having to build a website for it. This would allow us to focus on selling products and not have to deal with the technicalities of building a website.

“Streaming server-side rendering is basically a UX paradigm that’s tailor-made for personalization. We get all the benefits of a super-fast initial page load and still get to serve our users a personalized experience, which were two things that used to be at odds. But Hydrogen makes them no longer at odds. I can’t even imagine the amazing experiences we’ll be able to serve a year from now.” 
- Colin Dunn, Software Engineer


We will discuss the Shopify headless commerce framework, how to deploy a hydrogen storefront, and much more in this guide.

What is headless eCommerce? 

Headless eCommerce is a model that separates the logic of your business from the frontend design and user experience. This means that you are able to control your store in a completely different way than before. This is a new way to manage your website and keep it running smoothly without having to worry about the back end.

The traditional approach to eCommerce is all about the product, with each product having its own page on your website. 

Headless eCommerce turns this model on its head. Instead of focusing on individual products, it puts the user at its center. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they want and buy it in as few steps as possible. 

The idea behind this approach is to decouple the two layers and make it easier for companies to scale their business. This allows frontend and backend to be built and managed separately, which means that developers have more flexibility in building custom experiences for customers. The front-end can be used for any number of purposes, even if they are unrelated to selling products online. 

For example, you could use your headless eCommerce platform to build an internal CRM system or a chatbot without affecting its performance when selling products on your website.

A headless commerce platform allows you to build your own custom store with a variety of options and features. These include -

  • A customizable look and feel based on your brand's design preferences
  • Fast page load times due to a lack of heavy JavaScript files
  • A seamless checkout experience without any page redirects or popups

Headless commerce is important because it allows businesses to focus more on customer service while also cutting down on costs associated with running eCommerce websites and apps (such as web hosting fees). This will enable businesses to focus more resources on improving their customer experience while still making money off each sale made through their website or app.

Common challenges of headless eCommerce

Headless eCommerce allows merchants to focus on selling products and not have to deal with the technicalities of building a website. But what does this mean for you and your business? Here are some common challenges of headless commerce -

1. Expensive to implement

The first and most obvious challenge of headless commerce is cost — it costs money to build out the necessary infrastructure and integrations with third-party providers. Headless eCommerce requires dedicated engineers who can build out all these integrations, which can take time (and money).

If you want to implement headless commerce on your site, you need to build out integration points between your store and each payment processor you want to use — which means more engineering resources are required for each store you build out this way (and potentially more bugs).

2. Implementation and subsequent scaling requirements will increase

Implementing a headless eCommerce solution is not for the faint of heart. It requires significant time, resources, and expertise. If you’re not careful, you might end up spending weeks or months on the project without any results to show for it. But once you get started, things will start moving faster — more so if you have previous experience with similar projects or if you outsource development to a qualified agency that knows what they’re doing.

Companies with existing eCommerce websites will have to work closely with their development teams to migrate content from their legacy systems into their new headless commerce platform. This can take several months, which may not align with the timelines expected by business leaders who have already seen success with this model elsewhere.

3. Employees might take longer to adapt

Headless commerce allows retailers to focus on their customers' needs rather than focusing on internal operations like order management systems or inventory management systems. However, some employees might take longer to adapt to this change because they have been used to working with the traditional systems for years. There will be a learning curve and a steep cost for training employees on these new technologies and skillsets. 

In fact, they might even think that they have too much work on their plate right now because there's no sign of anyone taking care of the website anymore.

4. It may be difficult to integrate third-party services

If you want to integrate third-party services like Google Analytics into your headless commerce platform, it will be harder than usual because these services expect you to have an actual website that they can integrate with their platforms. 

What is Shopify Hydrogen?

Shopify Hydrogen is a lightweight, headless commerce platform that lets you build fast, responsive storefronts with a React-based front-end framework. It provides a quick start, build-start environment so you can focus on building unique commerce experiences. With Hydrogen, ​​it's possible to build more personal and engaging shopping experiences without sacrificing speed or performance. 

