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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

Bigcommerce vs Volusion (2018) - Comparison Review
 Bigcommerce vs Volusion — image of the two logos side by side on a notepad

In this Bigcommerce vs Volusion review, I compare two leading online store building tools to see which comes out tops.

Read on to find out more about both products’ key features, template quality and support; by the end of this article you should have a much clearer idea of which of these two platforms is a better fit for your e-commerce business.

Let’s start by taking a look at pricing.


Bigcommerce pricing vs Volusion pricing

Volusion and Bigcommerce both offer four plans.

Volusion's plans are as follows:

  • Volusion Personal: $29 per month

  • Volusion Professional: $79 per month

  • Volusion Business: $299 per month

  • Volusion Prime: custom pricing, based on requirements

Bigcommerce's plans are:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies depending on requirements

This makes the Volusion and Bigcommerce offerings very similar in price to each other (and indeed rival Shopify’s — see our Shopify review for more information)

The main differences in terms of features to watch out for between the two sets of plans are:

  • The number of products you can sell: Bigcommerce allows you to sell an unlimited number of products on all their plans; Volusion only facilitates this on their more expensive plans (the $299+ Business plan and higher).

  • Sales limits: Both Volusion and Bigcommerce apply sales limits to each of its plans. Volusion’s limits on its entry, mid-level and expensive plans are $50k, $100k and $500k respectively; Bigcommerce’s corresponding limits are $50k, $150k and $400k. On the enterprise level plans, these limits are negotiable.

It's worth remembering too of course is that with either a Bigcommerce or a Volusion plan, you will need to factor in the costs associated with using a ‘payment gateway’ - the software that allows you to process credit card payments. And speaking of which…


Transaction fees and payment gateways

The good news with both Volusion and Bigcommerce is that neither product charges transaction fees — i.e., a cut of every sale. This is not the case with all competing solutions.

However, in order to accept credit card transactions on your website, you’re going to need to make use of a payment gateway. This will generally involve a fee (either a monthly fee or a credit card fee or both).

Both Volusion and Bigcommerce let you integrate a decent number of payment gateways into proceedings: 34 in the case of Volusion and around 40 in the case of Bigcommerce. However, which of these can use depends greatly on the country you live in — if you live in the US you’ll be able to use a large number of these, but European merchants will have a much lower number to choose from.

Neither Volusion or Shopify charge you for using a payment gateway - this contrasts negatively with Shopify, which applies a 2% transaction fee if you use a third-party payment gateway (there are no transaction fees from Shopify however if you are happy to use their own payment gateway system, Shopify payments.)


Templates

The free templates that Volusion and Bigcommerce provide are solid, professional offerings - but Volusion offers more free templates than Bigcommerce: 11 vs 7 respectively. 

Additionally, the Volusion free themes are more distinct from each other; some of the Bigcommerce templates are so similar in appearance that it's probably a bit cheeky to label them as individual templates - it's more a case of different colours being applied to the same template. 

 

Example of a Bigcommerce theme

 

Both companies also provide a  range of fancier-looking, paid-for templates.

Volusion offers 34 paid themes - all priced at $180 each.

Bigcommerce offer 120, and and these range in price from $145 to $235. However, as with Bigcommerce's free themes, many of these are so similar in appearance to each other to the point where this number is a bit misleading. 

Overall, I'd say it's a bit of a win for Volusion in the template department, certainly as far as the free template offering goes. But there is enough choice on offer from both companies to allow you to create a very attractive storefront (so long as your product images are up to scratch).


Mobile storefronts and smartphone apps

Both Volusion and Bigcommerce automatically create mobile and tablet friendly versions of your store, via responsive templates.

Volusion also provides iOS and Android apps for managing aspects of your store on the go. No user rating is currently available for the iOS version, but Android users seem to like the Volusion app, giving it an average of 4 out of 5 stars.

Bigcommerce used to provide apps to manage your store too, but they are no longer available. The company does state that their control panel may be accessible by some versions of Android - so you may be able to access the Bigcommerce back end on the go via your smartphone - but is not supported by the BigCommerce technical support and product teams.

So all in all, it's probably fair to say that Volusion has an edge over Bigcommerce in this area.


Marketing

Both products offer a good range of marketing features including discount coupons, gift cards, Facebook storefronts and banners.

Volusion goes further with marketing features, in that it offers a CRM tool on the Pro and Premium plans (note however, that this CRM functionality doesn't currently integrate with Gmail accounts or any email system requiring SSL integration - thus ruling out a hell of a lot of users — and can't be tested in trial account mode).

Volusion also allows you to set up your own affiliate program, which might be genuinely useful to some users (those with very popular stores / high levels of traffic in particular).

You can also send e-newsletters with Volusion, but fairly ungenerous limits apply — most merchants will be better off using a dedicated email marketing platform like Getresponse or Mailchimp.

Whilst the idea of being able to use Volusion for both running your online store and marketing it is nice, it’s my view that the functionality provided for this is not necessarily up to the job of doing the marketing bit (it feels like a 'jack of all trades, master of none' scenario).

If you do decide to use Volusion as your online store builder, you'll probably find that dedicated CRM and email marketing apps will beat the in-built marketing tools hands down (and help you grow your business faster).


Abandoned cart saving

Abandoned cart savers let you identify the visitors to your store who add something to their cart but leave your site without making a purchase.

This is very useful because you can then email these visitors encouraging them to reconsider this decision, offer them a discount code to tempt them back and so on.

This functionality is available from both Bigcommerce and Volusion on their $79+ plans.

However, the abandoned cart functionality that comes with Bigcommerce is much, much better than Volusion’s – with Bigcommerce, you can predefine what you’d like to happen when somebody abandons their cart (i.e., send them a series of pre-written emails automatically); with Volusion, you get access to a list of users that have abandoned their carts, but you will have to email them manually (using Volusion's 'send retention email' option).

An automated setup like the one used by Bigcommerce is much better - it's a 'set and forget' process which will save users a lot of time.

That said, there are some third party tools available which can help Volusion users with automation – such as Autoresponder Max – but they tend to come at a price (Autoresponder Max costs $99 per month).

All in all, it’s a win for Bigcommerce over Volusion in the important area of abandoned cart saving.


Integrating Volusion and Bigcommerce with Ebay and Amazon

Both Bigcommerce and Volusion allow you to integrate your store with Ebay and Amazon – but Bigcommerce allows you to do this much more cheaply - you'll get this functionality on their $29.95 plan, whereas with Volusion you'll need to be on an expensive $299 plan to avail of it.


Ease of use / interface

User-friendliness is the area where in a Bigcommerce vs Volusion shootout, Bigcommerce is a hands-down winner (in fact it’s one of the easiest-to-use store builders to use that I’ve tested to date).

Bigcommerce's interface works in a similar way to many contemporary CMS platforms - such as those used by Wordpress, Shopify and Squarespace. There's a vertical menu on the left which allows you to choose what you'd like to do with your site (add a product, view a report, edit a page, write a blog post etc.) and once you've done so you'll be able to view/edit content or reports on the right hand side of the screen.

Put simply, its interface is contemporary, easy to use and intuitive; unfortunately the same cannot be said for Volusion’s, which makes doing basic things like creating a simple ‘about us’ HTML page bizarrely difficult.

The Volusion CMS is unnecessarily complicated. The above screen - click to enlarge - is what the user sees when they click ‘Design > Content’ on the main navigation. ASP file anyone?

I've worked with a lot of site builders and CMS systems in my time and I am really struck by how unintuitive the Volusion interface is - with rivals Bigcommerce, Shopify or Squarespace, getting a simple site / store off the ground (and editing its content) can be done with a minimum of fuss; the same simply cannot be said for Volusion, which I have not found at all easy to use.

Core tasks like creating a navigation or editing pages are unnecessarily confusing in Volusion and this will put many users — particularly those relatively new to building websites — off the product before they have a chance to explore Volusion's selling and marketing functionality, a lot of which is quite good.

A lot of support materials - including several 'getting started' videos - are provided by Volusion, and there is always phone and chat support to help you if you get stuck; but my hunch is that with the Volusion CMS, many people will get stuck rather too quickly.

Ultimately, I feel that experienced web developers would necessarily not have a huge amount of difficulty using Volusion; but anyone new to putting a site together could struggle with it. The novice user will find things much more straightforward with Bigcommerce.


Blogging in Bigcommerce and Volusion

Bigcommerce offers a very important feature out of the box that is missing from Volusion: a blogging tool.

In this era of inbound marketing, creating quality blog content is absolutely essential to generating traffic to a site – and by extension to generating sales.

It is possible to link a third-party blog (i.e., a Wordpress blog) to your Volusion store and edit the DNS settings so that it appears on a subdomain on your Volusion-powered site — but this is something that a less experienced user will probably want to avoid. These sorts of users will appreciate Bigcommerce's built-in blogging tool - you simply get a blog on your store that very easy to update.

That said, the Bigcommerce blog is fairly basic - if you want to do advanced post categorisation and tagging you would be better off with integrating a third-party blogging platform such as Wordpress (again, using the subdomain approach). And if RSS feeds are important to you, you'll be disappointed with the built-in Bigcommerce blog: it doesn't support them.


SEO in Bigcommerce vs Volusion

When it comes to SEO in a Bigcommerce vs Volusion shootout, Bigcommerce is a clear winner.

Although Volusion does allow you to change tweak SEO settings extensively — page titles, meta data, headers and so on — it is generally easier with Bigcommerce. This is particularly evident in the area of creating page redirects (which are vital for telling search engines when a page has moved or been renamed): whereas in Volusion you have to upload XML files to create redirects, in Bigcommerce it’s a simple case of adding them via the standard interface.

Additionally, you can create URLS in Bigcommerce which are ‘cleaner’ and consequently more search-friendly than the Volusion equivalents.

