Shopify Blog
Shopify’s Hydrogen is a Gamechanger for Headless Commerce
James Koshigoe
December 1, 2021

If you’re a big brand on Shopify, one thing you’ll hear more and more about is Shopify Hydrogen. For brands where customer experience matters, specifically for D2C, Hydrogen offers the potential to completely transform the way modern eCommerce websites are built using technologies that were once only accessible for the biggest brands or tech companies.

Shopify Hydrogen marks a pivotal step toward a future of headless commerce. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, headless commerce essentially refers to removing the “head” (what you see when you visit the site) from the eCommerce platform itself (hence “headless”).

Why would you want to remove the head of a website from its underlying eCommerce platform? Because it allows for the utmost flexibility and control for companies to create highly customized and performant user-facing experiences using the same advanced technologies that power web applications we take for granted such as Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, etc. In a nutshell, headless commerce allows developers to build rich customer experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible due to the technical limitations of the underlying eCommerce platform.

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While it’s always been possible to build a headless website using Shopify, it’s also historically been difficult to do and expensive as well. It also required eCommerce companies to host their websites elsewhere (again, that’s the “headless” part), which came with the downside of more complexity and costs. These have been made a bit easier by platforms such as Vercel and Nacelle, but always at a cost.

All of that unfortunate complexity and additional costs are about to be completely eliminated with Shopify Hydrogen and Oxygen. That’s why this announcement is so exciting!

“The Future of Commerce is Dynamic and Personalized”

Ilya Grigorik, the Principal Engineer at Shopify, wrote in an introductory article about Hydrogen that “the future of commerce is dynamic, contextual, and personalized.” This is meant to suggest that optimizing your store for conversions, retention, and re-engagement is contingent upon your ability to provide a shopping experience that adapts to each unique type of customer.

This type of dynamic and personalized content delivery is nothing new. Consider how vastly different your Amazon shopping experience probably is from that of your neighbor’s or coworker’s. These optimization strategies are as old as commerce itself, but the tools for implementing them successfully in an online setting have historically been somewhat scattershot.

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Now, with Shopify Hydrogen, the average digital storefront owner can create highly engaging and context-driven experiences without the need for costly and complex third-party workarounds. Rather than rely on disjointed hosting solutions to create headless stores, Shopify decided to build Hydrogen to achieve “personalized and dynamic buyer experiences powered by Shopify’s platform and APIs.”  

This makes it a much more efficient process for developers attempting to strike a balance between speed and customization. It also makes it less costly for companies hoping to pivot to a headless architecture solution. Put more plainly, the Hydrogen framework provides a unified arena where developers can create highly customized and dynamic user experiences that communicate seamlessly with Shopify’s existing eCommerce tools. It’s everything you need, finally in the same place!

How Will Shopify Hydrogen Impact Site Speed Optimization?

Shopify’s Hydrogen development framework and Oxygen hosting solutions (more on that later) are beneficial for site performance. It all boils down to the way they’ve designed the stores to load content. In the past, there’s always been a trade-off between speed and experience when it comes to optimizing a site. Hydrogen is designed to remove the need for that compromise.  

Without delving too far into the nitty-gritty details, Shopify Hydrogen is basically structured to unlock a faster page load without compromising on the presence of dynamic content within it. That means your eCommerce store can have highly personalized and interactive content without bogging down the servers and making your site load slower. This is done through new React-based tools that offer unique solutions to loading content for better speed, efficiency, and engagement.

“Unlock the Best of Both Worlds” - Hydrogen + Oxygen

One of the most common hurdles with site speed optimization is scalability. You can likely get a fully dynamic, personalized, and contextually-driven eCommerce experience with lightning-fast performance if there is relatively low traffic. The issues tend to arise when companies begin to scale and their sites can’t handle the new influx of visitors.

Enter: Oxygen, Shopify’s new hosting service that was built to power the Hydrogen framework. Oxygen is a global cloud server infrastructure specifically designed to help bespoke stores load dynamic and personalized content instantly, regardless of each user’s location. This new infrastructure relies on “colocated Shopify data” running on “geo-distributed clusters” to provide fast communication between dynamic user-facing content and essential eCommerce tools. Basically, by expanding their network of servers and creating a framework that efficiently interacts with them, Shopify aims to produce speedy dynamism for future-proof eCommerce experiences.  

Dynamic Shopify Site Speed Optimization with Render Better

When it comes to eCommerce development, there are countless trade-offs that need to be managed in order to balance performance with experience. There are rarely one-size-fits-all solutions to Shopify site speed optimization. That’s why at Render Better, we focus on custom-built approaches to speeding up your Shopify store. We understand that there are complex tensions between speed, personalization, and manageable site development. Shopify’s Hydrogen framework is their latest approach towards unifying these three fronts. And whether your store is planning to use Hydrogen or Shopify’s legacy frameworks, we’ll work closely with your team to determine the most effective solutions for speeding up your site and increasing your overall revenue.

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Happier Customers
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