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How Changes in the Website Space Can Give You a Competitive Advantage with BigCommerce’s Mark Adams

19 min read

In recent years the eCommerce website industry has changed a huge amount. In Episode 1, our hosts Chloe and Phill sit down with Mark Adams, General Manager, Europe at BigCommerce and look at how the platform you choose can impact your room for scale, ongoing changes in the market and why innovation requires you to do more than just “maintain the plumbing”. It’s an episode that you won’t want to miss!

Stay tuned as each week we hear from leaders in the eCommerce space who focus on eCommerce topics like payments, shipping, marketing automation, personalisation, retail software and much more.

Welcome to the eCommerce Growth Show – your number one source for scaling your eCommerce business!

 

Welcome to The eCommerce Growth Show, brought to you by Segmentify, the fast, lean learning machine. The fastest learning most revenue generating personalisation platform for e-commerce.

Chloe Thomas:

Hello and welcome to this, the first episode of a brand new podcast. Kudos to you for getting in early ahead of your competition. So, this is The eCommerce Growth Show, a podcast formed of regular series, each of which is going to focus on a different important topic in the world of e-commerce. For this our first series, so many firsts, we’re focusing in on what you as a retailer need to know about to take your sales growth to the next level in 2020. We’ve got six episodes coming up in this series, each focusing in a different area that’s essential for e-commerce growth. Our guests come from some of the leading technology providers in the e-commerce space, so if you want to know exactly what the tech stack opportunities are in 2020 you are listening to the right show.

In this episode we’re looking at websites. Next time it’s going to be onsite personalisation, and then we’re going to look at getting traffic to your site, payments, reviews and the post-purchase experience. Make sure you subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your podcast app of choice so you don’t miss a single episode. I’m Chloe Thomas. I’m host of the eCommerce MasterPlan podcast and bestselling author of multiple books on e-commerce and cohost of this show too. And I’m joined on every episode of this series by Phill Kay of Segmentify. Hello, Phill.

Phill Kay:

Hi Chloe, how are you doing?

Chloe Thomas:

I’m all right, how are you?

Phill Kay:

Yeah. Great, thank you.

Chloe Thomas:

I’m interested to hear what we’re going to find out from Mark in this episode, but why did you want to include BigCommerce and Mark in this series?

Phill Kay:

Sure. Well I mean, I’ve been in the sector for quite a while now and I’ve known BigCommerce for a number of years and I’ve always been very keen to understand really about why they’re so successful in the market. What are they doing that’s important for merchants to understand, particularly if they are looking to migrate from existing platform or at least understand what is going on in the marketplace within the e-commerce world for their businesses. And so, knowing that kind of BigCommerces are kind of this headless technology, which I’m not actually fully understanding myself. Obviously we’ll learn more from Mark, but the idea of this kind of importance of performance and scalability in a simple way to both the merchant and then obviously that then knocking onto the customers is clearly something that’s very, very important. And I know that BigCommerce are a big player in that space of trying to do that for their merchants. So, on that basis I thought it would be very interesting to hear from a senior guy who basically built up the team in EMEA, for that.

Chloe Thomas:

Excellent. Well, I’m sure we’re going to learn lots about that from Mark in a moment or two. So, should we get him on?

Phill Kay:

Absolutely, let’s do it.

Chloe Thomas:

It’s time to welcome our guest. Mark Adams, is head of Europe at BigCommerce, a platform that deals with security and scalability to enable enterprise brands to fast track their growth and build differentiated commerce experiences across multiple channels. With over $17 billion worth of merchant sales having gone through the platform in over 135 countries, it’s fair to say that BigCommerce know what they’re doing. Mark’s been in the e-commerce world for almost 20 years, advising market leading brands and retailers and focusing on the technology stack side of things. Hello Mark.

Mark Adams:

Hi Chloe, how are you doing?

Chloe Thomas:

Great to have you here and I’m excited to talk tech. Aren’t you Phill?

Phill Kay:

Absolutely. So Mark, thank you so much for coming today. Why don’t you give us a little bit about yourself in terms of anything memorable that might have happened to you since you’ve been working at BigCommerce.

