In this Bigcommerce review we take a look at one of the most popular e-commerce solutions currently available. Like Shopify and Volusion, it regularly features in ‘top five’ lists of online store builders.
In this post I'll walk you through some key Bigcommerce features. You'll learn all about the Bigcommerce pros and cons, and by the end of the article should hopefully have a better idea of whether Bigcommerce is the right e-commerce solution for you and your business.
1. What is Bigcommerce?
Bigcommerce is a paid-for 'hosted' e-commerce solution that allows business owners to set up an online store and sell their products online. It comes with a range of customisable templates to help you design your store; you can use it to sell either physical or digital goods; and there are also some tools provided to help you market your store.
The product is aimed primarily at people without much in the way of web design skills, but it also allows more tech-savvy users to tweak the HTML and CSS of their sites too.
As with all hosted store products (Shopify, Volusion, Squarespace etc.), if Bigcommerce were to shut down or change its feature set radically, you might find yourself in a position where you needed to migrate your store to another platform (Magento Go users can tell you all about that!). But unless you are in a position to develop your own online store (an expensive and laborious undertaking) you are in all likelihood going to end up using a hosted tool like Bigcommerce anyway to run your store, and at least it's one of the more established products of its kind out there, with a client roster that includes Toyota, Gibson Guitars and Travelpro.
2. Bigcommerce pricing
Bigcommerce offer four different pricing plans:
- Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month
- Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month
- Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month*
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business requirements
The 'standard', 'plus' and 'pro' plans are aimed at individuals and small businesses; the Enterprise plan is geared more towards large businesses and corporates (users with very high bandwidth / advanced functionality requirements).
* This fee increases depending on what your annual sales figures are like - this is detailed in more depth below.
Bigcommerce's cheapest offering, the 'standard' plan, costs $29.95 a month and as such is a significantly more expensive than the equivalent starter plans offered by competitors Shopify and Volusion ($9 and $15 respectively) - but that said it is a much more comprehensive starter plan than either of those plans, providing
- a fully functional website
- the ability to sell an unlimited number of products
- unlimited bandwidth
- unlimited storage
- gift cards
- ratings and reviews functionality.
In short, you get an awful lot of e-commerce bang for your buck.
By comparison, the Shopify 'Lite' plan doesn't actually let you build a fully functional website - it is geared towards users who want to either set up a store on Facebook or use the Shopify backend in conjunction with a simple 'buy now' button or point-of-sale applications. Volusion’s 'Mini' starter plan comes with monthly limits on data transfer (1GB) and limits you to selling 100 products. A fairer comparison would be to stack the silver plan up against Shopify’s ‘basic’ plan or Volusion’s ‘plus’ plan.
There is an annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Standard of $50,000.
As you move up the pricing structure ladder, you encounter 'Bigcommerce Plus'. This plan provides more functionality than the standard plan, including, crucially, their abandoned cart saver tool (more on that later). Other key differences between this plan and 'Bigcommerce Standard' include pricing rules for customer groups (this allows you to provide discounts to specific customers) and advanced pricing rules.
The annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Plus is $150,000.
A relatively new addition to the mix is 'Bigcommerce Pro'. With this plan, you don't get a huge amount of extra functionality over Bigcommerce Plus - but you do get increased sales limits. This permits up to $400,000 in online sales, with an additional fee of $150 per month per $200k in sales, up to a maximum of $1m.
The extra features that come with this plan are listings on Google Trusted Stores and faceted search (advanced product filtering).
Finally, there's Bigcommerce's "Enterprise" plan to consider. This is really geared towards businesses that have very high volumes of sales (over $1,000,000), and advanced requirements. Its advanced features - that are not available on the cheaper plans - include:
- dedicated SSL and IP address
- uptime service level agreement (SLA)
- Bigcommerce consulting
- priority support.
