Chromebook Review (2018) - Should I Buy a Chromebook?
 Chromebook review (image of a Chromebook computer).

"Should I buy a Chromebook?" is a question that is asked with increasing frequency by both individuals and businesses looking to reduce their computing costs. This Chromebook review explores the pros and cons of using Chromebooks and other Chrome OS-based computers and helps you answer that question...

Because of the nature of the work I do, and the nature of the times we live in, I seem to have devices coming out of my ears.

Depending on where I'm working, I switch between an iMac, a Windows laptop, an iPhone and an iPad, but one thing I've noticed about all these devices is that a hell of a lot of what I'm doing on them is now being done in Chrome.

Increasingly I seem to be neglecting Word, Outlook, Excel and so on (all installed Microsoft products) in favour of online, cloud-based equivalents (mostly Google products) that run via a browser.

This observation, coupled with some adverts featuring shiny computers on Facebook (after all, Facebook knows I like shiny computers), got me wondering about Chromebooks and whether you could run a business on one. This in turn naturally led to me buying a Chromebook and writing a blog post about the whole bloody thing. On a Chromebook.

But before we get to all that, let's discuss what a Chromebook actually is.


What is a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is basically a laptop that you use primarily when you are online, and one that you don't really save files onto.

Nearly everything — word processing, spreadsheet-eyeballing, note-taking and no doubt other dubious activities — is done online via Google's Chrome browser and pretty much everything you produce is saved onto the 'cloud'.

This means that Chromebooks generally don't come with much storage and don't require a particularly fast processor...which in turn makes them very cheap compared to 'normal' computers.

Chromebooks run Chrome OS, a stripped-back, Linux-based operating system which revolves mainly around the Chrome browser. Although an increasing number of apps which also work offline are now available for it, the idea is that most of what you do on a Chrome OS device is done online using the Chrome browser.

There are some really great things about Chromebooks — and some not so great. Let’s take a look at the good stuff first.


The pros of using Chromebooks

Chromebooks can lower your hardware and IT costs

Chromebooks have the potential to lower IT costs in a few ways.

Firstly, and for the reasons discussed above, they are much cheaper to buy than 'normal' computers. I'm typing this on a machine that cost me just $175 (albeit in a sale, but you can definitely pick a decent enough machine up for less than $300).

My mid-range Windows laptop cost four times as much as this without - when it comes to using Chrome and cloud-based software at least - being four times as good.

So whether you're an individual or a business, there are significant savings to be made by purchasing a Chromebook (or if you fit into the latter category, lots of them). If you apply these sort of cost differentials across a large team's computing requirements, you're talking about saving a lot of money.

Secondly, because Chromebooks do not rely on installed software, there is less of a need for an IT department to, well, install software. Or update it. Or support it. Any updates to your Chromebook and the cloud-based software you use (Google Docs etc.) are carried out regularly and automatically by Google, and if you're a G Suite (Google Apps) customer, you have a 24/7 Google helpdesk at your disposal too.

Thirdly, because there are no moving parts in them, Chromebooks are arguably less prone to developing mechanical faults, meaning greater reliability and longevity - and a lack of repair bills.

And finally, because your team is working in the cloud, you don't need to spend as much money on physical storage to handle networking or backups.

(Note that depending on the G Suite plan you’re on, you may need to invest in a third-party cloud backup service, however, to ensure any data in G Suite remains backed up).

Chromebooks can lower your software costs

For many individuals and businesses, G Suite, Google's set of productivity apps, is now capable of handling core computing needs - word processing, spreadsheets, email and diary management - perfectly well, and very cheaply (G Suite for Work costs £3.30 per user per month).

And if you don't want to work with G Suite, there are cheap or even free browser-based alternatives available to you - not least a free browser-based version of Microsoft Office or the entry-level Office 365 plan, which provides you with an email account and cloud storage for a few dollars per month in addition to the online versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc. Microsoft Access can't be used on a Chromebook however.

(For a detailed overview of when and why you might want to use G Suite or Office 365, you can check out our Office 365 vs G Suite comparison post.)

Chromebooks are less vulnerable to viruses

Because of the emphasis on cloud-based working, using a Chromebook doesn't tend to involve much installation of software; accordingly, it's quite difficult for users to get a virus on one (note: you can still get 'phished' on a Chromebook, which is something different).  

And on top of that, Chromebooks are generally viewed as one of the more robust systems going from a virus protection point of view: automatic updates, 'sandboxing' and 'verified boots' help prevent infection (you can find out more about these terms on Google's Chromebook Security help page).

All this means that if you are using a Chromebook, you can generally forget the costs associated with virus and malware protection software - or paying IT professionals to clear up the mess you made on the network after you opened that attachment from that nice lady from Russia. 

They can encourage collaboration and improve productivity

Because Chromebooks aren't really about installing standalone pieces of software on your computer, those using them are effectively nudged in the direction of using web apps that allow multiple users to access and edit files together in real time. This opens up a lot of collaborative possibilities and new ways of working.

Additionally, with a Chromebook, less seems to get in the way of actually doing work. Chrome OS is clutter-free, stable, and free of the 'bloat' or 'lag' that you often get with other operating systems.

Chromebooks also boot up incredibly quickly (in about 5-10 seconds) and are 'instant-on' from sleep. Any system that comes with lack of distractions, delays and crashes has good implications for productivity.

You're dealing with a robust platform

Whether we're talking about email clients like Gmail, CRM tools like Salesforce, accounting solutions such as Xero, e-newsletter apps such as Mailchimp or helpdesks such as Zendesk, they all have two things in common: they are examples of software titles used by millions of businesses all over the world, and they are all applications that run in a web browser.

If your team access all their key tools in a web browser, then why not provide them with system that is designed explicitly for doing that? Even modest Chromebooks provide an astonishingly fast and stable environment for working with browser-based applications.

The same goes for using a Chromebook for personal entertainment - if the main reason you're getting a laptop is to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime shows on it, there is little point in forking out for an expensive Apple product when you can access video content perfectly well via Chrome.

Chromebooks are ideal for a workforce that moves around a lot

If you travels a lot, then Chromebooks can be an excellent option.

They are generally much lighter and thinner than traditional laptops (due to the lack of moving parts) — so this makes them much easier to transport.

The thing to watch out for, of course, is the lack of an internet connection: less of an issue these days, with tethering via phone options and ever improving wifi, but it is possible to hit a black spot. If that happens, there are offline working options available for some Chrome Apps (notably Gmail).

The integration with G Suite is great

Over 5 million individuals and companies use G Suite now - and if you or your business is included in that number, then you will be hard-pressed to find a nicer, more reliable and tightly-integrated way to work with this suite of products than on a Chrome OS device.


The cons of using a Chromebook

That all sounded fantastic didn't it? But before you rush out and by a Chromebook, there are a couple of significant downsides to consider.

You can't install Microsoft Office on Chromebooks

Whatever your feelings about MS Office apps, a generation has been brought up using them, which means that 1) your team will face a learning curve if you insist on them using other products and 2) you will probably need to supply content in Microsoft Office format to other organisations that you deal with.

The good news is that G Suite is perfectly capable of creating, editing and saving MS Office files; but you should note that when it comes to editing complicated MS Office documents, you may have to watch out for formatting problems when you save your files.

Alternatively, you can always use the online version of MS Office (free or paid) on a Chromebook: whilst not providing as comprehensive a set of tools as the desktop version, it nonetheless enables you to edit most Word, Excel and Powerpoint files in a browser and without some of the formatting headaches you might occasionally run into with G Suite.

It's important to note that 'power-users' of MS Office products may still need to use the desktop versions (as many advanced features are not currently available in the online versions of MS Office apps) and MS Access currently won't run in a browser.

But all in all, not being able to install the desktop version of MS Office on your Chromebook shouldn't hold you back too much when it comes to document editing.

If you can’t live without the installed versions of the Microsoft Office apps however, then maybe a Chromebook is not for you.

They are not ideal for working on multimedia projects

If your business is one which deals with a lot of audio or video related projects, then you are probably better off working on a traditional desktop.

It's not that there aren't powerful Chromebooks available that could handle this kind of work (the Chromebook Pixel, for example); it's more that the software typically used for multimedia projects - Pro Tools, Final Cut Pro etc. - is not currently browser-based. 

Interestingly however, a version of Photoshop is on the way for Chromebook - a 'streamed' edition which runs on a remote server and is accessed via the Chrome browser. It's currently a beta version limited to North America-based Adobe education customers with a paid Creative Cloud membership, but should be rolled out more widely soon, along with other Adobe Creative Cloud apps. This points to the fact that Chromebooks in time, may actually end up becoming a good option for working on multimedia projects; it'll be interesting to see how that all pans out.

(For the record, it should be pointed out that basic image editing on a Chromebook won't pose any problems - there are plenty of simple editors available, both cloud-based and offline.)

Chromebooks are not best suited to gaming

If you're into gaming — or at least playing the latest games — then a Chromebook won't be the best option for you, because they generally aren't powerful enough to cope with the graphical and computational demands of modern games.

That said, because some Chromebooks allow you to run Android apps, you do have some options when it comes to Android games. Laptop Mag has a good rundown of some good Android gaming options here.