Mark Adams:

Wow, lots of memorable things. I was the first employee on the ground in EMEA in Europe and have built the team. So, that’s been a pretty interesting journey over the last 18, 19 months. The thing I think that sticks out for me, actually, was my interview process. So, I got introduced to BigCommerce via acquaintance that was a CEO of one of the BigCommerce’s partners, key partners. And when I started interviewing for the role, I went out to Austin, I think I had about 14 interviews over two days all in all with various execs. And the one that stood out was a CFO, so, and it was the one I was the most worried about because my background is, whilst it’s been in e-commerce, on the professional services side I’ve been implementing and supporting customers with implementing e-commerce solutions.

I had not worked at a SaaS technology vendor before. And SaaS businesses have some quite unique things about them in terms of how they scale, how they grow, the KPIs that are measured that are important to SaaS businesses such as, lifetime customer value, cost of acquisition, annual recurring revenues, growth rates, all of these things I had to SWAT upon for this CFO interview with a guy called Robert Alvarez. And he kicked off the interview. We started talking about my background and then he just said, “Right, tell me about yourself. Tell me about what is important in a leader. How do you build a team?” It was all the soft stuff that I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting to be QA’d on financials, SaaS metrics and all these things. And it was just really all about people.

And it transpires that Robert’s actually the culture champion in the companies, the CFO has been there one of the longest serving individuals in the company. And he’s just totally interested in how people feel, how people learn, how people grow and the impact that as technology leaders we can have on people’s careers and their lives. And it was an amazing meeting and I now spend once a month talking to him about that kind of stuff. So, that’s kind of what for me, set the scene for what life was going to be like at BigCommerce.

Phill Kay:

Wow. Yeah, that’s great. That cultural side is so important, isn’t it?

Chloe Thomas:

And who would expect a CFO to be the culture lead? Sorry to all CFOs listening but…

Mark Adams:

Totally bizarre. I’ve never come across that before.

Phill Kay:

Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. I suppose it’s amazing you’ve had the opportunity to actually build the culture from the ground up in EMEA, that must’ve been such a great thing to do.

Mark Adams:

It is. It’s something we focus on a lot. So, the first year in market was 2019 we were kind of ramping the team and so achieving some targets, onboarding customers, building out the core team is really important. Actually, our objectives for 2020, yes is to continue to grow pretty fast. We’ve got some aggressive targets, but I’m less worried about that because I’m fairly sure that’s going to happen because of the success that our merchants are having and we’re having in the market. But I’m more interested, really, in building a foundation within our team here in London that it becomes the team that will go and launch us across EMEA over the next two or three years. So, building capabilities in individuals, the management structures, the organisational structure that will support that growth.

Phill Kay:

Yeah, sure, sure. Well, and then we’re talking about in many ways this sort of disruption that’s going on in the market is clearly partially at least to do with the culture of the companies and the technology they have. I mean, what’s your thoughts on the current market in terms of so much going on in the e-commerce world in general at the moment.

Mark Adams:

I think you’re right. So, if you look really at where the disruption is coming from and let’s just pick e-commerce, it’s not just happening from an e-commerce platform perspective, it’s happening across the stack in CRM, in customer management, personalisation technologies, presentation layer technologies. PWA is headless or there’s a whole bunch of technologies coming to market that are changing the game for merchants, allowing them to be more agile, allowing them to run technology much more simply to get live quicker, to change and make changes quicker to the e-commerce experience and that’s all helping customers grow. I don’t think, certainly in the last 15, 20 years that I’ve been in e-com, almost since really it started, back in the late nineties early two thousands, has there been the rate of disruption from technology vendors that there is today? Kind of at any point.

Chloe Thomas:

I find, I completely agree with you, Mark, is in my career to see how the process of picking and choosing and working with a website provider has changed in just the last couple of years is crazy. And I think there’s a lot of retailers struggling to catch up with how the game has changed. I often come across retailers who are really struggling to just do something basic like create a Google shopping feed or integrate a new payment provider because they’re still in the old world, if that makes sense? And I think it’s a lot for the individual eCommerce business to manage to catch up with on how they can now embrace this new world. Are there any key things from their perspective you think a brilliant about what’s happening?

