Both BigCommerce and Shopify have their pros and cons, and there is no clear cut winner / loser here as both are some of the best e-commerce shop builders in the industry.
We can appreciate and understand that your decision is an important one, as you don’t want to spend time building out a business with one of them, then realizing that you may have to switch to another e-commerce builder.
We’ve been through this decision making process many times when we first started out, so we can relate to it.
Instead of going through micro features of each e-commerce builder, or giving you a bunch of checks and crosses in a table, we’ve laid out below our thought process on how we decide which builder to pick, and what we view as important to you.
At the end of the day, we still encourage you to browse through Shopify and BigCommerce’s sites carefully, and sign up to their free trials to see for yourself what they offer. You have to get your hands dirty and invest a few hours with each of them to know which one fits you better especially if you are serious about your business – there really isn’t any other way.
So let’s get going on what we view as important things to consider in this BigCommerce vs Shopify review. In our view, the following 7 features (plus conclusion) are some of the most important considerations when we evaluate an e-commerce builder:
Click on the following links to read the specific sections:
You may have a different view and that’s okay. You should definitely read through our thoughts and formulate your own opinion!
1. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – THEMES / DESIGNS
Let’s be honest here – design matters. How many times have you found a website that looked ugly, confusing, didn’t inspire trust or credibility, and you just left the website without giving it a fair chance? We do that all the time!
Having a good looking, professional and inviting storefront is the first step to welcoming your prospective customers so this can increase your chances of making a sale. This is really important! It doesn’t matter if you have the best product in the world, if your store looks mediocre at best, people just won’t pay the attention that you deserve.
This is why businesses use beautiful models to showcase their products. When’s the last time you picked up a magazine because it looked average, or that the pictures they show are fuzzy? Most people are programmed to be judgmental and pay attention to beautiful things.
When it comes to themes, each BigCommerce and Shopify offer you both free and paid storefront themes. Let’s dive into how they’re different from each other.
Shopify’s themes are very impressive and updated. They look professional and inviting. Shopify uses independent professional designers to create these themes, so the designs are always fresh and modern – they can make your store look credible and welcoming.
We really like the idea of Shopify leveraging off independent designers to create themes, as these designers bring so many different ideas of what works today and what doesn’t into their themes. This will ultimately benefit you.
The drawback is that while some themes are free, some will also be paid. If you want to use a premium theme, the cost will range from $80 to $180. While this may sound pricey at first, just keep in mind that it is a 1-time investment (no recurring monthly payments), and in our view, it is a worthy investment to make your store look good. It can help your visitors stay longer in your store to browse around, which is the first step in improving your chances of making sales.
Have a look at Shopify’s themes and you’ll see what we’re talking about. They’re elegant, professional and can add credibility to your store.
BigCommerce offers over decent looking themes. That’s the good part.
However, if you go to BigCommerce’s site to look for these free themes – you won’t find them. This is so strange and we can’t figure out why they won’t show potential users their themes.
We logged on to their live chat and asked support why this was the case and he just said themes previews are not available, unless we give them our email and sign up for their 15-day trial.
In our minds, this is a huge red flag. Whether we were quick to judge or not, this was just how we felt. When we felt that transparency wasn’t there, our natural tendency is to be a bit more cautious.
So after a bit of a discussion, we decided to sign up with one of our testing email address to see what this whole secrecy is all about. What we discovered, which a lot of other BigCommerce users also agree, is that their themes are pretty outdated. When we saw them, we felt that we were back in 2008. The themes were functional, and they’ll work fine for store builders. But we didn’t get that “wow” factor like Shopify’s themes.
[UPDATE FEBRUARY 2016 – BigCommerce updated their theme collection to included new premium, updated themes which all of them are mobile friendly. These new themes are pretty good looking, and really closes the design gap with Shopify. Some of these new themes are free and some are paid. The paid ones range from $145 – $195 – pretty much the same as the paid themes from Shopify. It’s a great start in the right direction, and look forward to seeing more new themes from BigCommerce.]
