The average ecommerce customer spends $488 per year online, and that market is set to grow steadily.
Generational differences are clear – younger shoppers spend more of their money online. You can sit out on the biggest self-employment opportunity in history or you can start selling online to feed this hungry market. The choice is yours. But if you want to build a business online or move your existing brick and mortar shop into the modern era with a digital presence, you need to invest in an ecommerce store builder (aka “ecommerce cart”).
If you dont have a ton of time and want a quick answer here’s the bottom line:
For Quick Setup Dropshipping Or Testing A Market
For Growing Brands
What to Look for in a Hosted Ecommerce Cart
Ecommerce store owners can choose from a wide variety of carts, but one of the first things you should consider is whether you want a self-hosted cart or a hosted cart. Both options have strengths: self-hosted carts aren’t dependent on an external server. You handle it all in house. For major enterprises, this is a natural choice. Most small businesses, mom and pop shops, and even mid-size businesses can thrive using a hosted ecommerce cart. Although there are some differences, most discussions of hosted and SaaS cart options use the terms interchangeably. That’s how I’ll use the terms in this article.
The downside of hosted carts is that they aren’t quite as flexible as open source solutions. What they sacrifice in flexibility however, they gain in user friendliness and security. Any good ecommerce cart should incorporate several key features, or offer them as free apps and widgets that you can readily integrate into your store:
- Zoomable product images
- Product reviews and ratings
- Site search
- Coupons and discounts
- SEO tools
- Product import/export capability
- Fast loading speed
- Product options
- Mobile-ready design
- Multiple payment gateways
Anything else is icing on the cake, but the more the better as long as feature quantity doesn’t disrupt quality.
Choosing Between BigCommerce and Shopify
All ecommerce carts are not created equal. Based on your level of comfort and experience online, you might want an option you can modify the code on or one that’s ready to roll right out of the box. Two of the top options for carts that are ready to use from day one and require no advanced technical skills to set up are BigCommerce (www.bigcommerce.com) and Shopify (www.shopify.com).
You’ve done the research and narrowed your choice of ecommerce cart to these two options. Their price points and features seem similar at first glance, so how do you decide between the two? I know. It isn’t easy.
To save you some work, I took a deep look at BigCommerce vs. Shopify. As you can see in the chart below, the mid-price plans for these carts are very similar. Stores built with BigCommerce are slightly slower to load on browsers, but perform equally well on mobile devices. At the same time, Shopify’s UX isn’t as user friendly on mobile (although the difference is minimal).
Where BigCommerce has a distinct performance advantage is SEO.
How to Choose a SaaS Ecommerce Store Builder
Choosing your cart isn’t just about site loading speed or mobile readiness. In this post, I’m diving deep into more than 40 features of each ecommerce store builder to help you decide where to open up your shop. By the end of the post, you’ll know how many payment gates each platform works with, how well the SEO features function on each, and what types of products and ecommerce store models work best for each. First, I’ll give you an overview of the pros and cons of each platform. After that, we’ll take a look at three classes of features:
- Main – basics every ecommerce store should offer (but no cart is perfect)
- Scalability – features that help your store grow with you, so you don’t have to transition to a different cart once your business is booming
- Ease of Use – characteristics of a cart that make it friendlier for you and your shoppers
At the end of the post I’ll tell you why I think BigCommerce is the best pick for most ecommerce store owners. You don’t have to agree with me – your business model and personal preferences should factor into your choice of cart. Feel free to share your cart preference and experiences in the comments.
BigCommerce vs. Shopify: Pros And Cons
- Real-time shipping quotes and gift cards available out of the box
- Better cart abandonment recovery setup
- Built to make marketing your site easy with SEO tools galore, BigCommerce dominates in search engine optimization.