From pre-built components and starter templates to hooks and utilities that map directly to Shopify’s APIs, Hydrogen gives you the tooling you need to accelerate development. 

What is Shopify Oxygen?

Shopify Oxygen is the latest technology offering from Shopify. It's the first of its kind, and it's changing the way merchants sell on Shopify. Once you’re ready to launch, deploy your Hydrogen site directly to the edge with Oxygen, Shopify’s global hosting solution that’s just a simple `git push` away.

How does Hydrogen work?

The basic idea of hydrogen is that it’s a framework for building headless commerce applications. Headless commerce is where the product catalog is separate from the storefront — it’s accessible via an API instead of through a website front end..

Hydrogen framework

Hydrogen offers fast server-side rendering provided by the Vite plugin. Vite-powered build tools enable rapid feedback loops. Changes are reflected immediately upon saving.  

Here, only the minimum amount of the javascript is delivered to the browser and thus pushing for no more data matching waterfalls. This means customers don't need to wait for all of the requests to be resolved on the server before interacting with the page.


Hydrogen components, hooks, and utilities

Hydrogen chips with Shopify-specific components and hooks for commerce to be accessible, performable, and ready to use. They also help to reduce the initial complexity and boilerplate needed for building a custom storefront.

Hydrogen components, hooks, and utilities

Where does Oxygen come in?

Oxygen aids in hosting hydrogen apps with performance optimized for a global scale. You can also choose to deploy it to your favorite Node.js or worker platform. Since Oxygen is specifically built for Shopify Hydrogen, it obviously offers a much better hosting experience.

You can create a Hydrogen app from within the Shopify admin using the new Hydrogen channel. This creates a GitHub repository with storefront credentials already configured and kicks off the first deployment to Oxygen.

For Oxygen uses, every new push to the default branch will trigger a production deployment. To create a preview deploy, simply push to another branch. These deployments can be managed within the Hydrogen channel, including privacy settings and configuring environment variables.

Benefits of using Hydrogen

Easy setup

Hydrogen provides a default demo store template which makes building headless eCommerce stores a very easy task. Both JavaSript and TypeSciprt templates for the same are provided. 

Benefits of using Hydrogen

Faster development

As headless commerce uses APIs instead of HTML pages, developers don’t have to wait for page refreshes or code changes before seeing their work come to life in the browser. This means they can create applications much faster than traditional solutions like WordPress or Magento.

Performance Optimization

A fast website is good for the user experience, but it's also good for business. The faster your site loads, the more likely it is that users will make a purchase. Headless Commerce allows you to optimize your front-end performance by eliminating unnecessary code and reducing page weight.

Greater flexibility

Because applications are built on top of industry-standard APIs, headless commerce platforms are highly customizable and easy to integrate with existing business processes. They also allow for rapid iteration as we don’t have to wait for testable builds before making changes; we can simply make changes in real-time without having to rebuild our application each time we want to try something out!

Wrapping up 

As Shopify moves further into the eCommerce market with the launch of their new headless platform, we can watch as other brands follow suit. Stores like Allbirds and Kamp Grizzly have already achieved great successes using the new Shopify headless stack. 

​​When all the pieces are finally put together, Shopify can then claim to have truly revolutionized eCommerce as we know it. Of all the tools Shopify has created throughout its history, this is probably the most innovative one yet. If you haven't started to prepare your store yet, you better do so now!

You can reach out to us to help you get started with Shopify Hydrogen.

We help you bring your ideas to life with Shopify web design, development, marketing, and support services from experts. Our team of Shopify experts works with Shopify merchants like you to design the store that reflects the personality of your brand and caters to the functionalities you require. 

Whether you want to revamp your existing design or build a new one from scratch, we will help you create a positive shopping experience on your Shopify store design. 

Reach out to us at and we’ll help you build an effective Shopify store!

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