Want to learn from DTC founders and entrepreneurs shaking up their industries? Check out the other entries in our Lunch with Littledata series.

Ecommerce stores need to have a storefront build that’s not just engaging and aesthetically pleasing, but technically sound. Add to this the growing interest in headless setups, and choosing the right site architecture becomes one of the most critical decisions for a store owner to get right.

Littledata partner Nacelle powers storefronts that stand out from the competition, offering headless website builds backed by a robust data stack. Focused on Progressive Web App (PWA) technology, Nacelle builds super clean, fast and responsive sites for modern DTC brands. They secured $50 million in Series B round funding from Tiger Global, proving investors see a promising future ahead.

In this installment of our Lunch with Littledata series, we sat down with Devin Saxon, Senior Sales Engineer at Nacelle, to talk through the benefits of headless setups, when the right time is to try one, and how ecommerce is still evolving due to the COVID shift online.

LD: In one sentence: what is headless?

DS: Headless commerce is a flexible ecommerce architecture where your website’s back-end systems are fully decoupled from your website’s storefront (what your shoppers interact with).

Tip: Littledata and Nacelle have partnered to create a build that gives you the full headless experience while keeping your Shopify Plus tech stack intact.

What exactly does Nacelle do?

Nacelle is an easy way to build high-performing headless sites. Nacelle acts as the “abstraction layer” within a headless commerce architecture. Our product fully removes all interdependencies between the back end and the front end.

It uses graphQL API endpoints with no rate limits for first indexing data (i.e. products, collections, and content), then delivering that data to your storefront. This ensures that you don’t run into any eventual consistency issues and dramatically decreases the complexity of a headless build.

Nacelle is not an all-in-one, end-to-end solution. It’s structured to enable a true “headless” architecture, designed — and priced — for flexibility. It allows for customization and the opportunity for merchants to embrace their best options across the board. That includes everything from their ideal digital ecommerce agency partner to their preferred CMS system, third-party applications, hosting, and ecommerce platform at the core for their business.

Headless tracking

Is the headless build process dramatically different for brands with a good number of SKUs/products (like Something Navy) vs. stores with a few products selling by subscription (like Ballsy)?

Every headless build is unique. Not because of catalogue size, but due to what the merchant’s goals and needs are for their front end and overall architecture.

The process itself is not dramatically different. We align with the customer on the build scoping process, including their goals, integration, and workflow needs, which can be the biggest determinant of the timeline. It’s best to work this out far before they start building, though, to mitigate any issues from coming up during the build.

When should you NOT move to a headless build?

I would say it largely depends on the merchant’s goals and how they view their technology.

Going headless can be a big expense upfront. So it’s beneficial to understand if you have the development resources to support the build itself, maintain your current site, and then maintain the headless site once complete.

This is where it’s beneficial to work with a headless commerce platform. You’ll save time and resources while building out an efficient frontend and systems to differentiate your brand from the piping and plumbing of your headless architecture.

“If a brand views their technology and engineering resources as ways to differentiate vs. a cost center, they are ready to make the move into headless.”

You can also outsource development resources through an agency. We have typically seen success with brands who are $10-20m over annual revenue, or venture-backed and technology-forward. If the brand views their technology and engineering resources as ways to differentiate vs. a cost center, they are ready to make the move into headless.

How has COVID affected your work at Nacelle? It seems like you’ve been hiring quite a bit!

We are currently completely distributed as a company, and we have been hiring rapidly!

We recently passed the 50 employee mark and we’re going to continue to grow that through the rest of the year. COVID’s effect on the ecommerce space has forced many businesses to reevaluate their tech stacks, which has led to a lot of positive opportunities for us.

What about your merchants? Are things getting back to "normal"?

The pandemic has definitely accelerated the conversation as ecommerce brands see the need to truly invest in their online presence. With that, headless really aligns with the philosophy of enabling DTC brands to better tell their story through their web storefront and shape the customer experience.

Nacelle aligns well with DTC brands here because we remove the complexities of connecting your storefront with your back end. Instead, we allow you to completely focus on your front end with better development practices and less tech debt. Conversations have been really positive and engaging with merchants. It seems like things are actually cranking up more so than returning to normal.

Tip: DTC brands with the right strategy can harness Shopify Plus to multiply their revenue and drive growth. Check out these 5 DTC stores fueling their success on Shopify Plus

Are agency partnerships a big part of your business model?

Yes. We believe a strong technical implementation is best for any merchant going headless, and agencies are part of that equation.

The agencies we work with have tremendous experience with headless builds and using Nacelle proves to be invaluable to brands who partner with them.

What data points are important for your customers? I'm guessing site speed is a big metric?

Site speed is always one that’s top of mind for customers. I’d also say conversion rate, average order value, pages per session, mobile conversion rate, and page-to-page speeds come up frequently.

“Site speed is a data point that’s always top of mind for customers.”

To give an example, Something Navy uses a drop model so their site will get aggressive amounts of traffic when they release something new. So, they wanted to see the number of unique sessions supported within the first 30 minutes of that product drop.

We have a lot of different case studies with current customers that cover these points of data.

What's the best resource for a Shopify store wanting to explore headless options?

Hard to answer this and not be a little biased! Our marketing team put together some great content around this since we have a good amount of current customers on Shopify.

Here’s a handful of links to some of my favorite resources they’ve created:

Lastly, a bit technical, but what is the relationship between Nacelle and Netlify — or the "Jamstack"?

Nacelle and Netlify work in tandem. Netlify delivers your online storefront to your customers' browsers by taking your website’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files and making them available online. Nacelle connects your back-end systems, syncs all of the data, and delivers it to the front end. Your Progressive Web App (PWA) calls Nacelle’s graphQL API endpoint in order to get all of the content and product/collection data for your site’s build.

As for how we pair with the “Jamstack” — we help manage your back-end infrastructure and make static generation for the modern ecommerce store a breeze. With our back-end API, we are able to integrate directly with your systems (or ecommerce platform) that handle your PIM, OMS, CRM to index your products, and collect information for your front-end build.

We also have pre-built integrations into Contentful and Sanity, so developers can leverage that same back-end API to integrate the CMS of their choice. With the front end, our APIs and Javascript SDK are robust and flexible. Our direct integrations into Nuxt and Next are intuitive and easy to use, and our API pairs flawlessly with Gatsby. Finally, we are compatible with over 30 popular ecommerce tools and easily integrate with new systems through APIs to keep up with evolving needs.

Quick links: