In today’s world, there are seemingly endless tools for building an ecommerce site. In this guide to Shopify vs BigCommerce, I’ll take a close look at two of the most popular ecommerce store builders, determining which is better in several categories:
When you’re finished reading this comparison, you’ll have all the information you need to choose between Shopify and BigCommerce.
Shopify vs BigCommerce in bird’s-eye view 🦅
Shopify is an immensely popular ecommerce hosting platform with over 1.7 million active stores  and a 20%+ market share  in the US ecommerce market. The platform offers a range of plans and services, including Shopify Lite, a program that lets you add products to an existing blog or site. This variety of plans and the language and imagery used on the Shopify site show Shopify’s emphasis on supporting small businesses.
BigCommerce is a much smaller ecommerce hosting platform with 60,000 active stores, but the network hosts the online branches of big brands like Ben & Jerry’s and SkullCandy. The platform also seems more focused on providing solutions for big companies; the site’s homepage displays Enterprise solutions first, encouraging you to request a demo. Small business solutions are found in the “Essentials” tab.
Shopify vs BigCommerce: FEATURES 🧰
The Basic Shopify plan (entry level) comes with the following features:
- One full online store, including a professional-quality ecommerce site and a blog
- SSL certification
- Unlimited products
- Two staff accounts
- 24/7 customer support
- Ability to sell through online marketplaces and social media channels (varies by country)
- Ability to create discount codes
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Gift card creation
- Shipping discounts of up to 45% in Canada and up to 77% in the United States
- Easy-to-print shipping labels
- Fraud analysis
- Shopify POS Lite
- Ability to sell in 20 languages and 133 countries
Note that this plan comes with transaction fees of 2.9% + 0.30 USD for online credit card payments, 2.7% for in-person credit card payments, and 2.0% for payments made through Shopify Payments. International users will want to pay attention to transaction rates in their countries.
You can see the full details, including the differences between the three main plans, on the Shopify pricing page.
The Standard BigCommerce plan offers the following features:
- 0% transaction fees
- Unlimited products and file storage
- Unlimited bandwidth
- SSL certification
- Unlimited staff accounts
- One fully functional ecommerce website and store, complete with attached blog
- Ability to sell through a variety of sales channels including your ecommerce store, Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Facebook, Instagram, and Google Shopping
- Single-page checkout
- Coupon, discount, and gift card creation
- Ability to accept payment in over 100 currencies
- Access to the ShipperHQ shipping rules engine
- 24/7 tech support
You can see more details, including the features available with other plans, on the BigCommerce Essentials pricing page.
On the surface, the basic features offered by Shopify and BigCommerce are quite similar. Both companies offer full website hosting plans and tools for creating a website, store, and blog without using a line of code. Sales tools like discounts and gift cards are available on either platform.
However, BigCommerce stands out in some key areas, namely the ability to have unlimited staff accounts in your store and the ShipperHQ shipping rules engine. These options, along with the 0% transaction fees, make BigCommerce the winner in this part of the contest between Shopify and BigCommerce.
Shopify vs BigCommerce: USER INTERFACE ⭐
Next, I’m going to explore how these two ecommerce tools work, focusing on three core factors: the quality and variety of templates, the level of customization available for templates, and ease of use.
To get a feel for how Shopify works, I signed up for a free trial and logged in. This led me to the store dashboard, a hub with links to areas like theme and product management. New store owners will also see a guide to setting up shipping at the top.
Honestly, I found this dashboard to be somewhat lackluster. The main content of the page is a series of buttons that mostly take you to pages you can access using the sidebar. There are some useful links for new users at the very bottom of the page, but there are no quick glance analytics or other useful tools on this page itself.
One thing you won’t find a link for in the sidebar is modifying the store’s appearance. Instead, you’ll need to log into the homepage and choose Customize theme from the options listed in the main panel.
The next page displays the theme you’re currently using at the top. Further down, you’ll find links to the free template library and the Shopify template store.
I checked out the free template library first and was honestly kind of disappointed. The templates are high quality, but there are only thirteen of them. Meanwhile, the paid store includes around 50 templates ranging in price from $150 – $350. As someone used to working with WordPress and its thousands of free themes, this still feels quite restrictive, but this is comparable to the options provided by BigCommerce, which you’ll see in a minute.
Editing your site’s appearance
Next, I returned to the Themes area and pressed the Customize button near the top of the page. This opened the Shopify store editor.
The Shopify store editor is quite different from most of the site builders I’ve used. You can’t move elements and when you click on them, nothing happens. Instead, everything is done in the sidebar. If you want to move a block, you need to hover your mouse over the name of a block, press on the symbol of vertical dots that appears beside it, then drag the block up or down in the sidebar.
Similarly, if you want to modify an element, you need to select it in the sidebar. This will open the customization options for that particular block.
