The MC Hammer Guide to Shopify vs Bigcommerce

Shopify-BC-MC-ImgThe great debates never get old: Ford vs. Chevy.  Mac vs. PC.  Boxers vs. briefs.

And if you’re an eCommerce nut like I am: Shopify vs. Bigcommerce.

If you’ve explored starting a store, chances are good you’ve struggled with this decision, as Shopify and Bigcommerce are the two best known hosted carts. So which do you choose?

I know a lot about each of the platforms, but realized recently I’ve never actually used either platform to build a store, as I’ve run my stores on Magento for years. It’s not often that inexperience is an asset, but in this case it positioned me well to try out both platforms with no experience bias and to report on the results.

In this post, I’ll be creating a store from scratch on both Shopify and Bigcommerce (selling MC Hammer pants, no less!), and sharing my thoughts on the process, features and experience.

 

A Few Disclaimers

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty review, there are a few things you should know:

I’ve met with and know people from both companies and, in the case of Shopify, collaborated with them to write a book on drop shipping. So while I’ll do my best to give you a fair, honest review, you should be aware of that background.

Also, this review contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you sign up for either service. If you’d rather not use those, you can click on these non-affiliate links for both Shopify and Bigcommerce.

With that being said, let’s build a few stores.

 

Shopify Setup & First Impressions

Getting set up with Shopify was really straightforward. I was expecting a somewhat long process involving entering a credit card, registering a domain, etc. But to my surprise, I was up and running, customizing my store, 30 seconds after entering my email address – no payment required.

My goal with onboarding was to see how long it took to get my account set up, get a feel for the interface and get a very basic store live with a customized homepage, name and product added. With Shopify, it took me about 30 minutes from signup until I was proudly able to introduce the world to MC Hammer Express: THE place to go for all your parachute pant needs.

Overall, the process was  straightforward but it did take a little digging to find a few things. For example, finding the settings to customize the homepage sliders took a few minutes, as it was 2 or 3 menu items deep. I also had to re-login to activate the theme I selected for my store, which was a bit odd. But, heck, I was able to be open for business in 30 minutes. Try doing that with Magento!

 

My Shopify Homepage

Shopify-Homepage

 

My Shopify Product Page

Shopify-Proudct-Page

 

Bigcommerce Setup & First Impressions

Just like Shopify, I was in my Bigcommerce account and configuring things within 60 seconds of submitting my email. Total setup time – to get the site live, slightly customized and with a product – was similar at about 25 minutes. You can see the Bigcommerce version of MC Hammer Express below.

But I did feel the setup/onboarding experience was slightly more intuitive with Bigcommerce.  The wizard did a really good job of walking me through all aspects of the process, and I was quickly able to find where I could customize the slider for the homepage.  Not a huge difference – it took 25 minutes vs. 30 minutes to get set up in Shopify – but it was noticeable.

 

Bigcommerce Homepage

BC-Homepage

 

Bigcommerce Product Page

BC-Product-Page

 

Product Management

Adding products to both carts was a snap, particularly in Shopify. Everything I needed to add items was on one streamlined page, including quickly adding three variants for my Hammer Pants. It couldn’t have taken more than 2 or 3 minutes to have my product live.

Bigcommerce’s product-adding interface isn’t quite as streamlined and spans a number of tabs. And trying to get basic sizes set up for my product was a bit more confusing – definitely not as intuitive as Shopify’s interface.

But if you’re after more advanced product options, Bigcommerce seemed to have more options and customization available, at least out of the box. It was possible to show different product pictures when different options were selected, and commonly used option sets could be saved to be easily applied to products added in the future.

 

Adding Products in Bigcommerce

BC-Add-a-Product

 

Adding Products in Shopify

Shopify-Add-a-Product

 

SEO

I’d heard horror stories in the past that both platforms didn’t allow customizing of  the most basic of SEO tags. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Shopify and Bigcommerce both make it really easy to set what I consider the three most important page-level attributes: page meta title, meta description and page URL. Below is Shopify’s interface for setting SEO tags, which looks almost identical to Bigcommerce’s:

 

Shopify-SEO

 

Catalog & Category Management

Shopify doesn’t use categories. Instead, it uses what are called collections to group products. On one hand, it offers some neat functionality in the ability to automatically group products with common tags into a similar collection.

But it’s impossible to create sub-collections (or sub-categories). You can achieve a sub-category feel by manually creating nested menus in the navigation, but it’s a bit tricky. And it makes implementing navigation breadcrumbs difficult.

Bigcommerce’s category management is more traditional and familiar. You can create categories and sub-categories quickly. And at least for the theme I was using, the categories were then automatically reflected in the store’s drop-down navigation structure.

 

Theme Selection & Quality

Up until a few months ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated in telling you that Shopify had a far superior collection of themes – something even I think Bigcommerce folks would have admitted was true. But with the recent Bigcommerce “Next” release, that gap has closed.

Bigcommerce’s theme library now boasts a number of great-looking, professional themes. While it’s a welcome addition, members of the eCommerceFuel private forum have bemoaned the fact that most/all of the fully responsive themes are paid themes, something that caused disappointment.

 

Old-BC-Themes

New-BC-Themes

 

Despite the improvements, I’d say Shopify still has the advantage in terms of available themes. They’ve had their theme marketplace open to designers longer, and there’s a deeper pool of talent developing themes for them. Browsing the Shopify theme store, there just appears to be a larger number of quality themes available.

It’s influenced heavily by the specific themes I picked, but I also noticed my Shopify store had a much cleaner look to it out-of-the-gates than my Bigcommerce shop (see pictures above). I tend to like stripped-down designs that I can slowly add to versus designs I have to subtract a lot from, and I liked that Shopify started with a less-cluttered approach. But again, this is largely influenced by the specific themes that I picked.

