5 examples of a modern headless commerce stack in action

7 min read
October 28, 2021

There’s a fine line between features and liabilities when it comes to commerce tech stacks.

You can choose an all-in-one monolith that promises simplicity, but it quickly becomes insufficient or stale. Or you might adopt a headless commerce approach with a stack that differentiates your store, but it ends up too complex and rigid for even the best developers to manage. For example, 57% of IT and eCommerce leaders said their eCommerce platform would last no more than 12 months in a 2020 survey by Wunderman Thompson.

More and more, forward-looking brands are choosing a modular, efficiently modifiable, and best-of-breed approach that can meet ever-changing customer tastes while also being a dream for developers to work with. They’re taking advantage of the modern commerce stack.

Table of contents

What is the modern commerce stack?

Similar to Gartner’s definition of composable commerce, the modern commerce stack describes a best-of-breed, modular technology approach where brands choose the best-fit, high-performance applications and components that meet their business needs. 

The modern commerce stack is quickly becoming the preferred approach to headless commerce because it enables brands to get the benefits from a new SSGPWA while gradually modernizing their technology stack with an API-first architecture that helps brands lower the cost of going headless and avoid agency or vendor lock-in.

Some of the key benefits of choosing a modern commerce stack include:

1. Choice and flexibility

With the modern commerce stack, there is no need to build a headless ecosystem from scratch. Instead, brands can buy and build—purchasing market-leading components and building only those features that are unique and differentiating for the business. The API-first approach means that components can be swapped in and out as new needs arise within the business.  

2. Cost and resource efficiency

Brands adopting the modern commerce stack select only the tools they want to use to manage their ecosystem. Any components that aren’t the best fit for their needs are removed or replaced easily.  Effectively, the modern commerce stack removes the need to replatform.

With a modular framework supported by data orchestration, integrations are not hardwired into the modern commerce stack ecosystem. This decoupling allows brands to quickly adapt commerce components to keep pace with changes in the market and the expectations of their customers. Freed from lock-in of components, brands leverage the investments, intellectual property, and technology roadmaps of multiple vendors, future-proofing their tech stack by easily adopting technological advances in the market as they occur.

4. Speed of innovation

With no ecosystem constraints, developers build faster. Developers use their preferred frameworks to create personalized storefronts and adopt new tools with ease, evolving shopping experiences and delivering immediate returns for the business. With data orchestration in place, front-end developers are no longer tasked with building time-consuming and fragile point-to-point integrations.

Read more benefits of moving to the modern commerce stack.

5 eCommerce leaders implementing a modern commerce stack

While the modern commerce stack is a relatively new approach to headless commerce, many brands have already adopted it and are reaping the benefits.

1. ILIA Beauty powers customer experience and developer innovation with the modern commerce stack

ILIA Beauty is a pioneer in the beauty industry that has been challenging the conventions of clean makeup since 2011. In 2021, they also challenged the conventions of their eCommerce stack and decided to go headless.

ILIA Beauty already had a performant storefront on Shopify Plus but realized that by investing in a headless architecture and a composable, modern commerce stack, they could gain a greater competitive edge and improve speed for both the customer experience and the developer workflow.

By using modern technology including Nacelle, Contentful, Vercel, and Nuxt as their storefront framework, ILIA empowered its engineer to build a one-of-a-kind skin tone and shade matcher to match makeup and cosmetics to shoppers’ needs. Called “Find Your Shade”, the tool personalizes online beauty buying for its shoppers. Rather than deploying engineering resources on maintaining infrastructure and integrations, ILIA chose the modern commerce stack approach to buy commonly available non-differentiating commerce software infrastructure and build out the areas where it mattered and differentiated the most: the customer experience. 

And the results have been incredible. ILIA Beauty is seeing a 20% increase in developer deployments, a 48% decrease in mobile load time, and a 46% decrease in desktop load time—all thanks to their move to the modern commerce stack.

We went headless with Nacelle in order to better serve our customers with a fast, modern PWA and to empower our development team through adopting a modern tech stack. We believe that the flexibility to swap out platforms and choose what tools would bring the best customer experience for our brand is important, and the Nacelle platform allows us to do that.

Albert Chong

VP of Digital - ILIA Beauty

2. Barefoot Dreams built a PWA on Shopify Plus with a modern commerce stack approach

Malibu-based Barefoot Dreams has been a premier retailer for cozy home goods, loungewear, and apparel for over 25 years. The brand's ability to constantly adapt to meet the needs of its consumers is evident both in its products and services and in its customer experience. 

The brand’s online store was built on a custom eCommerce platform and they often experienced performance issues due to content inefficiencies or spikes in traffic, backend maintenance challenges, and merchandising limitations or disconnects that resulted in overselling inventory from time to time.

Barefoot Dreams turned to top eCommerce agency Zehner to help them adopt a modern commerce stack. They migrated from a custom eCommerce platform to Shopify Plus with third-party technologies it deemed as the best business fit including Yotpo, Gorgias, and Klaviyo. Using Nacelle’s headless commerce platform, the Zehner team was able to implement headless functionality and a new storefront using Vue. The new webstore is fast—with a 35% increase in site speed—and can easily handle spikes in traffic that used to crash the site.

The addition of another market-leading technology, headless CMS Contentful, enables next-level content management capabilities from drag-and-drop functionality to better organization and seamless updates and Nacelle’s search and filtering capabilities allow Barefoot Dreams to strategically use the data collected from user interactions and combine it with their merchandising strategy to provide a fast and helpful onsite search experience.

The new site—built on a modern commerce stack—is already delivering solid business results for Barefoot Dreams with an incredible 64% increase in conversion rate and a 200% increase in sales.

3. Enso Rings decreased build times by 5X on a modern commerce stack

Enso Rings is a unique jewelry brand that rethinks how rings are made. Its innovative approach to jewelry-making extends to its commerce stack. Since its inception, Enso’s webstore had all the cutting edge features to provide an amazing shopping experience to their customers including reviews, personalization, SMS, and more.

However, due to an inefficient commerce stack, these third-party apps came at a cost to page load speeds and performance—ultimately affecting customer experience.

When evaluating headless, Enso discovered the modern commerce stack and Nacelle’s data orchestration platform that helps eliminate many of the complexities the team had experienced in the past with best-of-breed approaches.

Using Shopify Plus backend and checkout, compatible frontend frameworks such as Nuxt, and third-party technologies such as Yotpo for reviews, Klaviyo for email, and Attentive for SMS marketing, Enso Rings built a truly modern commerce stack—five times faster than any custom build they had done in the past.

Since going live, Enso Rings has seen a 26.5% increase in conversion rate and 12.5% increase in AOV—proving the business value of their modern commerce stack approach.

4. Ballsy creates better customer experiences with a PWA on the modern commerce stack

Ballsy is a direct-to-consumer men's skincare brand with one of the fastest-growing stores on Shopify Plus. 

The Ballsy team had implemented a number of strategic apps and JavaScript widgets to power their customer experience but the integrations increased latency and slowed page-to-page load speeds. A Google Lighthouse Audit placed Ballsy at 13 out of 100, with a load time of 15.8 seconds on desktop. They decided it was time to go headless with a progressive web app (PWA) and the composable, modern commerce stack to give them the ability to innovate without creating performance issues.

They built their modern commerce stack, maintaining their powerful Shopify Plus backend but adding Nacelle for data orchestration to seamlessly integrate their third-party apps including Postscript, Privy, and Klaviyo for email and SMS marketing, ReCharge for gift cards, and Back-in-Stock for in-stock-notifications. 

Just three weeks after the launch of their new modern commerce stack, Ballsy's conversion rates improved by 28%. This improvement was primarily due to a significant decrease in page load speeds from 15.8 seconds to 1.4 seconds and page-to-page change load speeds from 16.5 seconds to 42 milliseconds.

5.  Gimme Beauty meets customer demands with a modern commerce stack

Gimme Beauty is a disruptive hair care beauty brand selling leading products in more than 20,000 locations as well as direct to consumers. The company was concerned its site wasn’t sufficient to meet the demands of its young consumers for fast, mobile-friendly, and highly interactive digital experiences.

Gimme Beauty intentionally has no developers or technical staff. Instead, it partners with great vendors that can deliver on the company’s vision. It partnered with Scoutside a creative technology company that focuses on developing headless experiences. 

Scoutside recommended a modern commerce stack with Nacelle at the core to smooth the integration of third-party functionality like subscriptions, SMS enrollment, and more. The stack was ready to launch in just 90 days—with zero downtime—and delivered impressive results from the get-go including a 20% increase in conversion rates for influencer sales.

Powering the modern commerce stack with data orchestration

The five modern commerce stack examples described in this blog post had one thing in common: they each implemented Nacelle for data orchestration. 

Data orchestration provides a single unified API and data flow to all components of the modern commerce stack which takes away the burden of integration and infrastructure management for development teams.

Regardless of whether your current commerce platform is Shopify, Adobe, BigCommerce, or Salesforce, Nacelle and the modern commerce stack empowers you to accelerate the adoption of new technologies by indexing data into a single API for simplified access and rapid deployment to your storefront—built using the tools of your choice. 

Find out more about data orchestration here.


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