Whether you’re launching a brand-new e-commerce shop or overhauling an old one, picking an e-commerce platform is a critical decision. Selecting the wrong shopping cart program can negatively impact a business’s bottom line over the long haul and once you’re dug in deep enough, a migration to another platform is more than a large undertaking, it can be a nightmare! What once seemed like subtle differences in functionality are now major conflicts and problems when migrating data, importing products with options and more. Don’t even get me started on the topic of exporting customer data, order history, etc. So how do you avoid this in the first place? Articles like Bigcommerce vs Shopify are about choosing the right ecommerce platform in the first place. If you’re here because you are thinking about migration, you should talk to LeapGo first to get a realistic view of what a migration entails, and whether or not there is something we could do with your existing solution. Many clients are surprised how well we can overhaul and add functionality to any platform.
Now, back to the show….For both small-time up-and-comers and established SMBs, there are two major options to consider that should be obvious: Bigcommerce and Shopify. We’ll dive deeply into the capabilities, merits and drawbacks of each in just a second. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to understand the factors worth considering when choosing a full-fledged e-commerce engine.
Bigcommerce vs Shopify Platform Selection Criteria
There are literally dozens of factors to take into account when picking the right e-commerce tool for any given online shop. For starters, you need to think about the scope of your store in terms of sales volume per year as well as the profit margins that you’ll expect to see. Next, there’s ease of use and development to ponder. While a platform’s built-in capabilities are incredibly important, the availability of high-quality apps is just as critical. Lastly, there’s the marketing and SEO side of the equation to look at. Some platforms are just better than others when it comes to promoting an online shop.
Core Features and Functionality
Regardless of the plan you settle on, Bigcommerce boasts literally hundreds of standard features that make building an e-commerce shop a breeze. You get a web host, a secure shopping cart and a payment gateway all in one mobile-optimized package. You also get dedicated business email accounts to boot. Everything from product catalogs to inventory is managed from one back-end control panel. Site design is achieved via a simple drag-and-drop editor that anyone can use. Those familiar with WordPress should feel right at home. On the security front, Bigcommerce offers industry-standard 256-bit SSL certificates for store owners.
While Bigcommerce makes site creation incredibly simple, its site management capabilities are what really set it apart. For starters, Bigcommerce boasts plenty of tools for tracking everything from abandoned carts to coupon codes. More importantly, it includes a grip of SEO and marketing tools. Reaching out to current and future customers is easy thanks to MailChimp integration. When the time comes to crunch the numbers, Bigcommerce can generate detailed reports for further business analysis. Built-in eBay integration allows stores to reach consumers that aren’t specifically seeking them out. Powerful analytics and in-store conversion optimization help stores to maximize their profits.
Like Bigcommerce, Shopify is all about making e-commerce store creation as painless as possible. Customers don’t even need an existing domain to get started as Shopify is a hosted e-commerce service that comes with a 256-bit SSL certificate, unlimited email forwarding and unlimited bandwidth. Furthermore, users have access to more than 50 payment gateways. Thanks to Shopify Mobile, hungry entrepreneurs can quickly expand their customer bases by appealing to a variety of consumers regardless of location. Shopify boasts hundreds of layout templates to choose from and makes it easy to edit HTML and CSS to achieve the perfect look.
Shopify includes a multitude of tools for streamlining storefront administration from day to day. Shopify allows store owners to improve statistics via coupons and emails. There’s also powerful analytics that enable users to produce detailed product reports and categorize customers based on their buying preferences. You can even work with fulfillment programs from companies like Amazon. When it comes to marketing, Shopify is particularly robust since it’s been tweaked over time to act as a full-fledged CMS. You also get complimentary Google and Facebook ad credits, email marketing via MailChimp and social media integration for sites like Pinterest.
Ease of Use and Customization
Like many of its e-commerce rivals, Bigcommerce is all about simplicity despite its deep feature list. Shop configuration is largely a point-and-click affair thanks to hundreds of available apps and an uncluttered back-end administration panel. Users that are comfortable with HTML and CSS can use the available WYSIWYG editor to fine-tune their layouts. The Bigcommerce Quicklaunch feature in particular allows new shop owners to get up and running in minutes. While Bigcommerce’s app ecosystem isn’t quite as comprehensive as Shopify’s, there’s an extension for nearly every third-party service you’d want to leverage. It’s very rare that we can’t find a plugin for just about anything our clients ask about.
As far as setup and configuration go, Shopify is every bit the equal of Bigcommerce. It also boasts a comprehensive Theme Store as well as an App Store. Shopify’s free layouts are somewhat more modern and professional-looking than those of Bigcommerce. Shopify’s many built-in capabilities and third-party apps allow users to put together a versatile entry-level shop without spending too much up front. In spite of the fact that Bigcommerce has more customization options, Shopify wins in the ease of use department due to its clean interface. The difference is fairly obvious when you sit down and start to tweak settings.