 

Shopify-Themes

 

Making Design Changes & the Template System

Before signing up, I expected both platforms to have a drag-and-drop interface for editing the store. So I was surprised when I discovered this was available on Bigcommerce but not Shopify. Given how convenient the visual interface was in Bigcommerce, I wondered why it wasn’t a Shopify feature.

Investigating further, I chatted with eCommerceFuel private forum member Andrew Bleakly of AndrewBleakley.com. He’s worked extensively to customize both Shopify and Bigcommerce stores and had this to say on the difference between the two platforms’ design framework:

Shopify provides direct access to the store data and supports a programming language to manipulate the design based on the user, cart, product or order. This makes templates in Shopify infinitely flexible and customizable but necessitates having a developer on board to make changes and updates as required because the templates can be easily broken by someone not familiar with code.

Bigcommerce uses a more shielded combination of static templates instead of providing direct access to data. This allows Bigcommerce to offer DIY drag and drop design tools for store owners looking to self-manage but limits the flexibly of the templates and design choices.

So, Bigcommerce does offer a really convenient drag-and-drop interface but – according to Andrew –  you’ll be giving up some advanced template and design capabilities for it. With Shopify, you’re more likely to need a developer to make customizations, but they’ll have much more control and flexibility as a result.

Andrew’s opinion was backed up by Stephen Tangerman, a fellow private forum member and developer who examined both platforms and ultimately chose Shopify due to the development implications:

As someone with a development background, Shopify’s framework is big for me. Their “liquid” language allows me to create just about any dynamic HTML snippet utilizing almost and data property in the core store data model.

Shopify also offers the Desktop Theme Editor, a downloadable app for the Mac that makes it easy to design a theme on your local computer and quickly sync the changes with the live store.

Wrapping your head around design interfaces can be a bit difficult, so I’ve put together two screencasts below walking you through how changes are made on both platforms.

 

Bigcommerce Design Interface Walkthrough

     

Shopify Design Interface Walkthrough

 

Available Apps & Feature Sets

Shopify has, hands down, the most vibrant add-on app marketplace. They offer more than 650 apps, nearly four times more than Bigcommerce has available. You’ll definitely be more likely to find the exact app you need in the Shopify marketplace.

Bigcommerce has always been touted as having more built-in default features, which I found to be true. Shopify doesn’t include some features on all their plans that Bigcommerce offers by default – things like real-time shipping quotes, gift certificates, product reviews and integrated email marketing tools. Some of these features are included with higher-end Shopify plans, while others require apps.

Just about all of these features can be duplicated in Shopify, sometimes using free apps. Take, for example, the numerous free product review apps available in the Shopify marketplace. So it’s a mixed bag. You do get more features with Bigcommerce by default, but you have a much larger selection of apps to supplement your store on Shopify.

 

Developer & Support Community

Shopify definitely has the advantage here, boasting a larger community of developers and designers than Bigcommerce. This is partly due to the fact that they’re larger, and partly due to the fact that only recently (Q1 of 2014) did Bigcommerce open up their theme and app store, incentivizing developers and designers to proactively create for the platform. A few examples:

As we’ve mentioned, the Shopify app store has nearly four times the number of apps. In terms of themes, it’s not nearly as large of a difference, but there are definitely more available for Shopify – especially on the high end. Both are direct results of the number of people working on the platform.

When browsing the Shopify and Bigcommerce expert partner pages, Shopify has significantly more design and developers listed. And comparing skill sets of eCommerceFuel private forums members, Shopify seems to be the most widely known platform: more than twice as many consultants were experienced with Shopify than Bigcommerce.

 

Point-of-Sale Integration

I am and always have been a 100% online retailer – no bricks and mortar for me. But if I did have an offline presence, Shopify’s POS integration (that stands for “point of sale,” for everyone snickering right now) would be really hard to turn down.

The Shopify POS integration uses an iPad and a special card reader to allow you to easily accept payment in your store, all while maintaining centralized customer and inventory records across both your online and physical stores.  The Shopify POS system also has a mobile app that pairs with the card reader, making it easy to sell at remote locations like trade shows or fairs.

Overall a pretty cool feature, and not something that’s available on Bigcommerce.

 

Payment Options & Checkout

Both platforms will let you connect with just about any payment gateway, from PayPal to Authorize.net. So if desired, you can shop around for the best merchant provider for your needs and plug them directly into your shopping cart. And if you’d rather get started selling immediately, both also support payment exclusively via PayPal.

PayPal integrates a bit differently between the two platforms. On Bigcommerce, you have the option to enter all of your personal details on your store’s native checkout page. Then you’re transferred to PayPal to make the final payment.

With Shopify, customers need to enter all their information via PayPal’s interface. While this isn’t a big deal for customers with an existing PayPal account and saved information, it’s a slightly less streamlined process for customers without a PayPal account, as they’ll be taken off your site for a longer period.

The native, on-site checkout process is also different between carts. On Shopify, customers leave your store’s domain to check out via a shared Shopify checkout funnel, which isn’t customizable.

Bigcommerce’s checkout is more streamlined. Checkout pages are hosted on the store’s domain, and the template is somewhat customizable. So the base URL will stay the same, and you can make tweaks to the checkout look and feel as needed.

 

Built-In Merchant Processing

Shopify is the only one with its own in-house payment gateway that you can apply for quickly within the Shopify interface. It’s a nice choice if you want to get up and running as quickly as possible and don’t want to fuss about with a third party.

While definitely convenient, the rates aren’t going to be rock bottom and are tied to the plan you’re on. If you’re on Shopify’s cheapest plan, you’ll pay 2.9%, which is definitely on the higher side for processing rates.

