Ecommerce has grown steadily for more than a decade, and the growth shows very little sign of stopping. This year, we’ve seen an even more rapid shift to online retail, with concerns about Covid-19 driving more shoppers online.
Indeed, online retail sales increased across the world. In the UK, they were forecasted to account for more than 30% of total UK retail sales in 2020. In the US in Q2 alone, ecommerce sales jumped by 44.5% year-over-year, and eMarketer projects retail ecommerce in the US will increase to $1.07 trillion by 2024.
For retailers, the importance of selling online cannot be understated. An ecommerce offering is a must, not just a nice-to-have, extra sales channel. It allows a retailer to sell across the world at any time of day or night, reaching an audience beyond the reach of any physical stores.
As ecommerce grows, so does the potential traffic and sales you can drive through your site, and so do customer expectations of the online experience.
For these and other reasons, the choice of ecommerce platform is of vital importance. It needs to be able to fit your needs, as well as the expectations of your target customers. Ecommerce platforms are not all alike. There can be variations in terms of costs and features, and some will require more expertise to customize than others.
Choosing an ecommerce platform requires careful consideration, from understanding your own business requirements, to the capabilities of the ecommerce platforms on offer.
In this article, we’ll consider two popular enterprise SaaS platforms: Shopify Plus and BigCommerce.
Platform Comparison: BigCommerce and Shopify Plus
Whether your business is looking to grow more quickly online, or you’re an enterprise business looking for an alternative platform, it pays to take time to assess the features and capabilities of your options.
BigCommerce is a SaaS platform, which offers an all-in-one hosted ecommerce solution.
It comes with plenty of out-of-the-box features which allow you to manage product inventories and orders, manage payments and create impressive store designs.
BigCommerce is designed for retailers of many sizes from SMEs to enterprise businesses. It offers two main selections. The ‘Essentials’ option offers several retail plans based on features and revenue. The ‘Enterprise’ option is designed for what BigCommerce describes as ‘mid-market to enterprise-level’ companies — in other words those transacting at higher levels of revenue, or who have more complex needs such as API support or customer success management.
- Shopify Plus.
Shopify Plus is also a SaaS platform. It was built to cater to businesses looking for a user-friendly way to sell online, without necessarily having the development experience.
Like BigCommerce, it’s a fully-hosted service, ‘Shopify’ offers a range of retail plans based on features, whereas ‘Shopify Plus’ is their ‘Enterprise’ model, designed for high volume merchants.
Shopify Plus comes with some native features, and there is a wide range of apps to add extra features and functionality. A retailer would look at Shopify Plus, rather than Shopify, when looking to expand their feature set to include elements such as automation via Shopify Flow.
When thinking about Shopify Plus, it’s important to consider feature requirements and the associated costs when calculating the total cost of using the platform. There are also extra fees charged for businesses who don’t use Shopify’s payment gateway and some features such as multi-currency are only available on Shopify Payments.
Pricing: BigCommerce vs Shopify Plus
Pricing is of course a key consideration, as is understanding the total costs you will face when using each ecommerce platform. You should run all the numbers before you make your choice.
It’s important that your requirements can be met by your chosen ecommerce platform and still stay within your budget, so make sure to take into account any extras like third-party apps or transaction fees.
- BigCommerce: Cost-Effective
BigCommerce is an affordable ecommerce solution to consider and offers custom pricing for Enterprise clients depending on their individual needs and growth requirements.
This Enterprise plan comes with an extensive range of native features included in the price which provide more out-of-the-box functionality.
BigCommerce also offers a lot of flexibility in areas that help protect your budget. They partner with a wide-range of payment gateway providers, allowing you to negotiate rates and terms on credit card fees without having to pay additional transaction fees for using the gateway of your choice. For those who haven’t looked into ecommerce payment pricing in detail that may seem like a small extra, but for higher volume retailers this can offer a huge advantage in cost savings which equals working capital to fuel further growth. For example, with an additional transaction fee of 0.15% would cost a business selling $1.5 million per month an extra $27,000 per year.
- Shopify Plus: Affordable if You Use Shopify Payments
Shopify Plus starts at $2,000 per month, or 0.25% of your store’s revenue (whichever is higher), excluding the costs of app and transaction fees.
Shopify has its own proprietary services such as payment, shipping and point of sale.
