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Jonny Blake @ BigCommerce
#050 : In this episode of Chill, we chat with Jonny Blake, Channel Account Manager @ BigCommerce. Overdose’s Strategy Director for North America, Keith Karlick, and Jonny discuss ecommerce tech ecosystems, BigCommerce updates, growth challenges and successes, digital solutions, and ecomm trends and strategies through pandemic recovery.
Jonny Blake was brand new to ecommerce when he joined BigCommerce in 2018; within two weeks of him taking his seat, the ecomm behemoth received a massive $65 million private equity cash injection, and he’s had to buckle in for a fast ride.
Now, as BigCommerce’s Regional Channel Account Manager for the Pacific Northwest and the Mountain Southwest, Jonny oversees everything from onboarding, training, enablement, certifications, and all the blocking and tackling that comes with building out a BigCommerce practice.
Those first big rounds of capital raising in 2018 were followed by an IPO in August 2020, and it’s been an era of meteoric growth for BigCommerce. They’ve released a lot of new functionality and have hired over one hundred employees globally.
Keith, who’s been in the agency ecosystem for five years (starting at Mercutio, which merged into the Overdose family in June 2021), says BigCommerce initially came along and filled a gap in the market—a need for a SaaS platform that worked across both mid-market and enterprise clients. Other providers weren’t really looking at B2B; manufacturers selling at the mid-market company level were left high and dry—they were maybe too large or too complex for industry go-to, Shopify. And they weren’t being looked after by the top end of town—the true enterprise platforms. BigCommerce stepped in as a really good solution for that mid-market service.
Fast-forward to today, and BigCommerce is considered one of the top players within the industry across most sectors.
First on the open SaaS scene
Creating and coining the concept of open SaaS also contributed to BigCommerce’s spectacular rise, Jonny says. He explains how three years ago, brands with sufficient complexity or scale felt their only option was to go with open source. “They didn’t feel like being fit into this little box of software-as-a-service, whereas open source gave them the flexibility and the extensibility that they needed to be able to compete online.”
When a new CEO took to the helm, they launched ‘the enterprise project’ to build out a new type of platform offering the best of true multi-tenant software-as-a-service. It was designed to combine all the usual suspects, like automatic upgrades and updates, and PCI compliance and hosting, but offer it alongside the best of open source—tons of native functionality right out of the box. Jonny explains: “The ability on the front end to either go full bore with Stencil, our design framework, or completely rip and replace it, and look something else, but then opening up the whole platform via API end-points.” And it enabled integration with other solutions on the back end to facilitate specific workflows.
It was a big play for BigCommerce; it was how they positioned themselves for the huge uptake across SMB, mid-market, and even up into the enterprise space.
The growth phase
As the size of BigCommerce’s customers increased, contract value accordingly rose. Jonny says when he started in 2018, if they closed up a $1,500 a month contract, it was a big deal, but now, working on a $20K a month merchant contract is not uncommon.
In other words, things have changed A LOT.
Understanding BigCommerce’s pricing model
Jonny explains the BigCommerce pricing model is based on annual order volume and average order value—it varies a lot depending on how many orders and what the order value looks like. “It’s not purely a take rate of GMV like it is for some of the other platforms we compete with.”
To put the size of customer in perspective, Jonny says roughly speaking a merchant at $5 million GMV (gross merchandise value) online annually could be expecting to pay anywhere between $1,500 and $2,500 a month for BigCommerce. Extrapolating from that you can see how the size of the $20K a month BigCommerce spend is going to be a far more significantly-sized company—mid-market to enterprise—now a firm sweet spot for BigCommerce.
What’s on the roadmap for BigCommerce?
After their IPO which raised $260 million, there’s been a fair bit of spending planning at BigCommerce—figuring out the best use of the cash to grow the business.
International expansion was high on the agenda and they successfully launched into the Netherlands, France, and Italy. The process involved translating the control panel into those local languages to make it easier for merchants and partners, as well as onboarding a number of local support staff in those regions.
It’s impossible to steer clear of mentioning the Covid-effect in ecommerce discussions—dealing with ‘the new normal’ has also been a huge play for BigCommerce in its new growth phase. The pandemic has fundamentally affected the way consumers shop online and shop in general. “We’re talking to our merchants every single day and trying to figure out not just what our strategy should be for our own dot-com, but realising it needs to be much more holistic than that. We need to understand, ‘What is our full omni strategy going to be across digital and physical together, and how do those work together?’”
Pre-Covid, brands may have been a little lackadaisical about what their digital strategy and omni strategy was, before realising how hamstrung they were when the pandemic hit. It ended up being a case of pulling all the levers to see which ones would drive revenue and drive orders. A better approach, Jonny says, is to figure out ‘nuts and bolts’—like what the full digital strategy is to be.
Covid-induced behaviours – here to stay?
Even as people are largely able to get back into physical stores, it’s really interesting to see that the Covid-induced rise of online shopping hasn’t abated.
Many online merchants are still seeing Covid-driven sales level increases which are not reaching the expected plateau, even as lockdowns end and freedom-to-move resumes. Those trends, like shopping from our phones, haven’t gone away.
We now begin to consider if there’s ingrained behaviour resulting from the forced use of ecommerce over the past year or so. The question is, will there be a natural retraction and shift back to bricks and mortar?
For a Global Digital Commerce Agency who works with an array of clients across manufacturing, B2B, and B2C, some with bricks and mortar, Keith says Overdose is anticipating the natural rise of organic traffic to be either a wave or a plateau. “If it’s a wave, it’s going to crest at some point and retract—and sales and everything goes with it. If it’s a plateau, then it becomes a building block for future growth.” So, perhaps the best approach, for now, is to do whatever you can in the short term to create personalised experiences, foster customer lifetime value, embolden your mobile experiences, and capture information.
In terms of capturing information, there’s a bit to bear in mind with regards to the new data protection and privacy features such as ETP and ITP, but it’s an ongoing shift that needs to be dealt with.
Trends on the horizon
Providing better B2B CX – There’s the new generation of younger B2B buyers entering the workforce, and they expect B2C-esque experiences when they buy product.
All things multi
One of BigCommerce’s strategic focuses, from a product perspective, over the last couple of years has been on all things multi. First, they released a multi-currency feature and all its associated functionality. Now, they’re in beta with multi-store and multi-location inventory, and have a multi-language feature coming soon.
“If you’re a merchant that needs a lot of the multi-esque functionality, there are ways to do it on BigCommerce that are still pretty elegant,” Jonny says, “but you’re always going to have merchants out there that want it to be native and out-of-the-box.” He says, in the past, merchants have felt like they’ve had to hack things together to make it work for them, and BigCommerce’s aim is to solve these problems natively.
Keith agrees multi is a big deal, especially for the manufacturer side and the larger clients. He says Overdose has “worked on some really interesting solutions, such as utilising a very slick PWA tool that gives the ability to serve multiple domains off a single instance of both Deity and BigCommerce. “The integration that we have with BigCommerce is outstanding because it’s pulling over product taxonomy and a bunch of other stuff natively.”
The multi approach is paying off for BigCommerce with some great outcomes already.
Design framework (Stencil) updates
Another way BigCommerce is steering in the upwards direction is through their ongoing updates to Stencil. Keith points out this is particularly useful in SEO and with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The ADA is now a key component of design, and it’s really important to make sure templates are built accordingly.
For the Overdose agency, “Each of the Stencil releases are useful because they cut down dev time on implementation,” says Keith, “ which means less work we have to do, and we can focus elsewhere.”
iOS 15 and cookies
With iOS 15 on the horizon, and the new cookie issues surrounding it, there’s a new frontier in ecommerce marketing. With the new operating system set to strip cookies from emails within its Mail app, as well as hide IP address tracking within Mail and Safari, the ability to track open rates will be lost, threatening the efficacy of campaigns.
“It’s all par for the ever-changing course,” says Keith. “Years ago, we were super worried about mobile and ‘How are people going to shop on mobile?’ Well, everybody worked really hard and we got it done and now we have good mobile experiences. This won’t be any different, but it’ll be that ongoing shift that we have to deal with.”
There’s still the first-party data card to play which requires merchants and agencies to up the ante with personalised engagement. It requires extra marketing time—precious time Overdose may just have, thanks to their ecomm platform, BigCommerce, knocking it out of the park.