This drops to 2.25% for upper-level plans, which is more competitive. But if you’re doing a lot of volume, it’s always good to shop your rates around to get the best price – something you won’t be able to do on Shopify payments.

Shopify’s built-in merchant processing also offers the advantage of having all payment data natively integrated into your Shopify store to ensure more seamless accounting, refunds/upcharges and reconciliation without having to use a separate payment interface.

 

Customer Support

To get a sense of support quality and time, I contacted each company via phone and instant chat.

I’ve always heard great things about Shopify’s support, so I was a little surprised that it took 15 minutes to get someone on the phone. When I did, they were very helpful and friendly, and followed up immediately via email with links to documents we had discussed. Chat support was also fast and responsive, and I had someone online almost immediately.

I was able to get a Bigcommerce rep on the phone in about 5 minutes who was also knowledgeable about my question. And after signing up, a rep from Bigcommerce also reached out to me via email and called to see if I had any questions and/or could help, which was a nice touch.

Bud oddly, when I tried to start a chat session, it became unavailable. This occurred in the mid-afternoon during business hours, so I’m not sure if there was a technical glitch or what occurred. I asked around in the eCommerceFuel private forums, and other Bigcommerce users mentioned they’d also noticed chat randomly going offline midday.

There are always horror stories that get circulated, but I think it’s safe to assume you’ll receive a reasonable level of support from either company.

July 2014 Update:  Bigcommerce is now offering 24/7 support via phone, chat and email.

 

Educational Content & Training

I debated including this in the write-up, as publicly available educational content on the web isn’t really something you need to commit to a platform to enjoy. Ultimately, I decided it was worth mentioning, because it illustrates each company’s dedication to continuing education and putting quality eCommerce content into the world.

Historically, I’ve been really impressed with Shopify’s commitment to producing high-quality eCommerce content – both in terms of their blog and educational guides. As I mentioned, I’ve worked with them on a number of content projects and initially sought them out, given their impressive track record in the area.

Shopify has also done some really cool things in the media and PR space, including their annual Build-a-Business Contest, which has encouraged thousands of entrepreneurs to build an online store.

Bigcommerce has definitely been stepping up their content marketing and blogging efforts recently, and I’ve come across a number of interesting posts they’ve created in the last few months. I’m looking forward to watching that trend continue in the future.

 

Pricing

One word on pricing before we dive into the specifics: Few things irritate me as much as people claiming to be “serious” entrepreneurs obsessing over a $5 price difference. Or, even worse, refusing to sign up with a service because it costs $20/month.

To some extent, price is – of course – always a consideration. But if you’re unwilling spend $20/month on your business or an extra $5/month to upgrade to the right platform, I doubt you’ll last long in the eCommerce game. People complaining about pricing at this level usually are simply distracting themselves from the hard work of getting down to it and building their business. Or they’re too cheap to invest in building a real business.

So don’t let that be you! Now that I’ve finished venting, let’s discuss pricing.

 

Bigcommerce Pricing

  • Silver Plan:  5GB storage limit, unlimited products and bandwidth, 2% transaction fee – $34.95/month
  • Gold Plan:  Unlimited storage and bandwidth, no transaction fee, extra features (abandon cart, loyalty, omni-channel) – $79.95/month
  • Platinum Plan:  All features of the Gold plan, “White Glove” store setup and high-volume API access – $199.95/month

Bigcommerce recently rolled out this new pricing plan, which caused some consternation among store owners and sparked a very active and opinionated discussion in the private forums. The two biggest issues: transaction fees and API rules/access.

Historically, people criticized Shopify because they charged a transaction fee and Bigcommerce didn’t. Not having to pay a transaction fee was one of the more common reasons people cited for choosing Bigcommerce over Shopify.  So I, along with others, was pretty surprised to see Bigcommerce institute a 2% fee on all transactions (this is in addition to credit card fees) for the Silver plan.

The other noteworthy change on the new pricing: API access. All plans but Platinum limit API calls to 20,000 requests/hour and don’t provide support for API troubleshooting and integration (full details here). This call limit shouldn’t be a problem for most users, but you will need the highest tiered plan to get help with API questions, which may be frustrating for smaller merchants building custom integrations.

 

Shopify Pricing

All Shopify plans (apart from the Starter plan) come with unlimited products, a free card reader and 24/7 support.

  • Starter – 25 product limit, 1GB storage limit. No card reader, discount coupons or HTML/CSS editing – $14/month
  • Basic – 1GB storage limit. No transaction fee if processing cards with Shopify, otherwise 2% – $29/month.
  • Professional – 5GB storage, gift cards and cart recovery. No fee if processing cards with Shopify, otherwise 1% – $79/month.
  • Unlimited – Unlimited storage. All Professional plan options plus real-time carrier shipping. No transaction fees regardless of processing merchant – $179/month.

Shopify offers a bare-bones plan at $14/month, but it offers minimal functionality. The real comparable plans to Bigcommerce’s offerings start at $29/month with the Basic package.

Most notably, there are no transaction fees as long as you use Shopify’s in-house card processing. As we discussed earlier, this may or may not be the best choice for your business. If you do use an outside merchant, you’ll likely be paying a transaction fee between 1% to 2%. Only the highest level Shopify plan offers no transaction fees under any circumstances.

Finally, there is no limitation on API access or support. For advanced users, having access to API support at lower price tiers is definitely a major plus.

But note that Shopify plans don’t include a number of features in the lower-level plans that are included by default in all Bigcommerce plans, including real-time shipping quotes and gift certificates. You’ll have to upgrade to the Professional level plan for those.

 

Wrap Up

So which platform is right for you? If you’ve made it this far, there’s certainly a lot to consider. Fortunately, there’s good news.

