If you’re starting an e-commerce store, then one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing the right online shopping cart solution. If people are buying your goods online, you want that process to be simple and smooth for the user. On the back end, you want a tool that is easy to manage but powerful enough to do everything you need.
That’s why today we’re going to breakdown 2 of the heavy hitters in this category: Bigcommerce vs. Shopify.
Each solution does the same basic thing for you, but you’ll find a number of differences when you get into the details.
Here is a high level overview of what both Bigcommerce and Shopify do:
They let you start a website, with your own domain name. At the heart of that website is your online store, so they let you add your products, integrate with your merchant account and start selling online. In the beginning, you’ll choose from a pre-made theme or template for your site – which means you don’t have to design it from scratch. Once you’re up and running, both products give some bells and whistles to help you customize your look and market your business.
The goal for each of them is to be your all-in-one solution for setting up and running your online business.
Now that we’ve laid the ground work, let’s compare the setup process of each.
Get Started with Shopify
Shopify lets you start with a 2 week free trial, so you can sign up without any credit card information.
Once you sign up, Shopify wants to know if you plan to set up an online store or use Shopify to accept payments at the point of sale – which is a separate solution they offer:
Once you select “online store,” they’ll ask you a couple more questions about your business. Like if you are already selling online somewhere else, just getting started, etc.
After you’ve entered your basic information, you’ll see the initial screen which shows the next 3 steps of adding products, customizing the look of your site, and then choosing a domain name.
Starting With Bigcommerce
Similar to Shopify, Bigcommerce lets you start with a no hassle 15 day free trial (no payment info needed).
First, you just type in the name of your store on their home page:
From there, they simply ask what category of things you’ll sell and have you create a username and password to launch your store.
You can go from home page to the store builder in about 60 seconds, which is pretty cool.
Once you’ve filled out the initial details, you’ll see a message that your store is now open and have a link to visit your store. Once there, you’ll be prompted to take a tour of Bigcommerce, which is recommended if you are brand new to the site.
This will get you more comfortable with the layout and let you know how to do the things you’ll need in order to setup your store.
Bigcommerce vs. Shopify Pricing and Features
For most users, the pricing of Shopify and Bigcommerce are nearly identical. Back in the old days, Shopify used to charge their own transaction fee on all their plans – making it a tough pill to swallow for those with high transaction volumes. So when Shopify stopped charging transaction fees, experts like Steve Chou had a change of heart as it relates to recommending Shopify to readers.
Enough for the history lesson. Here is a look at Shopify’s pricing plans:
They also offer a $14 per month “Starter” plan which limits you to 25 products, 1 GB of storage, and no access to the HTML/CSS editor. For most stores that would be tough to work with, so you should plan on at least using the “Basic” level plan.
As you can see, the credit card rate goes down with each plan. So the more volume you do, the more it makes sense to upgrade to a higher level plan. In this case, the “Professional” plan would meet the needs of the majority of users and include some helpful features like abandoned cart recovery that help you complete more sales by automatically emailing people who almost completed a purchase.
Here is a summary of Bigcommerce pricing:
There are a couple of noteworthy points about pricing for Bigcommerce compared to Shopify:
As you see, the pricing on Shopify and Bigcommerce’s basic and professional plans are nearly identical. However, Bigcommerce does have a 1.5% transaction fee associated with their basic plan – which can really add up depending on your revenue numbers.
On the flip side, Bigcommerce is widely recognized for having an impressive amount of features included in their “out of the box” solution. So you really get more for your money in a way. Most of these features are available on Shopify as well, you just have to pay a little more to buy them in the Shopify App Store.
Jeremy Wong, the Website Builder Expert, puts it this way: “While Shopify provides you with all the basic tools to create and operate a store, more advanced tools, such as product reviews, customer wish list, product recommendations are only available in their App store where you have to pay for them.”
Steve Chou says it this way: “For example if you want comprehensive backend reporting of your sales and your profits, Big Commerce simply blows Shopify out of the water. If you want fancy ways to offer discounts or tiered pricing, Big Commerce offers all of this for free out of the box whereas you have to buy an “app” to handle these things on Shopify.”
By no means does any of this suggest that you can’t get what you need out of Shopify. In fact, their App Store gives you added functionality that you can do some pretty amazing things with. The key point is just that you get a little more in the way of standard features with Bigcommerce.
