Two shopping cart providers that many people decide to choose between are Shopify and Bigcommerce. These services are similar but also very different. I have experience with both.
In attempting to make a comparison between these two companies, many other people have offered a Bigcommerce vs Shopify style discussion whereby they compare surface level features of each service: one has 24 free templates while the other has 7, one can connect to over 70 payment gateways while the other only 30, and so on.
There’s a problem with this sort of simple comparison, however.
When you build a store on one of these platforms, you’re not just going to be using the features they provide. You’re also building your business on their infrastructure, their technology and with their staff. You’re essentially in a partnership.
With that in mind, do you want to partner with a growing company built on robust technology and stellar service, or it’s competitor with their bloated platform, unreliable support team, and some questionable decisions in their history?
This is something that surface level features can’t tell you.
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Bigcommerce vs Shopify: The Bigger Picture
I’m not just going to compare features side by side of what each of these companies say they offer; instead I want to give a different perspective and show how they appear in the grand scheme of things.
When you look at it like this, Shopify and Bigcommerce are quite different.
Let’s Talk About Pricing
Bigcommerce has no transaction fees no matter what payment processor you use (you still have to pay credit card processing fees) but has a cap on how much revenue you can process annually before being forced to upgrade to a higher plan. On their Basic plan you can process up to $50,000 per year, with their Plus plan up to $125,000 and up to $1,000,000 on their Pro plan.
Shopify pricing has no transaction fees provided you use their Stripe-powered payment processor, Shopify Payments (again, you still pay credit card fees) but they do have transaction fees if you use a different payment provider. 2% on their Basic plan, 1% on their intermediate plan and 0.5% on their Advanced plan. There are no annual sales limits.
I used to prefer Bigcommerce’s pricing before they recently introduced the annual sales caps, because it worked out cheaper. I could remain on the Basic plan, which had all the features I really needed, and use a 3rd party payment processor, which had an added flexibility, without having any transaction fees.
However, it became apparent that many other merchants were also staying on the cheaper plans even after growing in size, and were costing Bigcommerce a lot of money! In some cases, stores were growing to businesses with millions in annual revenue – yet remained on the basic Bigcommerce plans because that’s all they required!
According to Brent Bellm, Bigcommerce CEO, in a forum post (since deleted) announcing the planned price increases (annual sales caps)…
“Historical Bigcommerce plans had no mechanism to adjust for merchant growth. A merchant starting on a Standard or Bronze plan might begin with a few orders per month, then scale to tens of thousands per month, yet remain on the same $30/month plan… Bigcommerce loses a lot of money serving this merchant because the pure cost of page loads, server calls, and customer service dwarfs the monthly fees collected.
In fact, we now have quite a few merchants who have grown their businesses on Bigcommerce to $10mm-$30mm in annual sales, yet are still on the Bronze, Silver, or Gold plan on which they started. Some of our most successful merchants cost us tens of thousands of dollars per year to serve.”
Now, that makes sense. But do you sit back complacently and allow them to rectify their problem and happily pay your tripled or quadrupled monthly bill? Or do you see that for the bad business planning that it clearly was and start to question the company you’ve trusted your store with?
Bigcommerce’s main strategy has clearly been to focus on acquiring new customers on their standard plans, rather than focus on nurturing the relationships they have with existing clients. And now they, or rather their clients, have had to pay the price via huge price increases that they did not sign up for.
Shopify has at least remained pretty consistent. Pay no transaction fees if you use Shopify Payments or pay a transaction fee if you want to use any other payment gateway.
I have come around to the perspective that any hosted shopping solution like these need to have some sort of revenue share with their clients, be it by using their own payment provider like Shopify does with Shopify Payments, charging transaction fees or revenue caps with automatic plan upgrades like Bigcommerce.
You should want your shopping cart provider to make money with you. Surely it’s in your interest for the platform you’re using to be profitable and healthy?
The cheaper option for most people, based on this upfront pricing, will probably be Shopify if you use Shopify Payments.
You also need to consider the cost of additional apps that will likely be required with either platform.
Ultimately, you will probably want to make your decision on more than just price when it comes to choosing the right shopping cart.
Shopping Cart Features
Bigcommerce and Shopify naturally have similar features including the ability to create an unlimited amount of product listings, unlimited file storage, staff accounts, the ability to create discount codes, an onsite blog and more.
On higher plans of both, features include abandoned cart recovery (where emails can automatically be sent to visitors that have added items to their cart but not completed their purchase) and advanced report builders.
Bigcommerce actually has more core features than Shopify, but in my opinion, Shopify does a better job with the features it does have.
Google Product List Ads (PLA’s)
An advertising method you will most certainly want to take advantage of is that of Google’s Product Listings Ads. These are the information-rich ads you can use that will appear in Google Shopping and in many cases be displayed prominently at the top of general Google search results. They can bring in targeted traffic for a fraction of the cost of typical Google text ads (Adwords) and are quick to get up and running with.