In addition to this, you can always hire a BigCommerce designer and developer to create a custom theme for you. We’ll get into this in more details below.
Looks and design matter if you are trying to generate more sales to grow your business. We know this because we’ve built our own businesses, and this is a huge contributing factor to growth (amongst other factors, of course).
Prior to February 2016, our view is that Shopify would win the “Battle of the Themes” as clearly they were the winner. The thing we really appreciate Shopify approach is that they invite external designers to create themes for them. This is a fantastic approach as it ensures that Shopify does what they do best – in creating and providing a great e-commerce platform for you, while “outsourcing” themes to what professional designers do best – creating theme designs that work in today’s competitive e-commerce world.
However, since the introduction of new, updated themes, BigCommerce are starting to catch up and they have also started to hire professional designers to build their paid themes which is the right direction in our view.
- Shopify (all mobile responsive designs) – 152 premium themes / 26 free themes
- BigCommerce (all mobile responsive designs) – 67 premium themes / 7 free themes
At the time of this update, we still feel that Shopify offers better and a much wider variety of professional online store themes to you. They have been using designers to build their themes for much longer and so while BigCommerce is starting to catch up, BigCommerce still has a ways to go.
2. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – E-COMMERCE TOOLS
Having a set of e-commerce tools, such as the ability to manage inventory, showcase products, set prices, taxes, configure shipping details, tracking orders, setting up payment gateways, etc, is absolutely the fundamentals of a good e-commerce builder.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce don’t disappoint here. Both provide really awesome tools so you can build and grow your store.
However, there is a slight difference in how they approach this.
While Shopify provides you with all the basic tools to create and operate a store, more advanced tools, such as product reviews, customer wish list, product recommendations are only available in their App store where you have to pay for them (they all have a free trial period for you to test them out) (more on the App marketplace below).
These advanced tools will really help take your business to the next level, but you do have to make a financial commitment to using them, since they are not included as part of the basic Shopify package.
One really great feature from Shopify is their Shopify Payments feature (click here to see our review on it). So instead of signing up with a separate payment gateway (such as PayPal or Stripe), Shopify offers you their own payment gateway so you can manage all your money in their dashboard (saves you time). If you choose this option, they will also waive all transaction fees (more on transaction fees below) so it will save you money as well.
BigCommerce probably gives you the most comprehensive set of tools amongst all leading e-commerce builders. They have a lot more advanced tools available to you “out of the box” – so they’re included in the monthly fee.
So in a way, you can say that you will get more value out of BigCommerce since they provide you with a bit more advanced tools, which is nice.
This is definitely an important consideration when selecting between BigCommerce and Shopify. While both provide you with the fundamental tools you need to run a good online store, BigCommerce offers you a bit more advanced tools in their monthly packages. With Shopify, to get those similar tools, you will have to purchase an external App for them to integrate into your site.
Although Shopify’s Payments feature is an excellent tool so you don’t have fumble around with external payment gateway providers (just another party to deal with).
Overall, BigCommerce has a bit more of an advantage here. But this is not to say you can’t build a fully functional business with Shopify – you definitely can. Further, Shopify offers you a much more comprehensive set of Apps if you want to further advance your business. More on this later.
3. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – SUPPORT
Running into website / technology issues when you’re operating a business is a huge distraction. It’s just a part of business and whether you like it or not, it’s going to happen to you at some point.
So having a solid support team that’s available at all times is a critical part of our decision making process – and it should be for you as well.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer really great tutorial resources and community forums. They’re easy to follow and have screenshots to walk you through how to get things set up.
More importantly, both of them offer you live phone support – 24 hours a day.
Shopify has one of the best support teams in the industry. You can reach them 24/7 either through the phone, online live chat, or email.
Their commitment to serving you and being there for you is unrivaled in this industry. The last thing you want to happen is to have something break down at 3am on a Sunday morning, and help is nowhere to be found.
With Shopify, you don’t have this worry.
