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Shopify vs BigCommerce: which ecommerce platform is right for you?
Choosing which ecommerce platform to launch your store on is no small decision. You’re picking the policies that’ll govern your business for its whole life, and a set of technical capabilities that’ll make or break the customer experience.
With more than 2 million daily users, Shopify is the Titan of ecommerce platforms. BigCommerce, with around 1 million users overall, is hot on its heels. Weighing up the merits of Shopify vs Bigcommerce is no mean feat, not least since they’re both great platforms that host thousands of successful ecommerce businesses.
Last updated16 Feb 2023
The choice between Shopify and BigCommerce depends on the size of your business, the experience you want to give customers, and what you value most in a service provider. This article pops the hood of both platforms and roots around in the fine print, so you know exactly which one to sign up for.
Understand customer behavior on your ecommerce site
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Shopify vs BigCommerce: 14 criteria to consider
Here’s a deep-dive into how Shopify and BigCommerce compare in the five big areas that ecommerce business owners have to worry about:
Usability: from initial setup to daily use, to support when things go wrong
Features: plugins, integrations, and what they can do out of the box
Marketing and sales: from the sales platforms they integrate with, to SEO capabilities
Logistics: order fulfillment, security, and managing taxes
Pricing and payments: how much the platform costs and how customers pay you
Time is money. If your platform is fast to come to grips with, you’ll spend less time learning and more time experimenting with ways to increase conversions. Here’s how easy each platform is to use:
1. Initial setup
The process of creating your site is pretty similar, whether you choose Shopify or BigCommerce. You sign up on the homepage, answer a few multiple-choice questions, and get a personalized set-up guide that holds your hand through choosing a theme, adding a custom domain name, and getting your first product page up. Your store will be ready to rock in an afternoon.
Both signup flows are beginner-friendly: Shopify’s signup is slightly more intuitive, but BigCommerce lets you create extra staff accounts for free.
2. Ease of use
Shopify is a beginner’s dream: almost every feature includes a tooltip—a little information box that appears when you hover over it—to explain what it does.
BigCommerce is very slightly harder to use but often pays you back with more control over different aspects of your store.
For example, adding a product to your BigCommerce store is a much longer process than in Shopify, involving dozens of fields. However, once you’ve done it, you can really customize how customers see your product. You can add an option for gift wrapping, a minimum purchase order, and unlimited product variants. In Shopify, you’re limited to three product variants.
Finally, some business owners find Shopify’s user interface (UI) more visually pleasing than BigCommerce’s UI, which you need to consider since you’ll be looking at it every day.
Both platforms offer a wealth of customer support options, including:
24/7 live chat phone and email support
A help center
A community forum
Shopify Learn, Shopify’s collection of video courses, is useful whether you choose the platform or not. It covers every aspect of ecommerce success—from platform-specific how-tos, to broader topics like managing your finances as an entrepreneur—all for free.
You need to pay to access BigCommerce’s equivalent video courses, BigCommerce Academy, but they do offer a free collection of recorded webinars and podcasts, too.
If you’re an enterprise-level customer, both platforms provide priority support in the form of a dedicated support agent (for those on Shopify’s Plus package) or an onboarding consultant (for those on BigCommerce’s Enterprise package).
In this respect, BigCommerce’s offer is the better option, giving you expert advice before you get stuck.
Overall winner: Shopify takes the edge for usability, but that’s because it’s extremely intuitive, not because BigCommerce is particularly tricky to use.
It’s crucial to check that your chosen ecommerce platform is capable of building the kind of store you’re dreaming of. Here are some factors to take into consideration:
4. Themes and customization
Shopify offers 105 mobile responsive themes (also called templates), 11 of which are free, whereas BigCommerce offers 286 mobile responsive themes, with 15 of them being free. However, several of BigCommerce’s themes are very similar to each other, except for the color scheme, so the choice isn’t as varied as it sounds.
When it comes to editing your theme, both platforms offer a simple builder.
Shopify’s builder lets you add in more types of content blocks than BigCommerce’s does, including signup forms, contact forms, and blog strips.
Whichever platform you choose, there’s also the option to edit the HTML or CSS code—or pay someone to do it for you. However, if you’re a small business and don’t want to spend a long time mastering the art of ecommerce web design, Shopify wins in this category.
5. Plugins and integrations
No other ecommerce platform has the breadth and variety of Shopify’s App Store. There are 8,000+ plugins dealing with everything from marketing to upselling and customer service, so you can customize your site any way you want without ever consulting a developer.