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify are excellent platforms and eons ahead of what I used to build my first store. I challenge anyone to set up and customize a store with Zencart (my original cart) in a few hours that doesn’t look like death, and I guarantee you’ll be dancing with joy over the decision you get to make.

Ultimately, your decision of which cart to pick will not make or break your business. Instead, your success will come down to offering a great product, adding value, taking great care of your customers and marketing/hustling like crazy. The platform can help, but it’s not what you should be losing sleep over at night.

So if this is the 14th Shopify vs. Bigcommerce review you’ve read – stop! Quit reading, pick one and move forward with building your business! You’re wasting valuable time.

With that being said, here are my thoughts on both platforms.

 

Final Shopify Thoughts

Shopify is – and has been for some time – the market leader in hosted carts for small to medium-sized merchants, both in terms of customers and the size of their ecosystem. They’re probably your best bet if you:

  • Want the most options. From theme selection to developer talent to app selection, Shopify is hands-down the winner.
  • Need a fully integrated retail solution. Shopify’s the only one to offer an integrated point-of-sale system for offline selling and built-in payment gateway.
  • Don’t want to pay up for API support. If you want to build your own custom integrations on Bigcommerce, you’ll have to pay a minimum of $200 per month for access to API technical support.
  • Are aesthetically focused. If you sell fashion products, or anything else with strong visuals, it’s hard to beat Shopify for quickly building a great-looking, uncluttered store. There are simply more professional themes to choose from and a larger pool of designer talent.

 

Final Bigcommerce Thoughts

I was impressed with the Bigcommerce platform, especially with the setup and onboarding process. They’re still catching up to Shopify in a number of areas – specifically in terms of their ecosystem – but they’ve made some great progress in the last year.

Bigcommerce is probably your best bet if you:

  • Have a large and/or complex catalog of items. The product management interface has more options for accommodating complex options, and it’s easier to create a traditional nested category hierarchy.
  • Value the ability to make basic changes using a visual drag-and-drop interface without having to code. Bigcommerce is the only platform to offer this.
  • Value maximum out-of-the-box functionality. All Bigcommerce stores include features like real-time shipping quotes, gift certificates and integrated email marketing  –  tools that aren’t included with all Shopify plans. It’s possible to recreate many of these with apps, but Bigcommerce still has the edge in terms of built-in default features.
  • Must have the ability to customize your checkout process. This is currently impossible with Shopify.

 

Get an Exclusive Discount

I’ve managed to negotiate a discount on Shopify exclusively for eCommerceFuel readers and hope to secure one for Bigcommerce shortly. Because I’m not allowed to publish these publicly, I’m making them available via email. To get details on how to activate the discounts and/or extended trial periods, enter your email below:

You can also try out both carts – albeit at full price – via the banners below:

 

shopify-button

bigcommerce-button

 

A big thank you to forum members Andrew Bleakley, Stephen Tangerman, Michelle Coleman and Mark Mathson for their input on this review.

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Comments

  1. Mike Thompson says:

    Andrew,

    Any experience with, or opinions regarding Volusion? I am starting my shop with them, and am having a bit of trouble with site design (it’s a me problem, not a Volusion issue, to be honest).

    Thanks!

    • Andrew says:

      Hey Mike. Haven’t used it personally so can’t say for sure. It’s a bit of an older platform, and I have heard that it does have some unique functionality that makes managing really large catalogs (thousands and thousands of SKUs) easier.

      But apart from that, don’t know it well in terms of features, pros and cons, etc. May need to launch a 3rd MC Hammer store for comparison…..

      • Josh Ludin says:

        I once built a store on Volusion and really loved all the available support – since it’s been around so long, there are TONS of thorough support videos.

    • Tony says:

      Mike…run for the hills. Pvt me and I can fill you in as to why I said so.

      The trick is you’ll never get a Volusion site up and running without a developer or without paying their 99% developer fee. They don;t tell you that upfront and you waste valuable time that could be spent searching elsewhere.

  2. Quinton Hamp says:

    Really glad you did this review.
    I’ve got to say that my experience with Shopify is exactly as you describe it. (Only, I think I will praise their customer service team a little more. I love calling them. Too much so.)

    I moved from Shopify to Woo to “save money”. As I describe on my blog, it has cost me plenty (unless going from $500/month profit to $50 a month profit is making money). Now I need to move back, but I don’t have the “hutzpah” to want to go through a platform change again.

    The one thing I do not like about these platforms is that the images are hosted on their CDNs. Granted, it is the only way to get the sites to be super-fast, but it seems like it would make it harder to drive traffic via pinterest of Google Image results.

    • Andrew says:

      Hey Quinton! Interesting, didn’t know all the images were CDN hosted – interesting implications for image search.

      Good luck with the transition back to Shopify. Migrating carts is always a headache….

    • Leo says:

      hey Quinton! Is your store still on WooCommerce? :) And yes, is the traffic still affected? :)

      thanks!

  3. Ben says:

    Great overview of both the solutions. I recently went from Shopify to BigCommerce and am still trying to figure out which one is better. Most of the reasons were similar to what you discussed but mainly came down to bang for my buck out of the box. BigCommerce has a lot more analytics that they offer out of the box (Shopify you need to pay the $79/month to get those). Their themes have been updated of which I think their free ones are now slightly better than Shopify’s. They also added blogging functionality that they lacked before with free commenting through disqus – better for SEO as the default comment functionality (Shopify you need to pay extra).
    Overall I think that if you pay for the middle tier of pricing you won’t find much difference between the two. Both are definitely good places to start for any store!

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Ben! Great to hear your perspective.

      One thing that stood out – not positive, but I “think” comments with Disqus aren’t visible to Google and so therefore can’t help with SEO unless that’s changed. So may want to look into that.