BigCommerce does not fall behind here. They also offer 24/7 support via email, live chat, and phone support.
Previously, BigCommerce did not offer 24/7 phone support but they’ve really stepped up and improved upon this which is fantastic for users.
As business owners ourselves, running into technical difficulties is one of the more frustrating aspects of operating an online store – especially when you know you’re missing out on sales, or creating a poor first impression for potential customers.
BigCommerce understands this and so access to their support is right on par with Shopify here.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer you various channels to get a hold of their technical support, including email, live chat and phone support.
Both offers 24/7 services, which is fast approaching the bare minimum level of service for e-commerce online store builders!
4. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – EXPERTS
Both BigCommerce and Shopify offer you experts to help you grow your online store. These experts are independent of BigCommerce or Shopify, and are external consultants that you can hire to take your business to the next level.
The benefit here is that they are all pre-approved as “experts” and you can find them in BigCommerce marketplace or Shopify marketplace.
So how can these “experts” help you? These experts include:
- Designers (for modifying themes or creating a custom theme)
- Developers (if you want to create some advanced tools or custom apps for your store)
- Store set ups (you can hire experts to set up the store for you)
- Marketers (help you promote your store)
Previous customers of these experts can leave reviews so they can help you make your initial selection before interviewing them directly.
Shopify has hundreds of qualified experts available for you – much more than BigCommerce at the time of this review.
What we like about Shopify is that they list out experts that are geographically closest to you first, which is an added convenience so if you ever want to meet with them in person, you can request so.
Further, if you choose an expert to help you set up your store from scratch (such as getting your products inserted into the site, your shopping cart set up, taxes and shipping configured – basically build your store from scratch, so you can focus on other important aspects of your business), the set up price starts at $500. This allows you to focus on quality of the service, and not having to worry about negotiating for a price that most new users won’t even know where to start.
In our minds, this is a very helpful feature especially if you don’t want to mess around and just have the store up, working and start selling.
BigCommerce has less experts for you to choose from when compared to Shopify. Further, if you want to get some basic set up services, these experts can freely quote their own prices which sometimes add to the confusion of which one to select.
At the very least, BigCommerce do have experts to help you if you want to modify their themes or create a custom theme. This is helpful especially that their themes are not as good as Shopify’s themes (as mentioned above).
Shopify has significantly more experts available than BigCommerce. We’re not really sure what this really means, but directionally, more experts available usually suggests a more popular platform.
With Shopify, there’s a higher chance that you can find someone to help you achieve what you want with your online store. Also, with Shopify you can find someone that works close to you geographically, so that’s definitely an added advantage and convenience.
Even though hiring an expert is not cheap, at least having this option available once your business is growing is a wonderful feature from both Shopify and BigCommerce.
5. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – APPS
Once your business is growing, both Shopify and BigCommerce have their own App store to help you get more advanced tools to “extend” the functionality of your e-commerce shop.
In addition to providing you with more marketing / promotion tools, these Apps can also help you manage and automate administrative tasks such as inventory management, fulfillment, shipping, customer service, bookkeeping, etc.
The best part in our view, is that these Apps can automate a lot of mundane day-to-day tasks that you have to do when running your store. This frees up a lot of time so you can focus on other important aspects of your business.
At the moment, Shopify offers you over 1,100 Apps, whereas BigCommerce has about 250 Apps. So Shopify definitely dominates BigCommerce in terms of the size of their tools development ecosystem. This is something for you to consider, as a larger pool of Apps creator usually mean that the ecommerce platform is more mature, and attractive to App developers.
Keep in mind that BigCommerce offers you more e-commerce tools out of the box than Shopify (discussed above). So for some of the functions that Shopify is missing, you can get them through Shopify’s App store.
Depending on what specific tools you need to run your e-commerce shop, the additional tools that you may pick up through Shopify do add to your monthly bill (some of these Apps are free and some are paid).
Even though monthly operating cost is an important consideration, it is not everything. We’ll have a deeper discussion on pricing below.
