Shopify VS Bigcommerce: E-commerce Software Comparison (2018)
If you’re a business owner on the hunt for the right e-commerce shopping cart service, you’re probably here to compare and contrast e-commerce software. Shopify and BigCommerce are by far the two foremost e-commerce platforms. But the problem is that both platforms offer many of the same features and services, making it difficult to discern which is the right one for your online shop. The truth is, when deciding between the two, you can’t make a “wrong” decision.
3 Important Factors
- Hosted vs. Self-Hosted – Self-hosting allows you to select one of the many open source e-commerce platforms available on the market, as well as the hosting service of your choice. Flexibility is the advantage of a self-hosted solution in this e-commerce platform comparison. A popular example of this is installing WordPress with your selected hosting provider and using the WooCommerce plugin as your e-commerce software. However, a sufficient amount of technical knowledge will be required for this option. You won’t have much for support services and will need to troubleshoot most problems yourself or hire a developer. A hosted platform is the simpler route and typically what we’d recommend for setting up your shop. The software itself, shopping cart, hosting of your site, and customer service are all included in your package. It’s basically eCommerce in a box. The main benefit with a hosted solution is getting to use a platform that has been and is currently being used by 1,000’s of other shops. You’ll be benefiting from all the features and functionality that have been built, tested and nearly perfected. Of course, buying into this slew of services is bound to cost more than a self-hosted e-commerce platform and can sometimes limit customizations. But for the vast majority of businesses, a hosted e-commerce platform is the right solution.
- Integrations – Even if you’re starting up a brand new online store, you likely have some experience or have done some prior planning. You want to know that the tools you’ve chosen as part of your digital ecosystem are compatible with the particular online store you choose. No need to reinvent the wheel.
- Beauty – Even if you have a great eye for design, you don’t want to spend weeks or months building your front-end, and you definitely don’t want it to look unprofessional or like a one size fits all template.
Both e-commerce software we’re comparing here offer these features and more. Either platform will sufficiently service 90% or more of e-commerce businesses. However, this is your business and you don’t want sufficient, you want perfect.
We have extensive experience designing and developing with both of these shopping cart services. Follow along as we break down different features offered, pricing plans, customization possibilities, and SEO capabilities.
Ease of Use
The simultaneous invention is the idea that an invention or scientific discovery is often made by multiple people, during similar time periods, but independent of each other (re: Calculus). When we take a look at the ease of use in Shopify vs BigCommerce, we’re mainly looking at the main dashboard or admin. And they look incredibly similar.
Both display a menu on the left side for accessing reports, adding products, and most any action you will need to take. The rest of the screen is populated with up to date stats or your most common actions, like editing product. This style is almost identical to other services like WordPress or Squarespace.
Of course, this isn’t pure simultaneous invention; these companies are competitors and certainly keep an eye on each other’s innovations. The point is that what works… works; and both of these platforms have made their names on ease of use, customizations and helpful features.
Shopify Ease of Use Score:
Because of the limited functionality out of the box, Shopify requires more installed apps before most stores are up and running to the owner’s preference. This means digging into the extensive App Store, comparing, and scoping out a price.
But overall, Shopify is one of the easiest merchant experiences you can find. Shopify is dedicated to the ease of use for its customers. Although, some of this simplicity is due to Shopify having fewer options and less out of box customizations which is typically why Shopify works well for beginners and why we’re giving Shopify a whopping 5 out of 5 shopping carts for ease of use.
BigCommerce Ease of Use Score:
For most users, BigCommerce will have more of the functionality needed to get started. And when it comes to maintaining and operating your store, Bigcommerce will be easier to navigate for the slightly more tech-savvy. You’ll see this distinction throughout this e-commerce platform comparison. But because of this slight learning curve, we’re knocking off half a star for Bigcommerce ease of use.
Updating or Creating Products & Categories
The way in which you structure your site is one of the most important steps you’ll take in setting up your shop. It’s something that you’ll continue to maintain as well. Your product categorization has an impact on search engine optimization(SEO) and customer conversions. So of course, this product categorization is one of the key selling points for an e-commerce platform.