There are transaction fees for merchants who don’t choose Shopify Payments, which means paying extra fees on transactions through the platform. Payments is one of the less written topics in ecommerce, but — a little like negotiating your salary can impact your life enormously — having flexibility to negotiate payment terms is a big deal for savvy retailers. Merchants considering Shopify Plus should pay close attention to when and where the additional fees for not using Shopify Payments would apply and what features such as multi-currency and some subscription apps require.
BigCommerce vs Shopify Plus: Functionality
Ecommerce user experience is constantly evolving and improving, and customers come to expect the features and ease of use they find on Amazon and with other major sites.
The functionality offered by the platform is therefore a very important consideration. The right functionality can make it easier for shoppers to navigate your store from finding the right product to selecting their desired options like size or color, adding additional related products and checkout on a single page.
- BigCommerce: Feature-rich platform, out of the box
BigCommerce is designed to handle large product offerings, with support for up to 600 SKUs per product and different options including custom fields, bulk pricing rules and support. Key features such as the display of related products, and pre-orders are also included in the plan.
Other features include:
- The ability to create and schedule discounts and promotions without the need to add extra apps.
- Multiple promotions – whereas Shopify only allows a single automatic cart-level discount out of the box without coding, BigCommerce allows multiple cart-level automatic discounts without coding.
- Native faceted search (on Pro and Enterprise Plans) which helps customers to discover products and make their product selections more easily.
- Advanced price list options – for example specifying price lists per customer group or currency, providing total control over pricing for stores targeting multiple audiences via a single site.
- SEO features such as fully customizable URLs and effective organization of product categories and subcategories.
- Shopify Plus: Reliance on third-party apps.
While BigCommerce comes with many added features, Shopify Plus relies heavily on third-party apps for added features and functionality. Over the last few years, it’s become easier to sell internationally with Shopify Plus, and features such as subscription products, but many features are limited to using Shopify Payments.
Feature-wise, many sites end up reliant on third-party plugins and customizations to achieve the functionality they need, along with the site speed implications that brings. There are more than 4,100 apps in Shopify’s own app store alone, and many more outside of that. As a result, retailers may end up spending much more on apps than core platform charges, and find themselves reliant on support from third-party vendors in addition to Shopify directly.
BigCommerce vs Shopify Plus: Themes
First impressions can make a big difference in ecommerce. Your site has very little time, perhaps just a few seconds, to appeal to visitors, especially those who may be unfamiliar with your brand.
Themes help to create this impression. Good professional designs and visual appeal can convince visitors to stay around, explore your site and make a purchase from you.
For this reason, the choice of themes is a key consideration when deciding on a platform.
- BigCommerce: Easily edit themes with Page Builder.
Choice of themes is important. It helps you to find the best fit for your brand and products and sell more effectively to your target audience.
The BigCommerce theme marketplace provides a choice of hundreds of professional mobile-optimized themes, some free, some paid, which are available to all BigCommerce customers.
Some themes come equipped with features such as Google AMP that can improve site speed and broaden your appeal, while all Stencil themes are designed follow SEO, design and conversion best practices.
Each theme is also customizable via Page Builder, BigCommerce’s drag-and-drop visual editor. Thanks to this, you can adapt themes to your needs and change features like layouts and fonts without the need for coding expertise. Page Builder also allows developers to take advantage of deeper storefront customization via building custom widgets.
- Shopify Plus: Many themes, but missing functionality on all pages.
You’ll also find a wide range of themes on Shopify Plus to choose from, some free, some paid and all of them optimized for mobile.
Shopify Plus has a great homepage editor that allows businesses to design a custom homepage using a drag and drop interface. However, this functionality doesn’t currently stretch to all pages.
The choice of themes is great, but not all Shopify themes come with the same functionality which are included natively on BigCommerce. This means that third party apps or custom development will be needed to achieve some functionality. The use of Google AMP is one often-cited example, but there are many more, including persistent cart which allows a cart to be shared across devices.
BigCommerce vs Shopify Plus: Customer Support
Businesses selling online need effective customer support from their ecommerce platforms. Issues which arise can mean reduced traffic and sales, so fast and effective resolution to problems is incredibly important.
This means platforms need to provide support for customers when and where they need it, and support staff need the expertise to provide useful advice.
- BigCommerce: 24/7 available support.
BigCommerce offers live chat, email and phone support to help with technical issues, or just general advice about using the platform and making the most of its features.
The platform prides itself on its levels of service, taking 120 seconds or less to answer customer calls, and offering 24/7 support.