And finally, you can use AMP format in Bigcommerce — fast-loading version of your site pages and products which can result in some search benefits. This does not yet appear to be the case in Volusion.


Support

With Bigcommerce, you get 24-hour 'live agent' support. It's not particularly clear on their site which channels this covers - phone, chat or email — and before you get access to actual contact details you have to try to resolve the issue by searching their help pages first.

With Volusion, support comes in three varieties, depending on what plan you're one: online, online+phone and priority. Support on the cheapest plan is online only, which compares negatively to Bigcommerce. On the plus side, accessing the support information is easier in Volusion — the company’s phone number is listed prominently on the home page of the site.

In addition to in-person support, both Bigcommerce and Volusion also offer a wide range of online resources - how-to articles, FAQs and searchable help databases.

Volusion’s help materials can be quite confusing however, because there are two versions of the product - ‘V1’ and ‘V2’, each with their own set of help materials. This means you can often end up reading support material which isn’t relevant to the latest version of Volusion.


Which is better, Bigcommerce or Volusion?

Bigcommerce and Volusion are both very fully-featured online store builders but ultimately I have to come down on the side of Bigcommerce, chiefly because it is SO much easier to use than Volusion. It’s also better specced.

Here are a few key reasons why one of these platforms might be more suited to your needs than the other:

Reasons to pick Bigcommerce over Volusion

  • Bigcommerce is much easier to use – if you are a novice at putting together a website, you will find it a lot easier to get to grips with than Volusion.

  • Its SEO features are stronger.

  • Its abandoned cart functionality is better: being able to pre-program a series of automated follow up emails to users who abandon their carts has the potential to save you a lot of time – and money.

  • All Bigcommerce plans allow you to sell an unlimited number of products.

  • You can sell on Ebay and Amazon on the cheapest Bigcommerce plans - Volusion restricts this functionality to its more expensive $75+ plans.

  • You can sell an unlimited number of products on any Bigcommerce plan; you'll have to be on a $299+ Volusion plan to do this.

  • Bigcommerce provides built-in blogging functionality (albeit of a basic variety).

  • All Bigcommerce plans include phone support - this is not the case with Volusion's.

  • You can avail of Ebay and Amazon integrations much more cheaply with Bigocmmerce.

You can get a free trial of Bigcommerce here.

Reasons to pick Volusion over Bigcommerce

  • Volusion has a slightly larger selection of free templates to choose from.

  • Some of the Volusion marketing features - such as the affiliate program and the CRM tool - may prove useful to some users (the CRM program will not work with many popular email systems however, including Gmail).

You can get a free trial of Volusion here.


Free trials

As ever with these comparison reviews, you are getting on person’s take on these products, and I generally advise that, where free trials are available, that you try both products being compared out and make your own mind up!

You’ll find links to the Bigcommerce and Volusion free trials below.

Feel free to add your own thoughts on Bigcommerce vs Volusion in the comments section below, and if you enjoyed this article, it'd be great if you could share it or post a link to it on your site. (Note: if you’re viewing this on a mobile device, you may be seeing the faster ‘AMP’ version of the post, which disables comments - click here to view the regular version, which will allow you to post a comment).


Alternatives to Bigcommerce and Volusion

For me one of the best hosted alternatives to Bigcommerce and Volusion is Shopify - you can read our Shopify review here.

If you already have a site and you wish to add e-commerce functionality to it, you might also want to check out Ecwid.

Squarespace is also worth a look, particularly if you are interested in building a portfolio or brochure style site, and sell some products on the side.

Similarly, Wix might appeal to some users - check out our Wix review for more details on this product.


Shopify vs Volusion (2018) | Comparison of Two Leading Online Store Builders
 Shopify vs Volusion - image of a shopping cart beside the two company logos.

In this Shopify vs Volusion comparison review, we pit two very well-known online store builders against each other.

Read on for an overview of their pricing and key features, and find out which of these well-known e-commerce platforms is best for your business.


About Shopify and Volusion

Shopify and Volusion are platforms which allow you to create an online store. They work in a similar way, in that they are hosted solutions - they run in a browser and there is no software for you to install locally (i.e., on your own computer). This means that you can build and manage your store from anywhere, and on any suitable device, so long as you have an internet connection.

Both are 'software as a service' (SaaS) solutions - you pay a monthly fee to use them,  and this gives you the tools to create and maintain your store: templates, a content management system, hosting, e-commerce functionality and support.

The fundamental idea behind both tools is that even if you don't have coding or design skills, you can create an online store easily enough using them.

Let's find out how the two products compare.


Pricing

Shopify pricing

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 (but is usually priced at around $2000 per month).

 Shopify pricing table highlighting the fees for its three most popular plans. 'Lite' and 'Plus' plans (not displayed in above table) cater for users with more basic and advanced requirements respectively. (Prices are correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Shopify pricing table highlighting the fees for its three most popular plans. 'Lite' and 'Plus' plans (not displayed in above table) cater for users with more basic and advanced requirements respectively. (Prices are correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Volusion pricing

With Volusion, there are 4 plans to choose from. The pricing structure is very similar to Shopify's:

  • Volusion Personal: $29 per month

  • Volusion Professional: $79 per month

  • Volusion Business: $299 per month

  • Volusion Prime: custom pricing, based on requirements

 Volusion pricing table (correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Volusion pricing table (correct at time of writing in September 2018).

A comparison of the Shopify vs Volusion entry level plans

Shopify can get you selling online cheaper than Volusion via its $9 'Lite' plan; this is $20 cheaper than the $29 Volusion 'Personal' plan.

However, the Shopify plan doesn't allow you to actually set up a fully functional online store but rather allows you to:

  • sell on Facebook

  • use Shopify's back end in conjunction with a Shopify 'Buy' button which you can embed on your website (this works in a similar way to a Paypal button)

  • make use of the Shopify point of sale kit (more on that anon).

Volusion's 'Personal' plan, by contrast, allows you to create a fully-fledged online store for $29 per month - but there are limits on 

  • the number of products you can sell (100)

  • the type of support you receive (with this plan, no phone support is available).

No product limits apply on any of the Shopify plans (the Shopify Lite plan does however restrict support to email or live chat only however).

Transaction fees

In addition to charging you a monthly fee to use their software, some online store solutions take a cut of each of your transactions. One key advantage of using Volusion over Shopify is the complete lack of transaction fees on any of its plans.

With Shopify, you can also avoid transaction fees on all its plans - but only if you are happy to use Shopify's own payment processing option, Shopify Payments.

There is a bit of a problem with this, because it is only available to users selling from certain territories, namely

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

Shopify users based in countries not included on the above list can make use of a wide range of third-party payment gateway processors - but if you use one, transaction fees will apply (2% on 'Lite' and 'Basic' plans, 1% on 'Shopify' and 0.5% on 'Advanced').

Key things to watch out for with Volusion and Shopify pricing plans

The key things to look out watch out for when comparing Shopify's pricing to Volusion's are probably the following:

  • Product limits: no limits apply on any Shopify plan, whereas Volusion limit the product numbers to 100 and 5,000 on its 'Personal' and 'Professional' plans respectively.

  • Volusion apply sales limits to their plans: $50k, $100k and $150k on the Personal, Professional and Business plans respectively. By contrast, no sales limits are applied on Shopify plans.

  • Abandoned cart functionality: you can access this on the $29+ Shopify plans, but it's only available on the $79+ Volusion plans.

  • Manual order creation: Shopify allow you to create manual orders on all plans, but Volusion only allows you to do this if you are on their $75+ plans.


Core features

Shopify and Volusion offer a similar set of key features out of the box, and allow you to:

  • design your store using a range of pre-existing templates

  • create catalogues of products

  • manage your store using a CMS

  • optimise your products for search

  • accept online payments via a range of payment gateways

Let's zoom in on a few key features, and see how they stack up against each other.


Templates

Both Shopify and Volusion offer a wide range of templates, all very professional in appearance. They are responsive too, meaning that they will automatically resize themselves to suit the device your store is being viewed on. You can choose either a free theme or a paid-for one.

In terms of quality, both the Volusion and Shopify themes are of a high quality and I wouldn't have any particular reservations about using any of the themes I've encountered from both companies as a starting point when designing an online store. 

 Shopify's free 'Minimal' template ('Vintage' version)

Shopify's free 'Minimal' template ('Vintage' version)

Let's look at quantity though - this is where Shopify has a bit of an edge.

Free templates from Shopify and Volusion

At first glance Volusion seems to offer slightly more choice in the free template department - there are 11 free templates to Shopify's 10. However, most of the free Shopify templates come in 2 or 3 variations, so there's actually a bit more choice available from Shopify. 

Paid-for templates from Shopify and Volusion

Both Volusion and Shopify offer a wide range of paid-for templates, but again Shopify provides more options: there are 57 paid-for themes available from Shopify to Volusion's 34, nearly twice as many.

You can also pick up a Shopify paid-for theme slightly cheaper: they range in price from $140 to $180, whereas all the Volusion themes all cost $180. (Volusion themes used to be incredibly expensive, so this reduction in cost to $180 per theme is a welcome development.)

And finally, the Shopify premium themes are arguably a bit slicker, featuring more contemporary design features like video backgrounds and parallax scrolling.

Finding the right template

Finally, the Shopify theme store is set up in a way which makes it easier to find the right template for your online store: you can browse using a wide range of filters, including price, style, industry and more; by contrast, Volusion doesn't provide any filters (other than 'free' or 'premium').

Overall, when it comes to templates, it's hard not to conclude that Shopify's offering is significantly better than the Volusion equivalent.

A Volusion paid-for theme


Payment gateways

Both Shopify and Volusion integrate with a large number of 'payment gateways' - third party tools that process credit cards on your behalf. However, you can use more payment gateways with Shopify - over 100 to Volusion's 34.

It's important to note that the number of available payment gateways available for use in Volusion varies significantly depending on what part of the world you're operating in - in the US, for example, you can make use of around 30 Volusion payment gateways, whereas in Europe, this number drops to just 8.

Both tools come with an 'out of the box' payments solution too: 'Shopify Payments' and 'Volusion Payments'. Shopify Payments, as mentioned above, can only be used by merchants based in the United States of America, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Volusion Payments is only available to merchants in the US, and unlike Shopify Payments you'll have to pay a monthly fee to use it. You also have to go through an application process which takes 5-7 days.

All this means that Shopify is a hands down-winner in both the third-party payment gateway department, and its out-of-the-box option is more attractive than Volusion's too.


Apps

Apps allow you to bolt on a lot of additional functionality to an online store, and integrate third party web applications with it. 

Both Volusion and Shopify have app stores, but Shopify users can benefit from a much wider range of apps than Volusion users: there around thousands of Shopify apps you can integrate with your store, but only 71 Volusion ones.

Although Volusion's apps do cover the basics, the reality is that Shopify users will benefit from a significantly larger number of options when it comes to apps (and these cater for major third party apps like Xero and Freshbooks).

There are also hundreds of free apps available for Shopify...but only ten free apps for Volusion.


Dropshipping in Volusion vs Shopify

Many potential users of Volusion and Shopify will want to know how well it handles dropshipping

Dropshipping is a way of selling products where you don't keep the actual products in stock. Instead, you take an order, redirect it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your customer. A lot of people are attracted to this way of selling products because you don't need much capital to start up your business; the down side is that competition in the dropshipping marketplace is fierce, and sourcing products that are made ethically by reliable suppliers can be a challenge.

If dropshipping is what you want to do then - as with much else discussed in this review - you'll find that the options are considerably more extensive in Shopify. There are tons of apps available for Shopify to facilitate it, but with Volusion, you're limited to just two dropshipping apps / suppliers: Doba and Kole Import.

For more information on dropshipping as a business model, I'd suggest you check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.


Point of Sale options

Both Shopify and Volusion facilitate Point of Sale transactions - in other words, you can do business in the real world (selling goods in a retail outlet, pop-up store or event) use these platforms to both accept payment and sync inventory.

You can buy hardware directly from Shopify to faciliate point of sale transactions - this includes a barcode scanner, a receipt printer, a till and a label printer. All these allow your Shopify store to become more than just an 'virtual' entity; it can double up as a tool for running a business in the 'real' world too. All your customer and order data is synced with Shopify, so everything to do with sales and inventory is kept neat and tidy. 

You can use POS on any Shopify plan (using an app and a card reader provided by Shopify), but it's worth noting that if you want to make use of more sophisticated POS hardware (tills, barcode scanners and so on) you will need to be on the more expensive 'Shopify' plan or higher. 

Shopify's point of sale options are very comprehensive

POS functionality is available in Volusion too - you can use a variety of UPC scanners, card readers and receipt printers with it, so you will be able to use the platform in much the same way as Shopify's.

The key difference between Shopify and Volusion when it comes to POS applications however is that whereas Shopify make it a key part of the offering, and more of an 'out of the box' feature, it's more of an 'add on' service for Volusion which will require you to give more thought to the third party hardware you use (and possibly spend more time tweaking configuration settings to make this hardware work with Volusion).


Adding a blog to a Volusion or Shopify store

Shopify offers an extremely important feature out of the box that is missing from Volusion: a blogging tool.

You might not immediately think that a blog is a key part of an online store - but in this day and age of content and inbound marketing, regular posting of quality blog content is absolutely essential to generating traffic to a site – and by extension to generating product sales.

It is possible to link a third-party blog (i.e., a Wordpress blog) to your Volusion store and mess around with DNS settings so that everything works neatly enough and your blog lives on a nice-looking subdomain…but it is a headache and probably one that a less experienced user will want to avoid. Shopify’s built-in blogging tool is a much better solution - you simply get a blog on your store that very easy to update.

That said, the Shopify blog is fairly basic - if you want to do advanced post categorisation and tagging, or particularly need an archive of older versions of posts, you might be better off with a third-party blogging platform such as Wordpress.

The majority of users will be able to make do perfectly well with a Shopify blog however, so for me this gives Shopify yet another edge over Volusion. 


Ease-of-use

Shopify has got a considerably better user interface, and when testing these two products against each other, I've always found that putting a simple store together is much, much quicker in Shopify than in Volusion.

Volusion now provides you with a step-by-step wizard to help you get started with your store - this is a welcome improvement - older incarnations of the Volusion back end sort of threw you in at the deep end.

 The Volusion interface

The Volusion interface

However, if you follow the Volusion wizard process to the end, it concludes by asking you for your credit card details. This is extremely annoying and goes against the spirit of offering a free trial! It is possible to get around this by clicking a back button...but it's not ideal and some users will find the whole thing irritating or confusing.

Once you've gone past the wizard stage, you'll find it oddly difficult to do some very simple things with the Volusion interface – like reorder the navigation or add a simple ‘About Us’ web page.

I've used many a site / store builder in my time, but with Volusion I've had to resort to Google searches to work out how these simple tasks are performed – instant proof that this system is not, shall we say, all that intuitive. The same tasks did not present any problems at all in Shopify, which comes with a much more straightforward CMS and WYSIWYG editor.

Finally, both products allow you to tweak CSS and HTML, so if you are a relatively experienced web developer, you’ll be able to configure your store extensively.

My overall verdict on user friendliness is that Shopify is way, way easier to use than Volusion. (The below vlog-style video gives a walkthrough of the Shopify interface - unfortunately I can't source a similar video for the new version of Volusion).


Marketing features

Volusion offers some rather interesting marketing features out of the box, notably a tool that allows you to create your own affiliate programs, a CRM system and a basic email marketing tool that allows you to send newsletters to your contacts directly from within Volusion.

The affiliate program could be useful for some users, but I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to the CRM side of things, because it doesn't support email systems that require SSL integration (with Gmail, used by millions of businesses worldwide, being an obvious casualty).

Volusion's email marketing tool is also quite a useful feature to have built into an online store solution - but there are limits on how many e-newsletters you can send out per month. The Volusion help pages, rather unhelpfully, don't provide the limits for the current plans, but list the limits for their old pricing structure instead. 

  • Mini Plan: newsletter emails not included

  • Plus Plan: 200 emails / month

  • Pro Plan: 1000 emails / month

  • Premium Plan: 2000 emails / month

Assuming that these limits broadly correspond with the new plans, it's clear that they are not overly generous — and accordingly, this feature is probably only going to be of use to merchants who are starting out on their e-commerce journey. Successful merchants will have larger lists and will most likely make use of a dedicated email marketing tool like Getresponse or Aweber.

Comparable marketing functionality is not really available out of the box with Shopify, but you can integrate it easily with a wide range of third-party CRM and email marketing tools by using an app from Shopify's app store. You can also use an affiliate app like Tapfiliate to  create an affiliate program for a Shopify store.

All in all Volusion's idea of providing marketing tools that let you operate your store and marketing campaigns using one platform is a nice one - but the tools themselves feel rather underpowered and you'd in all probability have a better experience (and gain more functinality) using dedicated third-party ones.


SEO in Volusion vs Shopify

Both Volusion and Shopify allow you to extensively tweak key SEO settings, including page title, URL, alt text, meta descriptions, 301 redirects etc. — all the stuff you'd expect to be able to change without any difficulty in a professional e-commerce solution.

As with much else however, I generally prefer the Shopify setup in this regard. There are two areas in particular that I feel Shopify handles better: 301 redirects and search-friendly URLs.

301 redirects

When you change the URL of a product or page, it's vital to let Google and other search engines know about this, by creating what's known as a 301 redirect.

In Shopify, this is done automatically for you every time you change a URL; but in Volusion, it's a case of going into a 'Redirect Manager page' and uploading an XML file. This is the kind of stuff that reinforces my general feeling that Volusion is not really geared up (yet) for users without much in the way of a technical knowledge around website building.

Search friendly URLS

Another oddity regarding SEO in Volusion concerns search friendly URLS. Search engines generally prefer short, 'clean URLs' containing keywords rather than variables (i.e., 'www.mystore.com/green-dress' rather than 'www.mystore.com/cat125/?productid=1234'). By default it seems that Volusion prefers the latter approach, and if you want the former you have to go into settings and ensure that a 'search-friendly URL' setting is switched on. Again, needless legwork.

And on top of that, the process involved in tweaking URLs in Volusion in order to get them into a search-friendly format seems overly-complicated — as their help page on the topic demonstrates.


Userbases and history

There are two important 'due dilligence' questions to ask yourself when investing in any hosted e-commerce or website building solutions:

  • How many people actually use this product?

  • How long has it been about?

The answers to these questions are important, because they let you know how much you can 'trust' the solution you're considering using - for example, a relatively new company with only a few users on their books is more likely to go bust or shut down their service, with serious consequences for your online store.

User figures / revenue

In terms of userbases, we can only go on the numbers provided by Shopify and Volusion. Shopify states that there have been 600,000 stores built with their platform; Volusion states that over 185,000 stores have been built with theirs.

Volusion claim that there are currently 30,000 active Volusion users. This is dwarfed by the figure provided by Shopify, who claim to have over 1,000,000 active users.

According to Shopify, their product has been responsible for $63bn in sales; Volusion's claim is $28bn. 

Company histories

Shopify is a somewhat newer kid on the block than Volusion; whereas Volusion has been around since 1999, Shopify opened its doors for business in 2006.

This puts the userbase and sales figures into context: Shopify has grown its business more quickly in a significantly shorter period of time, to the point where its userbase and sales have considerably eclipsed the corresponding Volusion figures.

Ultimately you'll need to draw your own conclusions from these figures, but they probably point to Shopify being a safer bet than Volusion over the next few years. 


Support

Volusion offers online support on all plans, but phone support is only available on its $79 'Plus' plan and up. Shopify's phone support is available on its $29 'Basic' plan and up.

My hunch is that if you're a Volusion user, you are more likely to require phone support than if you're a Shopify user, simply because the Volusion interface is way less user-friendly.

Unlike with some competing products, it's easy enough to find a phone number for Volusion - you can either call a number listed on the home page of their site or you can use a 'schedule call' option (you can access this when logged into your Volusion Dashboard by clicking the 'Get Help' link at the top right of the screen).

Accessing phone numbers for Shopify involves a slightly fiddlier process - you have to search for a solution to your problem and fail to find one before you can see any phone numbers. When you do get to see them, you'll note that numbers are only provided for a few countries - North America, New Zealand, UK, Australia and Singapore...it's not entirely clear what number you need to ring if you live outside of these territories. I'm guessing it's the US one.


Which is better then, Shopify or Volusion?

So which is better, Shopify or Volusion? Well, as you’ve probably guessed as this post has developed, I'd argue that Shopify is the hands-down winner in this particular e-commerce platform shootout.

There are seven main reasons why I think it's a better product:

  • its user interface / CMS is much easier to use

  • it provides a wider range of free templates

  • there are no limits on bandwidth or products to worry about

  • it allows you to integrate a significantly larger number of apps into your store than Volusion does

  • it's a better bet for dropshipping

  • it allows you to blog ‘out of the box’

  • optimising a Shopify site for search engines is a more straightforward process

All this, I feel, makes Shopify far more suitable for use by people who want to set up an online store, but have little or no experience of building a website.

And speaking of building a website, Shopify generally makes it easy to do just that – you could, if you really wanted, ignore the online store aspect of things altogether and build a whole website fairly easily using Shopify.

It would be a pretty silly thing to do, as there are more comprehensive, cost-effective options out there for building a site without e-commerce functionality (see our Squarespace review or our Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison for some ideas), but the point is that with Shopify you get a very complete, generally easy-to-use package which allows you to build an entire website that is simple to maintain and comes with a fully-featured online store and a blog.

Volusion’s offering is more exclusively about the online store side of things and as such it comes with more online store-related functionality out of the box; this is fine, but many people who want an online store also need it to double up as an informational website (and blog) too. 

I guess my main issue with Volusion though is that it feels more like a tool for web developers rather than 'normal people' (!) who simply want to get a store off the ground quickly - and my feeling is that people who want to say, sell pottery online are too busy making and selling pottery to take a night class in web development.

For me, any system which presents a user with information about CSS files when he/she tries to create a simple navigation menu (as Volusion does) screams “hi developers!” rather than “hi novice”. Requiring users to upload an XML file to create a redirect is another example of this tech-heavy approach.

Any ‘techy’ stuff in Shopify (and there is plenty of that if you need it) is kept largely out of the way in the back end – it’s accessible alright, but not shoved in your face. This is far less intimidating for anyone who doesn't know what an ASP file is (the majority of people on this planet, I suspect).

That’s not to say that Volusion is an entirely bad product. If you are technically savvy, or a web developer, you should find it relatively straightforward to set up and use, and you may find that it has a bit more online store functionality (though not content management features) than Shopify.

Additionally, it can work out a bit cheaper to run a Volusion store, because (payment gateway provision aside), no transaction fees are charged on each purchase. If, however, you are a small business owner without any web skills, and you want to get a simple online store off the ground yourself with a minimum of fuss, Shopify is a much better, easier option.

Reasons to use Shopify over Volusion

  • It's significantly easier to use than Volusion.

  • There are more themes to choose from, and its paid-for themes are cheaper than the Volusion equivalents.

  • You can sell an unlimited number of products on each plan.

  • Blogging functionality is built in.

  • A wider selection of payment gateways is available.

  • A significantly wider selection of apps and integrations is available.

  • Point-of-sale functionality is more comprehensive and 'built in'.

  • Its own payment system, Shopify Payments, does not involve transaction or monthly fees.

  • Abandoned cart functionality is available on the $29 Shopify plan; you'll need to be on a $79+ plan to avail of this important feature with Volusion.

  • Its SEO features are easier to use.

  • There are no sales limits on any plans.

  • It has a larger userbase - which arguably makes it a safer bet.

Free Shopify trial

Reasons to use Volusion over Shopify

  • There are no transaction fees on any plans.

  • Some users may find its built-in marketing features (CRM, affiliate program and email marketing tools) useful.

Free Volusion trial


Free trials of Shopify and Volusion

As I always say at the end of these sort of comparison reviews, it’s usually a good idea to try both products out yourself before committing to one of them, and fortunately both come with a free trial.


Any thoughts on Shopify vs Volusion?

If you've used both Shopify or Volusion (or both!) in the past, I'd love to hear your thoughts on both systems - feel free to add comment below (note, if you're viewing this on a smartphone and can't see the comments section, you may be reading an Accelerated Mobile Pages version of the page - if so, click here to view the regular mobile version, where you'll be able to view and add comments. Thanks!). 

Shopify vs Squarespace (2018) - A Comparison Review
 Shopify vs Squarespace (images of the Shopify and Squarespace logos side by side)

In this review we take a look at Shopify vs Squarespace, to see which is the best solution for your website or online store. Read on to get a list of pros and cons of each platform - and do feel free to leave your thoughts on both products in the comments section below (I'd love to hear from users of both platforms).

On the face of it, Shopify and Squarespace look like similar products: they let you create a website and they let you sell products (even if you don’t have any design or coding skills).

But they have a different history and started life with different purposes: Squarespace was initially conceived as a solution for building and maintaining content based websites, where as Shopify was specifically created as a solution for making your own online store.

With the relatively recent addition of e-commerce to Squarespace’s feature set, the two tools have become increasingly similar and technically, you can now use either to create a website or host an online store.

But which is best suited for your business?

Answering this question starts, helpfully, with another question…


Are you trying to build a website or an online store?

When deciding between Squarespace and Shopify, the first question you need to ask yourself is this: what am I trying to build, a website or an online store?

Of course, an online store is obviously technically a website, but in this context, by 'website' I'm talking about an online presence where conveying information is the priority — for example, a blog, a news site, a brochure site, a magazine, a photography portfolio etc. — and by 'online store' I mean something where selling products is the primary goal.

Let's dive into the website building stuff first.


Building a website

If your focus is on building an informative website, then design and content management functionality are going to be a priority — and this being the case, it's fair to say that Squarespace is the obvious choice out of the two products discussed here for that purpose. 

Its templates are excellent; its CMS is intuitive and easy to use; its photo editing and displaying tools are superb; and its blogging features are strong. 

There are two versions of Squarespace to consider: the 'normal' version, used by the vast majority of Squarespace customers, and the developer's platform, which is used by web design agencies and, as the name suggests (!), developers.

The latter is the best version to use if you intend to customize Squarespace very extensively, but you'll obviously need to be familiar with web development and coding in order to use it.

 

Laying out content in Squarespace is easy, and the options for doing so are extensive (click to enlarge image).

 

In this article I'm focussing on the standard version of Squarespace; and it's probably fair to say that whilst it provides a fairly powerful bunch of tools for presenting web content in an attractive manner, it is generally suited to working on relatively simple sites only. 

Firstly, navigation is effectively limited to two levels; arguably one, in fact, as when you create a 'parent' page containing sub-pages, you can't actually view the parent page (depending on the template used, clicking on it will just reveal a list of sub pages, or worse, the first 'child' page - both approaches only serving to confuse users!).

Secondly, whilst you can edit basic aspects of the templates (colours and typefaces etc.), you are generally going to be stuck with whatever Squarespace decides looks best for a particular template.

Despite marketing themselves at ‘creatives’, Squarespace don’t really encourage particularly creative use of their templates — in most cases, you're dealing with a 'walled garden' in which everything is locked down fairly tightly, and if you try to get around this by adding your own lines of CSS to your template, Squarespace support can be a bit hesitant in providing support.

(To be fair to Squarespace, I've noticed an increasing number of style controls being provided to users lately — and some templates, such as 'Five', offer a relatively large degree of flexibility in the styling department — so this may over time become less of a problem.)

These gripes aside, most users will find Squarespace a very nice platform for building a website indeed, primarily because:

  • the templates do look very good
  • basic tweaks to colours and typefaces are allowed
  • the walled garden approach, despite its faults, means that it's easy to build and maintain sites on the platform.

The bottom line is that, used well, Squarespace can help you put a professional-looking site extremely quickly, and gives you a lot of nice ways to display images and blog content in a way that Shopify arguably doesn't.

But what about building an online store? Let's dig into the selling functionality of both products...


While you're here: we build both Squarespace and Shopify websites. Please do contact us today for more information on how we can get your Squarespace or Shopify website off the ground quickly and professionally.


Building an online store

Where the Shopify vs Squarespace decision gets rather more complicated is when you want to start selling stuff.

Both platforms facilitate e-commerce, but each comes with a set of pros and cons. Let’s look at a few key issues to consider if your aim is to build an online store with either Squarespace or Shopify.

Pricing

Key differences between Squarespace plans

Squarespace offers four monthly pricing options, banded into two types of packages, 'websites' and 'online stores'. This is a little confusing, as you can technically sell products using three out of the four plans.

The plans are as follows:

  • 'Personal' - $16 per month ('Websites')
  • 'Business' - $26 per month ('Websites')
  • 'Basic' - $30 per month ('Online Stores')
  • 'Advanced' - $46 per month ('Online Stores')

Discounts for all of the above are available if you purchase a plan on an annual basis (the above four plans, respectively, will work out at $12, $18, $26 and $40 per month when you pay upfront for a year's service). EU users should note that these prices are exclusive of VAT. 

In terms of the key differences between the Squarespace plans, the key things to watch out for are as follows:

  • The 'Personal' plan does not let you sell anything.
  • The 'Personal' plan does not facilitate the addition of CSS or javascript to your site, or the use of developer mode.
  • You will pay 3% transaction fees on any sales generated using the 'Business' plan.
  • The 'Personal' plan restricts the number of contributors (i.e., authors / admins) to 2; on all other Squarespace plans you can have an unlimited number of contributors.
  • To avail of an important feature, abandoned cart recovery, you will need to go for the most expensive 'Advanced' plan.
  • You'll get a year's free Google Apps account on the 'Business' plans and up
  • You'll get dedicated e-commerce reporting on the 'Online Stores' plans 
  • On the 'Basic' and 'Advanced' plans you can avail of integrated accounting via Xero
  • If you pay upfront for a year's service (on any plan), you can get a free custom domain (i.e., yourbusiness.com)
  • The business plans and up come with a $100 Adwords voucher (US and Canada only)
  • The business plans and up come with more sophisticated options when it comes to pop-up messages, announcement bars and mobile information bars.

Key differences between Shopify plans

Shopify offers five monthly plans:

  • 'Shopify 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 (but fees usually come in at around $2000 per month).

10% and 20% discounts on these prices are available if you pay upfront for an annual or two-year plan.

In terms of what to watch out for in terms of the differences between Shopify plans, you should note that:

  • the Shopify Lite plan doesn't actually let you build an online store; rather, it allows you to sell on your existing website or Facebook page (thanks to the 'Shopify Buy' button) or at 'point of sale' (a physical location; more on that below)
  • the abandoned cart saver functionality is available on all plans except 'Lite' - meaning that you can avail of this important feature considerably cheaper than with Squarespace ($29 vs $46).
  • gift cards are only available on the more expensive plans ($79+ plans)
  • the 'Shopify Plus' plan is essentially for big companies with advanced e-commerce requirements, and prices vary depending on needs
  • professional reporting features only become available on the $79 Shopify plans and up.

Transaction fees and credit card fees

On top of the standard pricing plans, there are transaction fees and credit card fees to consider — the former being a percentage fee of your sales charged by your e-commerce platform (in this case Squarespace or Shopify), and the latter being the percentage fee of your sales charged by the company you choose to process your credit card payments (otherwise known as a payment gateway — we'll discuss these in more depth below).

With regard to Shopify, you have the choice of either using a Shopify Payments — Shopify's built in payment processor — or a third party payment gateway.

If you use Shopify Payments, you avoid transaction fees entirely (i.e., Shopify will not take a cut of the sale).

However, you will still be charged credit card fees, and in the USA these are:

  • 2.9% + 30c per online credit card transaction on 'Shopify Lite'  and 'Basic Shopify' plans
  • 2.6% + 30c on 'Shopify'
  • 2.4% + 30c on 'Advanced Shopify'

If you use a third party payment gateway to process your credit card transactions, in addition to whatever transaction charges are made by that gateway, you will pay Shopify

  • 2% of the transaction on the 'Shopify Lite' and 'Basic Shopify' plans
  • 1% on 'Shopify'
  • 0.5% on the 'Advanced Shopify' plan.

It's important to note that these fees vary according to what country you're in — for example, in the UK, where we're based, Shopify credit card fees are somewhat cheaper.

With Squarespace, transaction fees are only applied to their 'Business' plan — the rate is 3%. In terms of the the credit card fees, the rate is determined by either Stripe or Paypal (the two options provided by Squarespace for processing credit cards).

With Stripe, these fees vary based on what country you are selling from or to. In the USA, it's 2.9% + 30c per transaction; in the UK it's significantly lower at 1.4% + 20p for European cards (for now at least; let's see what happens after Brexit...) and 2.9% + 20p for non-European cards. Paypal rates vary by country too — the USA rates are available to view here.

One thing to watch out for with regard to Shopify Payments is that you can only use it if you are selling from certain countries, namely:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Shopify users elsewhere will need to use a different payment gateway — but the good news is that 100+ gateways integrate with Shopify.

And speaking of payment gateways...

Payment gateways

Shopify can be used almost anywhere and in most currencies, because it allows you to use over 100 different ‘payment gateways’ (third-party processors that process credit card transactions).

Up until December 2016 Squarespace e-commerce worked with just one payment gateway, Stripe; this was not ideal, as Stripe only supports selling from a limited number of countries.

More seriously, it was not possible to use Paypal - probably the world's best-known payment gateway - as a payment processor. Fortunately however, Squarespace introduced a Paypal integration, which opened up a lot more selling possibilities to Squarespace users. 

It is very encouraging to see Squarespace widen its range of payment gateway options, but overall Shopify remains the more attractive, flexible and professional option from a payment processing point of view — the number of payment gateway integrations is significantly larger (100+ versus Squarespace's 2), and as such the flexibility when it comes to accepting payments is much greater.

Because you can only sell goods using Stripe from 25 countries, Paypal is left as the sole payment processing option for a lot of Squarespace users.

(Note: for the avoidance of confusion, you can accept payment from anybody in any country using Stripe; but you can only use it on your website if you are based in certain countries).

So which works out cheaper, Squarespace or Shopify?

If you just want to build a content-driven website — i.e., not selling anything — then on the surface of things, Squarespace offers a considerably cheaper way to do this, with its $14 per month 'Personal' plan.

However, if you're serious about your content-driven website, you'll quickly find that the Squarespace Personal plan isn't all that great — it lacks quite a lot of very important functionality.

For example, on the Personal Plan,

  • you can't hook up Mailchimp to your data capture forms * 
  • promotional popups and announcement bars are not facilitated
  • there is a restriction on adding CSS or javascript to your site (thus ruling out design customisations that can't be made using the standard Squarespace controls)

* There is a workaround here involving using 'naked' Mailchimp forms and styling them using inline CSS, but it's not ideal for the kind of 'novice' users that the Personal Plan is aimed at.

Accordingly, many users are probably best advised ignoring Personal Plan in favour of the more expensive 'Business' plan, which at $26 lifts all these restrictions and provides e-commerce functionality too.

In terms of e-commerce, up until fairly recently, Squarespace allowed you to create a fully-functional online store considerably more cheaply than Shopify — at $16 per month, the old Squarespace 'Personal' plan allowed you to sell products and came in $13 per month cheaper than the cheapest Shopify plan which facilitated full online store construction.

However, when Squarespace recently adjusted their pricing structure to remove e-commerce functionality from the 'Personal' plan, they basically created a situation where there's very little difference in pricing between the cheapest Squarespace and Shopify 'full' e-commerce plans (i.e., the plans which allow you to build a complete online store). You now pay $26 per month for the Squarespace 'Business' plan versus $29 per month for the Shopify 'Basic' plan.

When you consider that Squarespace charge 3% transaction fees on their 'Business' plan, and offers a very limited range of payment processing options with it, it's hard not to conclude that the Shopify plan represents better value as far as e-commerce is concerned, even if the monthly fee is a little bit higher. (And this sense of 'better value' gets considerably more pronounced when you compare e-commerce features — more on all these below).

Of course, of the two products under discussion, Shopify still technically offers the cheapest way into online selling, with the $9 Lite plan. This plan is more geared towards people who want to sell on an existing website (or social media site) rather than build a new one, so functionality is more limited than the entry level Squarespace offering; but if this approach suits you you'll appreciate that the monthly costs and transaction fees are both considerably lower than on the cheapest Squarespace plan.

It's important to remember, of course, that there is a lot more to consider than just the monthly fees, as we'll see below...


Key features

When it comes to the feature sets of both products — and as you might expect — Shopify’s heritage as an online store building solution generally trumps Squarepsace’s.

The Shopify e-commerce feature set is more extensive, with features that are not yet available on Squarespace — unlike Squarespace it offers:

  • ‘point of sale’ technology (iPad / iPhone apps and add-ons that talk to your Shopify store and allow you to use Shopify in a physical location like your shop, market stall or office)
  • easy facilitation of dropshipping
  • automated EU VAT calculation for digital products (more on that shortly), so that you can comply with VAT MOSS requirements
  • integration with a very extensive range of third party apps that extend the functionality of your store significantly (apps include integrations with Quickbooks, Zoho and Zendesk to name just a few).
  • advanced reporting features
  • as we've discussed, a much wider range of payment gateway options.
 Shopify's Point of Sale kit, for selling your wares in a 'real' shop

Shopify's Point of Sale kit, for selling your wares in a 'real' shop

Interface / ease of use

Shopify and Squarespace's interfaces aren't a million miles apart in terms of layout; both present you with a menu on the left hand side of the screen which you can use to navigate to different parts of the CMS (settings, site design, analytics and so on); the right hand side of the screen can be used to edit content, view data, add products and so on.

On the whole I would say that Squarespace's interface is the more elegant of the two, and is arguably a bit easier to use than Shopify. Its drag and drop approach to setting up site navigation and its easy-to-use 'layout engine' (which allows you to drag and drop content into pages in a very user-friendly way) means that it is very straightforward to use.

Whilst by no means difficult to use, Shopify’s user interface is arguably not quite as slick, and setting up pages and products can take slightly longer than in Squarespace.

One aspect of the Shopify interface which definitely trumps Squarespace's though is 'responsiveness'. Squarespace can occasionally a bit sluggish, and occasionally a little bit buggy (the layout engine — whilst great in many respects — can behave in an odd way when you try to drag certain bits of content into position, and it seems to work better in some browsers than others).