Mark Adams:

Yeah. So, when you think about that old world, Chloe, I think what it is, is where you kind of procured an e-commerce platform, but then you have to bolt everything together yourself or you get an agency to do it. You have to bolt in the payment gateway, you have to bolt in some of the solutions, you have to configure, integrate, customise that front-end, whatever it might be, and that would take an awful lot of time to do and money. And actually those technologies over the last 10 years have evolved, become even more complex. And now many of them have been acquired by big technology vendors like Adobe or a Magento, like SAP acquiring Hybris and Salesforce acquiring Demandware. What happened is that just complexity has exploded. And so merchants are struggling with this complexity, struggling with the costs of running their e-commerce technology stack. Whilst at the low end of the market what’s been happening is relatively new to marketplace, such as big commerce have come in, provided a really simple, easy to use, integrated that properly out of the box where literally the merchant is pointing and clicking to deploy payment gateway solutions, tax and shipping solutions, personalization technologies, whatever it might be.

Literally pointing and clicking on those so they’re up and running a fraction of the time with less complexity, less customisation and they’re trading and these disruptors, these disruptive technologies and it’s happening across the piece in ERP, content management in e-commerce platform, for example. That have evolved out of the low end of the market, right? Because in the low end of market you had to solve that complexity problem because the merchants they couldn’t afford, didn’t have the time or the skills to actually go and plug everything together. And so, over the last few years in particular these SMB based technologies have evolved to support fast growing, large, more complex merchants.

And that’s the journey that BigCommerce has been on and what we do then, really, is make things a whole lot easier, much lower cost and much quicker to implement and make change and react to market environments with building out new functionality very, very quickly and at a fraction of the cost that they were able to do that previously and that provides them with a competitive advantage now. And this is what, when I talk about disruption, I think this is what’s happening. And it’s great for the merchant and it’s great for the consumer because now the consumer gets a more responsive experience that’s tailored to them and it’s constantly changing and evolving.

Chloe Thomas:

It’s almost like, from my perspective, and I’m nowhere near as deep in the tech side of things as you are Mark, so do correct me if I’ve got this wrong, but from my perspective, it feels like last year in 2019 we reached the point where it wasn’t just the new, fast … Brand new small businesses that had suddenly gone fast, who we were hearing about on these new platforms. It was actually existing big businesses going kind of almost peering over the hedge and going, gosh, life looks really easy over there. Maybe it’s time for me to go to one of these new players in the market. And across multiple platform types, we seem to be seeing that.

And what that seems to now be creating is that the disruption that’s happened in the tech sector has now shifted to disruption in the commerce sector. And I think the businesses that we see succeed over the next five, ten years, actually no, let’s scrap that. Next three, five years, because who knows where we’re going to be in ten years time. But they’re going to be the businesses, the retailers who have made that shift from old school tech onto new school tech because the speed of implementation, the speed of implementing strategies and improving results is just so much easier.

Mark Adams:

Yeah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. And this has been driven by the consumer, right? So, the consumers expectations around the experience they receive when they walk into a store, where they’re shopping online or on a mobile device or however, is that it’s Amazon like. And we all know how much Amazon spends on their technology platform, how often it changes, how quickly it changes. And that’s the level of expectation that retailers in this country have to keep pace with, but they don’t have the resources that Amazon has. They don’t have the budgets that Amazon has, so they need to achieve the same thing with similar types of budgets that they’ve had previously, but they need to do more. They need to do it faster. They need to get the experience integrated so that the consumer, wherever they come in, via social, purchasing through social channels, purchasing in a kiosk store on a mobile device, that experience is seamless and that the customer gets what they want, how they want it, when they want it.

