Whenever someone asks me for a fully hosted shopping cart recommendation, I almost always point them to either Big Commerce or Shopify. As of right now, they are two of the best ecommerce solutions available.
However when it comes to choosing between Shopify and BigCommerce, the decision becomes a lot more complicated and depends on your specific needs.
The differences are quite subtle, and it can be hard to make the distinction unless you have hands on experience with both of these platforms.
Both shopping cart platforms will be compared and evaluated based on the following criteria
- Cost – What is the true cost of running a store on these platforms and which solution is cheaper?
- Out Of The Box Feature Set – Which cart has more features out of the box?
- 3rd Party Ecosystem – Which cart has a larger app ecosystem?
- Design – Which cart has more flexibility and better looking themes?
By the end of this article, you should be able to make an informed decision on which shopping cart platform to go with depending on your exact situation.
Quick Comparison Between Shopify And Big Commerce
Before I continue with the review, I realize that some of you might not have time to read a long post and just want to cut to the chase. So I’ve summarized the distinguishing features between the 2 services in the table below. If you want the full version, feel free to read the entire article.
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Superior feature set out of the box
Better product options support
Better discounting features
Better international support
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Shopify Vs BigCommerce: Which Shopping Cart Costs More?
Figuring out the “true cost” of running an online store on either of these platforms can be tricky because it depends on what features you need for your shopping cart.
By default, both shopping carts appear to be priced exactly the same. But what you get for that base price is drastically different between the two.
First off, the base Shopify shopping cart is pretty bare bones and is missing a lot of functionality that other shopping carts have out of the box. As a result, you will likely need to purchase and pay for extra plugins with recurring fees to offset the missing features.
Big Commerce on the other hand is a fully featured shopping cart out of the box even with the lowest priced plans.
Note: Big Commerce claims that their out of the box cart has 60% of the functionality of Shopify with ALL of their paid plugins installed. I’m a little skeptical of this number but Big Commerce does offer a significant number of features out of the box that Shopify is missing.
But do these missing features really matter? It depends on your needs.
Just to give you an example, Big Commerce’s discount and coupon system is significantly better than Shopify’s out of the box. Whereas Shopify only allows you to give a specific dollar or percentage off discount, Big Commerce takes discounting one step further by allowing you to…
- Offer a buy one get one free promotion of the same or different item
- Offer an arbitrary item at a discount if a specific item is purchased.
- Offer tiered discounts based on quantity
- Offer discounts for repeat customers only
Offering these same discount options on Shopify requires you to pay for multiple plugins that carry monthly recurring fees.
In fact, my main beef with Shopify is that I always feel nickel and dimed whenever I setup a student’s store.
The upshot is that in order to judge the true cost of either platform, you need to break down which features you need and take into account the added cost of apps with recurring costs.
In other words, you can’t compare price by simply looking at the base monthly fees of each shopping cart. Every Shopify app you add can jack up the price significantly.
Note: It is not uncommon to spend a few hundred extra dollars per month for a Shopify store because of additional plugins.
Big Commerce Vs Shopify: An Out Of The Box Pricing Comparison Without Plugins
In general, Big Commerce’s monthly pricing is much easier to understand because they offer a comprehensive feature set out of the box. In other words, all Big Commerce plans will have most of the features you need without paying for extra plugins.
There are no transaction fees, no bandwidth fees, nothing. Instead, you pay a flat monthly rate for your shopping cart plan based on your yearly revenue (trailing 12 months).
As of this publication in 2018, Big Commerce charges
- A flat $29.95/month for a store that generates up to $50K in yearly revenue
- A flat $79.95/month for a store that generates up to $150K in yearly revenue
- A flat $249.95/month for a store that generates up to $400K in yearly revenue
In addition, Big Commerce allows you to use any arbitrary payment processor for free whereas Shopify charges a .5-2% transaction fee UNLESS you use their Shopify Payments platform.
Here’s what Shopify charges for payment processing (Shopify Payments) depending on the plan.
As you can see, Shopify’s lowest credit card processing fee is 2.4% + $.30 per transaction with their most expensive plan. Right now for my own online store, I’m paying a 2.2% payment processing fee with eMerchant.