If you plan on using a growth marketing strategy (one that involves running many small experiments to learn how to get more customers or conversions), then this will be a huge asset. The variety of Shopify’s app store gives you plenty of scope for new features to test.
BigCommerce’s app store is more modest—with just over 1,300 available plugins. Shopify’s most popular apps have equivalents in BigCommerce, so you won’t have to go without commonly requested functionalities like SMS marketing, or live chat customer support. However, you might lose out if you want to experiment with more innovative features.
On the flip side, BigCommerce offers many features upfront that you’d need a plugin for on Shopify, including the ability to add reviews to your products, generate real-time shipping quotes, and add unlimited staff accounts. Since using a lot of plugins will slow your site down, there is an SEO advantage to relying mostly on in-built features.
What’s more, Shopify plugins are usually billed via subscriptions. If you need a handful of them, this can mean paying a few hundred dollars every month. For a solopreneur, or anyone more worried about saving money than having an all-bells-and-whistles shop, BigCommerce scores big here.
Overall winner: if you want a fully customized shop and can pay for it, one point to Shopify. If you’re on a budget and don’t mind a simpler site, one point to BigCommerce.
💡Pro tip: both platforms make it easy to edit your store’s HTML. Even with little-to-no development knowledge, you can integrate different tools with your online store by simply copying and pasting the tracking code.
For example, Hotjar is an invaluable platform you can integrate with Shopify and BigCommerce that helps you understand how users behave on your site, so you can learn to convert more of them into customers.
You can easily add an exit-intent survey, and set it to appear when customers decide to leave your product page without making a purchase. This lets you ask visitors why they’ve decided to shop elsewhere, so you can learn how to encourage them into a sale.
You can trigger a Hotjar survey to appear when a customer navigates away from your site.
Marketing and sales
Shopify and BigCommerce have different strengths when it comes to their marketing and sales capabilities, which can be a deciding factor if you’ve got a favorite channel or strategy. Let’s take a look:
Email marketing is the digital marketing strategy with the biggest ROI, generating an average of $36 for every $1 spent, so this is an important aspect to consider.
Shopify offers its users a free plugin to take care of vital email marketing flows—like welcome messages, first purchase upsells, and abandoned cart reminders.
BigCommerce doesn’t have an in-built email marketing feature, but you can easily integrate third-party email software, like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or Omnisend.
Both platforms allow you to create automatic discounts, coupons, and promotions, via banners, for example. They also provide analytics dashboards that track the results of any ads you’re running on other platforms.
Search engine optimization (SEO)—or how easy it is for search engines like Google to find your site and serve it to users when they search for a related query—is another big consideration. If customers can find you easily through a simple search, your marketing costs will shrink.
Both platforms help you customize webpage information that’s important for SEO, like title tags (the titles of your pages as they appear on a search engine) and meta descriptions (the little blurbs about your pages as they appear on search engines).
Overall, BigCommerce is slightly better to create SEO-optimized sites. It lets you fully customize your URLs, which means you can give them descriptive titles and help search engines index the information.
Shopify automatically adds ‘/products’, ‘/collections’, or ‘/pages’ to your URLs, and won’t let you edit the structure to remove it.
Many businesses publish articles on topics related to their products to drive traffic to their site. If you’ve already got a WordPress blog and want to use it to send users to your ecommerce store, both platforms offer an integration.
Shopify’s WordPress integration costs an extra monthly fee and simply allows you to add a ‘buy now’ button to your blog, whereas BigCommerce’s is free, and lets you intertwine your sites to a greater extent.
8. Sales channels
BigCommerce and Shopify help you sell your products on Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon with no additional costs, and both have free integrations so you can sell your products on Google Shopping. BigCommerce also lets you sell products on Pinterest and eBay.
Both platforms also offer facilities for you to accept payments in the physical world too, which is handy if you plan to take your small business to markets occasionally.
However, you’ll need a device to accept these payments made in the physical world. If you use BigCommerce, you’ll need to buy that hardware via a third party, like PayPal Zettle, Square, or Hike, where Shopify offer their own option.
Overall winner: it depends on which marketing strategy you plan to prioritize. Shopify offers simpler email marketing options, while BigCommerce is a better setup for bloggers.
Some ecommerce platforms offer features to hold your hand through the day-to-day administration of your business, while others expect entrepreneurs to find their own solutions to manage shipping, taxes, and inventory monitoring. Here’s how Shopify and BigCommerce compare logistics:
As you’d expect from major platforms, BigCommerce and Shopify are both pretty hot on security measures. They both use 128-bit SSL encryption—software that encrypts customers’ sensitive data—like credit card information, passwords, and personal messages, so that no third parties can see them.