Shopify Products & Categories Score:
“Automated collections” as Shopify calls them, or “smart categories” as they are often referred to, are a feature that allows you to categorize your products right in the admin and is based on the info you have provided about each product. For instance, if you want a category of all your red products, create an automated collection to include every product tagged “red” or with the word “red” in the title.
This is an incredibly simple method of organizing your inventory, and for many, it makes Shopify the preferred platform, and why we’re giving it 5 shopping carts for product categorization. However, this requires real dedication to consistent naming conventions, and relying on your product titles for categorization does not always make the most customer-friendly or SEO-friendly products.
BigCommerce Products & Categories Score:
In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually. There is a bulk edit option to expedite the process, but it hardly works in a bulk manner and many would argue Shopify has the advantage in this area. Typically when categorizing products of any scale in BigCommerce one would use the product import feature through a CSV file. This feature is a must however, it can be complicated to get it right especially if you’re not very skilled in Excel.
One thing to consider on either platform is the SKU or product variant limit. Bigcommerce has the advantage here as they allow for an unlimited number of variants UNLESS you are tracking inventory by variants then the limit is 600. Shopify however, without any additional 3rd party apps is limited to only 100 products variants regardless of inventory tracking. So if you have more than 100 product variations, and you don’t mind taking the time to input them all, Bigcommerce will be your best choice. But because that isn’t always the case, we have to give BigCommerce a measly 3 and 1/2 shopping carts for product categorization.
Your website is the central aspect of your online presence. Your front page is your front entrance, and your product categories your lanes and aisles. Staying competitive means maintaining a modern design and a unique brand identity. A huge reason for why you’re on the search for an e-commerce platform is because you likely aren’t a web designer. You’ll want your webstore to look like the year 2018, and not 1998.
Both Bigcommerce and Shopify offer great professional, modern templates right out the of the box. Both offer easy to use features to customize (to varying extents) these themes’ color schemes, layouts, fonts, etc.
But the last thing you need is to get hours or even days into building out your shop, only to realize your chosen platform doesn’t offer what you need or doesn’t look how you had imagined.
What can you customize on these platforms, and how do you do it?
Shopify Customization Score:
There was a time when you could spot a Shopify site from a mile away. The basic plans were just that – basic. With little branding options, boring layouts, and clunky checkout processes, most of these sites were the epitome of the early days of e-commerce, and as time moved on, these sites did not instill a lot of confidence in customers. But gone are the days of running “just a Shopify site.”
Shopify now offers many free themes, and even more priced between $140 and $180. These themes are professional, functional, and beautiful. Frankly, the quality look and feel of these themes is one of the biggest pros for Shopify. Your website will look and function as if you hired the best designer in town, right from the start.
Beyond the editable aspects provided in the admin, further customization requires editing of the code. Shopify is not a platform that expects you to need or want to edit code but does provide for it. Shopify themes use their own language, called Liquid, to better allow for updates to the platform.
As a proprietary language, Liquid is not something most are familiar with. However, many experienced developers attest to its simplicity, and even a novice developer should be able to navigate the code for their own purposes.
But this is further testament to the idea that Shopify is not intended for those with more intense or custom needs. We’re giving Shopify a solid 4 shopping carts for customization.
BigCommerce Customization Score:
Through various features and services, BigCommerce is better than Shopify at cultivating an environment more friendly and encouraging to customization. Things like Stencil, a theming engine, allow for professionals to design and develop “beautiful, dynamic, and powerful storefronts” for merchants.
Offering a robust REST API and webhooks encourages custom development on Bigcommerce, which adds functionality and betters the user experience. While most won’t need this high-level of customization, the ability to shape your site exactly how you want gives BigCommerce a perfect 5 shopping cart rating for customization.
The platform you choose is such an integral part of your business, it’s almost like selecting a new business partner. Of course, as an important partner, they take their cut. If you’re growing, you’ll want your e-commerce platform to grow as well.