That’s a difference of .2% which can be significant depending on your sales volume.
For example, if you are doing 1M in revenues, that’s an extra $2000 in credit card processing fees! For the lower Shopify plans, the fees can amount to $7000 or more per year!
Your payment processing costs are even higher if you don’t use Shopify Payments because of the transaction fees. Right now, Shopify payments is only offered in the following countries
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
If your country is not on the list above, then you will get charged a transaction fee to use your own payment processor. As a result, Big Commerce is probably a better solution for countries that don’t support Shopify payments.
In my experience, Big Commerce almost always ends up being cheaper than Shopify if you factor in all of the extra plugins that you may or may not need with Shopify.
That being said, Big Commerce’s pricing structure can be good or bad depending on the nature of your business. For example, if you sell expensive goods at low margins, Big Commerce will cost you a lot more than Shopify.
In order to calculate your true shopping cart costs, you need to take into account your margins, the functionality you require and whether you can get a better deal on payment processing than Shopify payments.
Shopify Vs BigCommerce: Which Cart Has A Better App Ecosystem?
While BigCommerce tends to be less expensive than Shopify, judging a shopping cart solely based on price is silly. In the end, it pays to spend more if it will benefit your business.
At the time of this publication, Shopify powers roughly 4X more stores than BigCommerce and one of Shopify’s greatest strengths lies in their 3rd party app ecosystem.
For example if there’s a feature that is missing from your shop, chances are that you’ll be able to find an app that does exactly what you need.
In fact, Shopify’s 3rd party app ecosystem is nearly 6 times the size of BigCommerce. (This number should be taken with a grain of salt because BigCommerce requires less plugins out of the box.)
Because Shopify is a more popular platform, they are able to attract more 3rd party developers to write apps for their cart. This also means that there are more Shopify developers to choose from if you need an expert to help with your design.
Overall, this is the main advantage that Shopify has over Big Commerce and it’s a big one. A larger 3rd party ecosystem generally means that cutting edge shopping cart features are more likely to hit Shopify first before Big Commerce.
In fact, I have many developer friends that focus their efforts solely on Shopify. For example, all of Ezra Firestone’s apps including Zipify landing pages and One Click Upsell only work with Shopify and not BigCommerce.
Once again, whether or not a large 3rd party ecosystem matters to you depends on what features you need for your shopping cart. While Shopify currently has the lead in this department, Big Commerce is expending a lot of effort to catch up.
Shopify Vs BigCommerce: Which Cart Offers Better Design Templates
If you were to ask me which shopping cart had better designs 2 years ago, I would have told you that Shopify’s store templates look much better and more polished than Big Commerce’s hands down.
But in the past several years, Big Commerce has done a lot of catch up in this department.
All of the BigCommerce themes that I looked at were responsive and polished. And like Shopify, they offer both free and paid themes for purchase. Typically, a paid theme will run you around $200.
While Shopify offers more templates to choose from, I can honestly say that BigCommerce offers enough variety that you should be able to find a good looking theme that works with your shop.
But overall, I’m going to give the slight edge to Shopify in this department because they have a larger selection and more 3rd party theme developers.
Shopify Vs BigCommerce: Out Of The Box Feature Comparison
Because Shopify’s pricing largely depends on your plugin needs, the remainder of this article will focus on the out of box features of BigCommerce versus Shopify.
As you read through these differences, keep in mind that every missing Shopify feature can be implemented with a 3rd party plugin. However, plugins aren’t free and almost always carry a recurring cost.
Product Options And Variants
Bigcommerce’s product option functionality is significantly more powerful than Shopify.
With Shopify, you are only allowed 3 sets of configuration options per product.
For example if I sell hankies, I can only offer 3 types of choices such as size, color, and material. If I want to add a personalization option to this list, I’m out of luck.
In addition, Shopify only allows you to have 100 total combinations of variants per product. In other words, the number of size, color and material options multiplied together can not exceed 100.
Big Commerce on the other hand, allows you to have large lists of options for each product. Therefore, if you sell a product that requires a high number of configuration options, then going with BigCommerce is a much better choice.