      Appreciate you reading and good luck on BC moving forward!

  4. Haji Warithu Haji Tengah says:

    nice review

    what about woocommerce ?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Haji. It’s obviously another cart option, but it didn’t make sense to cover in this post. This one was dedicated solely to Shopify vs. Bigcommerce as they are much more comparable. WooCommerce is a plug-in for WordPress and is self-hosted – so definitely a different best.

      Perhaps will need to do a review on it at some point in the future.

  5. Hi Andrew,

    thanks for this article. I think the SEO part needs some expansion as the biggest beef I have with shopify is that I can not change the URL structure and always need to have their slugs for products, categories, pages, posts in the URL.

    BigCommerce allows me to have much better control over this: https://support.bigcommerce.com/questions/1331/What+placeholders+can+I+use+for+custom+URLs+and+how+do+they+work%3F

    Chris

  6. Tony says:

    Thanks Andrew. I owe you a serious debt of gratitude as without your blogs and information we would be no place and still in search of commerce.

  7. Wendi says:

    Andrew,

    This is a FANTASTIC article and I’ll be bookmarking it for future reference and to share with my customers. BTW, I love your pricing rant as we may see this side of merchants too!

    I’m always fascinated when a merchant decides to switch platforms. Usually it makes sense because of growth. However, I always think of the Shopify-Bigcommerce moves (both ways) as more of a lateral step which has been a bit baffling. Migration is a huge pain so what is driving it? What I’m hearing on a much more frequent basis is going to Shopify for their POS functionality.

    Kudos to you on your ethics for disclosing your relationship with both of them! Full disclosure: 4-Tell creates product recommendations that plug into both of these platforms (and many others) too.

    Thanks, again, for such a great – and fair – article.

    • Andrew says:

      Appreciated, thanks Wendi! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Moving platforms is a huge task. A lot of people thing you can use a wizard to automate it, but that’s just not the case if you want a professional, well done store on the other side. There’s usually a lot of manual work involved. Personally, if I had an embedded store on either platform it would take a lot to convince me to move due to the huge amount of hassle.

      Again, thanks for reading!

  8. Scott McKirahan says:

    I’ve built stores on both platforms, and unlike you, have no problems at all COMPLETELY customizing the themes on my BigCommerce stores. You just need to figure out how and where to insert things in the html templates and know your way around CSS. There is absolutely NOTHING I haven’t been able to fully customize as far as the look of my BigCommerce stores go.

    One of my main reasons for choosing BigCommerce over Shopify came down to product options. With Shopify, you are limited to 100 options for a product (unless you want to pay extra for an app). That may sound like a lot of options but it really isn’t. If you have 5 sizes, 5 colors and 5 textures, for instance, that’s 125 product options (5x5x5). That’s a pretty serious problem for many types of stores!

    The real deal killer for Shopify for me was payment processing. One thing you neglected to mention with the built-in Shopify payment solution (which is really Stripe – not their own payment processing company) is that it takes one week for you to get payments transferred to you after customers have made them. That can create a huge problem with stores dropshipping high priced items unless you have a ton of money of your own or think customers will wait a week for you to ship. When you use a real payment processor, that money is generally deposited into your account within two business days. Waiting a week to get $1,000 and $2,000 payments from customers was simply not doable!

    • Coby says:

      Stripe sent out an email yesterday stating their payouts will now be received within 2 business days instead of 7.

    • Andrew says:

      Great thoughts, Scott – You obviously have a ton of experience here and appreciate you sharing.

      It didn’t come across strongly enough in my review, but I wasn’t saying you couldn’t customize HTML and CSS for Bigcommerce. With just a handful of days to try to get to know the systems, I wasn’t going to be able to give a qualified opinion on the template engines behind each. So that’s why I included opinions from people with experience with both.

      I think the biggest thing they communicated to me was that Shopify offers more flexibility for really complex customizations using dynamic data (product name, customer name, etc) in the template. But, again, like you mentioned both offer full HTML and CSS customization.

      Very good to know with product options as well. For shops with lots of different SKU variations, obviously a strong thing to consider. Also very valid point on the Stripe delay. Not sure if it’s been rolled out for everyone, but I did hear that Stripe (and possibly Shopify as well) are making available a 2-day (vs. 7 day) deposit period which is much more in-line with industry standards. A Stripe screenshot here: http://cl.ly/UpnZ.

      Again, thanks for the comments – you bring up a lot of important points.

  9. Anthony says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I just wanted to mention that it is possible to directly edit the HTML/CSS on BigCommerce. Information on how to find those files are in the BigCommerce forum.

    Best,
    Anthony

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Anthony! Yep, realized that but obviously didn’t make that very clear in the review. Going back to clarify / add that now.

  10. Daniyar says:

    Mike did you try Ecwid.com? For me Shopify is much better because of price for Basic Plan in compares with Bigcommerce.
    Ecwid also have some plans but price is hire than Shopify but less than Bigcommerce.

  11. Alex says:

    Thanks for posting Andrew. Not a ton to add but just wanted to say thanks for the wealth of information you’ve made available on your site. I recently started with Shopify and have had a mostly positive experience so far.

  12. Walter says:

    Thanks for offering the discount Andrew! I may take advantage of it. I have probably read many more reviews of these 2 platforms than necessary.
    My concern with Shopify is that I have heard many of the features are only available by paying for an app. Is that the case? Would the same features on Bigcommerce cost less or does it work out to about the same?

  13. mark says:

    One of the most informative posts I’ve read for while in this space
    Great work Great value!!!!

  14. Sean Smith says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I hope all is well and thank you for the article. I am starting an online store and am evaluating volusion, shopify, and bigcommerce. I noticed you mentioned you use Magento for your stores. How come you choose Magento over Shopify or Bigcommerce for your stores?