Being able to add more advanced tools to your online store as your business grows is a great feature. You can pick and choose which App you want to use, so if you don’t need the App, you don’t have to use it. If you want to add it later when you want to take your business to the next level, you can do that then. You have full control over that.
The Apps are there to streamline your business so your business can grow. This takes the worries away that you may eventually “outgrow” the builder. There are some amazing e-commerce shops that are selling millions of dollars in products that are powered by either Shopify or BigCommerce.
6. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – CREDIBILITY OF BUILDER
One of the considerations of whether to choose Shopify or BigCommerce comes down to the credibility of each builder.
Both of them have solid reputations in the world of online store builders, as we really view them as the top 2 hosted-builders in the world.
So how do you choose? There are a few things we encourage you to look at.
1) Paying Customers:
- BigCommerce: 95,000+ (last updated mid-2015. BigCommerce no longer disclose how many paying customers they have)
- Shopify: 243,000+
This speaks for itself. More paying customers suggests more satisfied customers – and Shopify has more paying customers. The pricing plans for both Shopify and BigCommerce are somewhat similar – suggesting pricing difference is possibly not a deciding factor.
However, it’s also important to note that Shopify did have an earlier start than BigCommerce, so it’s only natural that they have more paying customers today. But based on our observations, the growth rate of Shopify has been faster than BigCommerce over the past few years.
Shopify’s popularity trend has also been trending up much faster than BigCommerce based on Google Trends. In fact, BigCommerce’s popularity trend based on Google Trends has not grown since 2014, and is starting to dip downwards slightly since 2015:
Another interesting piece of analysis is if you divide the total sales each platform has helped customers generate, by the number of customers, the average BigCommerce user has sold $52,630 in products (based on the last available data set which included both customers and processed sales from mid-2015: 95,000 paying customers and $5 billion processed sales), and the average Shopify user has sold $57,600.
So looks like Shopify users tend to sell more (but not by that much), or perhaps they just have customers that operate bigger stores that is skewing the math. In any case, this is just an interesting piece of data point and is not indicative of how much you will be able to sell with your store!
2) Support Level:
- BigCommerce: 24/7 support across all communication channels.
- Shopify: 24/7 support across all communication channels.
Both online store builders offer 24/7 support – right on par with each other when it comes to accessibility.
3) Quality & Quantity of Themes:
- BigCommerce: 50+ (most themes are mobile ready, but not all. Limited selection of premium and free themes, when compared to Shopify)
- Shopify: 150+ (all free and premium themes are mobile ready,very modern and updated)
From design options perspective, Shopify has 3 times more storefront themes for you to choose than BigCommerce. Shopify has a much larger base of designers creating themes for users, suggesting that designers find Shopify a more favorable platform to work with. Shopify is the clear winner here.
4) Experts Community:
- BigCommerce: Less
- Shopify: More
Having more experts serving Shopify and being available for you suggests that they have a much larger community and user base. This is reinforced by the number of active paying customers Shopify has (243,000+) versus BigCommerce (95,000+). This also suggests that Shopify is growing much faster than BigCommerce, which indicates which builder people are choosing to use.
5) Free Trial Period:
- BigCommerce: 15 days
- Shopify: 14 days
Not a significant difference here.
Based on the statistics we were able to get from both Shopify and BigCommerce, this suggests that Shopify is much more popular (evidenced by a much larger base of paying customers and experts serving them).
However, this does not necessarily mean that you would like Shopify more than BigCommerce as your needs are unique and are different from others.
Our metrics above are just guiding points for you to consider when you are indifferent between which builder to choose.
Given that both BigCommerce and Shopify have free trial periods, you should take advantage of them and invest a few hours to testing them out yourself. Both of them are free to try.
7. BIGCOMMERCE VS SHOPIFY – PRICING
Most people are generally very sensitive to pricing. We’re trained to nickel and dime, clipping coupons and saving as much as possible. We do that all the time too – it’s like second nature.