To have the equivalent product option functionality in Shopify requires you to pay for an app that costs $25-50/month.
Sales Analytics And Order Management
When it comes to generating detailed sales statistics and analytics, Big Commerce offers more reporting capability than Shopify out of the box.
For example, Big Commerce allows you to monitor how customers are using your in store search and provides detailed statistics regarding your purchase funnel.
Here’s an abridged list of what you get out of the box with BigCommerce
- Detailed Customer Reports – Average order value. New versus returning customers etc…
- Customer Acquisition Reports– Where your customers are coming from
- Search Engine Reports – What keywords customers typed in to find your store
- Financial Reports – How much revenue you made, how much you collected in sales tax etc…
- Abandoned Cart Reports – How many customers abandoned their cart and your cart recovery rate
While Shopify provides an equivalent level of sales reporting and analytics, they are only available with their more expensive plans whereas most reports come standard with even the cheapest Big Commerce plan.
One thing that is particularly annoying about Shopify’s backend is that they don’t allow you to edit orders out of the box.
As a result, you need to purchase a 3rd party plugin if you want the ability to change the details of an already placed order.
Search Engine Optimization
Both shopping carts offer the ability to adjust your SEO title tags and meta descriptions however you want. But one thing that is annoying about Shopify is that you can’t optimize your URLs for SEO.
Here’s what a typical Shopify product URL looks like…
In case the print is too small in the image above, the URL reads
A more optimal SEO URL would read as follows.
The words “collections” and “products” are totally extraneous terms that Shopify inserts into the URL by default and you can not change this even with a plugin which results in a suboptimal URL structure.
Product Organization – Categories Vs Collections
Big Commerce and Shopify rely on fundamentally different methods for organizing products which could affect your shopping cart decision depending on the number of products you plan on carrying in your store.
Shopify organizes products based on “collections” and doesn’t have a traditional category/subcategory structure. Based on tags, Shopify allows you to populate a given collection based on any arbitrary criteria you set.
For example, you can put together collections of products based on type, brand, color etc…. Basically, Shopify allows you to organize your products around any attribute which makes it extremely powerful.
Big Commerce on the other hand, relies on a traditional category/subcategory structure for organizing products.
Both methods have their pros and cons.
While Shopify’s method of collections is more flexible, you have to be diligent about properly tagging every product in your store which can be cumbersome if you have a lot of products.
Big Commerce’s method is more traditional and makes it easier to organize your products if you have distinct categories in mind. Having structured categories allow you to easily create dynamically nested categories for your menus without manually coding them into your theme.
Deciding between Shopify and BigCommerce isn’t straightforward and there is no hands down winner. Both carts have their strengths and their weaknesses and the right choice depends on what functionality you need.
In terms of out of the box features, Big Commerce wins hands down. You won’t need that many apps and the base price is representative of what you’ll be spending on a monthly basis.
As a result, running your store on Big Commerce will probably be less expensive than Shopify.
However, Shopify has a superior 3rd party ecosystem and much better 3rd party developer support. As a result, new cutting edge features are more likely to reach Shopify first over any other shopping cart.
Reasons To Choose Bigcommerce over Shopify
Here are the main reasons to choose BigCommerce over Shopify
- Big Commerce comes with a lot more features out of the box than Shopify. As a result, BigCommerce will tend to be cheaper
- Big Commerce offers better analytics and reporting out of the box
- Big Commerce allows you to have more product options
- Big Commerce will not charge you any transaction fees
- Big Commerce gives you the freedom to use whatever payment processor you want which will save you money
- Big Commerce has better international support
- Big Commerce offers much better discounting features out of the box
- Big Commerce has a better abandoned cart feature which allows multiple emails
Reasons To Choose Shopify over BigCommerce
Here are the main reasons to choose Shopify over BigCommerce
- Shopify offers more design themes and templates
- Shopify has a significantly larger 3rd party app ecosystem
- Shopify has more 3rd party developer support
- Shopify has a more flexible product organization system with collections
- Shopify has a much larger installed base
- Shopify has a lot more dropshipping related plugins than BigCommerce
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