And technology is the enabler to solve that, for sure. And I think that’s what we’re seeing from the disruption perspective, but you’ve also got to look at what the challenges are in retail today. You’ve got competitive forces, you’ve got increased costs, whether that might be in the labour market, business rates, the technology stacks, for example, they need to do more with less. And I think there’s a recognition that to stay competitive that you’ve got to meet that challenge. And I think whether it’s your technology strategy or how you run your team and what that team focuses on.
My argument would be to retailers, why are you focusing a large part of your e-commerce budget on keeping the servers up, on trying to upgrade the technology and patch a security issue? When actually you should be focused on trying to grow the business, growing top line revenue, improving conversion rates, providing experiences across different channels. That’s where the focus should be. And I think too much of it is spent on kind of the plumbing and keeping the lights on and that is, that’s just a complete waste of money. And it’s this mindset change that I think is happening as well in the market with businesses both large and small, that they need partners that will help them meet that challenge.

Chloe Thomas:

Yeah. I think there is that when you move from old school to new school tech, you do get that ability to start spending time on the stuff that matters rather than, as you say, maintaining the plumbing, which in our lives we all gave up maintaining the plumbing a long time ago to focus on far more interesting things because that’s kind of dealt with for us. And I think that’s one of the benefits that often gets overlooked by retailers when they’re making those purchasing decisions. I guess, if someone who’s listening, and I’m sure many of them do to this podcast, has the whole, I need to find a new website platform on their to-do list for 2020, what are the key things they should be considering when making that decision? Because in the old days it was, the retailer was left to try and work out if the platform would work, but we’ve gone a long way past that now. So, what should be on their decision making list?

Mark Adams:

I think top of mind should be that the cost of ownership for the technology decisions that you’re making. And I don’t think often this is entirely understood or documented or worked out. So, cost of ownership isn’t just around what the technology will cost to procure. It’s what it’s going to cost to implement. It’s the level of resources that it’s going to chew up in your organisation to get live. And that kind of talks to the complexity story, the more complex something is, the more people and processes and guidance you need, right? But then you’ve got to run the whole thing, then you’ve got to integrate it. And the costs of that ongoing maintenance, management, trading need to be factored into. And that’s the thing that I would very much be telling retailers they need to look at.

I think, there, they need to think really, really heavily about how integrated into the wider technology ecosystem their vendor is. And so if you’re having to pay and spend time on all of those additional integrations every single time, then you end up trying to integrate this new personalisation engine or rating and reviews engine, or the new payment gateway, or your ERP warehouse management tool or whatever it might be. And it stops you if you’re having to take, forget about the cost for one minute. It’s, of course, costly to do that, but it’s also the time it takes and if it’s taking up time, that means you’re focusing on, again, a technology process of integration. It’s chewing up resources. You’re not focused the team on the things that you need to be focused on, which is investing for growth and investing in the kind of things that are going to help you grow.

Chloe Thomas:

And if that integration takes six weeks to build, whereas if you’re on another platform, it takes 30 seconds to click and plug and connect, then presumably you were moving to that technology for a really good reason. So, you’ve lost six weeks of optimisation, you’ve lost six weeks of performance because it’s that bit more difficult.

Mark Adams:

Yeah. Yeah. This is the mindset change that I think needs to happen. And this is why at BigCommerce we’re very focused on trying to own those integrations more closely. So, making it literally, there’s no technical intervention for deploying those third parties. And a lot of vendors in lots of different technology disciplines are moving in this way, particularly the SAS vendors and it’s all about simplicity, making it easy for the merchant, allowing them to plug these things in and not focus too much resources and time on that. You think, as well, the reason you want to … One of the ways in which you can grow, sorry, is that you continually innovate the experience. So, that takes development effort.

If all of your developers are tied up doing those integrations and other tasks like testing and these things. And again, it’s stopping them from focusing on developing cool stuff that’s going to aid with a better customer experience. And that’s where, I think, there needs to be a shift of resource to technology tasks, mundane technology tasks through to stuff that’s actually interesting for the person working on it but it also going to be a driver of growth for the business.

Chloe Thomas:

So, does this now mean that the choice of agency to build your website and the choice of tech are kind of inseparably linked in your decision-making process? They go hand in hand. It’s not about, I found a great agency, we’ll build with whatever they want to build with. It’s not about, I found a great piece of tech, let’s try and find an agency that can do it. It’s kind of the two together. Are they equally important?