If you're interested in the Enterprise plan you will need to discuss your requirements with Bigcommerce to establish pricing - the costs will reflect your business needs. You can generally expect a lot more support from Bigcommerce if you purchase an Enterprise plan - data migration, setup, account management and much more in-depth support can all be facilitated.
There is no annual sales limit to worry about with Bigcommerce Enterprise.
3. Transaction fees and sales limits
First the really good news: there are no transaction fees on any Bigcommerce plan.
You will, of course, pay credit card transaction fees and these will depend on the payment gateway you use (see below), but unlike some if its competitors, you don't have to worry about Bigcommerce taking a cut of your sales.
The bad news, and as mentioned above, is that Bigcommerce places a limits on your annual online sales. These limits are as follows:
- Bigcommerce Standard: $50,000
- Bigcommerce Plus: $150,000
- Bigcommerce Pro: $1,000,000
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: negotiable
I contacted Bigcommerce to see what happens if you breach these limits and the response was:
"There is an additional 1,000-2,000 order limit per plan that users be able to go over before being forced to upgrade. During this time users will receive notifications about upgrading their plan as they are over the limit. But we will not prevent additional orders from coming through until they exceed the additional 1,000-2,000 overage order provided."
I expect the limits issue won't be a showstopper for all merchants, but they definitely do need to be born in mind if you expect your store to generate the kind of sales figures outlined above. I have yet to come across these sorts of limits on competing products like Shopify or Volusion, so it's definitely a 'could do better' here for Bigcommerce; and for the record, this issue crops up repeatedly as one of the aspects of Bigcommerce that its customers are most dissatisfied with.
4. Payment gateways
With all the plans referred to above it is worth pointing out that additional charges apply for use of a ‘payment gateway’ (software provided by a third party to process credit cards) – depending on what you plump for you are looking at a percentage of a transaction fee, or a monthly fee (or both).
Setting up a payment gateway can occasionally be bit of a lengthy process, involving setting up 'merchant accounts' with third party providers and configuring them so that they work with your store. If you want to avoid doing this you can use various 'one-click' options provided by Bigcommerce that allow you to use Stripe, Paypal, Simplify (Mastercard) with a minimum of fuss.
It's worth looking at the various fees involved with other payment gateway providers though: depending on what you sell and how much of it you sell, using a different payment gateway to those included as part of Bigcommerce's one-click option may still be the best route for you to go down, even if it involves a bit more setup time.
Special Paypal rates
One potentially useful Bigcommerce feature is special Paypal rates. Bigcommerce have teamed up with Braintree to provide preferential Paypal rates for credit card transactions - these decrease as you go up Bigcommerce's pricing ladder:
- Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c
- Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c
- Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c
5. Something to bear in mind if you are selling digital products: VAT MOSS
If you want to sell digital products - downloadable music, videos, books etc. - to EU customers with Bigcommerce, you'll need to familiarise yourself with something called VAT MOSS (short for 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop'). VAT MOSS requires you to apply country-specific rates of VAT to digital products - even if yours is a business that is based outside of the EU.
With Bigcommerce, you'll need to set up individual tax rules to cover each country in Europe - a boring manual process which is likely to take you a while. To be fair to Bigcommerce, many of its competitors don't cater well for VAT MOSS either. But I'd like to see a similar approach to Shopify's being implemented here, where VAT MOSS is applied automatically to digital products.
6. Bigcommerce templates
For quite a while Bigcommerce lagged behind competing products by not providing an extensive range of responsive templates. Fortunately, this all changed recently, with Bigcommerce rolling out a larger selection of responsive themes. There are 7 free themes and 80 paid themes (ranging in price from $145 to $235) - and each theme contains a number of different variants, so there quite is a lot to choose from.
The free themes on offer are contemporary, professional in appearance and provide a good starting point for building an online store. However, a few of them are very similar to each other.