Website Design Flexibility
For most users, the easiest way to set a Bigcommerce shop apart from the rest of the pack is with a premium theme from the Theme Store. For a relatively modest sticker price, you can trick out a site in under a minute with gorgeous layouts from professional web developers. You can further fuss with a layout’s HTML and CSS with the back-end code editor if you’re so inclined. If at any point you feel like you’re in over your head, request a quote from us or take a look at some of our recent custom Bigcommerce design projects.
Like Bigcommerce, Shopify has a comprehensive Theme Store with over 100 layout templates to choose from. Many are free and all allow users to modify the basic design to a certain extent. Most of the better premium themes clock in at about $140 or so. Layouts are grouped by industry niche such as clothing, electronics and photography. Shopify’s own custom templating language known as Liquid allows users with a moderate amount of coding know-how to rapidly modify themes. Whatever theme you choose, your shop will support for more than 50 languages including Spanish, French, German and Chinese.
While it’s fairly powerful right out of the gate, Bigcommerce can be as flexible as you want it to be with the addition of a few handy extensions. The App Store has hundreds of extras available that can do everything from managing and responding to customer reviews to analyzing transaction data. Popular apps include ConstantContact, Ordoro, SocialShop and LiveChat to name just a few top draws. If you know how to code or have a freelancer that can craft custom apps for you, Bigcommerce’s extensive API allows for all sorts of added functionality.
If you need to go above and beyond Shopify’s considerable default capabilities, the Shopify App Store should have the right tool for any purpose. Top apps include Mapify, Shopify Facebook Store, ShipStation, Abandonment Protector, Zapstitch, Out of Stock and Coupon Pop. Most of the popular add-ons are 100% free to download, install and use. If you need something highly specific that’s not covered by one of the hundreds of apps already available, the Shopify API enables rapid development in your language of choice. You can even create and sell apps yourself through the innovative Shopify Partner program.
Marketing and SEO
The team at Bigcommerce have paid special attention to digital marketing in recent years. Users have a slew of tools at their disposal for wooing customers such as trackable coupons, email blast templates and social media integration for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. While Bigcommerce’s blogging capabilities don’t quite match those of Shopify just yet, it’s easy to start climbing the SERPs by publishing original content on your site. Best of all, Bigcommerce comes with tons of conversion optimization features like single-page checkout, peer recommendations and abandoned cart saver. Many Bigcommerce themes are also fine-tuned for mobile.
No slouch in the marketing department itself, Shopify has plenty of promotional horsepower under the hood. Like Bigcommerce, it’s designed with SEO in mind. A Shopify site automatically generates XML sitemaps and features the latest SEO-optimized meta tags and semantic markup. Shopify also comes with coupon code generation and email marketing baked into the cake. Most important of all, the platform boasts highly accurate, real-time analytics that enable shop owners to drill down into the data and fine-tune conversions. It’ll even feed featured inventory into Google Product Search, thereby giving small-time stores a potentially massive sales boost.
Like most e-commerce platforms, Bigcommerce lets their customers get in touch via live IM chat, email and a 24/7 toll-free phone number. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to support. Their voluminous documentation archives include a community forum, a developer portal and the unique Bigcommerce University tutorial series. If you can’t find a video or article within BU’s pages that addresses your technical questions, you’re not looking hard enough. As such, Bigcommmerce is the perfect shopping cart for those that don’t need a lot of hand holding.
Though Bigcommerce provides excellent support and tons of documentation, Shopify has a slight edge when it comes to one-on-one customer service. Whether you prefer to communicate via email, through live chat or by phone, Shopify’s dedicated staff are always ready to answer. Besides the usual support options, there’s also a detailed Knowledge Base and the Shopify Manual. The Ecommerce Discussion forums are a great way to get advice from fellow shop owners and developers. Finally, there’s the acclaimed Shopify Experts program that pairs struggling store administrators with topnotch developers and designers who specialize in e-commerce site customization.
A Bit of Advice Regarding Support
When it comes down to it, any organization that employs enough staff to warrant a fully operational support center, will most certainly have support reps of varying expertise. Don’t judge the quality of support from one company by a single experience. My best advice? If you’re on a support call or chat with someone that’s just not getting you where you need to be, hang up and call back (or close the window and restart a support chat). Whether I’m talking to Bigcommerce support, or calling Verizon Wireless, I know that every so often I’ll get “the new guy” or the rep that will not budge from his basic support script. The only way to get anywhere is with someone else.