Mark Adams:

Well, I come from that world, that agency world, actually that was my background before joining BC. So, I would definitely say yes to that and I would’ve said yes then. Procuring the technology is often one of the easier things to do. Implementing it, getting it live, much harder. Now certainly BigCommerce helps solve that problem through lower complexity, quicker time to market. But what it means is that you might be asking now your agency to do slightly different things. So, if we’re focused on trying to grow revenue conversion in different channels, actually we need agencies that have the skillset to do that, not just a development agency anymore. And I think this is the other thing I’m seeing in the market and certainly when I look at our partner community, we really look for agencies that have a cross-functional skillset.

Mark Adams:

Yes, they can do development on BigCommerce, great, tick if they’ve got that, but can they advise the customer on how to grow their business on where they should be focusing their marketing budget and investments and on experience these types of things? And those types of agencies are a much better fit for them, for that, because that’s what we want to be doing for the customer. And so you begin to see the profile now, I think, of a lot of agencies beginning to change, where they’re less development resource intensive and they’re more consulting focused and advisory and growth minded.

Chloe Thomas:

Yeah, certainly I echo that. I’m seeing those who’ve made the shift from old world to new world tech, finding that all those time benefits we’ve talked about, about your team not having to do this, that and the other. Your agency isn’t having to deal with the plumbing either, so they’re able to help you take things to the next level rather than just keep things ticking over at ground level as it were.

Mark Adams:

They’re adding more value to that relationship and therefore they’re treated more as a partner than just a resource for development.

Chloe Thomas:

Mark, we’ve spoken quite a bit about BigCommerce, who are obviously one of those leading the charge of this move from old world to new world. Do you want to tell us a bit about BigCommerce specifically and how the listeners can get in touch with you and the Big Commerce team if they’re interested in finding out more?

Mark Adams:

Indeed. Well, the simplest thing to do would be go to our website, www.bigcommerce.com or .co.uk. And get a feeling for the kind of merchants we support and have a look at some of those case studies and the brands that are using us and the platform features and functions, and our partner network and ecosystem. If you’d like to talk to us directly, a couple of ways to do that. Reach out to me, if you’d like to, mark.adams@bigcommerce.co.uk. Or bigcommerce.com. And actually we’re at IRX in Birmingham. The IRX event in Birmingham on April 1st and 2nd at booth number 59. So, we welcome people to come down and have a chat to us and our partners over those two days.

Chloe Thomas:

Excellent. I’ll see you there too. It’s such a good event IRX. Anyone who’s listening, thoroughly recommend you go along and attend and if you get to go and chat to the BigCommerce team, so much the better. So, I think Phil wanted to press you a little bit more on the ins and outs of BigCommerce at this.

Phill Kay:

Yeah, I mean, I’ve learnt a lot actually. Thanks so much Mark, it’s been really, really interesting for me coming from the technology space that kind of support platforms like yourselves. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the reason why you guys are doing so well and disrupting that market is, as you say, the responsiveness of the platform to change as that journey of that brand is evolving for their customers and taking away that pain so that they can focus on what they really need to do. Which is drive that customer lifetime value in driving the conversion and all the other things that they’re trying to do for their customers and give them the best experience.

So, I’ve learned a lot just why it’s such an important disruption that’s going on. I mean, all I would just ask you, really, is an opportunity for you. I mean, there’s a number of platforms out there in the space at the moment, clearly that a brand might explore when looking for this right disruptive technology to achieve those goals you’ve been talking about. Less plumbing and more focus on customer experience. What would you say, if you were to boil it down, would be the defining factor or two as to why it’s very important for our listeners and merchants in general to engage with BigCommerce?

Mark Adams:

So, I’m going to come back and talk about what’s going on in the market, again, with technologies, e-commerce technologies. If you look at the last 10 years, all of the leading e-commerce technology flat platforms have been acquired by large global technology companies and those e-commerce technologies have become applications in a wider technology stack, right? And those vendors are focused on trying to integrate everything. We say, “Well, we’ve got a vision to support you with absolutely every technology that you need and this is our vision.” The problem with that vision is unless you are one of the retailers with the deepest pockets, you simply can’t afford that unless you have a significant amount of internal capability, technology capability, delivery capability, skill sets, project program management, business analysis, all of those things that it really requires to get a project off the ground with some of those technologies. I don’t think they’re a good fit.