All of that said – the pricing is close enough that it really shouldn’t be a deciding factor for most people. If you find that one has the features you need or works better for your business in the long term, then what’s the big deal about spending a few dollars more?
In the end, don’t make the mistake of stepping over dollars to pick up pennies.
Bigcommerce vs. Shopify Themes and Design
Design and visual appearance are absolutely critical to being a successful online store.
After all, how comfortable would you be buying something online from a domain you’ve never visited with a site that looks like it was last updated in 1998?
Consumers are pretty savvy online and they’ve come to expect a professional look and experience (even from the little guys) when they go to spend their hard-earned money.
The good news is, both Bigcommerce and Shopify make this part pretty simple.
Bigcommerce has come a long way with their themes. In fact, if you read some older reviews of their product offering you’ll find that the lack of modern, responsive themes was a really sticking point for many people.
In early 2014, they unveiled a plan called Bigcommerce Next which introduced better looking and better functioning site themes (among other things). The result was a newly designed theme store which has both free and paid themes available for you to start with:
The paid themes will be $140 – $250 in most cases – which is relatively inexpensive compared to a complete custom web design which would cost thousands of dollars. If you do need a more custom look and can spend the money, check out the Bigcommerce partner area which has a list of design experts you can choose from.
Shopify has a similar arrangement with site themes – both free and paid are available.
However, Shopify had a pretty sizable head start on Bigcommerce in the theme arena. By the time Bigcommerce announced their “Next” initiative, Shopify was already heralded for having a generous selection of professional themes.
So even though Bigcommerce has closed the gap, Shopify still has a larger selection of themes to choose from:
If you aren’t finding exactly what you want and can spend a little more, Shopify also has an integrated list of design experts around the world who are ready to help you create a custom look for your online store. Just like the number of high quality themes, Shopify also has a larger number of “experts” to choose from if you are seeking a custom design.
While Shopify gets the nod over Bigcommerce in themes available – you can still create a professional looking store that is mobile friendly with both solutions – which is really the key point of concern.
With the help of a custom designer, almost anything is possible for the look of your online store. However, it still can be helpful to see real, live examples of each service in action. Here are examples of real Shopify stores:
Here are a few real Bigcommerce customers:
Shopify vs. Bigcommerce SEO
Although everything we’ve talked about to this point is extremely important to the success of your online store, what good is the best design and shopping cart experience if nobody ever comes to your site in the first place?
I’d prefer a site with less visual appeal and fewer features if it meant that people were finding my site more often and buying my products.
So while “SEO” isn’t a flashy thing to talk about, it’s worth comparing the 2 services to see how they handle the fundamentals of solid Search Engine Optimization.
If you know nothing about SEO, I’m going to set you up with a basic understanding that will put you ahead of most of your competitors. Really all that means is putting your site in the optimal position to succeed when it comes to being found in the search engines (like Google.) Most of what you need to do is pretty straightforward – no weird tricks or funny business needed.
We tell people just starting out that you should do the following:
1. Find out what kinds of things people are searching in your niche (these are keywords).
2. Determine which keywords in your niche have the lowest competition based on the current top 10 results in Google.
3. Write content that focuses on those keywords.
I’m really giving the Cliff Notes here, but this strategy works well in just about any industry and we’ve used it to grow traffic to sites in a broad range of niches.
We do it by using Long Tail Pro, our keyword research software which makes steps 1 and 2 listed above very quick and simple. There will be no blind guessing on what your ideal keywords are and you’ll save a ton of time.
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Once you’re on the road to finding strong long tail keywords that fit your business, then you have to turn to your website management tool to actually build the content that is going to be optimized for these keywords.
So how do Shopify and Bigcommerce stack up when it comes to implementing a long tail keyword SEO strategy?
Shopify SEO Positives
Shopify allows for customizing the most important SEO settings on both your product and your “collections” pages. For instance, when adding a new product you’ll see an expandable menu for SEO settings that you shouldn’t ignore:
You can write about the page title, meta description, and choose the ending of the URL to that product page. The title and description you use will be shown like this when it’s included in the search results:
Clearly having control over these elements for every product is a BIG deal when it comes to SEO. This is your chance to tell Google what your page is about, and it’s your chance to convince humans scrolling through the search engine results that they should click on your page instead of the 9 other results they see.
Let’s say that your store sells Elvis themed salt and pepper shakers.
