So, you’ve decided to start an online business. You’ve decided on idea for a product niche, you’ve done some research into the logistics of where you’ll source your products, you've found a logistics company like United Van Lines to transport your goods, you’ve done some market research into who the typical buyers are for your products, and you’ve looked at competitive options. With that, all the hard work is done right? Well it might not be. You still have to build your website.
So now you’ll probably want to know what options are out there. The great news is these days aspiring online entrepreneurs when it comes to ecommerce platforms there are tons of options. The bad news is there are tons of options.
So What Are My Options?
The first thing you’ll want to decide is if you want to go with a hosted software as a service type of platform, or a self hosted solution that requires you to also deal with the logistics of sourcing our own servers and infrastructure.
For the sake of simplicity and speed, I usually advise people to go with the former.
Now that makes things a bit easier, in the world of hosted SaaS ecommerce platforms, today there are really two platforms that stand out above the rest in terms of ease of use, features, and flexibility: BigCommerce vs Shopify.
BigCommerce vs Shopify: Background info
Shopify was founded in 2006 with their headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Today, they have become one of the fastest growing companies in the world (no surprise given the growth of ecommerce as a whole) and they claim to host over 350,000 online retailers, with more added each day.
BigCommerce is a slightly newer platform having been founded in 2009 originally from Sydney, Australia but now with a corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas (although Australia remains where the majority of their workforce resides). The company is also on a similarly meteoric growth trajectory as Shopify and has in total raised $75 Millions to fuel their own growth. To date, they have well over 55,000 stores using the platform globally.
The great news is both company’s are growing for good reason. They have great products, great support and robust ecosystems of partners and developers. As an ecommerce entrepreneur you really can’t go wrong with either choice. But there are some subtle differences.
So, let’s take a closer look at how the two compare.
Design and User Experience
Shopify prides themselves in their focus on design. This is reflected both in the user experience of the platform itself as well as in their very robust themes library. The Shopify user experience is very similar to other content management systems, namely WordPress, so most users who have some familiarity with user web based tools should feel right at home.
Users then have the option to build their stores around custom themes they can piece together, or use one of the free built in themes with the platform. Shopify themes are mostly designed by third party designers, and they are numerous. One of the big strengths of the Shopify platform is the ecosystem they’ve built around themselves; this includes designers, and developers. While many themes are free, there are also many premium themes available for the platform that typically range from $80 to $200 and are usually a single one time fee.
The Shopify platform comes with all of the tools necessary to do all the basic tasks required of a store: manage inventory, showcase products, set prices and taxes, configuring shipping details, etc…
But if there are any additional features a shopkeeper is looking for, from more advanced marketing functions to seo tools to data and analytics tools, Shopify has done a great job of building out their App Store. The Shopify App Store today houses over 500 apps developed both in house and by third party developers that can help users add almost every function under the sun to their stores.
Shopify has four levels of monthly subscriptions: Basic ($29/month), Professional ($79/month), Unlimited ($179/month) and a new unpublished pricing tier they’ve called Plus, for enterprise class clients.
Design and User Experience
Like Shopify, BigCommerce has a very strong focus on design. While Shopify seems to have based their user experience on many existing web tool metaphors, the folks at BigCommerce have taken a much more unique approach to much of the platform’s interface. This is both good and bad. For some basic tasks such as adding a product, it makes for an ever so slightly more cumbersome process than on the Shopify platform. However, one reason for this heavier feel is that the team at BigCommerce does expose some additional advanced options to users who want a finer level of detail to their customization. Being able to create variable products that show different images when different options are selected and being able to save product templates to be used over and over again for products in the same collection does make things much easier for users that need that type of advanced functionality.
On the theme front, BigCommerce like Shopify also includes a fairly large catalog of both free and paid themes that users can leverage to add some design flair to their store. Overall the theme choices on BigCommerce are a bit less in terms of number, but in terms of quality an argument could be made that the themes themselves are of a big higher quality, and most include capabilities such as responsive design for mobile browsers. The paid themes on BigCommerce will generally be in line with the cost of Shopify themes, however there are some premium themes that will be a touch more expensive, in some cases getting closer to the $300 one time charge mark.
As mentioned earlier, BigCommerce does include and expose a number of advanced customization features that Shopify users do not have access to. SO right out of the box there are a small handful of capabilities that BigCommerce will have over a stock Shopify setup. These include features such as built in shipping quotes, gift certificates, product reviews, and some basic email marketing tools.
For users who want to add additional capabilities, BigCommerce also has their own App Store program. Much like Shopify, this gives storeowners the ability to add additional features with a few clicks of a mouse. The selection in the BigCommerce app store however is slightly less than that of Shopify. Although from a functionality standpoint you’d be hard-pressed to find an app on Shopify for which you couldn’t find an equivalent for on BigCommerce. You may not have as much choice however.
BigCommerce pricing nearly mirrors that of Shopify exactly with three levels of monthly subscriptions: Silver ($29.99/month), Gold ($79.99/month), and Platinum ($199.99/month).
BigCommerce vs Shopify: Bottom Line
The great news is there really is no right or wrong choice when it comes to picking between Shopify and BigCommerce. The platforms both offer similar pricing and similar features.
The advantage of Shopify is their more mature third party ecosystem. By going with the Shopify platform you will have access to a wider range of theme designers, app developers, and users who have experienced every issue under the sun on the platform. If the security and support of a more robust ecosystem is important to you than Shopify would be the suggestion.
If the prospect of having to dive into the code is a cause for concern, then Shopify may be the better choice for you. While tinkering and customization of a store is possible with Shopify, it’s best done through their very robust app store and theme stores. In both cases upgrading your store in that fashion gives you access to the support and help of the app vendors themselves, letting you as a user focus on your business rather than having to learn how to code.
BigCommerce on the other hand also has it’s own ecosystem of designers, developer and users, but as a slightly newer platform, theirs is a bit less mature and smaller. Out of the box however BigCommerce does offer some advanced features and functionality to users without having to go the app store route. If you are a user who prefers to tinker at a more granular level with your store, than BigCommerce may be the way to go.
So if you’re one to have any interest in getting a deeper code level understanding of the infrastructure your store runs on, BigCommerce might be the better choice. Rather than being left to rely on third party app vendors, BigCommerce does allow a slightly greater degree of user customization than Shopify, in some cases that can give you the peace of mind that your store will probably never outgrow the BigCommerce platform capabilities.
So in our experience there's no right or wrong when choosing between these two, but if you're more tech savvy you will be happy with BigCommerce‘s infrastructure, while if you're a little less technical Shopify might be the best choice. In case you want to switch from BigCommerce to Shopify, there's a nice walk-through guide here.
Author bio: Jason is Chief Operating Officer at Toocoo, a Toronto-based digital agency specializing in eCommerce, offering services ranging from design, integration and media buying, to their referral marketing platform, Forewards. Whether Jason is, in fact, “too coo” is yet to be determined. You can follow him on Twitter @threadyblock