Shopify has grown hugely and is a true leader in the ecommerce space - not just with significant market share but as an impressive ecommerce SaaS platform with a mature ecosystem.
As a platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems, Shopify’s standard plans cater to small and medium sized businesses, while Shopify Plus very much targets fast growing high-volume companies. Cumulatively, Shopify is big - very big. At the time of writing, over a million businesses, across approximately 175 countries, use Shopify. Its total gross merchandise volume for 2020 was in excess of US$100 billion. Originating and still HQ’ed in Canada, it is now vying for the title of most-valuable Canadian company.
Offering excellent levels of scalability and flexibility, Shopify helps companies actively accommodate both specific demands and common retail requirements such as seasonal highs and flash sales. It’s a highly secure platform that offers flexible application programming interfaces (APIs) that cover everything from reporting to the customer checkout, and has a rich app marketplace which can be used to add new features to your website.
You can choose from a truly impressive range of Shopify themes or you can create your own beautiful, customised store designs that build your brand equity (though you will need to learn Shopify’s template language, Liquid - it’s the backbone of all Shopify themes). Generally speaking, you can take the design and UX of a Shopify website to extraordinary levels.
“Shopify is a hugely popular ecommerce platform for good reason,” says Brian Healy, head of Un.titled. “It has a huge ecosystem with themes, apps and partners for customers to benefit from. On top of that, Shopify’s own ecosystem of products - such as Shopify Payments and Shopify Pay and its own ePos offering - really helps Shopify to stand out. We see merchants, who are looking for an all-in-one solution, often identify Shopify as their ideal option.”
The platform’s reporting and analytics tools enable higher levels of customer insight, allowing companies to better understand their customers and find ways to engage with them more dynamically.
Inventory, orders, invoices and customer information can be easily integrated. Shopify can also be integrated with leading enterprise systems such as Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, SAP and NetSuite.
The platform offers lots of out-of-the-box integrations with different third parties, including advertising platforms like Google Ads or Facebook Ads to help you promote your store easily. And there are also many ways in which you can enhance the SEO value of your Shopify store.
Whichever plan you start on - there are a number of different Shopify plans available for ecommerce customers: Lite, Basic, Shopify, Advanced and Plus - you can easily upgrade as your store grows.
BigCommerce is an ecommerce platform provider based in Austin, Texas. Similar to Shopify, BigCommerce is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. That means the stress and cost of hosting is not something you have to worry about with this platform.
BigCommerce has been rapidly growing in popularity. Again similar to Shopify, BigCommerce caters to small and medium businesses, as well as larger businesses, via its Enterprise plan. It also serves B2B customers nicely. The platform offers in-app shopping on Facebook, Google Shopping and Instagram. Users can also sell from blogs, emails and more recently, Walmart’s online marketplace (only in the US for now).
A major appeal for most smaller businesses is the cheaper overall cost of ownership when compared to many alternatives. It’s always swings-and-roundabouts on total cost of ownership but on balance, BigCommerce comes out favourably on cost analysis we have run (see section on Total Cost of Ownership below).
BigCommerce has excellent core functionality (broadly having much more built into its core functionality than Shopify), really good reporting tools, pre-built integrations and a powerful application programming interface (API). This spans both custom and complex builds. It also boasts an impressively high 99.99% uptime.
“BigCommerce is a leading cloud ecommerce platform and is an excellent fit for ambitious, fast-growing businesses,” says Brian. “It offers super competitive pricing, making it a leading contender when looking at total cost of ownership and has the best in-house features of any ecommerce platform. This means you don't need to lean as much on third party apps and services, which is of huge benefit on many ecommerce projects.”
Shopify vs BigCommerce
All things considered then, how do you go about picking between the two?
Shopify has a somewhat more mature third-party ecosystem than BigCommerce. When choosing Shopify, you will have access to a more active, noisier community of designers and developers. It's also a slightly more beginner-friendly platform – more important perhaps if it's your first time launching an ecommerce store by yourself.