However, when we look at picking an e-commerce builder to grow a business, we consciously steer away from making our decision purely based on price per month. You want to pick a builder that gives your business the best chance of succeeding, while being able to save you time from worrying about technology.
Choosing a builder because it is cheaper and saves you a few dollars every month, is a very short term way to think and grow a business. Instead, you should be thinking of “value”. Even though a plan may have a higher price point, if you are getting tremendous value out of it, it is well worth the money.
Shopify’s plans start at a monthly price of $9 for a Lite plan, and moves up to $29 for Basic, $79 for Pro, and $179 for Unlimited. Note that to build an online store, you will need to sign up to the Basic, Pro or Unlimited plans. The Lite plan only gives you access to some selling tools, but not the online store builder.
Shopify is often heavily criticized that they charge a 0.5% – 2% transaction fee for their plans (Lite 2% / Basic 2% / Professional 1% / Unlimited 0.5%) What this means is that for every sale you make, Shopify receives 0.5 to 2% of your sale.
However, if you use Shopify Payments to manage your payment processing, all transaction fees will be waived.
There is still a credit card charge ranging from 2.4% + 30 cents per transaction if you have the Unlimited Plan, to $2.9% + 30 cents per transaction if you use the Basic or Lite plans. This credit card fee would have to be paid regardless of what e-commerce store builder you use (including BigCommerce), as it is a credit card fee that credit card companies charge and there is no getting around it in the world of selling online.
One thing you should appreciate about Shopify is that they are very transparent in their fee structures. A lot of other large online shop builders are well known for charging hidden fees, so you get a big surprising bill that you can’t calculate at the end of the month.
With Shopify, you can actually calculate how much you owe them based on the agreed up on monthly plan, and also based on how much sales you’ve made (which you know).
Don’t forget that you are not only paying for access to their tools to build your business, the monthly plans comes with 24/7 support.
BigCommerce monthly fees range from $29.95 per month (Standard Plan) to $79.95 per month (Plus Plan) to $199.95 per month( Pro plan) and finally their Enterprise Plan (which is a customized solution for established, high volume businesses, so the pricing will vary depending on what you need).
As you progress up the plans, you get more tools available to you. With the Enterprise Plan, a dedicated BigCommerce team will help you with set up, data migration, and of course you get priority support.
If you purchase an entire year worth of service, you can get a bulk discount of 10%.
One of the things we like about BigCommerce is that they also have a very transparent fee structure across all their 3 premium plans. You get unlimited bandwidth so you can sell as many or as little products you want without having to worry if you are exceeding any sort of bandwidth limitations.
Note that BigCommerce does not charge you any transaction fees on your sales. It’s quite common for some hosted ecommerce builders to charge a fee every time you make a sale. But with BigCommerce, no transaction fees are charged so you get to keep more of your profits.
However, one interesting (and at times confusing) aspect of BigCommerce’s pricing plans, is that while you can pick any one of the plans (the higher the plan, the more tools / features you get), they do require you to upgrade to a higher plan if your online store either:
- Exceed certain sales dollars threshold; or
- Exceed certain sales orders threshold.
Sales Dollars Threshold
For instance, if you start off with the Standard plan ($29.95 per month), once you exceed $50,000 in sales dollars over the previous 12 months, you will need to upgrade to the Plus plan ($79.95 per month). If you exceed $125,000 in sales dollars over the previous 12 months, you will need to upgrade to their Pro plan ($199.95 per month).
Sales Orders Threshold
If you exceed over 500 sales transactions over the previous 12 months, you will need to upgrade to the Plus plan. If you exceed over 1,000 sales transactions over the previous 12 months, you will need to upgrade to the Pro plan.
For the Pro plan, if you exceed over 2,000 sales transactions over the previous 12 months, the next 1,000 sales transactions will cost you an additional $80 per month. So if you transact an additional 3,000 sales above and beyond the 2,000 order cap threshold, you will need to pay another $240 ($80 x 3) per month.