For many, pricing is the deciding factor in choosing Shopify or BigCommerce. As you can see below, the two platforms’ pricing plans are extremely similar. However, both have their distinct Achilles heel. Take a look.
Lite: $9 / month
Shopify Basic: $29 / month
Shopify: $79 / month
Advanced Shopify: $299 / month
Shopify Plus: contact for pricing
In your research, you’ll often find Shopify listed as one of the cheapest e-commerce shopping carts around. This is only technically true.
At $9 a month, you can purchase Shopify’s simplest plan. Sounds like a great deal, right? Maybe this is exactly what you need. Although, when you take a quick look, and you’ll see that the “Lite” plan doesn’t even include a webshop.
This plan is intended for those that want to use Shopify as their point-of-sale system or for the online shopping cart itself (if you have an online store or website already set up). So while the $9 is the number you often hear toted, it’s not the plan that is comparable to most other platforms’.
So what about the Achilles heel? For Shopify, it’s their transaction fees. Shopify is one of the very few platforms who actually charge an additional transaction fee. These range from 0.5% – 2% per transaction depending on your plan. Of course, these are waived if you use Shopify Payments as your payment processor versus another option, however, in many cases, it can be helpful to allow other payment options that have a large customer base such as Amazon Pay.
Shopify Payments itself has its critics. While the majority of customers have positive experiences with the service, some Shopify users report that their store is “not permitted” to use Shopify Payments. The service is also only available in select countries. Because of their added transaction fees and the strange pricing system, we’re dropping Shopify down to only 4 shopping carts for pricing.
Standard (up to 50K annual sales): $29.95 / month
Plus (up to 150k annual sales): $79.95
Pro (up to 400k annual sales): $249.95
Enterprise (negotiable): contact for pricing
Again, you’ll see the plans offered by BigCommerce are highly comparable to those offered by Shopify. But are there differences at all? Notably, Bigcommerce takes the win in this category, providing gift cards, reporting, and live shipping calculations with all plans – features not included in Basic Shopify.
So what’s the catch? Well, BigCommerce has revenue based tiers on each plan and if you exceed the tier for your plan then you’re required to move up to the next plan or pay additional fees based on revenue in excess of that tier. While many shop owners may not like the revenue pricing model, tiered pricing similar to this is fairly common practice in SAAS business models. Shopify does not have revenue based tiers. Overall, BigCommerce ends up on top (if only slightly) by offering incentives at the lower levels, and a cheaper price at the top end. We’re giving BigCommerce the edge here with 5 shopping carts for pricing.
Integrations, Customization, Apps & API’s
Your shop is not an island. It uses a multitude of tools to bring your product from the sourcing stage to net profit, and you’ve chosen those tools carefully to make your ecosystem work best for you. Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer a serviceable number of integrations, including the big ones like MailChimp, Quickbooks Online, and ShipStation.
But will you be able to integrate your other, perhaps less known tools into your chosen shopping cart? Nothing is worse than a platform that feels like it’s trying to sell you yet another platform.
While Shopify and BigCommerce will be functional for most businesses straight out of the box, both will almost certainly need at least a few apps or other add-ons to fit your shop’s needs. The number and type of these apps also vary significantly between the two platforms.
Shopify is perhaps best known for the wide range of integrations and add-ons available to users. We’re talking in the thousands. Shopify is more limited out of the box than Bigcommerce, creating the need for this large library of apps. It is also known that Shopify has a much larger user base, meaning a larger pool of developers creating for the platform. This out of the box limitation drops Shopify by half a cart, but overall should have enough apps and integrations to make up for its shortcomings.
Currently, the BigCommerce Marketplace offers around 600 apps, add-ons or integrations, nearly one quarter the size of Shopify’s library. Note that the base of your Bigcommerce plan will offer more in the way of features than Shopify, requiring fewer of these apps or add-ons.
An area where most developers would agree BigCommerce is a clear winner is within their Application Program Interface (API). The API with BigCommerce is much more comprehensive and developer friendly than Shopify’s. This is a critical component if you need to have advanced customizations, functionality or integrate with a custom or uncommon software or solution. This great API gives BigCommerce a perfect 5 shopping carts for apps and integrations.