    Best,
    Sean

    • Andrew says:

      Hey Sean! When I got started, Shopify and Bigcommerce weren’t super well know – so I picked Magento. Magento is a pretty powerful cart, but it’s also pretty complex. Starting out today, if I were starting from scratch, I’d probably pick a hosted cart like Shopify or Bigcommerce.

      As a company gets larger and scales beyond $1 million in sales, it’s common to start running into some of the restrictions having someone else host your software causes. But if you’re not tech savvy, I think it makes much more sense to cross that bridge if/when you come to it and start with something that you can manage easily.

      Hope this helps.

  15. Andrew,

    Great article here man. I’ve never used Bigcommerce but have built a couple of stores using Shopify. A couple of points that I think are worth mentioning.

    1) While not advertised, Shopify does have a “dormant” plan mode. This costs $10/month and is helpful for people that have used up their free trial but are not ready to sell products yet (for whatever reasons). In the dormant mode, users can still navigate the site, but are not able to actually go through the checkout process. I’ve used this mode a couple of times when I have a site under construction but not yet ready to sell (in fact using it right now with one of my sites). To get the “dormant” plan, just call their customer service line and tell them you want to be put on it.

    2) For stores that have a larger number of SKUs, the product management system within Shopify will take forever if adding products one by one. Shopify (and I assume Bigcommerce) offer an option to import products via a CSV file. Shopify’s import process has always worked very well for me, but I’ve seen others get stuck in two places: 1) If they have little knowledge on how to navigate and work within Excel (on an intermediate to advanced level) and 2) having to embed the HTML within the Excel CSV file in order to change formatting for the product pages. I mention this only because for people starting larger stores, this will typically be the method you will be using.

    Hope this helps. Take care.

    Brad

    • Andrew says:

      Great additions Brad, thank you!

      Can definitely see how the dormant plan would come in handy. And for the record, I believe that Bigcommerce also has a pretty good import / export features as well.

      Thanks again and best of luck with those Shopify stores….

  16. Faye says:

    Thank you Andrew for such an honest review.I am searching for a ecommerce builder platform, and the comparison and discussion is very helpful. It seems I’m going to opt for Shopify, but would definitely be interested in an honest Volusion review to decide best.

    • Andrew says:

      Very welcome, Faye! May have to do that Volusion review – you’re the second person that’s asked so far in the comments.

  17. Jason Dea says:

    Great article and very balanced reviews on both sides. One limitation I’ll point out in Shopify that we noticed here building one of our client stores is out of the box they only support a handful of pick, pack and ship fulfilment houses. Without an easy way to interface their stores with other PPS houses, we built a small app simply to schedule CSV to FTP order dumps.

    A rather specific issue, but something to keep in mind if you don’t ship locally and use a 3rd party PPS vendor. Don’t know if BigCommerce shares this issue.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Jason, and good to know. So the app you built, was it similar to something like Ordoro or ShipStation which facilitates 3PL / fulfillment with other ship locations?

      • Jason Dea says:

        Yes, albeit very stripped down to bare bones functionality. We’re building a more ambitious referrals all, and this particular need came up while doing that, so we figured it’d be a nice way to get our feet wet with the Shopify APIs. We side-loaded it onto the store, but since it works and we have the resources, we’re polishing it (UI) to submit formally to their app store.

        I suppose that should be my other Shopify comment. From a partner perspective, they are overall pretty easy to work with. Although they do have a STRONG preference for virtual communication vs phone which can be a tad annoying at times.

  18. Mark C says:

    I have been using V for about 2.5 years. I reviewed Shopify, Big Commerce before taking the plunge with V. All offer great features. I ruled out Shopify from the beginning. While Canada is close to home…I am keeping my dollars in the USA. I chose V based on it’s long history. Am I always happy with V?– No. But they all have their quirks. For the small business guy with a strong entrepreneurial mind– all THREE seem like good choices. I wish V was thrown into the ring with this review. Cheers from Indiana.

    • Andrew says:

      Appreciate the thoughts, Mark. Will do my best to get a Volusion review out there at some point in the future and glad it’s worked out well for you.

  19. Nikkia says:

    This analysis is very helpful. I’d say the shopify is the leader in the eCommerce platform world. I’m surprised this is your first time using shopify! I guess one assumed you were a regular user having wrote for their University section on their blog. Anyway, this helped me stick with shopify, I just got over the urge to delete my store and use another platform. I’m sticking with them.

    • Andrew says:

      Hey Nikkia! Yeah, kind of surprised me too that I’d never used it. We (both Shopify and I) shared a commitment to eCommerce education, so a partnership there worked out well – just took me a while to get some facetime with the software. ;-)

  20. Kay McMahon says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for this excellent post. I don’t do eCommerce myself but I suggested this on our forum as a resource for those who do, and the members agreed it was very useful.

    Keep up the good work,

    Kay

  21. Gabe says:

    I went from Shopify to BigCommerce because of the URLs. I can control the urls, titles & meta information easily with big commerce. I had to hack into the code and spend a lot of time just to change the freaking home page TITLE tag on shopify….it’s so damn horrible.

    Also, on shopify I had to have a separate app and open up a new window/website just to print invoices!!!!

    The only thing shopify has over big commerce is the apps, and most are now on both platforms….however there are a few helpful apps that are only on shopify…I think that will change within the next year as more (smart) developers make their apps for both platforms.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for sharing, Gabe. Page title and meta description seemed straight forward to set in both Bigcommerce and Shopify, but didn’t get into the homepage settings too much, so good to know.