I also think that the disruption from technologies like BigCommerce coming to market, it’s happening at a far faster pace than any of those big tech firms couldn’t keep up with or indeed acquire, as they realise they don’t actually solve that problem. And I think the merchants themselves are going, well, I don’t think, whether it’s big player A, big player B, are going to provide me with the best tool for the job that I need to do at the right price point, in the right timeframe. And I think fundamentally that’s what’s happening and that’s how we’re disrupting the market and players like us. It’s not just BigCommerce in e-commerce, but it’s you guys in the personalisation space. It’s partners like Brightpearl that we have in the ERP space and so on, and so forth. I could go on.

Phill Kay:

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Mark.

Chloe Thomas:

Thanks Mark. It’s been great getting you on the podcast today and it’s been thoroughly interesting talking about such a fascinating area, something which fascinates me and I’m sure many of the pieces of advice you have given will help the listeners on their tech journey this year. So, thanks for being on the show.

Phill Kay:

Yeah. Thanks Mark.

Mark Adams:

Great, thanks Chloe. Thanks Phill.

Phill Kay:

Take care.

Chloe Thomas:

So, Phil, as someone who also works for a disruptive, new world, non worrying about the plumbing technology business, what did you take from our chat with Mark there?

Phill Kay:

Sure. I mean, I think I kind of mentioned it to Mark at the end with my last question, but I certainly learnt about the, how important it is getting my head into the merchant’s world. And thinking, hold on a minute, what are they trying to do? They’re trying to focus on giving each and every customer and visitor to their website the best experience possible, the most opportunity to become loyal to their brand and increase that such critically important customer lifetime value and just realizing that if you are mucking about in patching this and updating that and trying to plug in that, and then talking to so many, I don’t know, different vendors or whatever it might be to try and understand which parts of the ecosystem to plug into your platform.

I mean, it’s such a massive waste of the time that you should be putting into actually growing your business. And I think that what I’ve picked up from the chat with Mark is that the reason why they’re successful in disrupting that is because they’re taking all that off the table with a platform that is best of breed in terms of we’re already providing that plug and play ecosystem and platform that then allows them to do that. So, that’s really helpful for me to understand the positioning, if you like, as to why BigCommerce is successfully disrupting the market in the UK. At the end of the day I learned about the cost of ownership side of things, as well, linked to that.

Chloe Thomas:

Oh, yeah. I thought that was such a good point for Mark to make because it’s so easy just to look at the build cost of the actual website and forget about everything else.

Phill Kay:

Yeah. And if those changes are happening on an ongoing basis, which they clearly are going to be, which I’ve never really thought about before. You don’t just set up a website, plug a few bits and pieces in and then you’re done forever. It’s an ongoing journey, I’ve just realised that. And so if that journey is really difficult and takes a lot of time, you’re only a small team or even if you’re a big team, you’ve got a lot of other stuff to do, so you can’t invest in that growth activity because that downtime is basically an opportunity cost for them.

Chloe Thomas:

Yeah. That’s something which it’s obviously quite hard to calculate, but it has to be a factor in deciding what platform you’re moving to next because making the wrong choice is just so costly.

Phill Kay:

Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Chloe Thomas:

I hope all of you got some great takeaways from this episode too, especially that if your tech stack is holding you back then change it. If that is you, then the good news is that over the next five episodes we’re going to be diving further into the world of the tech stack and how it can enable you to speed up your e-commerce sales growth. You can get the full transcript of this episode. That’s everything we’ve said at segmentify.com/podcast. There you’ll also find details of the whole series as well as links to get a free demo of Segmentify. Stay tuned for our next episode where we’ll be hearing from Segmentify’s very own Murat Soysal. We’ll be learning about the ins and outs and the practical applications of onsite personalisation software. This is an area I thought I already knew a lot about, but it turns out that all the disruption we’ve been chatting to Mark about is having an impact on the onsite personalisation world too. So, I’ve had some catching up to do. If you want to stay up, make sure you too tune into our next episode.

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