There are many factors to consider for a comprehensive SEO strategy and some of them are completely off-site. Shopify and Bigcommerce offer similar features in this department and for the most part, meet the majority of SEO best practices. However, there are a few minor differences.
- AMP – both platforms offer this Google-backed feature that essentially serves a stripped down version of your page to mobile users to facilitate a faster loading time, thus reducing all kinds of negative metrics, like bounce rate. Traditionally, this feature is for text-heavy pages like blog posts, but both platforms now offer the ability to format your product pages for AMP as well. One caveat – AMP is a paid add-on with Shopify, but an included feature with BigCommerce.
- The Basics – meta descriptions, page titles, headings, and alt-text are all very easy to update on either platform.
- Redirects – While managing an e-commerce shop, you will definitely need to change the names or categorization of pages from time to time as your inventory changes or is optimized for better conversion. When this occurs, it’s an SEO best practice to place a redirect on the former page to tell the browser where the new page is, and pass along the correct “SEO juice.” Slight advantage here goes to BigCommerce. While both offer this, only BigCommerce give you the option to automatically generate the redirect or don’t. Shopify however, prompts you to create the redirect.
- Friendly URLs – Google likes URLs that are shorter and to the point. While you can still add keywords to your URLs with Shopify, you don’t have complete control. Shopify structures URLs around categorization, placing prefixes like /products/ and /collections/ on all your product and category pages. Bigcommerce, however, easily allows you to forgo these structures and customize or create a short, friendly URL such as; www.shop.com/green-hat.
As an e-commerce operator, you’ll find most all the SEO tools you need to optimize your website’s search success. But the need to add paid add-ons and a somewhat inflexible URL structure give Shopify a lower rating of 3 and a half shopping carts for SEO.
The SEO features found in BigCommerce are very simple, but again, they cater to users with slightly more technical knowledge than your average shop owner. Because Bigcommerce offers less structure and guidance in their SEO fields, it’s best to have an understanding of how they support your search success (H1s, titles, etc).
This and things like free AMP formatting and friendly URLs give BigCommerce an edge in SEO with 4 and 1/2 shopping carts.
Comparing E-commerce Software – Shopify vs. BigCommerce
Like we said, there are a lot of options out there for e-commerce software, but when choosing between Shopify and Bigcommerce, either can be your right decision. They both offer most all of the same base features, with the distinctions coming in at a granular level, things you likely won’t notice until you are well into the building of your store.
That’s why we absolutely recommend taking both for a test drive. Shopify offers a 14-day free trial, but you must buy into a plan before that time is up in order to keep the work you put in during your trial. Bigcommerce offers a 15-day free trial, no credit card required.
But what difference do these differences make? Who should choose which platform? Is Bigcommerce better than Shopify?
Our Recommendation and Winner: BigCommerce
More often than not we recommend BigCommerce, mainly due to its advanced ability for customizations. We’re a marketing agency first and don’t like not being able to do something that could improve the user-experience or help improve sales. That being said both platforms typically are great options.
Why Shopify?: If you’re not sure what kind of online shop you are, you’re probably a Shopify. The platform will serve the novice e-commerce proprietor best, considering its incredible ease of use and broad resource base. The downsides include a potentially complicated pricing scheme, that has the potential to only get more complicated and expensive the more apps and add-ons needed.
The question here is not whether Bigcommerce is better than Shopify, but which is right for you. Even after you have decided to go with a Shopify store, continue to research – are there apps with the exact features you need? Will your desired payment processor work with your shop? Given the transaction fees, how much will you really be paying?
Why BigCommerce?: If you have any hesitation about Shopify being able to provide the level of customization you need, go with Bigcommerce. This is a platform that embraces the customizers, the developers. Yet, for the average e-commerce shop, Bigcommerce is still an excellent platform that will accommodate your growth for potentially the entirety of its lifespan. At AdShark, we recommend Bigcommerce more times than not. Click here to check out how we can help you on your Bigcommerce journey, and check back on this blog for more e-commerce resources.