Clicking Theme Settings in the bottom of the sidebar allows you to customize various aspects of your store’s overall appearance, such as the color scheme and typography.
All in all, this system is quite different from what I’m used to, but it’s relatively easy to learn and offers a decent range of customization options.
Once I had a feel for Shopify, I moved on to testing BigCommerce. Sign up only took a minute and I was immediately impressed by the store’s dashboard.
For new users, the page displays a list of steps you can take in order to start selling products, complete with links to each step. The BigCommerce sidebar has a lot going on, so it’s a great way to help new users ease their way into store building.
What really impressed me, however, was the analytics displayed further down the page. There’s a graph tracking activity in the past week, a display of key long-term stats, like your total number of products and orders, and an area where you can view the status of recent orders. This lets you get a feel of how well your store is doing, and what immediate actions need to be taken.
To change the appearance of your store, click the Storefront link in the sidebar. This will open a page where you can view your current theme and any other themes you’ve installed. You’ll also notice new links in the sidebar that allow you to customize various aspects of your store, such as your logo and homepage carousel.
The new sidebar links also include the Theme Marketplace. This is where you’ll find the full range of BigCommerce templates. You can filter the marketplace for free or paid themes or choose to search themes based on industry.
There are about a dozen free themes, which is roughly the same number of options that you’ll find on Shopify. However, there are over 100 paid themes ranging from $150 – $300 in price, so if you’re willing to spend a bit of additional money, you can access a much wider variety of options.
Editing your site’s appearance
Once you’ve settled on a theme you like you can click on the My Themes link in your sidebar, then click the Customize button next to the theme you’re currently using. This will open the BigCommerce page builder.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the editor was that you can only add blocks in certain places. There are Global Regions where content added will be applied to all pages, which are marked in purple. There are also areas where you can add content that’s only meant to be included on one page. These are marked in blue. You can drag and drop blocks from the sidebar into these areas.
When you add a block, you can click on it to see editing options. Some will appear in the block itself, while more advanced settings show up in the sidebar.
What I personally found strange about this editor is that it doesn’t let you customize built-in content areas like menus or product display areas. Instead, you need to exit the page builder and return to the Storefront area of BigCommerce, where you’ll find separate pages for modifying each of these things.
All in all, I was pretty disappointed with the functionality of the BigCommerce store editor.
While I preferred the BigCommerce dashboard, overall, Shopify is easier to use and, at least as far as I can tell, offers more customization options.
Shopify vs BigCommerce: ECOMMERCE FUNCTIONALITY 🛒
Here’s a more in-depth look at specific ecommerce features both platforms offer and which of them does it better.
Shopify has three main areas of ecommerce functionality: product management, gift card creation, and discount creation.
Clicking on the Products link in the sidebar opens a page where you can add, view, and manage products. You’ll also notice new links in the sidebar related to inventory and gift cards.
Choosing Add product opens a page where you can configure several details of a product:
- Inventory tracking
- Shipping and customs information
- SEO description
The page is quite simple to use, and the information you enter is used to track existing and outgoing inventory. You can use the Collections area if you also want to track incoming inventory.
One of the links in the Products sub-menu is Gift cards. This opens a page where you can view existing gift cards and add new ones. When you click Add a gift card product, you’re taken to a page that looks a lot like the Add product page:
You can add a name, description, and image for each gift card. You can also specify the denomination(s) that gift card is available in and customize the search engine listing.
Next, click on the Discounts link in the sidebar. This will open a page with two sections:
- Discount codes. This is where you can add, view, and manage discount codes that must be entered manually during the checkout process.
- Automatic discounts. This is where you can add, view, and manage discounts codes that are automatically entered during purchase.
Both types of discount can be configured as a percentage, dollar amount, or a Buy X, get Y deal. You can also specify a minimum required purchase and schedule the discount to work for a specified period of time. This allows you to set up a variety of sales and simplifies advance promotions.
Clicking on the Product link in the BigCommerce sidebar directs you to an area where you can view and manage existing products. You can also filter the product list based on criteria like “Free Shipping” and “Out Of Stock.”
You’ll also note several links related to product management now in the sidebar. Click Add to open a page where you can configure a new product.
This page continues a trend I’ve noticed in BigCommerce: wherever you are, there’s always a lot going on. The addition of a second sidebar is helpful for editing a product in the future, but it makes the whole thing feel rather overwhelming at first.
You can also add a significant amount of information to BigCommerce product pages:
- Product type (physical or digital)
- Inventory tracking information
- Images and videos
- Pricing and tax information
- Variants and customizations
- Storefront details, such as relevant keywords and the page template used to display this product
- Related products
- SEO title and description
You can also add custom fields. This allows you to create more detailed and unique product pages than is possible in Shopify.