  22. Jake says:

    Nice job here, Andrew. We work closely with both companies and it’s always difficult when customers ask us which to go with. We try to remain neutral and having balanced information like this will be helpful to share.

    I believe my favorite part of the post was your short rant about pricing. I couldn’t agree more. If you’re serious about your business, you’ve got to pay for services that will help it run. For our first year we were completely bootstrapped and we found ways to pay for the services that made us more efficient. We didn’t go crazy, but we were set on building a business and understood we had to spend money to do so.

    Thanks for your insight.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks, Jake! And glad you’re backing me up with pricing. If someone is losing sleep over a $5 pricing difference, entrepreneurship may not be the right gig for then. ;-)

  23. Kylie Hines says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for this info. Experimented with both Shopify and BigCommerce for us. Have you come across Ashop before? They seem to have a lot of payment and shipping options and based locally (for me) in Australia.

  24. Joey Staton says:

    I was surprised to find you didn’t mention Weebly as a competitor in this playing field? With that said, I noticed you referenced Big Commerce and Shopify to be the 2 largest players in the field. I’m not arguing that at all, but I am questioning where someone could verify information such as that as well? It may have been helpful in my selection.

    • Andrew says:

      Shopify and Bigcommerce both focus exclusively on eCommerce while (to my knowledge) Weebly takes a broader approach (stores, blogs, etc). I think Shopify and Bigcommerce are much more comparable, which is why I put them head to head.

      That’s a great question about size verification. I know Shopify has around 100,000+ stores and Bigcommerce in the 50,000+ range (although less sure about that figure). Not sure what other eCommerce specific hosted platforms have. In terms of being the largest, I just know from my experience talking to lots of store owners these are the two options that are consider most frequently.

  25. Hey Andrew,

    I noticed you mentioned that the is no transaction fee if you’re using the Shopify POS. [“Most notably, there are no transaction fees as long as you use Shopify’s in-house card processing. As we discussed earlier, this may or may not be the best choice for your business.”]

    Looking at Shopify’s payment page (see below), it says that there ARE transaction fees using their in-house payment processor.

    http://www.shopify.com/payments

    Are you referring to another type of transaction fee? This could be a deal breaker for someone that’s making a decision based on all-in-one payment solutions. Thanks!

    -Jelani

    • Andrew says:

      Good question, Jelani!

      Anytime you’re processing credit cards, you’ll always have to pay a processing fee. Regardless of whether you use Authorize.net, PayPal or Shopify’s in-house processing services. That’s the price we merchants pay to accept Visa, MC, etc.

      What I was talking about with transaction fee (vs. card processing fee) is an additional fee (usually a % or two of the sale) that a service like Bigcommerce or Shopify would charge in addition to the merchant fee. So just for processing a sale on the Shopify platform, for example, you’d need to pay 1% in addition to any credit card fees.

      Shopify lets you get around these additional fees if you use their merchants processing or if you’re on higher plans. Bigcommerce has this additional fee on their lower plan, but not the higher-up ones.

      Hope this helps clear things up.

      • Andrew,

        Thanks for clearing that up. I didn’t realize that the payments they were referring to was the merchant fee using the Shopify POS. How about a podcast on setting up your business i.e. incorporating, llc’s, sole proprietorships, & trade names? Just an idea!

        -Jelani

  26. Sebastian says:

    You really raised the bar when it comes to ecommerce platform reviews. Excellent job! I too was surprised you didn’t cover Weebly as it seems to be one of the more popular along with Shopify. I hadn’t looked too closely at Bigcommerce so thanks for providing such a thorough walkthrough and plenty of screenshots.

  27. Jordan says:

    Please verify the BigCommerce model before buying the gold or platinum plan because Sales will not tell you about what problems you will run into. I recently bought BigCommerce Gold Plan and now struggling with uploading products through a CSV. I am running into continuous problems with their technology and support desk:
    ——————–
    (1) Uploaded products through Image Manager and Cyberduck
    (2) Used one of the templates to upload sample 29 products to see how the data would look
    (3) Product upload dos not work – only 10 products show up in front and back end while the import message says all products were imported successfully
    (4) No matter what image path I us (as suggested in their instructions), image do not display
    (5) I Have contacted chat 15 times, talked to Support 10 times and e-mailed requests 7 to 8 times in the last 4 days
    (6) I get a new answer every time which have been incomplete, untested and poor at best
    ———————-

    • anup pandey says:

      I have had similar issues, support is not very educated. India email support. email support is 12 hrs! Uploads needs category path every time! Names have to be unique! painful. Shopify speed is better

  28. Ben says:

    Thanks Andrew for all you do. The posts, the podcast, and everything else you do.

    One thing for me that makes bigcommerce stand out for me is that you can have your own dedicated ssl certificate. It only costs $80 a year. This is one feature that I don’t think bigcommerce advertises very well. It took me some digging to find this out.

    Shopify has a real f u attitude when it comes to this. http://ecommerce.shopify.com/c/shopify-discussion/t/dedicated-ip-address-and-ssl-certificate-32676

    Basically there position is ether pay for shopify plus (which is $1000) a month, or use someone else.

    For shopifys $1000 month attitude vs bigcommerce $80 a year attitude, I will hands down use bigcommerce.

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for posting this comment. This is one of the reasons I’ve decided to go with bigcommerce. I was also swayed by it’s built-in support for subcategories.

    • Kim says:

      You can install an SSL cert on Big Commerce for $5/year–you don’t have to buy it from them. Google cheap SSL.