In order to get the most of out PLA’s, you will want to make some optimizations, but much of this will be at the mercy of your chosen shopping cart.
For starters, uploading your products to Google Shopping is much easier with Shopify. You can use this free app whereas Bigcommerce relies on the traditional feed upload or the more recent API connection (which for one of my stores actually stopped working for some reason).
PLA’s will show within Google based on user search terms. When a potential visitors searches for a product that you sell on your store, for example, “8ft pool table”, an ad with a link to your relevant product will be displayed.
PLA’s rely heavily on the keywords in your ad and product description to determine what search terms to show your ad for, so it makes sense to use a well-optimized title.
A problem with Bigcommerce, however, is that you can only use the default product name as the title for your PLA’s (as opposed to SEO/Meta Titles).
So for example, continuing with the pool tables theme, you may have a range of pool tables with their own fancy names: Allenton, Tremont, Black Wolf etc. (I actually used the real store Brunswick Billiards for this example). It’s not uncommon for niches to have products with random names like this.
For the product titles that appear on the shop front of your website, you would likely just want to list a product by it’s name e.g. “Allenton” as opposed to “The Allenton Chestnut 8ft Pool Table with Red Cloth by Brunswick Billiards”.
If you listed all your products like that, it would look spammy and may even trigger a keyword-stuffing penalty i.e. you could end up having 20 products all with “8ft pool table” and “Brunswick Billiards” in their title. It’s unnecessary.
Your meta title tag or SEO title, on the other hand, is the title that will show up in Google and other search engines for that product page. This is where you do want to include as many descriptive keywords of the product as possible, while of course still not coming across spammy.
So the name of the product on the site would be “Allenton” but when this page appears in the search engines, it’s Meta title could be something more descriptive, as above: “The Allenton Chestnut 8ft Pool Table with Red Cloth – Brunswick Billiards”.
Now, on the topic of Google Product Listing Ads, which title do you think is going to be better for getting triggered by relevant keywords?
The Allenton Chestnut 8ft Pool Table with Red Cloth – Brunswick Billiards
The second one, of course.
So the solution for PLA’s is simple: use the Meta title as the PLA title.
In Shopify, this is a simple checkbox option when setting up your Google Shopping products:
However, in Bigcommerce, it’s not possible! With Bigcommerce, you can only use your product name, in this case “Allenton”, as your PLA title. It’s ridiculous!
Now, PLA’s do take into account other parts of your product page such as the product description and image names so your products on Bigcommerce will show up in Google Shopping, but there’s no doubt a more descriptive title will be better for both getting triggered and getting people to click on your ad i.e. a better click through rate (CTR).
Simple in Shopify, not possible in Bigcommerce.
Sorry if this all sounds a bit complicated but when you put this into practice you will instantly know what I’m getting at.
Most stores will require various product categories or collections, for example: pool tables, pool cues, accessories etc.
This is straightforward enough with Bigcommerce but Shopify has an arguably smarter alternative with their “smart collections”.
As well as the ability to manually add products to collections, “smart collections” allow you to automatically populate a given category with products, based on criteria you set. Conditions can include products with a specific word or phrase in their title, the product type, the brand, a price greater than or less than a certain amount, and so on.
This feature is very flexible and can be extremely helpful when you have hundreds of products or more. You can’t yet do this with Bigcommerce.
Real-Time Carrier Shipping
A feature that many people may find they need is the ability to provide your customers with real-time shipping quotes. This is the ability of your store to automatically fetch specific quotes from shipping services such as UPS, based on the customer’s delivery location.
This feature is available on standard Bigcommerce plans but only on Shopify’s most expensive plan (as advertised). However, many users have found that, on request, it can be added to even basic Shopify plans. I asked if I could have it enabled for a site of mine on the basic Shopify plan and it they did it, without hassle. They said that wasn’t a problem, given I was paying annually. This isn’t ideal bit it’s nice to know it’s possible.
Tip: How to Add Real-Time Carrier Shipping to Shopify
If your store will require real-time carrier shipping calculations but you don’t want or need the Shopify Advanced plan, commit to one of the other plans on an annual basis, and ask if they will enable it for you. Myself and many others have achieved it that way.
Website Speed and Reliability
The speed of your website is obviously very important. It doesn’t just ensure your visitors stick around and don’t hit the back button because your website is taking too long to load, it also has an impact on your SEO and Adwords cost.
Google have publicly announced factoring in website page speed to their search engine’s algorithm and a difference of a second or two in load time can be the difference between a 7/10 or a 8/10 Adwords quality score, and have a direct impact on your cost per click price.