7. Bigcommerce: main features
As discussed above the exact features you get with Bigcommerce depend on the plan you opt for, but basic features include:
the ability to sell a wide range of either physical or digital goods, in categories of your choosing and using shipping rates of your choosing
integration with Paypal and a wide range of payment gateways
full content management (CMS) functionality
good search engine optimisation (SEO) options – it’s very easy to add appropriate keywords to your products and site pages
integration with several e-newsletter services: Constant Contact, iContact, Mailchimp and Interspire
integration with Alibaba.com
automated reminder emails to people who abandoned their carts at checkout
discount coupons and gift vouchers as standard
product review functionality - this is particularly welcome: not all e-commerce platforms offer this as standard, and usually require you to fiddle about with third-party apps or services to enable it.
the ability to tweak CSS and HTML as desired.
8. Bigcommerce’s abandoned cart saver feature
One feature worth drawing particular attention to is Bigcommerce’s abandoned cart feature – it’s one of the best out there. The tool allows you to create up to three automated emails to site visitors who go part of the way through the sales process only to leave your store without buying anything. This has the potential to dramatically increase your revenue with little effort – other than the 'one-off' time investment in setting up the automated messages – being involved.
Other online store building tools provide similar functionality, but Bigcommerce’s is in my view better than those offered by its key competitors because it is more flexible and allows you to program in more reminder emails.
It’s important to note that the abandoned cart saver functionality only comes with Bigcommerce’s 'Plus', 'Pro' and 'Enterprise' plans.
9. Product variants and categories
Another particularly strong feature of Bigcommerce is the way it handles product variants. Unlike rival Shopify, which only allows you to present users with three product variants without resorting to workarounds, Bigcommerce's 'product options' and 'product rules' allow you to create a seemingly endless number of product configurations. So if you are selling products that come in a lot of different formats, Bigcommerce may be a particularly good option. See accompanying video for more detail on how it all works.
Less impressive is the way that Bigcommerce handles categories - whilst creating and editing them is straightforward enough, you have to assign them to individual products in quite a manual fashion. It would be better - as is the case with some other leading online store builders, notably Shopify - if you could automatically categorise products based on product name or tags.
10. Using Bigcommerce with Alibaba
Bigcommerce has a partnership with Alibaba.com, the Chinese giant online retailer. This allows Bigcommerce users to browse and buy 30,000 wholesale products from 300 of Alibaba's 'gold' suppliers (ones that have been vetted, basically) from within the Bigcommerce interface.
This may prove useful to certain users who are stuck for stock ideas, but note that the shipping of the products will still be the responsibility of the Bigcommerce store owner - i.e., this isn't a drop shipping style arrangement, where you sell something from Alibaba on your site and have somebody else ship it to your customers - which would be pretty cool, thinking about it, providing the retailer shipping your product was reliable. It's also worth noting that Bigcommerce customers have raised some concerns about the quality of the integration / app that facilitates this partnership.
Bigcommerce’s interface is straightforward and intuitive; similar in quality (not to mention appearance!) to Shopify's - but way ahead of Volusion's.
One thing I particularly like about Bigcommerce's interface is that it is very easy to create a navigation menu; this is not always the case with Shopify (if you require more than one level of navigation in Shopify, you will need to use occasionally baffling 'link handles') and definitely not the case at all with Volusion.
12. Mobile apps
One area where Bigcommerce doesn't score highly is mobile apps. Unlike some other e-commerce solutions, no iOS or Android apps are available for store owners to use to manage their stores on the go. There was previously an app available...but it's been discontinued.
Obviously you can still be notified of sales etc. using a mobile device via email, but that seems a bit low-tech in this day and age.
13. Bigcommerce support
Bigcommerce provides 24-hour 'live agent' support. It's not hugely clear on their site what exactly this covers - phone, chat or email, and before you get access to relevant contact details you have to try to resolve the issue by searching their help pages first. This will annoy some users quite a lot, I suspect.
For those who are more inclined towards trying to sort the issue out themselves first, there is a large range of video and text resources available from Bigcommerce, and a community forum.