So it actually doesn’t take too much for you to be required to upgrade to the Plus plan. 500 sales transactions per year is roughly equivalent to processing 1.4 transactions per day. That’s not a whole lot if you think about it.
Even at 1,000 sales transactions per 12 months, that’s equivalent to processing 2.7 transactions per day. So if you operate a moderately successful online store, you might find yourself having to be enrolled in their Plus plan pretty quickly.
Even though BigCommerce does not charge you any transaction fees (which is not uncommon for other hosted ecommerce builders) , if you operate a high sales volume business, but your product prices are not high, the monthly fees can eat into your profit margin pretty significantly.
For example, let’s say your average price per product is $15, and you sell 6 units per day (assuming 1 unit per transaction). That’s 2,190 transactions per year, and will earn you $32,850 in sales, or $2,738 per month (this does not factor in your costs yet).
While $32,850, you can remain at the Basic plan ($29.95 per month) as it is below the $50,000 sales threshold, the fact that you are processing over 2,000 transactions per year means you have to enroll in the Pro plan ($199.95 per month).
At $2,738 sales dollars per month, the Pro plan monthly fees can really eat into your profit margin.
This is just something you should take into consideration – if your product prices are lower and your sales volume is higher, BigCommerce’s monthly fees can add up quite quickly for you.
If you operate a lower price, higher sales volume type of store, I’d suggest you take a look at Shopify. Shopify does charge a transaction fee per order, but if you use their Shopify Payments feature to handle your payment processing, there will no transaction fees. You can process thousands of orders while remaining at their lower plans (such as their Basic plan at $29 per month).
However, keep in mind that you still need to pay a payment processing fee, which your payment processing provider (such as PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, etc) charges you every time you accept a payment. There is no way around this as it is a standard cost to enable your customers to pay you through Visa, Mastercard, etc.
At the end of the day, the price points of Shopify and BigCommerce are not massively different. When your store starts to grow, you should really be choosing based on the value you are receiving from each one of them, and which one is most likely to help you succeed.
Sure, BigCommerce doesn’t charge you any transaction fees per sale, whereas Shopify does. But if you are willing to use Shopify’s own payment system, they then waive all transaction fees.
The big caveat here is that BigCommerce does require you to subscribe to higher plans if you exceed certain sales dollar or sales orders threshold – Shopify has no such requirement. So if you are a high volume and low price seller as illustrated in our example above, then the monthly fees from BigCommerce can really start to add up and eat into your profit margins.
Other than such scenario, choosing BigCommerce vs Shopify based solely on price is very short term thinking. We’ve all tried to pinch dollars when running businesses. But don’t be “penny wise, pound foolish”.
We would suggest that you sign up for the trial programs for both Shopify and BigCommerce, invest a few hours to test each one and find out which one suits you better.
8. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
Selecting the right e-commerce builder for your business is by no means a straight forward decision. There are so many things to consider, so hopefully our review is helpful in steering you towards some of the key factors to evaluate.
Although BigCommerce comes with a lot more tools “out of the box”, and that they do not charge a transaction fee per sale, Shopify has a lot to offer as well.
Shopify’s themes are much more polished and attractive, they have 24/7 support (you don’t want to be alone if something “breaks a 4am Sunday morning”), and they have a much larger expert community to help you advance your business when you’re ready.
Shopify also has more than 2 times the paying customers than BigCommerce. But do note that Shopify does have an earlier start than BigCommerce. Overall, we do observe that Shopify is growing their paying customer base at a faster rate than BigCommerce.
This is not to say that BigCommerce can’t do a great job in helping you build your online store. As mentioned, they have more tools available as part of their package, but we’re just saying that perhaps there may be some good reasons why Shopify has a much larger base of paying customers and experts.
Our suggestion is for you to take up their free trial periods to see which one works better for you. Spend a few hours playing around with both builders and experience them for yourself. Both are the top tier e-commerce builders in the market, and there are good reasons why they’re at the top.
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