For this installment of our eCommerce Influencer Series, we are thrilled that Jimmy Duvall, Chief Product Officer at BigCommerce agreed to take time out of his busy schedule.
Austin, Texas-based BigCommerce was founded in 2009 and now serves over 60,000 small businesses, 2000+ mid-market online retailers, and more than 25 Fortune 1000 companies, including brands such as Assurant, Ben & Jerry’s, Gibson, Paul Mitchell, Martha Stewart, and Toyota.
As one of the leading cloud-based eCommerce platforms, the company counts as its strengths; enterprise functionality, an open architecture and app ecosystem, and market-leading performance.
For anyone who doesn’t know you yet, who you are and how did you get started in the eCommerce industry?
I’ve had the pleasure of serving as BigCommerce’s chief product officer since July 2016. In that role, I oversee the development of BigCommerce’s product roadmap as well as the company’s overarching product and brand design. Prior to joining BigCommerce, I was VP of product at social media management company Hootsuite, and also spent many years working at other ecommerce companies like Magento, GSI Commerce and Yahoo!.
I spent time toward the beginning of my career at Homestead Technologies, which was an early version of Squarespace. That was my first foray into ecommerce, where I found my love for online commerce and deepened my understanding of customer needs.
It’s the deep connection to the customer that initially drew me to ecommerce and cemented my decision to join BigCommerce, which has a core mission of supporting growing businesses. Understanding the impact that our product has as a critical component of both the businesses and lives of our merchants really resonates with me.
Looking back over the past 3 years, what do you think have been the biggest changes in eCommerce and how has BigCommerce tackled them?
Ecommerce moves so quickly that three years can simultaneously seem like just yesterday and eons ago.
One major shift that comes to mind is how social commerce has progressed from a blind focus on vanity metrics to demonstrating clear and measurable ROI. In the early days of social commerce, vanity metrics (likes, shares, followers) and features such as ‘buy buttons’ generated minimal interest and lacked transparency, and consumers generally used social media solely for brand and product discovery. The value stopped there, though, as merchants had no idea how, or even if, they should invest more deeply in social content and engagement.
Thanks to data and analytics, we’ve reached a point where store referral traffic and sales conversions can actually be driven by, and directly attributed to, social. BigCommerce has established strategic partnerships with leading social platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for that very reason — to deliver provable, actionable ROI, which results in a throng of informed merchants that can deliver tailored content, personalized engagement and a social commerce experience that delights online shoppers.
BigCommerce just closed a round of new growth equity funding led by Goldman Sachs. What are your primary goals for this funding?
At its core, this round of funding is designed to grow the company in ways that support the merchants selling on our platform now and in the future, particularly with strategic product investments, growth initiatives and international expansion. Those product improvements will include omnichannel, international and multi-store support. International expansion encompasses extending our footprint into Europe and APAC (beyond Australia, where we were founded and still have a strong presence). Already, nearly one-quarter of BigCommerce merchants are based outside of the U.S., and we intend to continue boosting that number dramatically.
Advanced technologies such as AI and AR are now buzzwords in eCommerce. How can a small business take advantage of these technologies?
Rather than investing resources in unproven emerging trends, we advise merchants to focus on technologies and features that will provide the largest long-term opportunity for their small business. Those interested in testing technology like AI and AR should consider utilizing niche agencies that focus on bleeding edge tech and can leverage the openness of a platform like BigCommerce to extend into those growing areas if the retailer’s product appeals to the consumers within a relevant segment (gaming, for example).
While it’s a much more pragmatic approach to ecommerce, this route allows the platform provider to act as an innovation hub and removes significant risk for the merchant. Not only do platforms have the resources to build out homegrown features or invest in best-in-class partner technologies, but they also have the know-how to harness those nascent technologies in a way that drives business results – and thus smaller merchants can piggyback off of their efforts.
By partnering with established platforms, small businesses get access to additional functionality that is proven to move the needle on day-to-day business initiatives. For instance, we recently helped merchants master the complicated but important realm of mobile commerce page load speeds by natively integrating both Akamai Image Manager and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) into their subscriptions, services that would otherwise cost them thousands of dollars.
It seems to us that Instagram is positioning itself as a bit of a marketplace. Recently, BigCommerce expanded shoppable posts on Instagram to eight more countries. What is your view on the future of Instagram in eCommerce?