BigCommerce, on the other hand, gives you some nice advanced features out-of-the-box without forcing you to go into the app store and get upgrades there. If you are a user who prefers to work at a more granular level with your store, BigCommerce might be a good fit.
There are always a lot of decisions to make as a growing ecommerce business owner. From which payment processor to use, to which store builder you should invest in and whether you need to add a PIM, ERP and/or OMS into the mix. But if you’re still struggling to decide between BigCommerce and Shopify, we do have some specific advice.
BigCommerce is usually a top choice for businesses that want to avoid transaction fees. With the exception of certain tools, like the ability to save abandoned carts, you also get a lot of extra features on the BigCommerce standard plans than you wouldn’t get on the Shopify standard plans. Additionally, because you get deeper access to code, creating bespoke websites is simpler too.
BigCommerce is a great choice for anyone who wants access to state-of-the-art reports that might help them to grow their business. You get these analytics on all plans – unlike with Shopify. What’s more, you can get real-time carrier quotes with great deals for your shipping too. At the time of writing, you don’t even get these quotes until you’re paying US$299 per month with Shopify.
BigCommerce also offers more product options than Shopify, and tons of custom fields and file uploads for your product options with BigCommerce. This makes it easier to sell a wider variety of products. What’s more, there’s the option to sell those products in a selection of currencies to customers all around the world.
For customer service, BigCommerce offers more phone access to different countries across the globe, and you get unlimited staff accounts too. Additionally, all BigCommerce plans work with a range of POS systems to help you sell offline.
Obviously, Shopify has its benefits to consider too. For many people, Shopify stands out simply because it is the leader in ecommerce in overall market share and the number and extent of the tools it offers. It has dozens of sales capabilities to help you increase your profits in no time (especially when you include their app marketplace).
So, for example, Shopify might be the right choice for you if you’re looking for something that provides abandoned cart recovery access at a cheaper price point. You don’t have to buy a bigger package to get this function with Shopify.
On the surface at least, Shopify also provides more functionality when it comes to making your site look incredible, with more templates to work with, and (at the time of writing) a wider range of typefaces too. On top of that, the paid-for templates on Shopify are often much better than the similar options that BigCommerce provides in our opinion.
In its backend, Shopify offers an experience that’s easier and more comprehensive, with excellent product categorisation, and significant selections of third-party apps to choose from. The big caveat here is that Shopify is so reliant on apps that it is very easy (too easy?) to end up with a somewhat app heavy store that adds bloat. This can adversely affect performance, cause code conflicts and becomes increasingly difficult to maintain over time.
Shopify also delivers an excellent blogging tool with an RSS feed (yes, they still exist), and you don’t have to worry about being pushed up to a new price range whenever you cross a sales limit.
If you’re selling offline, Shopify has a range of POS tools that you can access directly from the brand, rather than relying on external companies. What’s more, you get a better feel for the functionality with Shopify POS tools too.
Which brings us to a very big selling point for Shopify - it’s completeness. If you’re looking for a one stop shop, with its own payment processor, and a single solution to help you sell online and offline, Shopify might be the right choice.
Total Cost of Ownership
Regardless of the platform you choose, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) can be quite complex to calculate, as it varies massively depending on your requirements. You need to take into account everything from license fees to any potential transaction and payment gateway fees and whether you need additional apps, many of which incur ongoing subscription costs to achieve the functionality you want.
For example, Shopify Plus is a great option for larger, more enterprise businesses (offering a lot of integrations and plug and play features, including Shopify Flow which is an entire ecommerce automation platform in itself). But for any sized business and compared to the out of the box features available with the core BigCommerce product, you are likely to need more Shopify Apps. These ongoing costs can easily mount up and depending on your scale, ought to be considered against any TCO.