BigCommerce provides in-house support for customers migrating to the platform via their in-house data migration team, and implementation project management, to help them move across and launch on the platform with the minimum hassle.
- Shopify Plus: Customer support.
Like BigCommerce, Shopify offers help for businesses migrating to and launching on their ecommerce platform. The difference here is this is handled via a partner network, rather than directly with the team. Shopify’s publicly stated policy is that they offer launch support, but rather they provide guidance than actual migration of data.
Shopify tries to route questions through its help center, which can be useful for finding solutions to common queries, but does make it harder to find direct contact details, unless a merchant is logged in.
Shopify Customers Who Have Migrated to BigCommerce
A number of merchants have migrated to BigCommerce from Shopify, and have improved their online experience and driven sales as a result.
Here are some of their stories.
Carewell offers products for home health needs. The business began as an adult diaper subscription service, but grew to encompass a high-touch customer service model that helps caregivers in choosing the right medical products for their loved ones.
Carewell was initially on Shopify, but found the platform very limiting. They wanted to customize the experience more which they found difficult on Shopify.
The company moved to BigCommerce and according to co-founder and CEO, Bianca Padilla, the change resulted in a 200% increase in conversion rate.
Hickies sells elastic shoelaces which don’t require any tying. After self-hosting its ecommerce site on Jumla in the early days, it moved to Shopify, and used this platform for the next two years.
As the company grew however, it found that Shopify limited its international expansion plans, while the forced adoption of the platform’s payment processor increased costs and restricted payment options in some markets.
The company therefore decided to move to BigCommerce as a way to grow the business. The ability to personalise the shopping experience, and to integrate with different payment gateways were key draws.
According to Hickies, by adding PayPal to checkout, conversion rates doubled almost overnight. The company has since added other options like Google Pay end experienced similar success.
Should You Use BigCommerce or Shopify Plus?
It’s an important decision, as the choice between these two platforms can have a huge impact on your business. The right choice can help you to reduce costs and grow effectively, keeping up with customer demand and expanding your customer base.
However, the wrong choice of platform could make things harder for your business, adding unnecessary complexity, ultimately, making it harder for your business to grow.
- BigCommerce: Ideal for all stages of growth.
BigCommerce is a great fit for businesses of all sizes, and offers the features and support needed by businesses looking to grow quickly online.
It offers impressive up-time, a range of crucial native ecommerce features, great customer support and platform security.
The ability to handle large numbers of SKUs and product options make it a great choice for larger retailers and allows room for growth.
In addition, the platform’s integrations and flexible APIs allow for greater customization which allows retailers to adapt to changing customer expectations and offer the best possible customer experience, meaning loyalty and repeat business beyond the first order.
- Shopify Plus: Ideal for low-complexity businesses.
Shopify Plus is a great platform for low complexity retailers and can handle higher volumes on these terms. However, it offers limited flexibility for customizations, which can be a drawback for businesses selling both to B2B and B2C customers. To manage both B2C and B2B in a single store, Shopify Plus merchants would need to set up and manage a wholesale channel which can’t integrate with external systems or use third-party apps.
For example, if you’re selling internationally, you won’t be able to manually set prices in a specific currency and you must use Shopify Payments.
If you’re happy using Shopify Payments, these can offer advantages, but there are additional charges if you choose your own payment options.
In addition, while apps offer the ability to add features and customize Shopify ecommerce sites, they do come with extra costs and levels of complexity that native features don’t have.
A key decision like the choice of an ecommerce platform is one to consider carefully. It’s important to think about your requirements, not just for now, but also for where you want to be in a few years’ time.
The two ecommerce platforms we’ve looked at here offer many similar features, but there are also key differences which may make them more suitable for some types of business than others.
For example, Shopify Plus provides great choices of themes and apps, which is a bonus for many retailers, but using the platform can increase costs and mean more complexity for businesses if they need features beyond what Shopify provides natively.
BigCommerce, on the other hand, is a great all-around solution and comes with many features, enabling retailers to save additional costs on third-party apps. BigCommerce has a robust network of partners and apps in addition to the broad set of core features. For merchants with large catalogs or who are growing quickly, it has the ability to handle large numbers of products and variants.
For retailers with needs over and above basic retail, the added extra features and functionality provided by BigCommerce, the quality of support and the extra costs of adding apps and using alternative payment gateways to Shopify mean that BigCommerce may be the best option. To see for yourself — get a demo today.