They both also follow Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS)—a set of policies that five major credit card companies developed, which sets out how to protect financial transactions.
When it comes to sending your customers the goods, BigCommerce has a free feature for generating real-time shipping quotes to display on your storefront. There’s also an option to generate, purchase, and print USPS labels for orders directly from your control panel.
Shopify also lets you generate live shipping costs, but only if you’re on an Advanced Shopify or Plus plan and via a third party. Print shipping labels from multiple carriers directly through Shopify—and not just from USPS—but several industry-leading carriers, like UPS and DHS, too.
11. Inventory management
Shopify has better out-of-the-box inventory management facilities than BigCommerce. You can easily manage your stock between different locations, and keep tabs on what should go out from where on your dashboard. To get the same functionality in BigCommerce, you’d need to buy a third-party app.
Shopify is a favorite among dropshippers—people who run ecommerce websites, yet never touch the goods they sell, outsourcing all handling and shipping to a third party. If that’s you, there are dozens of apps to connect your Shopify site to websites that provide stock and can ship it to customers for you, including Oberlo, which is owned by Shopify itself.
12. Tax calculations
Shopify’s options for calculating tax automatically are very comprehensive. You can choose to set taxes that are automatically included for different regions, including the complicated VAT MOSS rules in Europe. If you’re running a business with a very small team, Shopify is very strong in this arena and can save you from hiring an accountant.
Overall winner: Shopify makes your life slightly easier when it comes to fulfilling orders and calculating taxes.
Pricing and payments
Here’s how much Shopify and BigCommerce would charge you, and their policies on how you charge your customers:
13. Monthly subscription fees
Shopify’s and BigCommerce’s subscription fees look pretty similar at first glance:
Shopify cost per month
BigCommerce cost per month
Enterprise: on request
For most small-to-medium-sized ecommerce retailers, starting on the $29 tier of either software gives you all the features you need.
However, BigCommerce forces you to upgrade to a Plus package once you turn over more than $50,000 per year.
Shopify doesn’t tie their packages to store income, but upgrading from the Basic to the Standard plan gives you access to more features, including detailed analytics reports and up to five staff accounts.
Shopify offers a Lite version, but it’s got very limited capabilities—it’s more for adding a ‘buy now’ button to an existing site than for launching an ecommerce store.
BigCommerce is great for those on a tight budget who want to pay less for app subscriptions, but they’re also marketed toward businesses at the other end of the scale. BigCommerce’s Enterprise package offers plenty of perks for customers who turn over millions of dollars, like access to technical support.
14. Payment options
Shopify Payments let you integrate over 100 payment methods from around the globe, whereas BigCommerce only allows you to integrate 65. Both include all the usual favorites: ApplePay, PayPal, Google Pay, and debit card payments.
However—and this is a big one—Shopify charges transaction fees between 1 and 3% on each purchase, unless you use their own payment portal, Shopify Payments, which isn’t available in all countries. BigCommerce doesn’t charge transaction fees.
Overall winner: BigCommerce is usually the cheaper option since you’ll be paying fewer plugin subscriptions and no transaction fees.
Shopify vs BigCommerce at a glance
Here’s the overview of how each platform performs across five essential categories.
The verdict: BigCommerce or Shopify?
If a choice is really difficult, sometimes it’s because both options are pretty great. That’s certainly the case with these two platforms.
Shopify is a huge name in ecommerce for a reason—it’s super easy to use, allowing you to create an incredible site without altering a single line of code. It’s an excellent choice if you don’t have a technical background, or just run a small operation and don’t want to waste time.
However, you certainly can’t dismiss BigCommerce without a fair trial. It’s great if you don’t want to be saddled with transaction fees or a bunch of monthly app payments—as long as you’re prepared to hire a developer from time to time. It really excels if you’re a huge corporation looking to move your shop online and value personalized attention.
But the success of your ecommerce store doesn’t depend on whether you choose Shopify or BigCommerce. It depends on how well you understand and respond to your customers’ behavior. Whichever platform you decide on, watch session recordings of where your customers click in the moments before a sale and survey them regularly to understand where you can improve.
This way, you’ll be confident you’re giving customers exactly what they want—and give yourself every possible opportunity to make a sale.
Understand customer behavior on your ecommerce site
Hotjar shows you how users behave on your site, so you can learn how to turn them into customers.
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