Interview: Yahoo! Small Business General Manager

There’s no more pioneering platform in the ecommerce business than Yahoo!. Its shopping cart powers thousands of ecommerce stores, and its hosting and other small business services help over a million companies. But Yahoo! is changing — the recent departure of its CEO being one indicator — and many observers wonder about the status of its small business division. We are pleased, therefore, to have recently spoken with the general manager of Yahoo! Small Business, Tom Byun.

Practical eCommerce: What is Yahoo! Small Business?

Tom Byun: “Yahoo! Small Business is a critical part of Yahoo! and the vision I have for our business is to be the category leader in helping businesses grow online, and our mission is truly that — we help businesses grow online. We do that in three ways. One is through providing critical business expertise, because we’ve been doing this for the last 13 years. Second is by continuing to provide powerful and easy-to-use solutions. Third is through our broad community support, which really speaks for the strength of Yahoo! Small Business, whether it’s our developer network or the customer support that we provide.”

PEC: That includes the Yahoo! cart?

Byun: “Correct. We have four product lines: hosting, business mail, domains, and most importantly our cart, sometimes referred to as ecommerce solution. We call it our ‘Merchant Solutions’ and this is a very solid platform that’s supported over $50 billion in transactions and a hundred million orders.”

PEC: How long has that platform been around?

Byun: “We’ve been in this space since 1998. You see a lot of businesses come and go, but we have more than a decade experience. We’ve helped millions of businesses to grow online, and we continue to leverage the best of what Yahoo! has to offer. Our customers can rely on the proven and reliable scalable platform that we have. For example, we use the same data center infrastructure for Yahoo! itself as we use for our merchants.”

PEC: Let’s discuss the specifics of the cart. I know that Yahoo! does not disclose numbers of users, numbers of stores on the cart. That’s correct, right?

Byun: “That is correct. I will assure you though, we have more than 1.5 million subscriber customers today and those are customers that range from newbies to customers that have been on the platform for a very long time. It really runs the gamut and speaks to kind of the experience that we bring to bear.”

PEC: One-and-half million. That includes all of your small business products, doesn’t it?

Byun: “That is correct. It includes our merchants as well as our hosting and other customers.”

PEC: Is the number of merchants on your cart growing?

Byun: “We continue to add new customers to our platform each day. As the general manager for this business, that’s one of the critical tenets that I’m focused on. I mentioned earlier that I have the vision for us to be the category leader in helping business grow online. We are continuing to add new customers each day and also we are experiencing probably one of the all time lows in terms of customer churn. Some customers as I have said have been with us 10-plus years and then as we add new customers, we also are seeing good loyalty and retention.”

PEC: Why is churn so low?

Byun: “I would highlight two things. One — what speaks volumes about the low churn — is the broad community support that we have. We have been really focused on making sure we’re staffing up and providing 24/7, around-the-clock support. We have one of the best developer networks to provide support for our merchants. Many of these developers have been with us 10-plus years. Another point I want to make is that sizeable investments are being made in this business unit, and that has really helped us. We’re hearing our customers and then taking that feedback and continuing to invest in our platform.”

PEC: What does it cost for a merchant to run a store on your platform?

Byun: “The cost is very low. Merchants can start for less than $40 a month to open up a Yahoo! store and they can test out new products, customers segments, or new messages. I know as we’re approaching holidays, we have some merchants who open up a second or third store – they start out that way, and then they make a migration. So, it’s a very low cost.”

PEC: So, a merchant can start for as little as $40 a month. Does Yahoo! also charge a percentage of the merchant’s sales?

Byun: “Yes, there is a small transaction fee. You can find all this information on It lists out all the different plans, and the plans are based on the range of where you are in terms of volume of sales. I feel that we have a very strong value price plan that a merchant can start on.”

PEC: Merchants that are reading to this use all sorts of shopping carts, including hosted carts and licensed carts. Why should they contemplate switching the Yahoo! Small Business cart?

Byun: “We have more than a decade of experience in this area. We are and continue to be a pioneer in this platform, and I can provide a couple of examples on why they should consider switching, or at least giving us a try. This year, we launched customer registration based on social login. So, customers of our merchants’ sites can use their Yahoo!, Google or AOL IDs to sign and register for that merchant. Early next year, we’re also looking to add Facebook IDs on there as well. A few other examples I would highlight, we also recently added support for stored credit card payments. I know how good of an experience that provides, and it’s a feature that some of our hosting competitors don’t offer. One final point I would make is we have a mobile commerce partner named Unbound Commerce, which is also using our checkout APIs to create mobile commerce sites. So, that’s just to give you an example of the power of the community support and partnership we’re using.”