I've also found Squarespace to crash more often than I'd like, particularly when uploading or editing images; and I've lost a few blog posts in Squarespace when the platform hung up on me mid-posting.

Finally you really have to be using quite a decent machine to get the most out of Squarespace; older or slower computers will cause it — and you! — headaches. In the stability and smoothness stakes, Shopify is in my view the winner. In essence, its less flashy CMS also seems the more 'solid' and reliable.

Templates and visuals

As discussed above, Squarespace templates are gorgeous.

Although this is a subjective area, I feel they are a bit more contemporary or varied in nature than the free templates from Shopify.

There are also more templates to choose from in Squarespace: you can choose from around 70 bundled templates to Shopify's 10.

That said, there's a very wide range of Shopify paid-for templates available — more on these in a moment — and the 10 templates that are provided with Shopify contain a few variants for each theme, meaning there are actually more free options than the number ten suggests.

Squarespace template (click to enlarge)

There's definitely a 'wow' factor with certain Squarespace templates that sets them apart from similar website building and e-commerce platforms. However, a lot of templates — and this is in keeping with the issues discussed above regarding content presentation vs selling online — are geared towards users who want to blog or showcase an art, photography or music portfolio.

Of the 70 or so Squarespace templates available, just 12 are dedicated online store ones (that's not to say, however, that you can't sell products using the others — you might just have to play around with the design a bit more first).

Depending on your chosen Squarespace template, you'll find lots of nice visual effects in play, such as parallax scrolling and text that gracefully fades in and fades out as users scroll through a site.

Squarespace templates can be further enhanced, thanks to an integration with Getty images. This provides you with an easy and affordable way to add stock images to your website — images cost $10 each, plus VAT where applicable. This can work out considerably cheaper than buying pictures direct from Getty Images or iStock, and uploading them to your Squarespace site.

And if all that wasn't enough, Squarespace recently upped the ante in the template stakes by introducing video backgrounds — you can now use a Youtube or Vimeo video as a background for your template, with stunning results. You just enter a Youtube URL into your page settings and Squarespace will use it as the background (and to boot will give you quite a few styling options and filters to apply to it).

However, Shopify is by no means a slouch in the template / visuals department. The Shopify free templates are aesthetically pleasing and arguably better than a lot of the ‘out-of-the-box’ templates provided by competing products such as Volusion or Bigcommerce.

Additionally, if the 10 free Shopify templates don't meet your requirements, there is a Shopify template store that you can buy a snazzier template from. There are 55 paid themes to choose from, most of which contain several variations, which means there is arguably a wider range of templates available from Shopify than Squarespace — so long as you are prepared to pay for them (prices vary but typically involve a one-off payment of between $140 and $180).

The paid-for Shopify templates are similar in quality to the Squarespace ones, offering a wide range of layouts which include contemporary design features such as video backgrounds and parallax scrolling. Additionally, the Shopify theme store is really easy to use — you can browse all the available templates really easily thanks to a range of controls which let you filter by layout style, industry type, size of store and so on. 

All the Shopify and Squarespace templates are responsive, meaning that your templates automatically resize themselves to suit the device they are being viewed on — mobile, tablet or desktop computer. 

For me the bottom line with templates is that both Shopify and Squarespace provide a wide range of attractive options, with Squarespace is being the more obvious choice for content-driven websites, and Shopify, as you might expect, being the more obvious choice for those wishing to create an online store.

Importing and exporting products

Importing

Both Squarespace and Shopify give you the option to import products.

With Shopify, you can import products using a CSV file only.

Squarespace by contrast allows you to import products from:

  • a CSV file
  • Big Cartel
  • Etsy
  • Shopify

The fact that you can import from more third-party stores into Squarespace means that it has a bit of an edge in this department.

Exporting

When it comes to getting your product data out of both platforms, Shopify is the more flexible tool.

This is because Shopify lets you export all your products, irrespective of type (to a CSV file); Squarespace only facilitates exports of physical and service products. (Up until recently however Squarespace didn't let you export any products at all - so this is definitely progress).

SEO (Search engine optimisation) in Squarespace and Shopify

Another area which I feel is handled considerably better by Shopify than Squarespace is search engine optimisation (SEO).

Firstly, for all products and pages, Shopify generates a page title and meta description automatically, which a lot of the time — particularly where products are concerned - often provides a very good SEO starting point.

Secondly, Shopify refers to the core SEO elements by their proper names; this is not the case with Squarespace. In Shopify, you're dealing with titles, meta descriptions, alt text — all the standard terminology you'd expect. By contrast in Squarespace you encounter things like 'captions', 'descriptions' and 'excerpts' — all of which can be used for SEO purposes but can also, if you're not careful, or using certain templates, end up visible on your template.  

Ultimately, it's just easier in Shopify to spot the key fields that you need to complete in order to add meta data: this is because they are labeled as they should be: i.e., page title and meta description.

It's definitely possible to optimise a Squarespace site well for search — see our Squarespace SEO tips for some important advice on how to make a Squarespace site rank in search results — but to be honest, its SEO options could be much better implemented; and there should not be a crossover between meta descriptions and page content unless the user specifically wants that crossover to exist. 

Finally, Shopify handles URL redirection better than Squarespace. If you change a page's URL, Shopify will prompt you to create a 301 redirect to that page (if you tick a checkbox, this is done automatically for you). A 301 redirect lets search engines know that the page has moved, and preserves any 'link juice' associated with it.

In Squarespace, if you change a page URL, you will have to manually create the 301 redirect (the process for which is fiddly; and creating 301 redirects is quite easy to forget to do).

One area where both products could improve a bit involves URL creation. Neither allows you to create truly 'clean' URLs — something that Google prefers - because they stick content identifiers into some URLs which can't be removed (for example, /blog/, /products/ and so on). Squarespace is a little bit more flexible on this - static pages don't include these.

On the whole though, Shopify's approach to SEO is much better than Squarespace's.

(Note: for a rundown of how to optimise a Shopify or Squarespace site for search engines, you might want to check out our Shopify SEO and Squarespace SEO guides).

Point of sale (POS) in Shopify and Squarespace

A key feature offered by Shopify which is not currently provided by Squarespace is 'point of sale' (POS) kit. This works with both iOS and Android mobile devices and allows you to sell easily not just online but in actual physical locations too.

The point of sale kit comprises a barcode scanner, card reader, cash drawer and receipt printer - you can buy any of these items individually or as a package (or alternatively use compatible third party hardware). And, if you live in the US, you can avail of a card reader for free.

There are a wide range of applications for Shopify's POS system: it allows you to sell in a pop-up shop, from a market stall, at an event or even in a permanently located retail outlet, whilst keeping your inventory and stock count automatically synced.

To be fair, you could theoretically use your Squarespace store to sell in physical locations too, but you could not use chip and pin or print paper receipts for clients; you would have to ask them to enter their card details into a laptop or tablet, and they'd receive an email receipt.

Dropshipping in Squarespace and Shopify

Many people who dip their toes into the waters of online retailing do so because they want to start dropshipping products.

Dropshipping is a method of online retailing where you don't keep what you're selling in stock — rather, you take the order, send it to a supplier, and they send the goods to the client. Your online store, in effect, becomes a front end / middle man for another business.

The plus side of this business model is that it doesn't involve much investment to start your business; the down side is that margins tend to be quite low due to high levels of competition.

If you're interested in starting a dropshipping business then Shopify is a much better bet than Squarespace. With Shopify there are a wide range of dropshipping apps available to help you source and sell inventory — a popular choice being Oberlo — but there's no easy equivalent way of dropshipping in Squarespace.

One option for dropshipping in Squarespace could actually involve Shopify - you could use a Shopify Lite plan and a dropshipping app to add a 'buy button' onto your Squarespace site. Alternatively, using Shipstation in conjunction with Squarespace could present a workaround. It's all a bit fiddly though, and more hassle to set up than in Shopify.

For more information on this topic, you may find Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping useful.

Mobile apps

Shopify and Squarespace both provide users with mobile apps for managing their sites or stores on the go. There are five Squarespace apps available:

  • Blog
  • Analytics
  • Portfolio
  • Commerce
  • Note

These are available for both iOS and Android.

Of the above, most users are realistically going to appreciate 'Blog' and 'Commerce' apps the most, as these allow you to publish blog content and manage e-commerce orders on the go.

'Analytics' is pretty useful too and does what you might expect it to: look at your site stats on a smartphone. 

 
 Squarespace's 'Blog' app

Squarespace's 'Blog' app

 

'Portfolio' allows you to download the content of your Squarespace galleries to your phone so that you can show people your images on your phone when you don't have internet access. (I'm not 100% sure I quite see the point of this, unless you intend to show your portfolio to a lot of folk on airplanes). 

'Note' is a note-taking app which allows you to publish content to a variety of different tools including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive. It's got a slightly odd interface but it's actually quite a useful app in its own right, and you don't actually need a Squarespace account to use it. Perhaps Squarespace see it as a gateway drug of some sort!

Shopify provides quite a few apps two, but there are 2 main ones which will be of relevance to the majority of users — first there's the main Shopify app, which allows you to edit certain aspects of your Shopify site, view basic stats and check in on orders.

There's also a Shopify dedicated to its POS (point of sale) functionality — this allows you to take orders and accept payment for goods in a physical location.

The above two apps are all you need really to run a Shopify store on your mobile, but if you want more, you can pick up some other Shopify apps — these include a business card maker, a logo maker and a magazine for entrepreneurs. 

There's also an iOS-only app called 'Ping', which makes it easier to manage queries and share your product details with customers when chatting with them over Facebook Messenger. More chat services will be supported soon apparently.

So what to make of this plethora of apps? It's fair to say that despite the fact that both Squarespace and Shopify seem to offer a multitude of apps, they are actually taking quite a different approach to mobile app provision, particularly where iOS is concerned.