They are (obviously) not as functional offline

Chromebooks are for obvious reasons less useful offline than online - but you still use them to access and edit Google Drive files when you're not connected to the internet, and you can use an offline version of Gmail too.

An increasing number of other apps which work offline are being made available for Chrome OS too; so as long as you plan things in advance, and make sure you save the right files onto your Chromebook before you go offline, you should still be able to get a decent amount of work done when you are not connected to the internet.


What about Chromeboxes, Chromebases and Chromebits?

Chromeboxes are essentially the desktop version of Chromebooks: tiny little boxes that run Chrome OS and are reminiscent of a Mac Mini or an Apple TV box.

You generally have to sort yourself out with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor when you buy one, but they are still much cheaper than traditional desktop machines.

Chromebases are 'all in one' computers that run Chrome OS; they look something like of the current generation of iMacs.

And finally, there's the Chromebit to consider - a dongle that just plugs into the HDMI port on a television and turns your telly into a computer. Remarkably funky stuff.

 A Chromebase - an 'all-in-one' computer that runs Chrome OS.

A Chromebase - an 'all-in-one' computer that runs Chrome OS.

The pros and cons of using a Chromebook generally apply to using any of the above Chrome OS devices - assuming Chrome OS works for your business, you just have to make a call on the appropriate form factor.


Summary: pros and cons of using Chromebooks (and other Chrome-based computing devices)

So, should you buy a Chromebook? Well, we hope that this Chromebook review has helped you answer that question. To sum up, and help you make a final decision, here's a list of the main pros and cons of using one:

Pros

  • Chromebooks (and other Chrome OS devices) are very cheap by comparison to traditional laptops / computers.

  • Chrome OS is fast and stable.

  • Machines are typically light, compact and easy to transport

  • Viruses and malware pose less of a risk.

  • They can reduce reliance on IT professionals and lower software costs.

  • The integration with G Suite is excellent.

  • They're a good option if you chiefly use browser-based apps for work or entertainment.

Cons

  • You can't Skype on Chromebooks.

  • Whilst you can use Microsoft Office on them (the online version), some features will not be available.

  • They are not (yet) ideal for multimedia applications.

  • Working offline on a Chromebook arguably requires a bit more advance planning than using a traditional laptop.

  • They're not great for gaming.

  • If you are extremely dependent on a piece of software that does not run in a browser or on Chrome OS, Chromebooks are not for you.


2018 Chromebooks to consider

Below you'll find some popular Chromebooks to take a look at. Please note that the links used involve affiliate advertising.

Entry level

Below you'll find some Chromebooks that have been highly rated by reviewers on Amazon (we've only included computers on this list which cost less than £300, have 50+ reviews, and a minimum of a four star rating). Acer typically does well in this market, in the UK at least.

High end

If you're looking for a far more powerful Chromebook, then Google Chromebook Pixelbooks are worth considering. As the name suggests, these are Google's own take on the Chromebook and accordingly you'll find that they are beautiful in design and extremely fast.

However, you can expect to pay Apple-style prices to get your hands on one:

The bottom line is that if your needs are not particularly demanding then an entry level Chromebook should serve you fine; if you've got cash to splash and really want to work on Chrome OS you'll love the Pixelbook.

 Google's Chromebook: the Pixelbook

Google's Chromebook: the Pixelbook


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Bigcommerce vs Shopify (2018) - Which is Best?
 Bigcommerce vs Shopify (image of the two logos in a notebook)

In this Bigcommerce vs Shopify review, we compare and contrast two of the leading online store building tools. 

Read on for a discussion on the two products' pricing, templates, important features and the key reasons why you might choose one of these leading e-commerce solutions over the other.

By the end of this comparison, you will hopefully know which of these two products represents the best e-commerce platform for your particular business (and of course, do feel free to leave your own thoughts on both Bigcommerce and Shopify in the comments section!).

Right - let's start this comparison with an obvious but important question: what do Bigcommerce and Shopify actually do?


What do Bigcommerce and Shopify do?

Bigcommerce and Shopify are pieces of software that allow you sell products - digital or physical - online. Both products run in a web browser: this means that there is nothing to install on your desktop or laptop computer, and you can manage your store from anywhere (so long as you have an internet connection).

The key idea behind both products is that you can use them to build an online store without needing to design or code anything - you pick a template from a range provided, upload your products, set your prices and you are (in theory at least) good to go.

It's worth saying however that although you don't need to involve a web designer when building a Shopify or Bigcommerce store, a good eye for design, along with some professionally-taken pictures of your products, are nonetheless very important (regardless of the platform you eventually choose).

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify are 'software as a service' (Saas) tools. This means that there is an ongoing cost to use them - you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the software.

And speaking of fees...


Bigcommerce pricing vs Shopify pricing

One of the first (although arguably not the most important!) questions which potential users have about Bigcommerce and Shopify is 'how much do they cost?'

Bigcommerce offers 4 pricing plans:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: varies depending on requirements

 Bigcommerce pricing table

Bigcommerce pricing table

Shopify offers 5 pricing plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month

  • Shopify: $79 per month

  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month

  • Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements

As can be seen above, you can start selling goods online a lot cheaper with Shopify, with the 'Lite' plan only costing $9 per month. However, there's a big BUT with this plan: it doesn't actually provide you with a fully functional online store.

Rather, it allows you to

  • make use of a "Shopify Button" - an embeddable widget, sort of like a Paypal 'buy now' button, to sell products online on an existing website

  • use your Facebook page to sell products.

You can also use the Shopify 'Lite' plan to sell goods offline (at 'point of sale') and use the Shopify backend to manage orders and inventory.

 Shopify pricing (for its most popular plans - note that 'Lite' and 'Shopify Plus' plans are also available.

Shopify pricing (for its most popular plans - note that 'Lite' and 'Shopify Plus' plans are also available.

Bigcommerce Enterprise and Shopify Plus

You'll notice from the above price breakdowns that there are two plans listed above without specific pricing, 'Bigcommerce Enterprise' and 'Shopify Plus.'

These are basically 'enterprise-grade' versions of the platforms, which are aimed at corporations or store owners with extremely large volumes of sales.

As such, they contain a lot of advanced features, including:

  • guaranteed server uptime

  • advanced API support

  • dedicated SSL / IP address

  • advanced security features

They usually offer more in the way of account management and onboarding too - you'll get far more hand holding ('white glove' style service) from Shopify or Bigcommerce if you plump for one of these plans.

They are also more 'bespoke' affairs than the other plans discussed above - a Bigcommerce Enterprise or Shopify Plus purchase typically starts with an in-depth conversation where requirements are gathered; after this, a plan is tailored to suit those requirements. Accordingly, the price of a Bigcommerce Enterprise or Shopify Plus plan can vary from customer to customer.

(That said, there is a reasonable amount of consistency in the Shopify Plus pricing - from conversations I've had with Shopify, the monthly pricing for Shopify Plus tends to hover around the $2000 mark.).

The fairest comparison: Bigcommerce 'Standard' vs Shopify 'Basic'

The fairest comparison to make between Shopify and Bigcommerce is probably between the 'Basic Shopify' plan, which costs $29 per month, and the Bigcommerce 'standard' one, which costs $29.95 - there's only 95 cents between them.

Both these plans allow you to sell an unlimited number of products, with Bigcommerce - generally speaking - winning in terms of out-of-the-box features.

The standard Bigcommerce plan provides four particularly important things that you don't get on 'Basic Shopify', namely

  • gift cards

  • professional reporting functionality

  • a built-in ratings and review system

  • real-time carrier shipping quotes

On the subject of ratings and reviews, it's worth pointing out that Shopify does not provide this functionality on any of its plans: you'll need to use a separate app to handle this.

Fortunately, Shopify provide a free app for this purpose (the appropriately named 'Product Reviews' app). This has garnered good reviews from its users, but I find it slightly puzzling that the functionality isn't included as a standard feature.

 Unlike Bigcommerce, Shopify does not provide built-in ratings and review functionality and you'll need to install the free 'Product Reviews' app to allow your users to rate your goods.

Unlike Bigcommerce, Shopify does not provide built-in ratings and review functionality and you'll need to install the free 'Product Reviews' app to allow your users to rate your goods.

In addition to Shopify's own reviews app offering, you can install a wide range of third-party apps to provide reviews and ratings functionality, many of which offer more advanced features than the standard Shopify 'Product Reviews' app (and integrate with the likes of Google Reviews, Disqus and Facebook).

However, there are two aspects of the 'Basic Shopify' plan which trump the Bigcommerce 'Standard' plan.

First, the Shopify plan doesn't impose any sales limits; by contrast a sales limit of $50,000 per year applies on the Bigcommerce Standard plan.

Second - and this is a pretty recent development - Shopify offers an abandoned cart saver on its entry level plan, whereas this is only available on the Bigcommerce $79.95 plan and up. The abandoned cart saver - which automatically emails people who leave your site mid-way through a transaction - is a very useful piece of functionality which can increase the revenue of your store significantly. 

(Sales limits and abandoned cart saving are both discussed in more depth later on in this comparison.)