The next thing I looked at was the discount system, which can be found under Marketing → Promotions. Like Shopify, BigCommerce has two types of discounts: automated discounts and coupon codes.
BigCommerce lets you create discounts for shipping and for specific products, categories, orders, and customers. You can also specify a minimum required purchase and a schedule for the promotion to run on.
This is pretty similar to the Shopify discount process. There are a couple of extra features, though: the ability to restrict a discount to specific members of your audience and the ability to add banners for different parts of the sales process. These options can help you create discounts that are associated with specific marketing campaigns.
BigCommerce has a straightforward gift certificate function that can be used by going to Marketing → Gift Certificates. Instead of creating individual gift cards, you simply enable gift certificates and list the denominations people can purchase them in. You can also choose to set an expiration date for your gift certificates.
In terms of the ecommerce features available, Shopify and BigCommerce are extremely similar. BigCommerce has some additional customization options for products, while Shopify has a more robust gift card functionality. Mostly, however, the winner comes down to personal preference. I find the Shopify product/discount management systems easier to use, making it my personal winner, but you might feel differently.
Shopify vs BigCommerce: PRICING 💳
Shopify offers three main plans:
- Basic Shopify. Available for $29/month. This is the plan discussed in the FEATURES area of this article. It includes the full store builder and template library with two staff members, discount and gift card creation, abandoned cart recovery, fraud analysis, compatibility with 130+ currencies, shipping tools and discounts, and access to Shopify POS Lite. Transaction fees are 2.9% + $0.30 for online credit card purchases, 2.7% + $0 for in-person purchases, and 2.0% when not using Shopify Payments.
- Shopify. Available for $79/month. This plan includes everything from Basic Shopify, but for up to five staff members + reporting, international domains, and international pricing. Transaction fees are 2.6% + $0.30 for online credit card purchases, 2.5% + $0 for in-person purchases, and 1.0% when not using Shopify Payments.
- Advanced Shopify. Available for $299/month. This plan includes everything from the Shopify plan, but for up to 15 staff members + advanced reporting, third-party calculated shipping rates, and international pricing. Transaction fees are 2.4% + $0.30 for online credit card purchases, 2.5% + $0 for in-person purchases, and 0.5% when not using Shopify Payments.
Note that North American businesses that use Shopify can also take advantage of significant discounts ranging from 45-55% in Canada and 77-88% in the US. These discounts are provided through Canada Post and the United States Post Office, respectively. International users will want to check their local Shopify page for relevant discounts.
Users who already have a blog or website can take advantage of Shopify Lite, a $9/month plan that lets you set up product displays and accept credit card payments on your own site.
BigCommerce offers three Essentials plans:
- Standard. Available for $29.95/month. This is the plan discussed in the FEATURES section of this article. It includes access to the full store builder with discount tools, no transaction fees, unlimited staff members, a variety of sales channels, professional reporting, abandoned cart recovery, and real-time shipping quotes. There is also an income limit of $50,000/year. Once you reach that threshold, you must switch to the next plan.
- Plus. Available for $79.95/month. This plan includes everything from the Standard plan + more marketing and segmentation tools. There is an income limit of $180K/year. After that, you must upgrade to the next plan.
- Pro. Available for $299.95/month. This plan includes everything from the Plus plan + product filtering, price lists, and API support. There is an income limit of $400,000/year. Once you hit that threshold, you’ll be forced to switch to BigCommerce’s Enterprise solutions.
BigCommerce doesn’t offer any equivalent to Shopify Lite.
This is another area where it’s hard to pick a distinct winner in the debate of Shopify vs BigCommerce. The monthly payments for each platform are roughly the same, but the fine print complicates things. Shopify’s transaction fees could mean that running it costs more than BigCommerce, but that seems to be largely offset by shipping discounts, at least in North America. And BigCommerce will actually force you to upgrade after a certain amount of growth, which means it will automatically become more expensive in the long run.
In the end, most users who sell physical products in North America can save money by using Shopify and being strategic with the shipping discounts. Users who sell predominantly digital products or who live outside of North America may find BigCommerce to be more effective.
Shopify vs BigCommerce: THE VERDICT 🏆
For the most part, Shopify and BigCommerce are similar platforms. Each solution is heavily focused on ecommerce, providing tools for shipping and increasing sales, and various types of marketing campaigns. Even the pricing is quite similar. So how do you choose a winner?
Well, it comes down mostly to individual preference. For me, Shopify is a more intuitive system with more customization options and less clutter. I’m also Canadian, so I can take advantage of those hefty shipping discounts, which puts me firmly in the Shopify camp! However, you might find that your process is better served by BigCommerce. And, if you can’t get discounts from Shopify, BigCommerce will be more affordable thanks to the lack of transaction fees.
Still not sure of the right tool for you? Check out this table comparing Shopify vs BigCommerce:
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