With Squarespace, you will need to download several apps to manage your site on a smartphone; with Shopify, you should generally be able to make do with just one.

I suspect Shopify's approach will be more convenient for most users, but that said, the Squarespace apps are designed more with specific actions in mind (publishing a blog post, viewing stats etc.), meaning that they are might be better suited to individual tasks at hand.

VAT and selling digital goods in the EU

If you're selling digital goods to consumers in the EU, there's something you need to watch out for when making a decision between Squarespace and Shopify: VAT MOSS ('VAT Mini One Stop Shop').

Basically, when your business sells a digital product to consumers in EU member states, value added tax (VAT) must be charged at the rate due in the consumer’s country. With Squarespace, these different rates all have to be entered in manually as individual 'tax rules'; Shopify will however calculate these automatically for you, potentially saving you a lot of time.

(An alternative workaround for VAT MOSS in Squarespace is to charge the same fee for products regardless of the countries involved, and retrospectively calculate and pay the relevant amount of VAT for each country to the tax authorities. Check with your bookkeeper or local tax authority first though to see if this is kosher...).

SSL access

SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between web servers and browser, and using it ensures that all data passed between a web server and browser remains private. (You can spot a site using SSL when you see a URL beginning with "https://" rather than "http://").

There's also another benefit to having SSL installed on your site: Google treats it as a 'positive signal' when ranking your site in search.

Up until relatively recently, it was another win for Shopify here, because Squarespace only used SSL on its e-commerce pages and didn't allow you to install custom SSL certificates to cover other parts of your site.

The good news now is that like Shopify, Squarespace now provides a free SSL certificate which you can use with any domain. 

Domains

Once nice feature of Squarespace is that when you purchase one of their plans (and pay annually) you get a free custom domain with it; although you can use Shopify to register a custom domain too, there is a cost associated with this (domain names start at $13 per year).

You can also buy domain names separately through Squarespace too, if you like.

The advantage of sourcing a domain from either Squarespace or Shopify is that (assuming you intend to use these services to host your site), you won't have to worry too much about the technical side of configuring DNS settings — connecting your domain to your Squarespace / Shopify site will be a pretty straightforward affair, with the settings pre-configured for you.

In terms of what domains are available to buy direct from either Squarespace or Shopify, you'll find that they don't offer as many TLD (top level domain) options as you'd find with a dedicated domain name provider (for example, you might not find that your country's TLD domain is catered for).

Of course, there's absolutely nothing to stop you buying a domain using a third-party provider and tweaking the DNS settings (which is not a terribly complicated job anyway) to map the domain to your Squarespace or Shopify website.

Product images

One thing that I feel is handled considerably better by Squarespace than Shopify is product images.

With Shopify, unless all your images have the same aspect ratio, they will be laid out in a pretty incoherent manner: visitors to your site will see a mish-mash of differently sized image photos in the product catalogues.

There are two ways to get around this: first, you can manually edit all your images in Photoshop or other image editing program so that they are all in the same aspect ratio...but this is a bit of a pain.

Alternatively, you can make use of a third party Shopify app such as Pixc to resize images on your store automatically after you upload them (Pixc handles 150 images for free and charges a monthly fee of $0.05 if you go over this).

Neither workaround is ideal if I'm honest, and it would be better if Shopify just allowed you to set a standard product image ratio out of the box.

Squarespace provides a better approach: you pick an aspect ratio for your product images and the system will automatically crop all your pictures to that ratio. If you like, you can specify a 'focal point' for individual product images in Squarespace — this part of the photo will be emphasised within the cropped image.

In an era of responsive websites, this focal point feature is important because it helps ensure that the main part of your image is foregrounded whenever your image is automatically cropped for viewing on smaller screens.

 Editing an image's focal point in Squarespace.

Editing an image's focal point in Squarespace.

Reporting

If you're looking for a platform with professional reporting functionality, then Shopify is a better option than Squarespace. Although the Squarespace reporting offering has improved quite a bit recently, the stats provided are of a more basic nature than those found in Shopify.

In Squarespace, you can expect to see a simple but effective overview of site visitors, traffic sources and sales — but Shopify's analytics offering is much more extensive, giving you a set of detailed stats which include:

  • finance reports
  • sales reports
  • customers reports
  • acquisition reports
  • behavior reports

And what's more, you can use Shopify to create your own custom reports too.

Reporting in Shopify is significantly more comprehensive than in Squarespace (click to enlarge)

There is a negative aspect of Shopify's reporting offering which is worth pointing out however: it's only available on their more expensive plans. The pre-defined reports are available on the $79 'Shopify' plan and up; and to avail of custom reporting you'll need to purchase an 'Advanced Shopify' or 'Shopify Plus' plan.

If you don't opt for one of these plans, you'll just get access to a basic 'dashboard' report which provides similar data to that which you'll find in Squarespace. 

You could of course use Google Analytics to get around this, but you'd need to do more manual configuration and 'goal-setting' to get at the sales data you need.

Similarly, Squarespace charges a premium for more advanced reporting features - if you want enhanced commerce analytics, you'll need to be on one of the more expensive 'online store' plans.

Blogging in Squarespace and Shopify

Blogging is an often-overlooked, but extremely important aspect of running an online store. This is because blogging is absolutely vital to inbound marketing — where you use quality content (blog posts) to drive traffic, and by extension sales. 

The good news is that both Squarespace and Shopify provide blogging functionality - this is not true of all e-commerce platforms, notably Volusion. 

In terms of which is better, I'd say Squarespace's blogging functionality has a slight edge over Shopify's. This is chiefly because you can do more with the blog content — you can drop it easily into any page or sidebar of your site using attractive and flexible 'summary blocks'.

You can also add both categories and tags to posts in Squarespace; Shopify just permits tags.

Third party integrations

A very big difference between Shopify and Squarespace is that Shopify has an app store that you can use to purchase integrations with other apps; the latter doesn't.

Shopify's app store contains thousands of integrations with other platforms; additionally, it contains apps which have been developed to add specific pieces of functionality to Shopify stores (for example SEO enhancements; dropshipping functionality; multiple currency support - and much else besides).

That's not to say that you can't integrate other apps with Squarespace - you can. There are a few 'official integrations' available out of the box with Squarespace (available on the 'Business' plan and up) - these include Xero, Dropbox, OpenTable, Soundcloud, Twitter and quite a few others.

For anything else, you can either embed code from other apps into your Squarespace site using a code block, or use Zapier to connect Squarespace's forms to other apps. You may have to be prepared to put a bit of legwork into the setup time however.

AMP in Shopify and Squarespace

Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) is a new, Google-backed, format for content which makes it load really fast on mobile devices. It does this by stripping out certain bits of code from your site and delivering a slimmed down version of your content to smartphone users.

AMP pages create a better user experience than normal responsive pages; because they load more or less instantaneously, people viewing AMP pages are far more likely to stay on your site (and by extension buy stuff). Google also occasionally prioritises AMP pages in search, by featuring them in carousels above standard search results.

In Squarespace, you can enable Accelerated Mobile Pages ('AMP') format really easily - it's simply a case of ticking a checkbox in your site's setting - but at time of writing it is only available for blog posts, not products. 

To use AMP on Shopify sites, you'll need to do a bit more work - you'll need to install a third-party, paid-for app like RocketAmp or FireAMP.

However the Shopify apps allows you to display ALL your site content (including, crucially, product pages) in AMP format. So providing you're prepared to put in a little bit of effort (and cash) with Shopify, you'll end up with a better AMP version of your site.


Using Shopify and Squarespace with G Suite

Squarespace has recently been making quite a lot of noise about the fact that it partners with Google to offer Squarespace users a G Suite (formerly Google Apps) integration.

You can sign up for G Suite when you purchase your Squarespace plan - and if you're on a 'Business', 'Basic' or 'Advanced' plan, you'll get a year's free G Suite plan (for one user).

When you sign up for G Suite through Squarespace, you can manage certain G Suite admin tasks without leaving your Squarespace site:

  • add users/email addresses
  • rename users
  • delete users
  • configure G Suite MX records (this 
  • review G Suite invoices

This functionality is fairly limited, and easily accessible through the G Suite admin panel, so the integration isn't that mind blowing. More appealing is the year's free account. 

Squarespace does integrate nicely with G Suite in one particular respect: you can connect data capture forms to a Google Sheet, meaning that you get a handy real-time overview (or indeed archive) of any form submissions made via your website. This will work with any G Suite account, regardless of whether you purchase it via Squarespace or independently. 

In terms of using Shopify in conjunction with G Suite, there's nothing to stop you doing that - you will need to edit your DNS settings manually to get the email accounts to work, but that's a fairly simple, 5 minute task.


Editing HTML and CSS in Shopify and Squarespace

With Shopify you get very extensive control over the coding of your site - you get full control over the HTML and CSS of your website (on all plans except the 'Lite' one).

With Squarespace, you can edit the CSS and certain bits of HTML (you can insert code blocks onto pages, or inject HTML into the header of your site) but you should be aware that the Squarespace support team essentially reserve the right not to support you fully if you've added HTML or CSS to your site.

The other thing worth remembering of course is that you can only add CSS to your site and inject code into your page headers if you're on a Squarespace 'Business' plan or higher — the 'Personal' plan disables this functionality.

As discussed earlier, there is a developer version of Squarespace available which does provide users with extensive control over every aspect of the design of their site - but you will need strong coding skills to be able to work with it. As the name suggests, you will ideally need to be a developer. Again, developer mode is only available on 'Business' plans or higher.

(For the record, what I'd *love* to see one day is a halfway house between the standard version of Squarespace and the developer's platform — maybe a product called 'Squarespace Pro' which, like the original versions of Squarespace, allowed you to tweak every element of your website and edit the CSS of your site easily).


Support

Shopify definitely has the edge over Squarespace in the support department.

Shopify provides you with live chat, email and (crucially) phone support — Squarespace offers only live chat and email support. If I was paying $46 a month for a Squarespace account, I'd expect phone support. 

It's a bit unclear however what countries you can avail of Shopify phone support from; phone numbers are only listed for North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

A note of caution is worth sounding regarding the support offered with both Shopify and Squarespace — the quality of support you'll get often depends on what you're doing with your template. 

For example, if you're using one of the standard free Shopify templates, you can expect fairly comprehensive support if it's not behaving as it should. But if you opt for a third-party, paid-for template, you may have to deal with the designers of that template if you run into trouble. And how good that support is will depend on the designers in question.

Similarly, Squarespace's support team are pretty good at assisting with template related queries...unless you customise it by adding your own CSS or HTML to it, in which case the Squarespace support team effectively reserve the right not to support you. 

I've had more experience of Squarespace support than Shopify, and it's varied from being brilliant (when dealing with technical issues) to appalling (when dealing with GDPR-related enquiries).

One thing that is likely to annoy both Squarespace and Shopify users is that before you get to see any contact details for their support teams, you need to search for an answer to your problem first on the Shopify and Squarespace help sites.

I can see the rationale for this, but I think that many (most?) users will have already searched for a solution to their problem before getting to the point where they want to contact a support team - and this approach feels like its making customers jump through unnecessary hoops.


Shopify and Squarespace GDPR compliance

I am not a lawyer, so please note that the below observations should not be interpreted as legal advice, but I'm going to do my best to spell out some of the key GDPR issues facing Squarespace and Shopify site owners in this section.

As you will have probably spotted as a result of receiving a load of emails recently from companies asking you to resubscribe to their mailing lists, business and website owners now have a lot of additional legal responsibilities as a result of the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules introduced by the EU in May earlier this year. 

There are many legal steps that the GDPR requires business owners to take to ensure compliance, and fairly serious penalties for not doing so (to the point where it's a good idea to consult a lawyer about what to do), but the key ones for prospective Shopify and Squarespace users are probably as follows:

  • Display adequate privacy and cookie notices on your website
  • Process and store data securely
  • Get explicit 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 (and to log that consent).

Now, meeting the first three requirements with either Squarespace or Shopify is fairly straightforward (although you will have a bit of legwork to do in terms of creating GDPR compliant privacy policies and data capture forms).

Meeting the fourth requirement however is harder, and in my view Squarespace and Shopify should be doing more to assist their customers to meet this GDPR obligation.

Basically, whenever you use non-essential third party cookies on a website — for example a Facebook Ads pixel or a Google Analytics tag — you are legally obliged to give EU visitors to your website the option to switch these off BEFORE they continue to browse your site (even if your site is based outside of the EU). 

You are also obliged to log EU users' consent to any non-essential cookies being used, and give them the option to revoke that consent at a later stage. Cookie banners are usually used to facilitate this, but the old 'By using this site you are consenting to cookie usage...' statement on a banner is not good enough any more — you need something far more sophisticated.

Sadly, out of the box there is no way to facilitate this kind of GDPR cookie consent for third party scripts on either Shopify or Squarespace, meaning that many (if not the vast majority of) Squarespace and Shopify users end up breaking the law as soon as they add a third-party cookie  to their website. 

To get around this problem, you will need to either:

  • code something yourself
  • make use of a third party solution.

Most Shopify and Squarespace users are likely to plump for the second option; and in my research into this area so far, it seems that Shopify is the more flexible platform when it comes to integrating third party cookie banners into proceedings. 

For a start, there are quite a lot of apps in Shopify's app store which provide GDPR compliant banners and cookie consent functionality (note that some seem considerably better than others — if in doubt about how robust a particular Shopify GPDR app is, consult a lawyer!). Alternatively, products like Cookie Pro or Cookiebot can be used to capture cookie consent for Shopify sites.

As for Squarespace, because it doesn't provide an app store, there are no dedicated apps to solve this problem; and Cookiebot, one of the leading cookie banner products available, does not yet work fully with it.

I've been talking to the team at Cookie Pro however, who do say that their product works with Squarespace; so I'm going to have a good investigation of Cookie Pro shortly (chiefly with a view to making my own Squarespace sites and those of my clients more compliant with GDPR!) and will hopefully have a write-up to share in the not too distant future.

Bottom line on GDPR: you can make a Shopify or Squarespace site GDPR compliant, but it will involve some work (and ongoing fees, if you're using a third party cookie banner solution), with Shopify providing you with more options on solving this problem. 


Which is better, Shopify or Squarespace?

Well, the answer to this question is a big fat ‘it depends’.

If your primary aim to build an attractive website to showcase content, then Squarespace is definitely your best bet. I'd argue that this is particularly the case if you're working with images — Squarespace is particularly good for creating online photography portfolios with — or are a musician / band.

If you are hoping to build a content-focused website or a blog and sell a couple of products on the site as well, then Squarespace is probably still your best bet, so long as you are happy with the fairly limited payment processing options — and you don't need to charge EU VAT on digital goods (or are prepared to put a bit of time into setting up a lot of tax rates manually).

However, if your aim is to create a large online store with advanced functionality, professional reporting and a big inventory of products, then Shopify is unquestionably the more robust solution — its feature set and payment gateway options are significantly more extensive, and it allows you to export your product data, something Squarespace does not currently permit. And with its VAT MOSS functionality, it's definitely better for selling digital goods.

Interestingly, if you prefer the general vibe of Squarespace, or have an existing Squarespace site that you're really happy with, but would you'd like to add e-commerce functionality to, you could also consider using Squarespace AND Shopify in conjunction with each other: you could use the 'Shopify Lite' Plan to integrate the Shopify Buy Button, cart and checkout onto a Squarespace site. I've seen quite a few users do this successfully (another option for beefing up the e-commerce functionality on a Squarespace site is Ecwid).

In summary, here are the reasons why you might pick one of these platforms over the other:

Reasons to use Shopify over Squarespace

  • With Shopify, you can export all types of products; in Squarespace you can only export digital ones.
  • Abandoned cart saver functionality is available at a considerably lower price point with Shopify.
  • You can run a dropshipping business more easily with Shopify.
  • There is a huge library of third party apps that work with Shopify and extend its functionality significantly — although some integrations are available for Squarespace, you won't find a similar catalogue of apps to beef up your site / store.
  • Shopify provides you with significantly more choices when it comes to payment gateways.
  • If you intend to sell products in-store or at events, you will find Shopify's Point of Sale options extremely useful; Squarespace doesn't yet offer this kind of functionality.
  • Shopify permits more advanced control over the HTML and CSS of your website (note: Squarespace does provide advanced control too, but only if you're using the developer version).
  • Reporting is better in Shopify than in Squarespace, although you'll need to be on a more expensive plan to access this functionality.
  • Thanks to the fact that EU VAT is automatically calculated for you on digital goods, Shopify makes selling products to EU customers a lot more straightforward.
  • Shopify provides more comprehensive support than Squarespace, including phone support.
  • Shopify's 'Lite' plan allows you to start selling online and at point-of-sale very cheaply (but note that it won't provide you with a fully-fledged online store).
  • Shopify's navigation builder allows you to use more levels of navigation than Squarespace (for desktop versions of your store).
  • Shopify has a much better approach to SEO.
  • It's easier to meet GDPR requirements with Shopify than it is with Squarespace, mainly because more third-party apps which provide cookie consent functionality are available for Shopify.
  • You can — albeit with the use of a third-party app — create AMP versions of product pages in Shopify.
  • There are more template variations available in Shopify (but you will have to pay a premium to use many of them).
  • Only one smartphone app is required to manage key aspects of your site on the go - with Squarespace you'll need at least three.

A free trial of Shopify is available here.

Reasons to use Squarespace over Shopify

  • The quality of bundled templates is arguably a little bit higher in Squarespace than in Shopify — they have more 'wow' factor (note that the paid-for Shopify templates are of a similar quality, however). There are also more templates to choose from.
  • If your main aim is to showcase content, particularly images, then Squarespace is the more elegant, flexible solution.
  • You can buy Getty images very cheaply with Squarespace and integrate them easily onto your site. 
  • Squarespace is arguably slightly easier to use than Shopify.
  • Squarespace allows you to host a fully functional online store a bit more cheaply than Shopify.
  • Product images are handled considerably better by Squarespace.
  • Blogging features in Squarespace are a bit better than the Shopify equivalents.
  • Depending on whether or not you have an existing G Suite account, you may be able to avail of a free G Suite plan for a year by purchasing it through Squarespace.

A free trial of Squarespace is available here.

Hopefully this comparison review has helped somewhat, but if you are still agonising over your decision it is definitely worth availing of a free trial of both products, having a play, and seeing which one you prefer:

And finally, a reminder that we can help you build both Shopify and Squarespace websites! Please do contact us for more information on how you can get a Shopify or Squrespace website off the ground quickly and professionally with Squarespace.


More Shopify and Squarespace resources

You might also find the below articles / resources on Shopify and Squarespace useful:


Alternatives to Shopify and Squarespace

If you’d like to try another solution before committing to either Squarespace or Shopify, Bigcommerce is definitely worth a look because it is feature-rich and very easy to use (it's particularly good when it comes to providing merchants with the option to add a wide variety of product variants).

You may also find some of our other e-commerce platform reviews helpful – just see the 'related articles' section below for a list of recent posts.


Any thoughts or questions?

If you've used either Shopify and Squarespace (or both!), it'd be great to hear your thoughts on both products — feel free to post your comments or questions on either platform below. Also, if you've found this post useful, it'd be wonderful if you could consider sharing it on social media or creating a link to it on your blog / website. Thanks for reading!


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