  29. Aishah Dawud says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Just wanted to say your review was excellent and gave me the boost I need to continue creating my store, as a newbie, I have no exoerience in html css and so forth, just sounds like a foreign language to me, although I am a quick learner, I have used the Bigcommerce to create a store and found it very simple especially creating the sub categories for drop down menus, whilst I found Shopify’s navigation and linking process a little tedious having to link everything up all the time. However I like Shopify’s themes better and there support is great. And to be honest like you said they are both good, you made me laugh when you said just stop looking at reviews and choose one, because that was exactly me being so indecisive. Im sticking with Shopify as more developers are familiar and to be quite frank I can’t be bothered to change, I just want to make money now lol.
    Thank you once again you did a great job :)

  30. Ralph says:

    This is not my 14th review of Shopify vs BigCommerce, but if you add woo, weebly, wix, web, webs, squarespace, 3D, zen, e.c.templates, magento, and others and let me count back a few years, and take a somewhat random subset of all the combinations, I think I’ve read 2^5 reviews by now! This one is the best. You clearly stated how much skin you had in the game and where it was. You obviously put a lot of work into it and actually used both. So many are so lame you WISH they were phoned in.

    The worst case of decision paralysis ever! But it’s over. For one thing I think I have the right niche to move into, finally. And I’m 2^5 times more desperate for a change. I’m going Big. I got your eBook and also signed up to get your coupon. It’s been an hour. It’s late and I need to sleep, so I’ll look for it in the AM, but I’m going to want to get started! Thanks again for the inspiring story and excellent review.

  31. Russ says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this with all people you actually realize what you are talking approximately!
    Bookmarked. Kindly also consult with my web site =).
    We can have a link change arrangement among us

  32. Hi Andrew,

    I’ve been running an ecommerce store for about a year on Shopify and previously had one on Big Cartel. After a bit of experience in ecommerce and many many mistakes made (and reading 4HWW and your ebook), I’ve decided to go for the big one and launch a drop shipping store and feeling optimistic about my new business venture, I’ve decided to set up my website using Magento (quite literally today).

    Sounds simple… but for someone who has always used ecommerce platforms where they do everything for you this can be absolutely daunting.

    Let me give you an (my) example: I’m not particularly advanced when it comes to computers but I can do a bit of website coding and play around with things and I want to set up a website. I go to Shopify and it just tells me to select a package and boom. Paid and ready to go. But I hear about this other great thing called Magento (or Joomla or whichever of the 100s of 1000s) so I go to their website expecting to get something kind of similar but it just offers me a download. Hmmm well what the hell am I supposed do with that? And then there is absolutely nothing to explain how to set up a website.

    My point is, maybe you could write a blog explaining the process of selecting a server, installing the platform etc. or just the general anatomy of a website. After all, I guess a lot of us aren’t necessarily the biggest computer geeks (although it may seem like we spend our lives in front of one) but rather ecommerce entrepreneurs trying to work out the technical stuff along the way.

    Basic stuff but essential knowledge when in the ecommerce business.

  33. Naseem Khan says:

    Hi! Andrew
    Thank you for this blog, I just wanted your opinion about the right cart to use, if I have to do a B2B site, somewhere, general public is not allowed to buy, just view, whereas businesses can login (using passwords) and place orders, (not necessarily pay for them) but leave orders.

    Any suggestions will help. Thanks!

  34. Lloyd says:

    Great discussions. Being a small retail brick/mortar store looking to sell online for the first time, this helps. One issue for us: with limited product quantities, we want to display the inventory quantity on the product page to help the customer know the availability…which cart might fit us better?

  35. Lolah Hancock says:

    I was uber frustrated about making a decision between Shopify & Big Commerce and after reading several reviews, think this was one of the most helpful. I was all set to go with Big Commerce but the fact that they have no card reader / POS was a real deal breaker for me since I will be doing both online and in person sales. I also don’t like the whole idea of having customers redirected to Shopify for check out. Streamlined and Professional are extremely important to me. Big Commerce seems to have more built in features which I really like. Decisions…decisions…

    So I have finally made one. I found the Spark Pay card reader app in Big Commerce (by Capital One). The fact that there is a REAL bank behind the card reader and 24 hour customer service makes me thrilled (Square, who?). There are two pricing tiers (2.7% per swipe with no monthly fee and 1.95% + 9.95/month). I also found an app in Big Commerce called Stitch Labs ($25/mos) which will integrate inventory for not only Big Commerce but also my Etsy store as well as provide some rich sales reports. While I’m not thrilled about the additional $25/mos, I agree that when striving to be a successful entrepreneur there is no time to quibble over a few dollars. I consider them an investment and have no doubt I will make that back in no time once my beautiful e-commerce store is up and running.

    So…. (drum roll, please) BIG COMMERCE it is! Now that I (finally) made a decision it’s time to start building. Wish that discount on Big Commerce link was available. :)

    Super Excited! Much success to all you entrepreneurs out there!

    Thanks again!

  36. Lance C. says:

    Did anyone read the description of the MC Hammer pants…..Hillarious!

  37. Andrés says:

    Fantastic Andrew, thanks yet again!
    I’m building my store on Shopify; so far so good.

  38. Rose says:

    Thank you for a great review Andrew! I have built a few small business sites through Wix, but this is my first ecommerce project and I am not loving it. Wix is so easy for me since everything is drag & drop, so I am having a hard time with Shopify. Am I missing something? I create my logos & banners in Photoshop, but can’t figure out how to get them where I want them on my Shopify site. Maybe I should consider another platform? I am not working with a developer, so I need drag & drop! What would you suggest?
    Thanks,
    Rose

  39. David M. says:

    Great guide. I made a research – what ecommerce builders is the best one – and found out that Shopify is. Its main disadvantage is transactions fees of 1-2% and cost. Generally, it’s not a cheap website builder but its pros completely negate all the cons. I could tell you more about Shopify but it’s better described here – http://www.webbuildersguide.com/website-builders-reviews/shopify-review/

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