You really want an e-commerce store to be loading in sub 2 seconds.
I believe Bigcommerce have made improvements in this area recently but it’s no secret that historically it has been a very bloated platform, causing unnecessarily slow load times for many stores.
It’s quite funny that if you perform a website speed test for some of the clients featured on their website, they in many cases have quite poor load times. And these are featured clients, most probably on the Bigcommerce Enterprise plan!
Side Note: Talking of website speed, if you own a WordPress website and want to experience super fast and reliable web hosting, check out WPX Hosting.
In 2015, Bigcommerce customers famously experienced 4 DAYS of downtime in one go. 4 days!
I say famously, not that anyone new signing up would be aware (Bigcommerce have since deleted their old forum with the customer complaints on it, and some people were even booted off the platform for being too vocal about it! I’m not kidding). Customers at the time will certainly remember.
Aside from the outage itself, it was how Bigcommerce handled it that further disgruntled a lot of people. They never really took ownership of the problem, instead blaming a third party provider, in this case IBM Softlayer. Even if it was IBM’s fault at its core, it had apparently already happened to Bigcommerce before and a fix and backup still hadn’t been put in place.
In 2014 and 2015, Bigcommerce customers were subjected to over 2 weeks of down time in total.
Shopify customers haven’t (yet) experienced downtime to that extent and stores hosted with them generally seem to be faster.
Finally, we get to what is arguably the most important thing to consider when it comes to picking a shopping cart platform: customer service. It’s something you can never really test until you’ve committed to a platform and ultimately experienced something go wrong, but you can at least learn from other people’s experience.
Going back to what I said at the very start of this post, when you commit to a hosted shopping cart solution, you’re essentially in a partnership. Your business is very reliant on the platform and therefore the people behind it.
You will almost certainly need to come in contact with the support teams of either Shopify or Bigcommerce whether it be a question with building out your store, a billing issue or, in the worse case scenario but somewhat likely, when something significant goes wrong with your store.
I’ve had some pretty annoying encounters with Bigcommerce support staff.
I’ve had times where their Live Chat support have told me to message Email Support, then Email Support have told me to call Phone Support.
I’ve also had emails go ignored and no input on forum threads by an official Bigcommerce representative, when it would have been easy enough for them to do so.
Of course I have had positive experiences as well, typically with minor issues that needed solving, but it is the bad ones that stand out.
I understand it that general Bigcommerce Support has been moved to offshore contractors and you get the experience to match.
I’ve had a far more pleasant experience with Shopify customer support. They’re friendly, skilled and seem to have more power to follow through on issues, or at least say when it needs to be escalated – they’re not penalized for doing so.
If I were to have a serious technical issue, I would hope it to be on my Shopify store.
So, a Clear Winner?
To be clear, I’m not a Shopify fanboy. There are still things that annoy me about the platform and it still irritates me when newbies go on about how great Shopify is when they haven’t ever used an alternative service.
But I’m in no doubt that when it comes to Bigcommerce vs Shopify, the answer is easy: Shopify.
Compared with Bigcommerce, Shopify has a better platform, a better vision, a better eco-system of apps and developers, better customer support and better people behind it in general.
It’s no surprise that it’s the recommended shopping cart platform of various e-commerce training course such as Drop Ship Lifestyle.
Shopify will be perfect for 90% of online store owners but it’s not for everyone. In fact, one thing I suggest you do is think of any specific features you will need your store to have, then see if Shopify will be able to do it, before committing to it. Or you can find out during a free trial.
Whatever your issue, there’s usually an “app for that” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even if the app costs money, it will be considerably less than you’d have to pay if you were to pay a developer to create that function for you. And as I said at the start of this post, you will probably want to base your decision of which shopping cart software to go for on more than just price.
Click Here for a Free Trial of Shopify
… or by all means, go ahead with Bigcommerce.
If, however, you still don’t think Shopify will meet your needs, maybe consider another alternative to Bigcommerce. 😉 Maybe Shopify vs WooCommerce vs Squarespace vs Volusion vs 3Dcart…
If you’re already a customer of either of these companies, do you agree with my Bigcommerce vs Shopify review? Or do you think I’m being unfair? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…
I have a handmade semiprecious jewelry online store with 3DCart since May 2016 and I don’t have any sales yet.
Which platform of ecommerce you can recommend me for increase the sales, which one is the better one for me? I have around 140 items.
Advertise with Google Adwords – use product (shopping ads) by uploading your product feed into merchants.google.com and then link it to the same google adwords account.
This is probably the best review I have come across in the 3 weeks I’ve been researching and using (via free trails) these 2 companies. Just wanted to thank you for writing this article.
I agree on all the points of BigCommerce experience. Been there for 3 years and looking at Shopify. Thank you for the article. BC is raising prices $50.00 a month in 2020.