As an agnostic ecommerce agency with experience in developing both Shopify and BigCommerce websites, we can help you calculate and understand your true TCO when reviewing the right platform for your business.
When it comes to web accessibility, we’ve explored Shopify’s approach to this before. Shopify leaves you to fend for yourself somewhat when it comes to creating accessible sites. Many of its themes are not in and of themselves fully compliant with WCAG 2.1, and one of its most popular themes, Debut, fails compliance testing using the same tools Shopify recommend using to help ensure compliance. This means on the accessibility front, Shopify users have to do some pretty significant legwork on their own.
BigCommerce themselves say that their ‘storefronts give merchants the capability of creating a WCAG-compliant site on their own or with third-party support.’ This is done through options including alt tags, readable content and customisable and extendable codes to which accessibility-enhancing scripts can be added. BigCommerce also offers a number of enterprise integrations and apps related to accessibility.
Excellent performance on any site is crucial. On eCommerce sites it’s impacted by a wide range of factors. On speed, page load and performance tests, both Shopify and BigCommerce perform reasonably well (against each other and the rest of the eCommerce platform field) and you could say, out of the box there’s little to choose between them.
One major differentiator however is around SEO. BigCommerce stands well ahead of Shopify, with sites using BigCommerce generally faring better on this front. Shopify has a more rigid URL structure for example that doesn’t offer the flexibility BigCommerce does. BigCommerce also has AMP-enabled on all its free templates, allowing users to choose the content it is used for. With Shopify however, an app is needed for this (and ironically, as we know apps can impact performance).
Looking at the bigger picture, when comparing Shopify and BigCommerce, it’s important to factor in your growth plans - your needs and ambitions for the business over the next few years.
Are you looking for a retail-heavy model and want to make the most of a market-leader, with all the best-practice functionality available, offering a complete ecosystem (e.g. from payment processing to POS and more) alongside a second-to-none app and theme marketplace? Then Shopify is a no-brainer.
Are you looking for more OOTB or a more custom solution, do you want to choose your own payment gateway (and potentially save on transaction fees), do you want to develop a headless approach for a content-based ecommerce website? Then BigCommerce has the edge in terms of out-of-the-box functionality available and ease of implementation.
(That’s not to say that you can’t also use Shopify for headless commerce. It’s just a different approach which requires more apps and other work to achieve, rather than relying more on the core product as is the case with BigCommerce. More apps for example mean more dependencies and higher likelihood that you’ll hit problems.)
Choosing the right ecommerce platform
Selecting an ecommerce platform for your business is not an easy task. But both Shopify and BigCommerce can offer excellent options for your business.
There are many, many reviews comparing both Shopify and BigCommerce (here are two really good ones: Ecommerce Platforms ‘BigCommerce vs Shopify: The Ultimate Comparison’ and Style Factory Productions ‘BigCommerce vs Shopify: the Verdict’) but to summarise the majority of them and combined with our own experience of actually working with both … there is, in truth, not much to choose between them. They are both good and capable platforms with their own strengths and weaknesses, killer features and idiosyncrasies. It all comes down to your particular needs.
“As anti-climatic as it may feel, the good news is that - at a high level at least - there really is no wrong choice when it comes to choosing between Shopify and BigCommerce,” says Brian. “They both offer comparable pricing and similar features and so discounting decisions based on the fashion of the day, the devil will be in the detail. The right system for your particular needs and your direction of travel.”
Un.titled and ecommerce platforms FTW
There’s plenty more information on Shopify and BigCommerce, and our other ecommerce solutions, on our site. This gives you more specifics about each platform, and the key role that Un.titled can play in helping you realise your ecommerce goals. You can also take a look through some of our Shopify and BigCommerce projects, including for the likes of NMC Recordings and St Albans Museums.
Be sure to do the required research, be clear as to what you want to achieve as a business and we can help find the right option for you. Say hello today and find out how Un.titled can set you on the right path for your business.