2021 eCommerce trends with Nacelle CEO Brian Anderson

6 min read
November 2, 2021

It’s that time of year again—2021 predictions are coming in left and right. We didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so we caught up with Nacelle Founder and CEO Brian Anderson for a Q&A to forecast eCommerce, headless commerce, and Nacelle in the year to come.

Question: What do you predict the big 2021 eCommerce trends will be?

Brian Anderson: A big theme in 2021 will be to satisfy your customers before you delight them. The best way to do that is to give them a webstore performance that doesn’t make them want to throw their phone at the wall.

People have recognized that mobile is dominant at this point in terms of traffic sources compared to desktop. With that, comes not only mobile-optimized webstores, but also a strategy that significantly amplifies “mobile-first.”

If you have a site that has to reload from page-to-page, you’re going to be playing catch up compared to your competitors who have a site that only has to load once. This trend of progressive web apps (PWAs) and single page applications is critical for the companies that are growing quickly, because it’s going to be hard for them to compete on media buying and mobile if their conversion rates are nowhere in the realm of their competition.

You can add all these other things like search and personalization, nice images, and great copy, but it won’t matter if you’re annoying your customers with slow page load speed, especially on a mobile device. You can try to delight shoppers with all these shiny objects, cross-sells and upsells, but it will be for nothing if the experience of browsing your site is frustrating for customers compared to your competitors’ sites.

Question: How do you think “headless commerce” will evolve in the new year?

Brian Anderson: The term is becoming more common but the implementation will still be the tricky part. Everyone’s excited about the promise that headless holds, but only a few merchants can actually execute it well and there are a lot of factors to consider.

If you’re just taking an API from your eCommerce platform and piping it into a frontend Javascript framework, you need to consider pairing a headless solution with your existing eCommerce platform or create a custom headless build to support your brand’s growth. And most likely if you’ve never done it before, you’re probably not following the best practices. So even though headless commerce will be a buzzword in 2021, the way that it’s implemented and executed will vary greatly among different merchants and the approach that they take.

Question: What do you hope becomes the undisputed definition of “headless commerce” in 2021?

Brian Anderson: The term “headless commerce” is really watered down. The definition is a separation between the frontend and the backend, but that doesn’t mean a sync between two monolithic systems. And it doesn’t mean you’re using a page builder and registering those components into the frontend. You’ll read articles out there that say, “headless commerce is a separation between the frontend and backend,” and then you look at the solution they’re providing and it ignores that explanation.

We need a strict definition here because when you start to blend the frontend and the backend, it’s really not headless anymore. So for all your effort investing time, energy, and money into going headless, you’re still just as stuck as you were before with what’s equivalent to a monolithic platform.

I would also make the argument that if you’re using a content management system or a page builder of some sort that forces you to tie and register your backend components into your React framework, it’s also not headless because your frontend and backend are too closely coupled. It’s important to ensure that when you do implement your headless build that there’s a separation between those two things.

Question: Do you foresee any sleeper trends that aren’t in the spotlight right now, but could be big?

Brian Anderson: Consent management. Everyone is sleeping on this and it could wipe out a number of companies in our space. If you sell internationally, or if you’re focused on the CCPA or GDRP, most of the third-party apps that merchants load in violate these terms egregiously.

So I think consent management is going to be a huge topic in the second half of 2021 and I think a lot of companies are going to seriously regret decisions they don’t even realize they’re making today.

Question: Are there any philosophies, strategies, or mindsets that you think merchants will adopt in 2021?

Brian Anderson: Companies that have a motive beyond just selling something online are going to do well—brands that are here and serving a purpose beyond just the cash flow statement, the income statement, and the balance sheet. Because they’re focused on the right thing, they grow a lot faster and they gain extremely loyal followers.

Sustainability efforts are a perfect example. The brands that are the most impactful right now speak to this, and the consumer is getting educated and excited. ILIA Beauty and Allbirds are two great D2C examples of brand values aligning with customer values. One of my personal goals in 2021 is focused on sustainability across the board.

I traded in my car for an electric car, and I am committed to buying sustainable products at least 50% of the time—which might be a really ambitious goal but hopefully will make a difference. Like many other consumers, I will definitely be seeking brands that can support those goals.

Question: Is there anything dev teams specifically should prepare for going into the new year?

Brian Anderson: The big takeaway is that you want to follow coding best practices and engineering best practices, so things like using GitHub Version Control is really important. Unit testing and functional tests for your code are important. It’s one thing to not have tests for your frontend components when you’re a million-dollar store, but when you’re at $20 million or $30 million, these things are crazy important. If you push a component out and it’s broken, you will lose money and it could be significant. It’s really unacceptable not to have a proper CI/CD pipeline and to not have proper unit tests across your codebase. It’s important to ensure that going into 2021 you have a game plan for how to implement and deploy your code in a way that’s professional.

Question: Are there any specific tech solutions that you think will be largely adopted by merchants in 2021?

Brian Anderson: I’m big on headless content management systems. It gives the merchant—specifically the merchandising team—workflows where you can publish things for the future and you can drag and drop to rearrange components on your screen. These are tools where traditionally you’d have to take resources away from development, which is fine, but you know the developers don’t want to just move around your HTML. And frankly their time is probably better spent building some new component so that marketing can run new flows or something of the sort.

Question: Which 2021 trend do you hope Nacelle is most closely aligned or associated with?

Brian Anderson: The right way of doing headless. There are so many wrong ways of doing it and there’s only really one way of doing it correctly, in our opinion. We know that through experience. Previously I was running an agency where we discovered there is a right way and many wrong ways of doing this.

If you’re not careful, and you’re not looking at it closely, there are mistakes you can make that could be disastrous for your company. You want to make sure you do it right. You want to find people that you’re working with—like the team you bring on to do the implementation - are experienced and that they’ve done it before for companies of the same size. Not just, “we’ve done one little headless build before.” You want to make sure they understand the issues with eventual consistency and the issues with scaling as your company grows in a headless environment.

Question: If you could recommend one book, article, or piece of content to help prep for the new year, what would it be?

Brian Anderson: I really like this book that was written by Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, called Extreme Ownership. When it was first recommended to me I was like, I’m not going to war, I’m not commanding a group of soldiers into battle. So I actually just ignored the recommendation and then it got recommended to me again, and I started to look into Jocko Willink and was immediately impressed. I think it’s a fantastic read for anyone in a leadership position or anyone that has to work on a team in a coordinated fashion.

I think there are a number of lessons in it that are impactful, but one that comes up every single day of my life is this notion of prioritizing and executing. It’s almost impossible for a human to do two things at once and do both of those things extremely well. What that means, especially at a startup, is when you wake up in the morning and are hit with 200 things to do right off the bat and you try to do all 200 of those things, nothing will get done. It’s much better to take that list of 200, stack rank them and figure out what the most important thing is and focus all of your energy on that one thing. I actually found this book to be one of the most relevant startup books I’ve ever read.


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