When I add that product, I might customize my Shopify SEO settings to look like this:
My title is simple, my description is compelling and fun, and all 3 elements include a form of the keyword I’d like to rank for – “Elvis salt and pepper shaker.”
With “collections” in Shopify, you can control those same 3 elements. Here you are creating a custom grouping of your products for the convenience of your audience. Maybe you have “gift ideas for dad,” “back to school items for under $20,” etc.
Collections offer a nice opportunity to be keyword focused while integrating your products at the same time.
If you are an electronics retailer, you might use Long Tail Pro to discover that “best laptop under $200” is a keyword that your audience is searching. Now, you can create a collection in Shopify that targets this keyword.
Simply create the collection, use your keyword in a natural, compelling way in the SEO settings, then add your products that fit into the category. When you have time, check out other elements you can do “on page” to make your products, collections, blog posts and more perform well in the search engines.
Shopify SEO Negatives
Again, remember the context that we use to approach this discussion. We find the best low competition keywords in our niche, and then create excellent content to target those keywords so we can rank in the search engines and pull in that traffic. In order to do that, we like to have control over a few different things on every page/post so we can optimize things appropriately.
Blogging can make a huge impact on how well your business does in organic traffic and executing this strategy. Creating blog posts that focus on the keywords your customers are searching is an effective approach to getting new eyeballs on your site via inbound marketing.
Shopify does lack one SEO feature that I find annoying – but it probably isn’t going to make or break your success online.
When you add a blog post, you aren’t able to control the URL of that post. The URL will end up looking something like this:
I’d prefer something like:
myshopify.com/BLOG-POST-TITLE like you can choose in WordPress or maybe myshopify.com/blogs/BLOG-POST-TITLE
First, Google prefers simpler URLs.
Second, humans prefer simpler URLS. Isn’t it much easier to tell someone “Check out my post about clean eating! Just go to mydietstore.com/clean-eating and you’ll see it!”
Instead of “Check out my blog post about clean eating! Do you have a pen? It’s mydietstore.com/blogs/diets/51322342/clean-eating”
See – isn’t that a little annoying?
The other downside is that if you ever change a title to a past blog post, the URL automatically changes to include the title. This isn’t ideal because all the links you may have to the old URL will no longer work.
Is it a reason to not choose Shopify?
Of course not.
However, you should be aware of it since it is less than ideal from an SEO perspective. If you want to see more discussion on this, check out their support forum.
Bigcommerce SEO Positives
I won’t rehash everything I said about the key things you should be able to customize, but I’ll jump right in and show you what Bigcommerce does right from the on-page SEO perspective.
When adding a product, it’s a little uglier and harder to find than Shopify, but they do let you control the same title and meta description, as well as the URL under “other details.” So everything I did for my Elvis Salt and Pepper Shakers in Shopify I could do here:
The same can be said for “Categories” which are product groupings similar to the idea of “Collections” in Shopify. You can edit the description, title, and URL on each of these pages.
The blog post URLS are also much simpler in Bigcommerce than Shopify, which is a plus for all the reasons mentioned earlier. You don’t have the random numeric code in the middle of your URL by default. Instead the default Bigcommerce blog URL is something like this:
Bigcommerce SEO Negatives
SEO can be a vast and complicated topic. For me, I’m primarily concerned with a few things that I need control of to execute my long tail keyword strategy that I’ve seen work time and time again.
Given that approach, Bigcommerce lets me control pretty much everything I need from an SEO perspective.
In my view, the biggest negative is that compared to Shopify, you have to dig a little bit to find where to change the title, description, etc. – it’s almost like an afterthought. Shopify does a much better job of putting the SEO customizations front and center when adding a product, which is something Bigcommerce could improve upon.
To see my full guide to Bigcommerce SEO, click here.
The Final Breakdown
Overall we’re talking about 2 of the biggest players in this industry for a reason.
Bigcommerce advertises that they have over 85,000 active stores and Shopify is more than double that amount (they’ve also been around longer.)
If I had to pick one to recommend to the average person, I’d go with Shopify.
They’ve got more to offer in the way of designs and themes, their App Store is really well built out so you can add custom features, and generally I think the admin side is more concise and simple to use.
Bigcommerce is still a worthy competitor, and after you’ve tried both you might decide that I’ve lost my mind… and that’s okay.
Since your choice is so critical, I’d take a few days to test drive each one for free and see which one you could picture yourself working with for the long term.
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