What headless commerce success looks like – the Nacelle-ILIA Beauty story

4 min read
November 8, 2021

Watch a video of the conversation here.

At the recent GROW LA eCommerce Conference, Nacelle CEO Brian Anderson had the chance to talk to Albert Chong, VP of Digital at ILIA Beauty in an insightful interview-style presentation about headless commerce. They covered a wide range of topics, including the clean beauty brand’s decision to “go headless,” why they partnered with Nacelle, and many lessons learned along the way. 

After the presentation, many attendees asked how they could learn more. To help, we’ve written this article as a Q&A-style summary, or you can always read our official ILIA Beauty case study. Whether you’re a founder, growth marketer, product marketer, or just curious about headless commerce, this conversation highlights the main advantages of headless and explores whether it is right for you–or not–in 2022 and beyond.

Brian Anderson, Nacelle: Can you start by telling us a little about ILIA Beauty?

Albert Chong, ILIA Beauty: Sure. ILIA Beauty is a pioneer in the beauty industry that has been challenging the conventions of clean makeup since 2011. The award-winning brand’s mission is to protect and review skin through safe, potent formulas, powered by active levels of skincare ingredients. 

I joined ILIA Beauty about three years ago, and at the time, our website was relatively small but was doing well in acquiring and retaining customers in a specific category. We continued on this success by focusing on the customer experience. We do all we can to understand our customers and empower them as much as possible. This is where technology comes in.

Reduce tech debt with a headless, modern commerce stack

Anderson: I love how you connect ILIA Beauty’s mission to technology. Can you describe your brand’s view and use of technology?

Chong: Well, the first thing I should say is that we’re not a technology company. We’re a brand that sells clean beauty products online, and I think this is what makes us unique. It’s our brand, our aesthetic, and our overall voice. 

There are many brands out there that have large development teams with a heavy focus on technology, such as customizing the front end and the back end or rolling out huge data warehouses.

That’s great, but we’re not that kind of brand. We are as lean as possible and really only have one rockstar developer on the team now. We use technology to focus on growing the brand and selling products. I think the formula we have in place will take us to the future. 

At ILIA Beauty, technology is not the primary mission, but we recognize its potential to empower our internal teams and help our customers. For example, how can consumers pick the right shade when there are 30 to choose from? I think we’ll also choose to be lean but still do everything we can to create meaningful shopping experiences for our customers. We recognized that our strategy should be focused on the front end, which is what led us to headless commerce and Nacelle.

Drive site speed with modular headless architecture

Anderson: How do you think about best-of-breed technologies, especially when it comes to headless commerce and other components in today’s modern commerce stack? 

Chong: For us, it all comes to a problem-solution approach. I can think of three different examples: 

  1. When we started to learn about headless commerce, we saw how fast eCommerce sites could be. We knew that’s what we wanted for ILIA Beauty and learned all about statically generated sites. That became our vision for speed and consumer experiences. 

  2. We also realized we needed a better way to store and manage our content. As we grew, we had so many more assets – images, products, videos, and more – but it was becoming difficult to manage. In this example, “best-of-breed” meant finding the best possible CMS, which for us was Contentful. 

  3. Yet we also wanted to stay in the Shopify ecosystem. Being able to stick with Shopify as our platform while also adding other layers and components let us develop a truly best-of-breed architecture. 


Build or buy headless components and orchestrate data with Nacelle

Anderson: How did you make the decision to pick Nacelle as your headless commerce partner?

Chong: We started with research. We read a lot of articles to evaluate headless commerce, and once we determined it was the right approach, we then dug in deeper to see if Nacelle was the right partner. We did the same with Contentful (CMS) and even to make the choice between Vue and React for designing dynamic user interfaces. 

Once we decided to go with Nacelle, their entire team was great. This was my first headless build and the Nacelle team helped a lot to make sure our entire team was comfortable in the whole process. They were committed to our success with fast answers, a dedicated Slack channel, and everything we needed to complete the project.

Activate marketers to differentiate your shopping experience

Anderson: That’s great and I’m glad to hear it. But I’m sure everything wasn’t always so rosy. Did you experience any challenges in your headless build? Were there any lessons learned along the way you can share?

Chong: Sure. There were some hard things about the process of building a headless commerce platform. For example, it’s not just as easy as a one-click install. You need to rely on many different third-party applications and vendors to get the job done. 

Also, when it came to working with Contentful, using this CMS was different from working with Shopify Themes. We really had to rethink, even rebuild, our website. Our marketing team learned how to manage this new approach–and now it’s just second nature–but it definitely took time. In the future, I would have brought the marketing team in to meet Contentful much earlier in the process. But the good news is that we now have new opportunities to do things we couldn’t have done before, especially related to bulk changes and indexing data. 

Drive down page load times and future-proof with modular, modern commerce stack architecture

Anderson: Can you share any results? 

Chong: After going live with our new headless webstore, we’ve seen a 48% and 46% decrease in page load times and desktop, respectively as well as a 20% increase in developer deployments. Our engineers are now able to focus on doing what they do best: solving complicated problems and building valuable new experiences for our customers.

Interested in learning more about ILIA Beauty? Read our ILIA Beauty case study today or check out any one of our other case studies to see how today’s leading brands and merchants are using headless commerce to deliver better shopping experiences, free development teams, and achieve other top-priority goals. 

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