- Selling limits
- Fewer apps and integrations than Shopify
- More expensive credit card processing
- More integrations and apps
- Lower credit card processing fees
- Better templates and more varied designs
- No selling limits
- More partner support
- Generally easier to set up
- Third party apps are necessary to get the functionality you want
- Fees for third-party gateways unless you use Shopify Payments
Feature Comparison: Shopify vs. BigCommerce
Shopify and BigCommerce each offer multiple subscription options. Shopify’s monthly pricing plans are as follows:
- $9 – Lite
- $29 – Basic
- $79 – Shopify
- $299 – Advanced
- Custom quote – Plus
Pricing points for BigCommerce are very similar:
- $29.95 – Standard
- $79.95 – Plus
- $249.95 – Pro
- Custom quote – Enterprise
Although it seems like Shopify has an extra, budget plan for ecommerce store owners at first glance, don’t be fooled. The ‘lite’ plan is not an ecommerce store option. It’s an option that lets you sell on Facebook, use a Shopify button on your existing site, accept credit card payments, and manage inventory using Shopify’s backend software, but it is NOT a full-service ecommerce cart. For the purpose of this review I’m ignoring it. I also won’t discuss the enterprise solutions from either platform, which involve customized quotes for major vendors and hence aren’t really comparable.
As you can see, where price is concerned, Shopify and BigCommerce are nearly identical, with the exception of the top tier plan, which has a $50 difference in price. Pricing is one area where neither ecommerce platform appears to be a clear leader.
For the rest of this article, I’ll focus on the Shopify and BigCommerce’s plans around the $79/month mark, with a price difference of only 95 cents and what appears to be a nearly equal set of features described on each store builder’s site, let’s see how they differ in use, and how those differences can affect your business.
The characteristics I look at in this section aren’t included in every ecommerce platform, but they should be. Your business benefits significantly when you have them incorporated into your cart. If you don’t, more than likely you’ll wind up paying for apps or widgets that fill these functions.
In order to sell products, you need your customers to find you. SEO is one of the best ways to make sure they do. On-page and in PPC ads, it takes the guess work out of driving traffic and uses knowledge of common search algorithm behavior to optimize content and page features, bringing traffic that wants what you’re selling directly to your store. Shopify and BigCommerce both recognize the importance of this feature, but Shopify’s SEO is a bit behind the times. Clunky WordPress plugins and rigid URL structures contribute to Shopify store ranking issues. BigCommerce SEO performs better – the site rankings for stores using this platform are higher on average – even though it seems easier to optimize pages with Shopify.
Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce recognizes the desire of some store owners to manage multiple storefronts from a single dashboard. This option is offered out-of-the-box with BigCommerce, but take some serious coding and developing skills to set up in Shopify.
Ease of Use
Free templates are one area where Shopify is a clear winner. Despite claiming to offer 7 free templates, BigCommerce’s templates look more like variants of each other than unique designs. Shopify offers 10 themes with significant variation between them. With a little coding or a good web developer, you can modify the themes from either platform to suit your needs.
One area Shopify is dominated by BigCommerce is on-page customization. If you love the ease of use provided by a drag and drop builder, don’t look at Shopify. The ecommerce cart doesn’t offer one. BigCommerce, however, has a user-friendly drag’n’drop builder.
When something goes wrong with your online store, you need a good customer support team to get you up and running ASAP. BigCommerce and Shopify both offer numerous support options, but Shopify is more upfront with their contact information. The quality of support you receive is roughly the same, however. Both are open 24/7 with live chat, email, and phone support.
So – Whats It Gonna Be: BigCommerce Or Shopify?
Many of the features seem the same for BigCommerce vs. Shopify, but there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. Visibility. BigCommerce delivers more where it counts, with features that make your online store visible and appealing to customers:
- SEO: Shopify sites consistently rank lower than BigCommerce sites, despite offering what appear to be similar optimization features
- Out-of-the-box feature set (gift cards, reviews and ratings): The only Shopify plan to offer gift cards, reviews, and ratings as out-of the-box features is the most expensive plan.
- Product option customizability: The integrated product customization feature on BigCommerce offers more options and has a better UX.
There are a few cons to keep in mind before you rush out to contract BigCommerce, however:
- Marginally higher transaction fees
- Limit to the number of transactions per month, based on your plan
In general, both ecommerce store builders meet the major requirements for an online shopping cart, but BigCommerce is more likely to get inventory off your virtual shelves. Both platforms work with numerous payment gateways, have great support, provide plenty of templates, are feature packed and offer more functionality through the ability to integrate widgets and apps, offer SEO optimization capabilities, and integrate with major email marketing apps. But at the end of the day, the BigCommerce cart is able to draw more traffic (SEO and gift cards), encourage consumer confidence (reviews and ratings), and visually appeal to onsite customers (product option customizability).