Shopify and BigCommerce are the two most well-developed cloud-based eCommerce website builder solutions. How do you decide which one to choose and what makes one better than the other?
In this guide, I point out the key differences between both platforms so that you can choose the best fit for your business. Once again I'll reiterate that there is no “best eCommerce solution” there is only what will work best for your business type.
First of all, if you haven't already, read my Shopify v Magento website builder guide to understand why building an eCommerce website “in the cloud” is a better solution than choosing open source software. I chose Shopify as my comparison, but you could compare any of the leading cloud-based eCommerce website builders and draw the same conclusion:
Cloud-based eCommerce solutions give you better security and a faster route to market than clunky Open Source solutions that consistently need manually patching and updating.
If you think you are going to need lots of customisation in your final solution, then you might consider using Lemonstand which uses an open source Sass toolbox of Bourbon, Neat and Gulp to achieve site-wide theming and a REST API to integrate with third-party solutions. Read my Lemonstand Review for more details.
Shopify V BigCommerce
Both of these eCommerce website builders have been battle tested in the field, and both are good choices to build an eCommerce store. For a quick overview of the details see this eCommerce website builder comparison chart. Both platforms were established within a year of each other, and both have a free trial, and a UK dedicated support number.
Both companies are experiencing meteoric growth as this sector of the industry finds its feet, and between them, they power over 350,000 eCommerce stores. You can't go wrong whichever platform you decide to choose, but there are a few nuances that can make the decision easier.
The key differences I've outlined below but as an overview, Shopify is streamlined in its development tools, and BigCommerce offers more menu choices. For someone new to building an eCommerce site then Shopify is easier to use because they have put a lot of user research into their administration interface.
On the other side of the coin, BigCommerce has more complex rules for options like delivery and shipping which can be tweaked exactly how you want but require more thought to put into practice. For 80-90% of businesses, this isn't going to matter though because you'll have what you need out of the box.
Both platforms have the same pricing points at which they differentiate between features offered. The two most popular plans are both priced at $79 per month, and the top of the range plans come in at $199.95 and $299 for BigCommerce and Shopify respectively. Both Shopify and Bigcommerce have “Enterprise Level” platforms as well with Shopify Plus starting at $2,000, and you can get a tailored quote for BigCommerce. If you are looking for an eCommerce platform for a large scale enterprise, then I would recommend you take a look at Lemonstand as well.
Shopify Price Screen:
BigCommerce Pricing Screen:
For a comprehensive overview of how eCommerce transaction charges work and how they can affect your bottom line read the guide to transaction charges. You might be surprised at how quickly they add up.
Shopify charges a sliding scale of transaction fees if you opt out of using “Shopify Payments”. BigCommerce does not charge any transaction processing fees. If you intend using PayPal for a large percentage of your online payments, then BigCommerce scores heavily in your favour here with a deal that gives you special rates from Braintree.
If you are going to be a high volume user then Shopify will charge you 0.5% for using an external payment gateway and I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering why they insist on such a policy instead of rolling it all up in the monthly figure and spreading the cost evenly across the whole user base. If you do £1 Million in sales, then that's an extra £5,000 in costs.
Be aware of how the BigCommerce pricing structure works because if you are a high volume low price point operator then you will quickly be pushed on to the BigCommerce plus plan and the cost will mount up significantly for you. Make sure you read the details regarding the price break points.
Themes And Templates
BigCommerce recently launched a whole new slew of mobile friendly templates which has eliminated one of the big reasons why they have not been as successful as they might have been over the past few years. These new templates are cutting edge and look the part, but they still need to work on providing a more rounded portfolio. The paid for themes average between $145-$190 to purchase.
By contrast, the Shopify theme store is overflowing with great looking designs and their commitment to only accepting the best designs from their pool of talent mean that the standard is very high.
The big difference between the two platforms lies in the ease of customisation. Shopify has a built-in editor that can make most if not all of the changes you need and so it is better suited to an organisation that does not want or does not need a team of developers to code for it. BigCommerce can be customised more extensively, but you'll need some coder expertise to be able to do it.
Before you choose a platform check out the theme store of both platforms to see what templates are available that might be close to what you would like your store to look like. If you don't have a developer or IT department at your beck and call, then Shopify is the easier platform to work with.
I should also mention that while Shopify doesn't need a developer to make something that will pass muster at the checkout it's use of the REST API means that making development changes is far easier than BigCommerce for an experienced coder.
Products And Categories
As well as wanting your site to look good you also need your eCommerce store to be well organised and to display well. BigCommerce has the most options for enabling product details and for doing day to day product management, but Shopify has better rules for category management.
If you have a lot of products in a few categories, then BigCommerce is the stronger option. For fewer products in more or multiple categories then Shopify has the better rules. Neither of which is a good reason to choose one over the other though in my opinion.
Simplicity is best and choosing the easiest and simplest way to get things done is better than invoking a complex rule set. If you have a bigger store to manage then the advanced product tools available in BigCommerce will serve you better.
Both BigCommerce and Shopify have UK support numbers as well as 24/7 support services via live chat and email. There is nothing to choose between them.
The Shopify online help library is packed full of useful information for building your eCommerce store and is way ahead of BigCommerce University.
Apps And Add-Ons
Out of the box, BigCommerce offers more functionality than Shopify so for that reason the Shopify App store offers more add-ons – over 1,100 at the last count compared to 250 for BigCommerce.
The big difference between the two platforms is the way that Shopify uses the REST API to integrate third party programs. In short, this developer feature makes it very easy for a third party to integrate their product with Shopify and is one of the reasons for the abundance of third party Apps on the Shopify App Store. If your favourite accounting software isn't integrated with Shopify yet, then it will be soon. Most major software providers have already provided integration with Shopify.
Both of these website builders will do an excellent job of building your next eCommerce store. Choose BigCommerce if you are going to be doing small volume transactions and utilise their great deal with PayPal payments by Braintree to keep your transaction charges to a minimum. Also if you want greater control over how your products are displayed, then BigCommerce does a good job of that as well.
For everyone else the decision is easy. Shopify has more documentation and is simpler to use. It has more theme choices and has a head start with third party integration and tools.