14. Bigcommerce analytics
Bigcommerce provides users with several types of reports as standard:
- customer reports (where your customers come from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last made an order)
- marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)
- search data reports (the phrases customers used when searching for products in your online store)
- finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)
- abandoned cart reports.
For an additional fee you can also gain access to an 'Insights' report, which provides you with more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts.
In short, the Bigcommerce analytics offering is pretty strong - and the best thing about it is that the bulk of the reporting functionality comes as standard on all plans. This is not the case with its key competitor Shopify, which requires you to be on its more expensive $79 plan before you get access to in-depth reports.
Of course in addition to using the built-in Bigcommerce reporting tools, you could also supplement your analytics arsenal by integrating Google Analytics into your site.
15. Bigcommerce review conclusions
Bigcommerce is one of the stronger hosted online store builders I’ve tested. Above all else, it is very easy to use – it’s one of the more user friendly store builders I’ve come across to date, with some excellent marketing functionality (not least its abandoned cart saver tool). I particularly like the flexible approach to product options: in a Bigcommerce vs Shopify shootout, I suspect that this might sway quite a few users Bigcommerce's way.
The main down sides involve price (the entry level plan is more expensive than those offered by some competing products) and, more seriously perhaps, the imposition of sales limits on store owners.
I hope this Bigcommerce review has helped give you a sense of this product and whether it's suitable for your needs - but as usual, always best to try before you buy: you can avail of a free Bigcommerce trial here.
Finally, below you will find my summary of the positive and negative aspects of Bigcommerce.
Pros of using Bigcommerce
Bigcommerce is one of the easiest-to-use online store builder I’ve come across to date, with a very intuitive interface / CMS. My favourite aspect of the whole product is this user-friendliness – many users of online store builders are small business owners, not web developers, and interfaces should not get in the way of building the store.
You get a good set of reporting tools on all plans - this is not the case with all competing products.
It comes with built-in product review functionality.
There are no transaction fees.
Its marketing features are very strong: it’s really easy to use several leading e-newsletter services with Bigcommerce, and the tool’s approach to SEO is very straightforward too.
The automated emails that are sent to visitors who abandon their carts are an excellent idea and likely to boost revenue from your store considerably. Their 'abandoned cart saver' tools are more comprehensive than similar offerings by competitors (including Shopify and Volusion).
It comes with a wide range of discounting / coupon tools out of the box.
It comes with a built-in blog. This is extremely important because it allows you to use inbound marketing techniques directly from your store, without having to make use of a third party tool like Wordpress (or set up a subdomain for your blog etc.).
You can avail of cheaper-than-usual Paypal card transaction fees with Bigcommerce, thanks to its preferential arrangement with Braintree.
Bigcommerce is a very flexible solution for vendors with a lot of different product variants.
Cons of using Bigcommerce
Limits are placed on annual online sales - and if you exceed them, you'll need to upgrade to a more expensive monthly plan.
The price of the Bigcommerce starter plan is on the high side by comparison to other solutions, although the plan itself is more feature-rich than entry-level products by other leading e-commerce solution providers.
VAT MOSS rates could be better catered for.
There are no mobile apps available to manage your store on the go.
Although support is 24/7, it's not clear quite what level of support you receive with Bigcommerce across individual channels (phone, chat or email).
It's hard to find contact details on the Bigcommerce website for support - before you get near a phone number, you have to search for an answer to your problem on their site.
Have you used Bigcommerce? Let us know your thoughts on the solution below!
16. Alternatives to Bigcommerce
You might also wish to investigate Squarespace, which whilst not as feature-packed from an e-commerce point of view, is a good product for those who wish to combine impressive visuals or content with the ability to sell products. Our full Squarespace review is here.
If you already have a website that you're happy with, and wish to add e-commerce functionality to it, you could do worse than check out Ecwid. (If your site is built on Wordpress, you'll find a handy plugin that can help you integrate Ecwid; and, speaking of Wordpress, another good e-commerce option worthy of consideration is Woocommerce.)