Instagram has the unique ability to combine rich content with commerce, all while building incredibly loyal and engaged communities. Its simple, visual format is what drove customers to willingly interact with brand accounts in the first place. Part of what has made Instagram’s commerce efforts so successful where others have failed is their intentional decision to keep the platform pure. Rather than overwhelming consumers with brand content, customers self-select which brands they want to engage with and shoppable posts serve to complement that existing brand experience.
Instagram has made it phenomenally easy for brands of all sizes to interact with their consumers in an environment that’s free of the noise we often associate with social platforms. So long as the site continues to provide merchants and brands a mutually beneficial way to interact, they will be able to own social commerce. In fact, we may even get to a point where consumers choose to forgo a website visit altogether, completing the entire shopping experience – from product discovery to consideration to purchase – directly within Instagram’s ecosystem.
What advantages does BigCommerce, being a cloud-based eCommerce platform, provide over an open source self-hosted platform?
Merchants tend to believe that the customizability of an open source, self-hosted platform (and the control that provides) holds a major advantage over SaaS platforms like BigCommerce, but there are a significant number of associated challenges that accompany open source platforms. First and foremost, the merchant is entirely responsible for maintaining every aspect of their platform, from front-end design to security, uptime and PCI compliance. This level of control requires that the merchant invest significantly in developer resources and IT operational support to set up and maintain even the most basic of installs. SaaS platforms, on the other hand, offer transparent upgrades so merchants never have to worry about their platform, security or app integrations being outdated.
Beyond that, one of the most critical differences is scalability. Merchants using a SaaS platform can rely on the resources and features they need to run their businesses and dial them up or down at will, without having to make cumbersome adjustments to a custom-built installation. In addition, BigCommerce merchants enjoy greater reliability and uptime, more focus on customer service and a significantly lower total cost of ownership.
Amazon obviously cannot be ignored in eCommerce, do you believe they are largely friend or foe to small businesses?
The prevailing narrative that Amazon is an enemy that’s killing small business or retail more broadly is flat-out incorrect. Believe it or not, roughly half of all online commerce still happens off of Amazon, and even on Amazon’s own marketplace, 50 percent of items purchased come from third-party SMBs. All in all, small brands and retailers are thriving both on and off of that crowded marketplace.
For small business owners, it’s not as simple as being good at one thing or another, although many — like Folding Chairs & Tables and Kap7 — have found ways to profitably sell on Amazon. BigCommerce’s role is to use our direct integration with Amazon to help those merchants that choose to sell both directly to consumers and on the marketplace do so with as little overhead and complexity as possible, which in turn helps them remain competitive.
Austin is known for its cuisine and visitors often find their way to Franklin Barbecue or Torchy’s Tacos. But what three places would you recommend that are less famous and are “must stops” in Austin?
While I actually work out of BigCommerce’s San Francisco office, I do visit the team in Austin quite regularly. There’s unfortunately never enough time to try out all the great restaurants Austin has to offer, but I’ve managed to find a few favorites during my trips into town.
Lucy’s on the Lake: My visits to Austin tend to be jam-packed with meetings, but I always love finding some time to catch up with my team over a fried chicken lunch at Lucy’s on the Lake. The restaurant overlooks one of Austin’s major lakes, and since it’s only about five minutes from our office, I find that it’s a great way to step away from the work environment and enjoy both a great view and great food with coworkers.
Veracruz Tacos: There’s an ongoing (and sometimes heated) debate in Austin about which taco joint reigns supreme, and while many people are diehard advocates for Torchy’s or Taco Deli, I actually prefer the lesser known Veracruz Tacos. Don’t be fooled by their unassuming trailers around town – their migas taco may be one of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Dai Due: Hands down, Dai Due is one of my favorite Austin spots. It’s a casual environment, but still outstanding for a business meeting. We’ve taken our board of directors there for dinner more than a couple of times.
We want to thank Jimmy Duvall very much for his insight into eCommerce and how BigCommerce can help small businesses find success in an ever changing industry.
To learn more about BigCommerce, please visit them at www.bigcommerce.com or contact them by phone: USA & Canada (1-888-248-9325), Australia (1800 107 862), or International (+1-512-758-7588).