Shopify (NYSE:SHOP) has produced some amazing gains for those investors willing to take a chance on the then-unknown name after it went public in 2015. From its IPO price of $17 per share to its first public trade near $28 to its present value of more than $1,000, this stock could have easily minted some new millionaires.

The problem: Most investors probably missed out on most of those gains. Unsure if the newcomer could truly help small businesses stand up to behemoth Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), or even eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), it would have been easy to steer clear. Coulda shoulda woulda.

But, though the Shopify ship has already sailed, there's another name of the same ilk that could drive similar-size gains in a similar time frame. That's BigCommerce Holdings (NASDAQ:BIGC), which provides the same sort of e-commerce tools as Shopify for businesses that want to stay out of Amazon's sales and distribution silo.

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What's BigCommerce?

Don't kick yourself if you've never heard of it. BigCommerce only became a publicly traded company earlier this month. Headlines have mostly focused on COVID-19, rioting, and politics anyway, and analyst coverage remains minimal. On the flip side, don't mistake the lack of interest as a sign that it's lacking as a company. BigCommerce can do much of what Shopify can do for small businesses, and a couple of things Shopify can't.

In simplest terms, BigCommerce lets businesses outsource the creation and management of their own online store. From the digital shopping cart to inventory management to integration with shipping options, it's a turnkey option for companies without the ability or desire to build such a solution on their own. Aspects where it often rates better than Shopify are in search engine optimization and international selling, and it easily accommodates B2B (business-to-business) selling.

It's still not nearly as big as Shopify. BigCommerce generated a modest $112 million in revenue last year, versus Shopify's nearly $1.6 billion. The difference may mostly be a function of Shopify's head start, however. It got going in 2004, but BigCommerce wasn't started until 2009.

BigCommerce may never catch up with its older rival. It doesn't matter, though. The wave both companies are riding may continue to grow big enough to not only let both survive, but also thrive.

The rise of direct-to-consumer

Amazon's early growth is largely rooted in the idea that brands and merchants couldn't connect with consumers online on their own. They needed a platform like Amazon, which was drawing a crowd of shoppers.

The market has evolved, though, in more ways than one.

One of those evolutions is the technology needed to create and manage e-commerce sites. They've been around for a while, but the digital security and digital infrastructure needed to make them function well were generally reserved for the big guys like Amazon and eBay. Shopify helped lead the charge to make such tools easy for anyone to use.

The second evolution is perhaps the more important one: Consumers are increasingly OK with buying goods directly from a brand rather than a site like Amazon. eMarketer estimates that direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales in the U.S. alone will almost reach $18 billion this year, up 24% from last year's figure. The company further estimates the number of U.S. consumers who regularly buy directly from a company rather than via a retailer will grow 10% to 87.3 million.

And some big brands are helping to usher that change along. PepsiCo now sells boxed breakfast and snack bundles directly to consumers, bypassing stores. Procter & Gamble waded deeper into DTC waters earlier this year with the acquisition of the shaving brand Billie. Clorox is experimenting with DTC as well.

BigCommerce is handling many major brands' foray into DTC, too. Skullcandy, Gillette (a P&G brand), Kohler, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and a couple of professional sports teams are just some of the organizations that have already tapped BigCommerce to help handle their online presence.

Be patient, but not stubborn

BigCommere shares jumped out of the gate, opening at $68 with the first public trade back on Aug. 5, well up from the IPO price of $24. They've since eased back from a peak of $104 to their current value of around $66. It's all fairly typical post-IPO action, and more volatility may lie ahead. It can take months for such dust to settle. Be patient, if you're interested. You may find a better entry point awaits.

On the other hand, in the words of 17th-century English scholar Robert Burton, don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Given how many are implying that both DTC and BigCommerce are the real deal with the stock's big post-IPO jump, you may also find it richly priced until its top and bottom lines justify its current market cap near $5 billion. There's certainly room for more than one such player in this still-young market.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.