As convenience continues to be one of the biggest decision-making factors of commerce, ecommerce continues to grow. Contrary to the belief that companies like Amazon kill mom and pops, John Yarbrough, Director of Communications of BigCommerce, says that having access to robust ecommerce platforms such as BigCommerce gives SMBs the ability to compete on a level playing field.

LM: Let's start by giving me a snapshot of you and the company.

JY: Our mission at BigCommerce is simple -- helping brands succeed online. Ecommerce has been around for more than 20 years, but historically the costs associated with selling online were prohibitive for most SMBs. Today, businesses of all sizes can use BigCommerce to begin selling online at a fraction of the cost and without the need to assume all the technical complexity once required. Because of this, we now power the online stores of more than 55,000 businesses, including more than 20 Fortune 1000 brands and some of the world's fastest-growing online retailers.

LM: Tell me about your origin story. Where did it all begin for you?

JY: BigCommerce was founded in Sydney, Australia in 2009 by Mitchell Harper and Eddie Machaalani. Two years prior, the pair had launched their first company, Interspire, which had two primary products, one of which eventually evolved into BigCommerce. Through word of mouth, the company grew internationally and had thousands of customers in a matter of months.

I joined the team in 2014. It's been exciting and inspiring to witness the success of our customers. In my opinion, there has never been a better time to start selling online. What we've seen is that, as large legacy retailers have struggled to stay competitive, smaller and more nimble brands are shaping the future of online shopping. By helping these brands sell across their branded websites, leading marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, and emerging channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, our customers are innovating and growing at a much faster rate than many of their larger competitors.

LM: What is your favorite part about the company?

JY: From day one, one of the primary goals of BigCommerce has been to help democratize commerce. How can we help enable new businesses to compete effectively and on a level playing field through technology? Additionally, throughout the company there is a daily focus on how we can help our merchants sell more. By constantly choosing the path that enables merchants to grow and succeed, every employee is empowered to prioritize what will be most impactful to our customers.

LM: How can emerging brands in the space be successful?

JY: Compared to the process of creating or sourcing products to sell, the steps required to start an online store are relatively simple. There are generally five things that someone should think through before starting an online business to help ensure a more successful outcome:

  • How will I build my site? There are hundreds of technology vendors that promote "ecommerce" features, but only a small number of platforms provide a full suite of tools to build an online business. When making a decision between vendors, carefully review information like pricing and features, and look for a platform with a proven track record.
  • What is my unique value proposition? There are literally millions of ecommerce stores currently in business, so in order to stand out, it's important to think about your brand's ideal customers and the unique value your store will provide that customer.
  • What will my site experience be like? Most business owners have a specific website aesthetic in mind when setting out to launch an online business. Whether you are planning to build the site yourself or work with a third-party design or branding agency, take the time to think about the desired customer experience and build your site navigation around that.
  • How will I drive site traffic? If you don't have an existing customer email database, brick-and-mortar presence, or social media following from previous projects, you need to think about how you plan to get visitors to the site before you can ever begin selling products.
  • How will I re-engage visitors? Once you get someone to visit your site, you'll want to get them coming back time after time. Think about how you will re-engage visitors and how they will stay updated on the company. This can mean setting up an email service, social accounts, and/or retargeting services.

LM: What is your take on the future of ecommerce?

JY: Fifteen percent of all retail sales in 2016 came from ecommerce, not counting items like automobiles or gas. By 2020, US ecommerce sales will eclipse $500 billion. Already, many consumers prefer shopping online to shopping in physical stores. Brands are also interacting with customers across more channels than ever before. As such, retailers will continue to explore ways to make the buying process as seamless (and secure) as possible in all the places customers want to shop. For example:

  • Voice-activated buying: We're getting to the point where the first digital-first generation is coming of age as consumers. The idea of interacting with technology is so natural to them that I will expect to see voice-based interfaces like Amazon Alexa and Google Home driving commerce forward.
  • In-store meets online: Brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos have popularized the idea of treating a physical location less like a storefront and more like a showroom, a practice that will only continue to grow in the coming year. More retailers will explore ways to transform their brick-and-mortars into more than a store, treating them instead as a place to have a branded experience. As part of this, we'll see the in-store and online experience become more closely connected.
  • Augmented reality: There's been a lot of talk about the potential of augmented and virtual reality for the shopping environment, but I believe that VR* feels too fake to truly be a viable option for consumers. Augmented reality, on the other hand, could greatly enhance the consumer's buying experience and we're already seeing great examples of its potential through tools like Ikea Place or Anthropologie's AR app.

LM: What are brands/companies you are currently into?

JY: The obvious answer is Amazon. There's a reason Amazon is a mainstay on any list of "most admired companies" as they do a remarkable job of prioritizing the customer experience above all else. As a partner of Amazon's that also supports 55,000+ businesses, we think there is a lot that can be learned from Amazon and applied broadly across other ecommerce websites.

As the CEO of a growing marketing agency, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what the future of ecommerce has in store.

*We recently published an interview with Cleveland Brown of Payscout, who recently launched an application that enables easy payments made inside the virtual reality experience. To read about the other side of VR payments, read our interview with Cleveland here.