Pricing and Overall Value
The entry-level Silver plan starts at $29.95 per month, includes 3GB of storage and features 1.5% transaction fees. We recommend most businesses go for the Gold plan, which costs $79.95 per month and comes with unlimited storage and no transaction fees. You’ll get some bonuses with Gold, one of which is abandon cart recovery. If set up properly, this feature alone generates some of our clients thousands of dollars a month in recaptured revenue that may have very well been lost without it. All plans come with unlimited bandwidth and support for unlimited products. Bigcommerce is at a disadvantage at the lower price points since Shopify doesn’t charge any transaction fees if you use their Shopify Payments program. Another good reason to go for Gold in my opinion.
The cheapest Shopify plan is Basic, which costs $29 per month and comes with 1GB of storage space as well as unlimited products. The $79/month Professional plan comes with 5GB worth of disk space and unlimited products. One key edge that Shopify can claim is its innovative card reader, which allows shop owners to combine their online and offline operations under one banner. This is only possible in Bigcommerce through a 3rd party plugin. Shopify Payments allows store owners to accept payments without a third-party processor. As such, it’s easier to get started with Shopify on the payment front and doesn’t cost much more than opting for Bigcommerce would.
Primary Target Audience
While businesses of any size can make Bigcommerce work for them, the platform is really targeted at SMBs with an appreciable volume of business. Having direct communication with staff members at Bigcommerce allows us to see it’s no question that they’re shifting focus to the larger businesses and leaving the “mom and pop” and solo owner market to other companies such as Shopify. As such, it’s probably not ideal for solo entrepreneurs who just need a simple shop. For everyone else, Bigcommerce has an appealing mix of features and lower overall transaction costs. It’s also the perfect solution for those that are picky about how they want their site configured and don’t mind doing a little tweaking themselves.
As great as Shopify is for smaller outfits, it’s not a bad solution for larger businesses either as long as they have healthy margins. For instance, purveyors of luxury goods often prefer Shopify since they can achieve an elegant, polished look without a lot of effort. Smaller shops that don’t deal in volume and prefer to focus more on marketing and less on site maintenance would do well to opt for Shopify. If you have a relatively small product catalog, any Shopify plan would make sense. You can even work with Shopify to develop a custom plan that works within your budget.
Benefits & Selling Points
Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of opting for Bigcommerce is their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to features. There’s little that Bigcommerce can’t do right out of the box and that’s been the case for years now. You’ll also get unlimited bandwidth and products with Bigcommerce, which can be great for sites that move a lot of merchandise. It’s also pretty user-friendly for the most part when it comes to customization and inventory management. Lastly, Bigcommerce is a good choice for brands that see a future in content marketing since their blogging capabilities are on the rise.
As easy as it is to get up to speed with Bigcommerce, it’s arguably easier if you use Shopify. It’s a great introduction to e-commerce platforms if you’re a first-time digital entrepreneur. Their superb customer support comes in handy when you’re trying to troubleshoot common beginner issues. In addition, Shopify’s web design options are difficult to beat. Furthermore, Shopify Experts is a cheap way to hire a great designer or developer to help you produce a professional site. Finally, Shopify represents a tremendous value for those that don’t want to spend a lot of money launching an online store.
Drawbacks and Caveats
The big Achilles’ heel of BigCommerce, if you choose to see it as such, is complexity. Bigcommerce is simply better suited to larger stores and businesses that have in-house staff or an agency partner like LeapGo. Furthermore, Bigcommerce’s transaction fees at the lower levels can be a problem if your products have low profit margins. (Another tactic to shy away from the small, affiliate, and reseller markets).
Without a doubt the biggest disadvantage of Shopify is its somewhat limited feature set. In order to make the user experience as streamlined and hassle-free as possible, they didn’t include as much functionality right off the bat as Bigcommerce. However, that downside can be alleviated through the use of third-party apps. The only problem with Shopify’s extension scheme is that it relies on paid apps to replicate certain features that Bigcommerce has for free. Finally, it’s harder for amateur web designers and developers to modify Shopify layouts due to their use of their own Liquid template framework.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
When all is said and done, both Bigcommerce and Shopify are amazing e-commerce platforms. Their differences are fairly minor when you look at the big picture. However, it’s important for your business to start with the end in mind, as “outgrowing” an ecommerce platform is something we see all to often. If you want simplicity and don’t mind paying marginally more for it, roll with Shopify. If you value flexibility and don’t mind burning a few calories to get exactly what you want, Bigcommerce will be your best bet. Ultimately, test-driving both services is the best way to make the right call.
We develop, design, optimize and promote stores leveraging both platforms every day. With that said, I’d love to hear your questions and comments about either platform. Questions about search engine optimization for Bigcommerce? Let’s hear them. Wondering how to add multiple product options in Shopify? Just ask! Thanks for reading and I hope to speak with you in the comments section below!