PEC: Stored credit card support?

Byun: “Stored credit card payments. So when you’re coming back to a merchant’s site, you can have a toggle and say, I want to reuse this credit card information. I think it helps make that shopping experience much more convenient and quick.”

PEC: And a checkout API. Are you saying that Yahoo! makes its API available for other folks to hook into, or is there something else there?

Byun: “What we’ve done is, we’ve opened up our platform with APIs so that whether it’s a partner like Unbound Commerce I mentioned, or let’s say you get to mobile, or if you’ve got a merchant creating a shopping experience on a social site, they can use the checkout APIs to make a call directly into our order manager and that should provide a much more integrated and seamless experience.”

PEC: If there is a criticism on Yahoo!’s cart, it’s that it hasn’t maintained its innovation and cutting edge. Is that a fair?

Byun: “I would say I’m very bullish and as I mentioned, we’re making significant investments to grow this business. The ecommerce segment continues to be a very sizable growth segment overall and there’s a commitment from me to make sure that we’re driving growth in this business. As it relates to the cart and overall on our Merchant Solutions platform, that’s our commitment. and to make sure that we are pushing on innovation.”

PEC: We’d like your personal views on some current ecommerce trends. What about social commerce? Are merchants going to be selling products on Facebook directly?

Byun: “I think it’s probably in the early days. Talking to our merchants, we’re finding that a lot of them are using it as an early stage for promotion and building brand awareness. What we’re getting from merchants is that they are not really seeing a lot of success in terms of sales or products yet. and that’s pretty consistent with I think what we’re also reading in the press.”

PEC: What about mobile and tablet commerce?

Byun: “I think we’re definitely seeing a shift to another vehicle with which you’re consuming content and potentially having a shopping experience. I think this presents an opportunity both for our merchants and your readers to take advantage of such a device, and I think there are benefits around things like local inventory check if you’re a smartphone user or providing more kind of compelling product videos for potential users.”

PEC: Tell us about your professional background.

Byun: “I’ve been with Yahoo! eight years. I started out my Internet career approximately about 13 years ago, but at Yahoo I’m currently a general manager for the small business division. I have managed marketing, product marketing and product management teams both in small business and odd jobs. Prior to Yahoo!, I began my career at Razorfish, which is a global digital agency.

“My initial exposure to small business was growing up in Chicago helping my uncle build his grocery store to somewhat of a regional chain. Then when I got out of college, one of the first jobs I had was working with a small nonprofit in Chicago and growing that business. So, I’m very familiar with how challenging it can be for small business to use the limited resources you have, and that’s why I’m even more passionate about the business that I’m in today.”

PEC: Do you own a tablet personally?

Byun: “I do not, but I have to say I am in the market. I’ve been reading about the latest Kindle Fire and I think this potentially is a challenge to the iPad’s market dominance. I’m of Korean descent and I do spend a fair amount of time in Asia, have friends and family, and as you know, the mobile adoption there is quite huge. I really think it’s a matter of time until here in the U.S. we start seeing more adoption and usage as well, for a variety of different transactions.”

PEC: You mentioned Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the upcoming tablet. Any guesses on the adoption rate for that product?

Byun: “You know, it’s hard to say. It’s a recent announcement. I think the price point is definitely going to be highly competitive, and I will be watching this one very closely. I think the main takeaway for all of us is this presents yet another great opportunity for merchants, and we plan to stay abreast of that and make sure we’re looking at it as additional touch points for our customers and hopefully your audience ecommerce sales.”

PEC: Anything else on your mind today for our readers?

Byun: “I would really like to mention again this is a business that Yahoo! continues to invest heavily and have commitment in. My mission and vision is for us to be category leader in helping businesses grow online. I mentioned the three supporting tenets given our proven expertise, the amount of experience we’ve had. We have one of the best on-boarding experiences that speak to the powerful easy solutions, and then the extent of support that we have with customer support and the developer network. I think those are all very compelling competitive reasons for your readers to consider our platform and continue to stay and support our platform.”

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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