Transaction fees

A big question that potential users of Shopify and Bigcommerce may find themselves asking is this: what's Shopify or Bigcommerce's cut of my sales - i.e., the transaction fee per sale - going to be?

Well, it's a bit of a win for Bigcommerce here, because Bigcommerce charges 0% transaction fees on all plans.

Shopify, by contrast charges 0% on all plans too BUT only if you use their own 'Shopify Payments' system to process card transactions rather than an external payment gateway.

If you don't use Shopify Payments, transaction fees do apply and these vary with the kind of plan you're on (2% for ‘Shopify Lite’ and 'Basic Shopify'; 1% for 'Shopify' and 0.5% for 'Advanced Shopify').

The key thing worth noting about Shopify Payments is that it can only be used in certain countries: 

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

So, if you don't live in one of those countries, you'll have to use an external payment gateway provider (fortunately, there are loads to choose from with Shopify - we'll return to this issue later).

Credit card fees

In addition to transaction fees, there are credit card fees to consider. These are the fees charged by the company providing the software / systems to process your customers' card payments.

If you decide to make use of a third-party payment gateway (an app for processing credit cards, basically) these will be whatever your chosen provider's rates are. 

However, both Shopify and Bigcommerce offer 'out of the box' or recommended payments functionality, which can reduce these fees in certain cases (and make it much easier to set up card payment processing).

If you use Shopify Payments, credit card fees will vary according to whether you are selling online or in person (in a retail setting, market stall, pop-up shop etc.).

The online rates vary by country, but the US rates are as follows:

  • Shopify Lite: 2.9% + 30c per transaction

  • Basic Shopify: 2.9% + 30c

  • Shopify: 2.6% + 30c

  • Advanced Shopify: 2.4% + 30c

If you're selling in person (i.e., using Shopify in a point-of-sale context, like a retail outlet or at a market) you're looking at the following rates:

  • Shopify Lite: 2.7% per transaction

  • Basic Shopify: 2.7%

  • Shopify: 2.5%

  • Advanced Shopify: 2.4%

Bigcommerce's recommended partner for credit card processing is Paypal, powered by Braintree. The credit card rates using this arrangement are as follows:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c

As you can see the Bigcommerce US credit card fees are therefore a bit lower than the Shopify equivalents - merchants selling low volumes of goods won't really notice the difference too much, but store owners with high volumes of sales definitely will.

If you live in the UK or another European country however, you will generally be able to avail of considerably cheaper credit card fees with Shopify.

Annual discounts

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify provide a 10% discount if you pay upfront for a year's service (note however that Bigcommerce only facilitates this on the 'Plus' and 'Pro' plans). Shopify goes one further and gives you a 20% discount if you pay upfront for two years.

Maximum annual sales limits

One thing to watch out for is sales limits - with Bigcommerce, your sales are limited to $50,000 on the 'standard' plan, $150,000 on the 'plus' plan and $400,000 on the 'pro' plan. Sales limits are described as 'custom' if you're on Bigcommerce Enterprise (which indicates they are negotiable). All these limits are calculated on a trailing 12-month basis.

I contacted Bigcommerce to find what the financial implications are for breaching 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."

No such limits exist at all on Shopify plans, so it's a win for Shopify here. That said, I'm not sure anybody selling in excess of these limits would be overly concerned about the additional fees. Still, it would be better to not have to worry about them.

Conclusions on pricing

It's a big case of swings and roundabouts when it comes to comparing the pricing structure for Bigcommerce and Shopify.

For me, the key plus points of the Bigcommerce pricing plans over Shopify's are that quite a few more features are provided on its $29 plan than on the Shopify equivalent (gift cards, professional reporting, ratings and reviews); no transaction fees apply to any Bigcommerce plan, regardless of the payment gateway used; and the credit card processing fees are slightly lower than Shopify's (in the US at least).

The advantages of the Shopify fees structure are that unlike Bigcommerce, no sales limits apply at all; and the $29 plan includes abandoned cart saving functionality.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that Shopify's $9 Lite plan can get you selling online much cheaper than any Bigcommerce plan (albeit only in certain context - via a buy button, Facebook page or point-of-sale situation).

However, when deciding between Shopify vs Bigcommerce there is a lot more to consider than just pricing, as we'll see below.


Templates

Free templates

Shopify has an edge over Bigcommerce when it comes to its free theme offering, because it provides a wider selection of themes - Shopify provide 10 free themes to Bigcommerce's 7.

Within both the Bigcommerce and Shopify themes, there are different styles to choose from, so both products give you more choice in the free template department than the above numbers might initially suggest.

However, the Shopify themes differ from each other in a much more significant way than the Bigcommerce ones; several of the Bigcommerce free themes differ only in the fact that slightly different colours are used (you could in fact argue that so big are the similarities between the free Bigcommerce themes that there are only two free themes on offer - not seven!).

 The 'Vintage' style within 'Minimal', one of Shopify's free themes

The 'Vintage' style within 'Minimal', one of Shopify's free themes

Factoring in both the number of themes provided by both Shopify and Bigcommerce, and the differences between theme variants, I would argue that Shopify offers the user more variety in the free template department. 

From a design point of view I prefer the free templates provided by Shopify too; but this is a very subjective area and the themes provided by Bigcommerce are definitely professional and contemporary in appearance (see image below for an example of Bigcommerce's 'Stencil' template).

 The 'Cornerstone Light' theme from Bigcommerce

The 'Cornerstone Light' theme from Bigcommerce

The bottom line is that you'll be able to use either a Bigcommerce or Shopify template to create a professional looking store, but you'll get more choice from Shopify.

(It's important to remember, of course, that your chosen template is only one part of the story when it comes to aesthetics: you'll need to ensure that your product photography and descriptions are up to scratch too - no template, no matter how well designed, will look good if it's populated with poor-quality content.)

Paid-for templates

Bigcommerce provides around 110 paid-for themes. They start at $145 and cost up to $235. Occasionally however, Bigcommerce discounts some of their paid-for templates, and you can pick up certain themes at a cheaper 'sale' price.

Shopify currently offers 57 paid-for templates, which range from $140 to $180 in price.

Although the above numbers seem to imply that there is a greater choice of paid-for themes available with Bigcommerce, it's worth sounding a note of caution here: as with their free templates, many of the Bigcommerce paid-for themes are very similar to each other.

This is fairly evident in the Bigcommerce template names too: 'Chelsea Bold', 'Chelsea Bright', 'Chelsea Warm' and 'Chelsea Clean' are all positioned as being separate templates, but to my eyes they are effectively variants of the same theme and (in my view anyway!) shouldn't really be presented as separate templates at all.

 Bigcommerce’s ‘Chelsea’ range of templates - very professional in appearance, but are we really talking about four individual templates?

Bigcommerce’s ‘Chelsea’ range of templates - very professional in appearance, but are we really talking about four individual templates?


Bigcommerce themes also tend to come in a few variants - i.e., you buy one and can choose from a few different variants of it - but again, there isn't much variety to spot between the variants!

By contrast the paid-for Shopify themes are more distinct from each other - and most themes come with a selection of variants which are more obviously different from each other than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

 Shopify's 'Kingdom' theme - a paid-for template

Shopify's 'Kingdom' theme - a paid-for template

The other nice thing about the Shopify template offering is that it is really easy to browse the template gallery and find a template that suits your requirements. A wide range of filters is available to help you choose a template based not only on industry type but design type too (you can select templates based on preferences for design elements like video backgrounds, parallax scrolling, wide or narrow layout style etc.) 

Bottom line on templates: for my money, the Shopify offering when it comes to 'out of the box' templates is a bit stronger than Bigcommerce's - and better value.

But don't forget: if you're not entirely happy with your chosen theme, there's always the option to customise it...

Customising templates

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you customise their templates quite extensively – either using controls provided within the content management system or by diving into the HTML / CSS – meaning that with either system you should be able to end up with a nice looking online shop window that presents your products in a professional way. My gut feeling is that with Shopify though, you’ll possibly need to do less tweaking. 

Something to note regarding design changes and Shopify: making these HTML / CSS tweaks will sometimes involve using a templating language called Liquid.

Liquid is essentially a simple programming language that allows you to make use of HTML and CSS but also allows you to insert tags, operators and variables to produce dynamic content (for example, in order to display the title of a product on a certain page, you would write {{ product.title }} in a liquid file).

This all sounds more complicated than it actually is though, and unless you want to tweak your Shopify store to the nth degree, you'll probably find you can simply pick a pre-existing template and change colours, typefaces and certain aspects of the layout simply by using the standard controls provided.

Third-party providers of Bigcommerce and Shopify themes

One final note on templates: if you're really not happy with the selection of themes available direct from Shopify and Bigcommerce, you also have the option of buying them from third parties. Sites like Themeforest offer a wide range of templates for these two platforms; you may find something that floats your boat elsewhere.


Key features

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify provide users with more than enough features to set up and run a very professional online store.

They allow you to create products, optimise them for search engines, manage inventory and accept – via a wide range of payment gateways – credit card transactions.

Let's zoom in:

Payment gateways

Shopify and Bigcommerce both allow you to connect an extensive range of payment gateways to your store: the number available varies by country but you'll find that both Bigcommerce and Shopify support the major ones - like Worldpay, Quickbooks, Paypal, 2Checkout etc. Shopify offers more however: 100+ to Bigcommerce's 40 or so.

Normally speaking, connecting a third party payment gateway can be a slightly fiddly process which sometimes involves a contract and/or monthly fees, so users who are not in the mood for that sort of thing might prefer to use one of the 'out of the box' options provided by both Bigcommerce and Shopify.

In the case of Shopify this means using either Paypal or, as discusssed above, its 'Shopify Payments' option.

With Bigcommerce, this means using Paypal powered by Braintree (Bigcommerce have teamed up with Braintree to provide a solution that both offers some preferential Paypal processing rates and a system whereby the user can pay via Paypal without ever having to leave your storefront).

The 'out of the box' rates provided by Bigcommerce are cheaper than those provided by Shopify (in the US at least).

As a side note, it's probably worth pointing out that it is in the area of payment gateways that Bigcommerce and Shopify have their biggest advantage over a key competitor, Squarespace: whilst the payment gateway options offered by both Bigcommerce and Shopify are numerous, Squarespace only allows you to use Paypal or Stripe. The payment gateway functionality offered by Bigcommerce and Shopify is probably one of the strongest arguments for using either of these platforms over Squarespace. (For more information on Squarespace, you may wish to check out our Squarespace review).

Product categories

Any online store is likely to make use of several different product collections - for example on a guitar-related store you might expect to find categories such as electric guitars, acoustic guitars, plectrums, straps, amplifiers and so on.

Setting up categories in Shopify and Bigcommerce is straightforward enough but Shopify's approach is, in my view, niftier, because not only can you add products manually to collections, you can create categories which are automatically populated with products based on on conditions you supply. In other words, you can create 'smart categories' with Shopify (the company refers to these as 'automated collections').

This involves using various criteria to populate a collection, including product title, tags, price, weight and more - so, using our guitar store example again, rather than having to browse through all your products and manually add electric guitars to an electric guitar collection, you could just tell Shopify to automatically add any product with the word 'electric guitar' in its title to the electric guitar collection.

This is particularly useful functionality to have handy if your store contains hundreds (or thousands!) of products, but you will have to remember to use consistent naming conventions for your product titles to make it work.

Although Bigcommerce does have a 'bulk edit' option to speed up category assignment, it doesn't yet provide similar 'smart collection' functionality, so Shopify definitely has an edge here.

 In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually.

In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually.

Product options

What Bigcommerce lacks in the categorisation department it more than makes up for with its product option functionality - and is considerably better than Shopify in this area.

With Shopify, you're limited to offering customers 3 sets of options per product - for example, size, colour or material. It's very easy to set these options up - but also very frustrating if you need to sell products that come in more than three versions (workarounds exist, but either fiddly and time-consuming to implement, or involve purchasing a third-party app, thus increasing your costs).

Bigcommerce, on the other hand, allows you to create large lists of product options - I can't find details on an exact limit, but whilst testing Bigcommerce, I was able to create 10 options for a product very easily. If your products come in all shapes, colours and sizes, you should get the flexibility you need.

So clear win for Bigcommerce when it comes to product options (and if you're interested in finding out more about how products options in Bigcommerce work, I'd strongly suggest watching the below video).

Text fields and file uploads

Some merchants will require their customers to enter custom data at the point of purchase - for example, a jeweller might ask a customer to enter some text for an inscription on a pendant. This is possible with both Bigcommerce and Shopify but it's significantly easier to set up with Bigcommerce - you just add a text field as an option to your product.

With Shopify, you're going to have to add a piece of code to your template (to extract a 'line item property') or invest in an app to take care of this.

A similar situation exists with file uploads - if you're selling photography or clothing related products for example that require the customer to upload an image, then you'll find that this functionality is included out of the box with Bigcommerce; but with Shopify, you'll have to resort to a bit of coding or a third-party app again.

A definite win for Bigcommerce here - merchants who need to collect custom data from customers in order to personalise products will find things much more straightforward with Bigcommerce than Shopify.

Importing and exporting products / data in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to upload a CSV file containing all your product data. 

In terms of exporting your data, Shopify allows you to export to CSV format. Bigcommerce is more flexible in that allows you to export to both CSV and XML (although it recommends the use of CSV format for exports wherever possible). So a slight win for Bigcommerce here.

Neither Bigcommerce or Shopify are great when it comes to importing or exporting other types of content however - neither platform provides an obvious or easy way to import / export blog posts or static pages. 

And speaking of blogging...

Blogging

Blogging, when done correctly, arguably provides one of the best ways of driving traffic to a store (if not the best!). The more you blog about the 'niche area' in which you are operating, the more visitors you are likely to attract to your site (as long as each piece of content is really strong, optimised for search correctly and promoted heavily). 

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce will allow you to create a simple blog easily (and tag / categorise posts as needed). If your blogging needs are complex, you can always integrate a third party blog (such as a Wordpress one) into either platform (it'll involve a bit of messing about with subdomains / system settings but it's all doable).

You can import posts from an existing blog into both Bigcommerce and Shopify, using the Bigcommerce 'Blog Sync' and Shopify Blogfeeder apps respectively. 

One thing you'll need to watch out for with Bigcommerce's blogging tool is RSS feeds - there aren't any, something I find really strange. RSS feeds are useful because you can use them to syndicate content and automatically send out e-newsletters containing your latest posts. 

Abandoned cart recovery in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Something worth paying particular attention to in a Bigcommerce vs Shopify comparison is abandoned cart recovery functionality. This is a useful feature which allows you to automatically email visitors to your store who add something to their cart but do not complete the purchase.

According to behavioural marketing company SalesCycle, 1 in three recipients of abandoned cart emails click on a link in those emails, with 28% of those users going on to make a purchase - so abandoned cart functionality is extremely important.

Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver - which the company argues allows you to recover 15% of lost sales - is arguably better than the Shopify equivalent, as the Shopify only allows you to send one automated email to users who abandon their cart, whereas Bigcommerce allows you to schedule up to three automated follow-up emails.

However, with the ability to send a several emails to people who don't complete a purchase comes the ability to spam and annoy, so whilst extremely useful, abandoned cart saver tools should be used judiciously. 

 Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver

Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver

An interesting aspect of Shopify's abandoned cart saver involves time intervals - you are only allowed to send your automated email at one of the following times:

  • 1 hour later

  • 6 hours later

  • 10 hours later

  • 24 hours later.

Of these times, Shopify strongly recommend going for the 1 hour later or 10 hours later intervals, as their research shows that users who have abandoned their carts are most likely to come back and complete the purchase upon receiving an email sent after those specific particular periods of time. (This is handy information to have actually, regardless of which e-commerce platform you eventually plump for...).

Given that abandoned cart recovery has the potential to significantly boost sales, a plan with this functionality is definitely worth looking at, regardless of which online store builder you eventually decide on.

I suspect that a lot of users may be nudged in Shopify's direction here, because although Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saving functionality is more flexible, it is also considerably more expensive to get your hands on. An abandoned cart saver is available on Shopify's $29 'Shopify Basic' plan, meaning you can access this important functionality for $40 less per month than if you were using Bigcommerce.

It will be interesting to see if Bigcommerce follow suit and start including an abandoned cart saver on their plans too. 

(Tip: you could also consider purchasing one of the cheaper Bigcommerce or Shopify plans, and using a cart saver app in conjunction with it - the options are much more extensive here with Shopify, thanks to its more comprehensive app store, of which more anon).

Analytics

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify offer a wide range of reporting tools. These include: 

  • customer reports (where your customers originate from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last placed an order)

  • marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)

  • search data reports (what products customers searched for in your online store)

  • finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)

  • abandoned cart reports.

In addition to the reports mentioned above, you can also avail of a couple of other reports on Shopify and Bigcommerce. Shopify allows you to create custom reports (available on 'Advanced Shopify' and 'Shopify Plus' plans only) and Bigcommerce - for an additional fee - provides you with access to an 'Insights' report giving you more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts.

This Bigcommerce 'additional fee' is quite expensive though, at $49 on the 'Standard' and 'Plus' plans, $99 per month on the 'Pro' plan and $249 on the 'Enterprise' plan.

Despite the pricey 'Insights' option, I think it's fair to say that Bigcommerce ultimately offers a significant advantage over Shopify when it comes to reporting, because you get the vast majority of report types as standard on any Bigcommerce plan.

With Shopify, by contrast, you have to be on one of the more expensive plans - the $79 per month 'Shopify' plan and up - to avail of comprehensive reporting functionality.

If you're on a cheaper Shopify plan, you can avail of some statistics via an 'online store dashboard', but these are pretty basic and 'top line' in nature.

 Professional reporting in Bigcommerce is provided on its cheapest plans

Professional reporting in Bigcommerce is provided on its cheapest plans

For additional insights into your store (particularly where traffic to it is concerned) you can of course also install Google Analytics and use goals to measure conversions and create custom reports.

Buying domains through Shopify and Bigcommerce

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to buy domains directly from them, and this will enable you to get your website up and running quickly without the need to configure DNS (domain name settings) records with domain name provider.

Bigcommerce advises that domains purchased with them have limited DNS capability though - as the company puts it, "if you need (or may later need) features such as forwarding or domain privacy, you may wish to use a domain from a third-party registrar instead."

The other thing worth bearing in mind with purchasing domains from Shopify or Bigcommerce is that not all extensions are catered for - so depending on your requirements you may be better off buying your domain name from a dedicated provider.

Email forwarding

If you have bought a domain from either Shopify or Bigcommerce, you can create 'forwarding addresses' that forward your mail from your bought domain to another email address - for example, you could set up firstname.lastname@mystore.com which forwards mail onto firstname.lastname@anotherdomain.com.

More useful though is the ability to configure DNS settings on either your Bigcommerce or Shopify-bought domain so that you can use Google Apps to manage your email; this gives you a proper email account that uses your domain name - i.e., youraddress@yourdomain.com. 

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you access the DNS settings via the standard Bigcommerce interface.

Personally speaking, I would be inclined to ignore both Bigcommerce and Shopify's built-in email forwarding and pay for a G Suite or Office 365 account to manage email — simply because in doing so you get a very robust email solution AND a host of useful business tools (calendars, file storage, video conferencing and so on). Bigcommerce actually recommends this too.

App stores

There are 'app stores' available for both Shopify and Bigcommerce - with Shopify's containing significantly more apps than Bigcommerce's; whereas there are hundreds Bigcommerce apps available, we are talking about thousands for Shopify.

The difference in quantity may to a degree reflect the fact that Bigcommerce provides a bit more functionality straight out of the box.

It may also reflect the fact that is that there is a bigger user base for and eco-system built around Shopify. As such, you will be able to integrate Shopify with a much wider range of third-party apps and add more interesting functionality than with Bigcommerce.

Point of sale options in Shopify and Bigcommerce

When it comes to using either platform for point-of-sale (POS) transactions, both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to use mobile devices to to facilitate point of sale transactions.

Other devices - such as barcode scanners, receipt printers, tills and a label printers - can also be integrated. 

All these help your Shopify or Bigcommerce store become more than just an 'virtual' entity and turn it into a tool for running a business in the physical world too - useful applications of a POS system include accepting credit cards at a merchandise stand at a gig; processing credit card payments at a flea market stall; or just using Shopify or Bigcommerce as a payment processor in general. All your customer and order data is synced with your online store's back end, so everything is kept neat and tidy.

 Shopify's 'Point of Sale' hardware

Shopify's 'Point of Sale' hardware

To use POS with Bigcommerce you will need to integrate a third party platform, namely Square, Shopkeep or Springboard Retail hardware (with more options on the way soon apparently); the Shopify hardware kits are available from the Shopify site itself and Shopify POS is more of an 'out of the box' affair.

Which approach is better will boil down to customer requirements - users with an existing relationship with Square, Shopkeep or Springboard Retail will value the flexibility provided by Bigcommerce; users who want a more tightly integrated approach will prefer how Shopify handles POS.

On thing you will need to watch out for with Shopify POS is the fact that to get the most out of it, you’ll need to be on a $79 ‘Shopify’ plan or higher, meaning a fairly steep increase in monthly overheads for Shopify POS merchants.

Although you can sell in person on the cheaper Shopify plans — using a mobile and a card reader — you won’t be able to use the more extensive range of POS hardware which works with Shopify (barcode scanners, receipt printers, tills etc.). This probably means that — depending on the hardware used — Bigcommerce can facilitate POS slightly cheaper than Shopify.

Mobile

So how do Shopify and Bigcommerce shape up when it comes to mobile devices?

Templates

When it comes to how your store is actually displayed on a mobile device, both Shopify and Bigcommerce offer 'responsive' template designs which automatically adjust the layout of your online store so that it displays nicely across a variety of devices (although if you are not happy with the 'out of the box' design for mobile, you'll need to tweak HTML / CSS to change it; that said, the responsive site usually works very well for most users and will not need to be edited unless you have very specific design / brand requirements). 

Mobile apps

When it comes to mobile apps, Shopify is a hands down winner, offering quite a few different smartphone apps to its userbase. The two main ones are 'Shopify' and 'Shopify POS', which are available on both iOS and Android. The first allows you to manage basic aspects of your store (fulfil orders, add products and view reports); the second, as the name Shopify POS suggests, is there to help you sell via Shopify in a physical location (accept credit card payments, sync products, email receipts etc.).

In addition to the apps mentioned above, there are various Shopify apps available which are designed to help you with various aspects of setting up an online store - a logo marker, a business card making app and an 'entrepreneur articles' app (note that the last two are Android-only).

Bigcommerce used to provide a mobile app but no longer does. (The company says that the desktop version of the Bigcommerce control panel may be accessible using some versions of Android, but that using the desktop control panel from a mobile device is not supported by the company.)

There are some third party apps for managing a Bigcommerce store on a smartphone available - for example, the 'Admin for Bigcommerce' app - but you won't be able to rely on support from Bigcommerce for them. 

Ultimately it's fair to say that Shopify offers more comprehensive - and official - options when it comes to managing your store on a mobile device, particularly in a point-of-sale context.

AMP format

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google-backed project that has, over the past year or so, really started to take off - lots of site owners are now presenting their content in AMP format on smartphones.

Basically, pages displayed in AMP format are cut-down versions of your content (certain scripts and page features are removed); because of their cut-down nature they load significantly faster on mobile devices.

The key advantage of AMP format is that the number of users abandoning your site (after getting bored waiting for your content) is drastically reduced. There may also be a bit of an SEO benefit to consider too, because Google sometimes positions pages in AMP format above other content (using a featured-articles style carousel).

Although many website owners currently use AMP format to speed up the delivery of largely text-based content like blog posts or news articles, AMP usage has started to crop up in e-commerce contexts too, notably on eBay product pages.

The good news is that both Bigcommerce and Shopify allows you to present your product pages in AMP format.

As far as I understand it, you can use AMP on any Shopify template - you just need to install a third-party AMP app (the downside: you'll need to pay for this).

If you'd like to use AMP with Bigcommerce, you can do so without any additional charges. AMP can be enabled on all of the free Bigcommerce themes, and a large number of its paid ones too. To find a Bigcommerce theme that supports AMP, you just go to the Bigcommerce theme store and select the 'Google AMP enabled' option when browsing the themes.

Given that you can use AMP on all the free Bigcommerce templates out of the box and without the need for any additional app installations, it's a win for Bigcommerce here.


VAT MOSS in Bigcommerce and Shopify

If you intend to sell digital products to EU consumers with Bigcommerce or Shopify, 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 you are running a business that is based outside of the EU.

Shopify has a clear edge over Bigcommerce here, because it can automatically work all the relevant tax rates out for you. With Bigcommerce, you'll need to set up individual tax rules to cover each country in Europe - which will take you a while.


Dropshipping in Shopify and Bigcommerce

Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock - instead, you take the order, pass it to a supplier, and they send the goods to the client. Your online store, in effect, becomes a front end or 'middle man' for somebody else's business.

Online retailers tend to like this business model because it doesn't involve much investment to start a business; you don't have to spend a lot of money purchasing or manufacturing goods before you start selling. The flipside is that margins tend to be quite low due to intense competition in the dropshipping marketplace. And it can be hard to find ethical suppliers of goods — lots of dropshipping suppliers provide goods manufactured in China, where working conditions can be very poor (on this point, it would be good to see Shopify and Bigcommerce provide lists of ethical dropshippers).

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce faciliate dropshipping - you can either use your store in a bespoke manner with a supplier with whom you have a relationship, or alternatively you can dropship for various retailers by installing an app from Bigcommerce or Shopify's app store (popular options include Oberlo for Shopify or Ali Express Dropshipping for Bigcommerce). 

As discussed above, the Shopify app store contains significantly more apps than the Bigcommerce equivalent - and as you might expect, this plays out when it comes to dropshipping apps - there are a lot more options to choose from with Shopify.

NOTE: For more information on dropshipping as a business model, you could do worse than check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.


Interface and ease of use

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce are straightforward to use. Their interfaces are also now very similar in appearance, and work in a similar way.

In both Bigcommerce and Shopify you use a menu on the left hand side to choose what you'd like to do (add some content, view orders, take a look at reports etc.) and the right hand side of the screen allows you to view data or upload / edit content accordingly. 

Both content management systems are not terribly dissimilar from Wordpress and Squarespace, so if you've used either of those content management systems before, you'll be on familiar ground if you end up using either Shopify or Bigcommerce. 

Below you'll find a video overview of the Bigcommerce interface:

And here's a walkthrough of the Shopify interface (albeit in a slightly more 'vloggy' format):


SEO in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify perform well on the SEO front.

The nuts and bolts of on-page SEO in both Shopify and Bigcommerce are easy to manage - changing page titles and meta descriptions is very straightforward, as is adding headings and alt text.

Creating page redirects is also very straightforward, with Shopify perhaps having a slight edge in this area, because it automatically prompts you to do this (and generates the redirect for you) if you change a page's URL (redirects are important because they tell browsers and search engines where a page has moved to if you change its URL).

Overall however, I’d say Bigcommerce’s SEO functionality is a bit better than Shopify’s, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it allows you to create Google friendly URLs more easily. With Shopify, although you can customise your URLs so that they contain keywords and are relatively short, they don’t end up perfect because the platform adds prefixes to your pages, blog posts and products, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages

  • /posts/ before posts

  • /products/ before products

Bigcommerce by contrast allows you to create much shorter URLs, i.e., ‘www.mystore.com/red-dress,’ which Google prefers.

Second, because AMP is enabled automatically for all pages and products — there’s no faffing about with app installs to get this important functionality in place.

That said, the SEO features in Shopify are strong too, and the fact remains that you can optimize a website for search engines very easily in either product.


Support for Shopify and Bigcommerce

Shopify and Bigcommerce offer similar support options, with phone, live chat, forum, FAQs and email support available. 

Contacting Bigcommerce

With Bigcommerce, you get 24/7 support across phone, email and live chat. However, before you get access to a phone number or email addresses, you are encouraged to fill in a form and review potential solutions suggested by the Bigcommerce website first.

Helpfully however, Bigcommerce provide a 'skip this step' option for users who are 100% certain they need help from a human being!

Contacting Shopify

Shopify's support is also 24/7. And as with Bigcommerce, you have to search for solutions to your problem before being given access to the contact details you're looking for.

 Shopify's help screen - before you get to contact details, you'll need to try to solve your own problem first...

Shopify's help screen - before you get to contact details, you'll need to try to solve your own problem first...

One thing that is slightly unclear regarding Shopify phone support is who can access it: phone numbers are provided for North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, but it's unclear what number you should dial if you live in a country other than these.

Bigcommerce by contrast lists more phone numbers for more countries, plus provides an 'any other country' option too. So if phone support is what you're after, Bigcommerce's offering is arguably the more comprehensive one — or at least easier to figure out how to access.


GDPR compliance in Shopify and Bigcommerce

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll be aware that website owners now need to comply with the EU’s General Dart Protection Regulations (GDPR). Now, please note that I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t treat anything here as legal advice; but that said, I’m going to spell out how I see GDPR issues affecting potential Bigcommerce and Shopify site store owners.

With the introduction of GDPR, there are several legal steps that website owners now need to take to ensure that they are adequately protecting their EU visitors' privacy. There are serious financial penalties for not doing so; and even if your business is not based in the EU, you still need to comply with the regulations where any site visits from the EU are concerned.

Based on my understanding of the GDPR rules, the key priorities for prospective Shopify and Bigcommerce store owners are to: 

  • provide adequate privacy and cookie notices

  • process and store data securely

  • get clear consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters

  • provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website before they are run(and to log that consent).

As far as I can tell, both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you meet the first three requirements easily enough, although you will need to spend time (and possibly money on lawyers) creating the relevant notices and tweaking data capture forms in order to make them GDPR compliant.

Neither product in my view adequately caters for the the fourth requirement — cookie consent. To ensure GDPR compliance in this area, you are required to display a cookie banner to your website users which

  • allows them to choose which cookies they want to run BEFORE those cookies are run (i.e., to give 'prior consent')

  • logs their consent to run cookies

  • allows them to revoke consent at a later stage

So for example, if you use a Facebook Ads or Google Analytics cookie on your Shopify or Bigcommerce store, you will be breaking GDPR laws unless you have a solution in place which does all of the above.

Now, out of the box at least, no adequate cookie banner solution is provided by either Shopify or Bigcommerce.

However, there are quite a few apps in the Shopify app store which claim to deal with this problem and provide this functionality. Some seem considerably better than others however; several apps that I looked at, whilst claiming to provide GDPR compliance, came nowhere near doing so.

I couldn’t find anything in the Bigcommerce app store claiming to provide this functionality. But it looks as though using a new product called Cookiepro may solve the problem. I’ve been having a play with it for some Squarespace sites I manage (another hosted solution without a solution to this GDPR cookie banner problem) and, although it requires quite a lot of setup and configuration, it does seem to work well. I haven’t quite finished getting Cookiepro up and running, but I’m making good progress and will be reviewing it in depth shortly as it may be a very relevant tool for Bigcommerce, Shopify and Squarespace users (not to mention a bunch of other hosted solution customers).


Bigcommerce vs Shopify: review conclusions

In previous comparisons I've done of online shopping tools - for example Shopify vs Volusion - I've generally been able to broadly pick a 'winning' product.

However, for this particular comparison, it's harder to pick a hands-down winner: both Shopify and Bigcommerce have various strengths and weaknesses which often seem to cancel any advantages of one platform or the other out.

For me, the strongest reason for using Bigcommerce over Shopify is that it includes more useful features out of the box on its cheapest plan - gift cards, reporting, ratings and reviews. Another key reason would be product options: you really can tailor them to the nth degree on Bigcommerce, where as Shopify limits you to three options. And finally there’s AMP format — it’s great that so many Bigcommerce templates have it built in.

For me Bigcommerce is really well suited to merchants who are going to be selling their own products, need flexibility when it comes to customisation options, and generally want a 'one-stop-shop' in terms of functionality for their online store. It's a good 'get up and go' option.

For me, the strongest reason for using Shopify over Bigcommerce probably boils down to financials: there are no sales limits, credit card fees are lower, and you can start selling cheaper with Shopify thanks to the 'Lite' plan.

My other main reasons for choosing Shopify over Bigcommerce would be to do with templates (the selection of both free and paid-for templates available in Shopify is better than the Bigcommerce equivalent) and integrations (Shopify offers a much wider range of apps than Bigcommerce). And finally, there's the fact that abandoned cart saving functionality is now included on Shopify's $29 per month plan - this is likely to tempt a lot of merchants into the Shopify camp.

But finally, don't forget personal preference: you might simply prefer the interface of one of these tools to the other, and as such I'd definitely advise you to try both out. You'll find links to the free trials below:


Key reasons for using Shopify over Bigcommerce

  • The 'Lite' plan allows you to start selling goods online considerably cheaper than Bigcommerce's entry level plan.

  • The template offering is significantly stronger.

  • Abandoned cart saving is available at a much lower price point than Bigcommerce.

  • It's arguably better for dropshipping.

  • Paid-for Shopify templates are slightly cheaper than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

  • Shopify templates are more distinct from each other than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

  • iOS and Android apps are available for managing your store on the go - Bigcommerce don't currently offer any mobile apps for this purpose.

  • Shopify's approach to product categorisation is much better than Bigcommerce's - you can create collections which automatically populate and update themselves based on criteria you supply.

  • There are significantly more third-party apps available for Shopify than for Bigcommerce.

  • Adhering to VAT MOSS rules is easier with Shopify, because it can calculate the relevant tax rates automatically for you.

  • Point of Sale is more tightly integrated with the product and a dedicated mobile app is available for this functionality.

  • Shopify's blogging tool comes with an RSS feed - Bigcommerce's doesn't.

  • There are no limits on the amount of sales for your store.

You can try Shopify for free here.

Key reasons for using Bigcommerce over Shopify

  • No transaction fees apply, irrespective of the payment gateway used.

  • You get more e-commerce bang for your buck on the $29.95 and $79.95 Bigcommerce plans than with the Shopify equivalents - both of these Bigcommerce plans come with more selling features than their Shopify equivalents (with abandoned cart saving being a notable exceptionon the Bigcommerce $29.95 plan - Shopify is better value on that front).

  • It's much easier to create AMP versions of your store in Bigcommerce (and it's free too).

  • A comprehensive set of reports is available across all plans - this is not the case with Shopify.

  • Real-time carrier quotes are available much more cheaply with Bigcommerce - it's included in their $29 per month plan, whereas Shopify only provide it on their $299 per month plan.

  • You can use far more product options with Bigcommerce: on Shopify, although there are workarounds available, you're limited to 3 options out of the box.

  • You can easily include custom fields and file uploads as product options on a Bigcommerce store - this is not the case in Shopify, where workarounds or app installations are necessary.

  • The Bigcommerce abandoned cart saver functionality is more flexible than Shopify's.

  • Credit card fees are slightly lower (if in the US and using Braintree powered by Paypal)

  • Dedicated phone support appears to be available in more countries with Bigcommerce than with Shopify.

  • Works with more POS systems (and POS will often work out cheaper, depending on the setup used).

  • You can export product data to CSV and XML (Shopify only permits export to CSV).

You can try Bigcommerce for free here.


Any thoughts on Bigcommerce vs Shopify?

If you have any thoughts or queries on Bigcommerce vs Shopify, or feedback on either product, do feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Note: if you're viewing this on a mobile device, you may be reading a streamlined "AMP" version of the post which doesn't feature the comments section - in which case please just click here to view a version of the post which includes commenting.


More Shopify and Bigcommerce resources from Style Factory

Other related e-commerce resources

What is Inbound Marketing? | A Simple Guide to Generating Inbound Traffic
 What is inbound marketing? Image of a dartboard accompanying an article about how to generate inbound traffic.

‘Inbound marketing’ is all the rage these days, and with its promise of potential customers coming to you rather than you having to go out and grab leads’ attention, it’s obvious why business owners are so interested in the idea.

But what exactly is inbound marketing, and how do you go about creating an inbound marketing campaign?

Simply put, inbound marketing is a way to pull people to your business, rather than relying on advertising spend or PR to push potential customers towards it. It typically revolves around the web, and involves three key steps:

  1. Getting found (i.e., attracting traffic to your website)

  2. Converting visitors to leads (capturing data and generating sales)

  3. Analysing (looking at site stats and sales data to improve steps one and two).

Let’s look at each step in more detail.


1. Getting found

Getting found boils down to

  • what content is on your site

  • how it is presented from a search engine optimisation point of view

  • how easy it is for readers to share it.

Content

Content is the most important aspect of an inbound marketing strategy: your website needs to contain a reasonable number of high-quality, informative pages on it.

This ensures that you have keywords on your site that can be indexed by search engines, along with interesting content that you can promote and your site visitors can share. 

But before you start creating content, you need a strategy: you need to take what people are actually searching for into account before publishing a single page or post. You can do this by using a variety of keyword research tools such as Moz's keyword explorer or Serps to compare volumes of particular searches against each other.

Say you are thinking of starting a pie recipe site in the UK. You might find using a keyword research tool that a lot more people are searching for ‘English pie recipes’ over ‘British pie recipes’ - and as such may wish to optimise your content accordingly.

However, if there are lots of posts already in existence which use the more popular phrase, it may be worth plumping for the less popular and more ‘niche’ one – so long as you are confident that you can dominate results for that particular phrase.

The trick is to find target keywords that are capable of driving significant numbers of visitors and which you can realistically rank for. To help you with this, most keyword research tools will give you a 'keyword difficulty' score which tells you how hard it will be to rank for that keyword. 

Once you've got your target keywords sorted, you now need to focus on the 'quality' side of things. If a potential client arrives at a page full of nonsense, they’re not going to take your business very seriously - no matter how many keywords you've stuffed into it. They’re not going to share the content and they are not going to create links to it on their site – which, as I’ll explain below, are vital aspects of an inbound marketing campaign.

The best strategy when it comes to content is to blog – but to do so in a really informative way. This does not mean blogging about your business, but rather your business area.

For example, if you run a cocktail bar, you might consider posting blog items about how to make classic cocktails. If you are a web designer, you could blog about your favourite tools for building websites, or provide CSS tips and tricks. And so on.

These kinds of posts are genuinely useful and answer real questions that people might have about the area that you work in. They are likely to garner Facebook likes or Twitter shares, or be linked to on other websites – all of which drives more traffic to the original post. And lo, your inbound marketing strategy beings to take shape.

Search engine optimisation

To give your content a boost, you should make sure that it is presented in the easiest way for search engines to understand.

This means that you need to

  • use page titles and H1 tags that explain precisely what your content is about

  • use meta descriptions which summarise the page / article content in an accurate and engaging way

  • include keywords in your site’s URLs – for example, if you’re writing a blog post about cocktails, it would be better to use a page URL of www.mysite.com/cocktails over www.mysite.com/?page=sakhkxas123.php

  • use anchor text in links (either on your own site or others) which is relevant to the content – i.e., rather than simply using a big long URL like ‘www.mysite.com/cocktail-recipe-blog-post’ as a link to a cocktail recipe, you should use the words ‘cocktail recipe’ and put the link behind that.

For a few more SEO tips, you might like to download our in-depth guide to SEO or read our tips on how to make your site more visible in Google.

Making it easy to let people share content

A crucial part of an inbound marketing strategy is to ensure that people can share your content really easily. The more likes and tweets of your content that you get, the more visitors you will attract to your site.

To this end, you should ensure that social media share buttons are highly visible on your site, and that visitors are actively encouraged to use them. Tools like Sumo are invaluable in this regard, providing you with lots of sharing icons and analytics tools that you can make use of simply by adding a few lines of HTML to your site.

Additionally, you should actively encourage users to create backlinks to your content on their own blogs or websites (a little ‘feel free to create a link to this on your site’ plea at the bottom of posts can help with this).

In general, every backlink you have to your content usually serves as a vote for your site in search results (with the important caveat that certain backlinks – for example those created through spammy backlink creation services – may actually hurt your position in search...avoid them!). 


2. Converting visitors to leads

Once you’ve attracted visitors to your website through content, SEO or shares, it’s time to turn them into leads, and that means capturing their details.

Most visitors are not going to buy your products or services the moment they rock up to your website – but, assuming they are impressed enough by the content that got them there in the first place, they are quite likely to be open to submitting an email address in exchange for a promise of similarly interesting content in future.

And with that email address comes the opportunity to forge a relationship with your lead, showcase products and services and ultimately gain some business. Even if you don’t generate any business directly from that lead, they may nonetheless help your inbound marketing cause by sharing some of the content which you send them via e-newsletter (or creating backlinks to it).

As such, your blog or website should always place a large emphasis on data capture, and you should always:

  • make it extremely easy for people to sign up to your mailing list – place a form on the side of key pages and at the bottom of any posts

  • spell out the value of joining the list - highlight some of the useful content and resources that your subscribers will receive upon joining it.

Some potential customers may not wish to submit an email address, but might feel more comfortable with following you on social media and getting links to your content that way. Accordingly, ensure that you have ‘follow’ buttons clearly visible on your site. Again, tools like Sumo can help with this.

Finally, on the subject of data capture it’s a good idea to think about using autoresponders to automate some of your e-marketing. 

Autoresponders are e-newsletters that are automatically sent to your mailing list subscribers at pre-defined intervals after they sign up – you can set them up so that the second somebody signs up to your list, they receive a simple welcome message; a week later they could receive links to some interesting articles they might have missed; three weeks later they could receive an encouragement to follow you on social media.

The point is that you can use autoresponders to automate your e-marketing in a way which helps you to generate more inbound traffic - without you having to constantly send out e-newsletters manually.

(On the subject of e-newsletters and autoresponders, you may find our Getresponse vs Aweber, Getresponse vs Mailchimp and Mad Mimi vs Mailchimp comparison reviews handy).


3. Analysing

The final stage of an inbound marketing campaign is the analysis: you need to crunch the numbers, find out what’s working well (or not) and use this information to refine or improve the whole process.

There are two key tools which should always be a part of this: Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Both will give you a picture of the kind of content that is being read on your site, and the kind of keywords that are driving traffic to it.

In addition, by registering your site with Google Search Console you are placing yourself firmly on Google’s radar – doing this helps Google crawl your site in the most comprehensive manner possible; and if you enter all your site details correctly, you are giving its algorithms the most accurate picture possible of your website, thus helping it to serve the most relevant search results from it.

In addition to the above, you will be able to use other analytics tools to measure success – for example, your e-newsletter reports and, assuming you’ve added one to your site, stats from sharing services – to identify particularly popular or successful pieces of content.

By identifying the blog posts or site pages that are attracting large numbers of visitors, you can drill down into the reasons why – and write articles on similar topics (or structure new articles in a similar way).


Some top tips for creating a successful inbound marketing strategy

  • Carry out keyword research to ensure that your content is going to be focussed on searches that people are actually making - and ones that you can rank for.

  • Blog regularly. Not only will this make your site more keyword rich, it will help it be taken more seriously by Google’s search algorithms (which factor in frequency of updates when determining where to plonk your site in search results).

  • Create quality blog posts. Don’t pack your site full of keyword-rich but ultimately useless drivel – it won’t impress anyone (Google included).

  • Create backlinks where possible. Ask clients, colleagues and friends who run relevant websites or blogs to provide you with a backlink and reach out to popular bloggers in your business area to see if the can help. Avoid spammy link building services like the plague though, as they can damage your position in search results.

  • Get on Google’s radar: register with Google Search Console and swot up on what Google actually recommend you do from an SEO perspective.

  • Use Sumo or a similar service to make it easy for people to share your content.

  • Always make it easy for people who visit your site to sign up to your mailing list (and encourage them to do so by offering interesting content/features/tools in exchange for their details).

  • Analyse your site, e-newsletter and social media statistics regularly to see which content is driving the most traffic to your site, and adjust / refine your content strategy based on this information.


Other inbound marketing resources from Style Factory

You might also like to download our e-book on SEO, 'Super Simple SEO.' This introduces you to the topic of SEO, and takes you through all the steps you need to take to make sure your site is visible in Google (doing so so in a friendly, jargon-free way!).

Also, we recently put together an inbound marketing infographic, which aims to demystify the topic and spell out some of the key steps you need to take to create a successful inbound marketing campaign.

Finally, you might find our post on how to increase blog traffic helpful. This highlights 10 simple ways that you can get more readers eyeballing your blog content, something which is a key part of an inbound marketing campaign.


Got any thoughts on inbound marketing?

If you've got any thoughts on inbound marketing, or have run inbound marketing campaigns in the past, do feel free to leave your thoughts, queries and tips of your own in the comments section below.

(Please note that if you're reading this blog post on a mobile phone, you may be viewing a faster-loading AMP version, which doesn't facilitate comments. If you can't access the comments, just click here to access the regular one. )

New Office 365 setup services available from Style Factory
 Office 365 logo

We’re really pleased to announce that we’re now able to assist clients with Office 365 setup and migration.

Office 365 is one of the two productivity suite ‘big hitters’ (the other being G Suite). Its main selling point is that on most plans, not only do you get access to all browser versions of the classic Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, Outlook etc.), you also get the desktop versions too.

You can view a full overview of Office 365 features and pricing plans here.

If you’re interested in using Office 365 as your productivity suite, please do contact us today to find out how we can assist you with a smooth and risk-free set up of / migration to this industry leading solution.

If you are unsure as to whether Office 365 or G Suite is a better fit for your organisation, then you might like to read our Office vs G Suite comparison. (We also offer G Suite setup and migration services.)

Just get in touch if you have any queries!

Six Simple Ways to Make your Site More Visible in Google Search Results
 Ways to make your website more visible on Google (image of a magnifying glass)

Getting a good placement in Google search results may seem tough, but you can make life a lot easier for yourself and your website by taking some simple, Google-recommended, steps to help the search engine giant know you’re there.

In this article, we give you some key tips to make Google sit up and notice your site. 


1. Register your site with Google Search Console

Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) is a free service from Google that allows you to submit your website (and its sitemap) to Google for indexing.

That’s not all though: you can use the tool to do a lot of other useful things including:

  • check important backlinks to your site

  • ensure that Google is not experiencing any crawl errors with your site

  • let Google know if different versions of your websites exist for different countries

  • view the kinds of search queries that are driving traffic to your site

  • tell Google when you’ve updated a piece of content so that the fresh version can be displayed in search results more quickly.

Most importantly, by submitting your sitemap to Google Search Console you are telling the search giant that your website exists. Which of course is the starting point to appearing in search results.

As soon as you register your site with Search Console, Google will send you an email with several tips about how to use the tool to maximise your visibility in results. Make sure you follow them!


2. Link your site to Google MyBusiness, and start using Google+ properly

Google My Business

Registering your business on Google My Business (essentially the successor to Google Places) can help it appear in relevant geographic search results.

When you do this, Google will send a postcard containing a pin to your business address – you can use this to ‘verify’ your business with Google.

This verification lets Google know that your business operates in the physical location you stated, meaning that you have a stronger chance of appearing in search results – and on Google Maps – for people who are searching for a business like yours in the area in which you operate.

If, for example, you run a web design business in Hackney, London and somebody with a Hackney IP whacks ‘web design Hackney’ or even ‘web design’ into Google, you may surprise yourself by popping up in a higher-than-expected position in search.

The bottom line is that Google My Business is a massive part of local SEO, and if your business relies on attracting customers in your own area, registering on this service is absolutely vital.

Google+

When you register your business with Google MyBusiness, you will be provided with a Google+ page (if you don’t already have one). Use it! Google is increasingly showing business’ Google+ pages in search results when people search for that that business' name (usually in a big, hard-to-avoid box on the right-hand side of the results).

This means that potential customers are now quite likely to see the Google+ information before they encounter your website – so if your Google+ page isn’t updated or contains incorrect information (like an old telephone number), then this is going to work against you.

There is a debate to be had as to whether the number of Google 'plus ones' has any bearing on search results (Google says not, but some Moz data suggests otherwise) - but either way it’s a good idea to share content from your site on Google Plus and let people “+1” it easily (at the very least this will raise its visibility on Google+).

You can make it easy for people to +1 your content from your site by adding sharing icons to it (via a service like Addthis), or simply by grabbing a plus one button from Google direct (they give you a snippet of code you can add to your site’s HTML).


3. Make your site load as fast as it can, particularly on mobile

Google has been using 'site speed' as a ranking signal since 2010 - and as such it's important to ensure that your site is loading as fast as possible.

This means that you should

  • minimise the number of HTTPS requests on your site (to do this, keep use of scripts to a minimum and use images only when they are genuinely beneficial to your content)

  • ensure your image file sizes are as small as they can be (you can use tools like Tiny Png to help you compress them with minimal loss of picture quality)

  • use fast hosting

For a more comprehensive run down of the things you can do to speed up your site, I'd advise using Google's Page Speed Insights tool (screenshot below).

Not only will this help you to you to test how fast your site is loading (on both mobile and desktop), it will provide you with a report containing a checklist of things that you need to do to help you speed up your website's performance.

 Google's PageSpeed Tools can help you find ways to improve the loading times of your website.

Google's PageSpeed Tools can help you find ways to improve the loading times of your website.

It's particularly important to ensure that your website is blazingly fast on a mobile, and that the user experience for people viewing it on smartphones is as good as possible.

Studies show that 29% of smartphone users will immediately switch to another site if they are not satisfied with how your site performs; as such Google places a strong emphasis on rewarding sites that load quickly on mobile devices with higher positions in search. Another thing worth bearing in mind is that Google prefers mobile sites that are clutter free - i.e., ones that don’t feature obtrusive popups or ‘interstitials.’

You can view Google's mobile SEO overview guide here, which outlines how you can maximise your mobile site's visibility in search results.


4. Use relevant keywords in your page titles, meta descriptions and URLs

Ensure that your page titles and meta descriptions contain

  • accurate, concise descriptions of your page content

  • keywords that you are hoping to perform well for you in search

  • some location details if relevant.

Google often shows snippets of your meta descriptions in search results, and can use them to decide how relevant your site is to particular searches (by monitoring the clickthrough rates they generate in search results, with higher clickthrough rates indicating that a page answers a particular search query well).

 In the above example of a search result, you can see that in addition to including the business name in the page title, the site owner has included some information about the type of food served, along with some geographical information.

In the above example of a search result, you can see that in addition to including the business name in the page title, the site owner has included some information about the type of food served, along with some geographical information.

Avoid being spammy though by stuffing titles and meta descriptions with too many 'catch all' keywords however, because this can:

  • actively damage your chances of appearing high in search results (Google's algorithms are, to say the least, pretty good at spotting spam)

  • make your site appear appear off-putting or 'cheap looking' to users who come across it during searches.

In addition to focusing on creating well-optimised page titles and meta descriptions, you should try to ensure that your site URLs also include keywords that you are focusing on for search purposes.

This makes it easier for users to spot relevant pages in search results, and also means that if somebody creates a link to your site from theirs, but only copies the URL, the keywords in the URL would become the anchor text. As Google looks at what words are in the anchor text when indexing content, accurate ones can help you rank better. 

As a very simple example, if you are trying to sell guitars on your website, a 'clean URL' of www.mysite.com/guitars would be more likely to help your search engine cause than a more generic www.mysite.com/instruments. 


5. Create backlinks to your site

Even if you've got fantastically well-constructed page titles, meta descriptions and URLs, they're usually fairly useless unless you've got 'backlinks' pointing to your website too.

Backlinks are essentially links from other sites to your site, and in a very simple sense Google counts them as 'votes' for your content.

There are two main ways to generate backlinks: 

  • via outreach, by asking other site / blog owners to feature links to your content on their sites

  • by creating long, keyword-rich blog posts that are extremely relevant to your business niche (if they are REALLY interesting / helpful articles about your area of business, they are more likely to attract a relevant audience, a proportion of which will create backlinks to them).

Avoid using companies that promise to create thousands of backlinks for you however - Google can and will penalise your site if it thinks there is spammy activity going on in this regard.

Our ‘Super Simple SEO’ e-book features a lot of tactics you can use to build backlinks effectively (along with other key SEO tips).


6. Follow Google's advice

Google are actually pretty helpful when it comes to advising you how to improve your site’s performance in search results – so helpful in fact, that they provide a free guide to optimising your site for Google search.

Read it cover to cover and make sure you are following all their advice. The guide can be found here and deals with the nuts and bolts of SEO – how to use headers, meta data and keyword-rich content appropriately.

As mentioned earlier, it's worth checking out Google's mobile SEO overview document too.

You might also find Google's guide to page titles and snippets handy too (you'll find a video at the end of this post, and an article on the topic here).

If you're a Google+ user, you might want to stay posted to the Google Webmasters page - where you'll regularly get tips on SEO and other Google-related issues straight from the horse's mouth.


More ways to boost your position in search results

I hope the above tips have helped you understand how to make your site more visible in Google search results! However, there are a lot more steps you can take to improve your ranking, and if you're interested in finding out more about these and want to make more substantial improvements to your site's performance in Google, then you might like to download our 'Super Simple SEO' book.

Written in a friendly, jargon-free way, the book is ideal for website owners who need to get quickly to grips with SEO without spending a fortune on consultants or online courses. Find out more about the book and download it here.

You can also join our mailing list for more tips on SEO.



Any thoughts?

Got any search tips of your own? Feel free to share in the comments section below (note: if you're viewing this on a mobile device, you may be reading our faster-loading AMP version, which doesn't currently show them. You can view and leave comments by visiting the regular version of this page.


More SEO resources from Style Factory

If you'd like some more advice on how to improve your site's general visibility in search, make sure you join our mailing list (we send out regular tips on SEO).

Additionally, you may find these resources useful: