Bigcommerce Review 2017 - Key Pros and Cons of a Leading Online Store Builder
In this Bigcommerce review we take a look at one of the most popular e-commerce solutions currently available. Like Shopify and Volusion, it regularly features in ‘top five’ lists of online store builders.
In this post I'll walk you through some key Bigcommerce features. You'll learn all about the Bigcommerce pros and cons, and by the end of the article should hopefully have a better idea of whether Bigcommerce is the right e-commerce solution for you and your business.
Our overall rating: 4/5
What is Bigcommerce?
Bigcommerce is a paid-for 'hosted' e-commerce solution that allows business owners to set up an online store and sell their products online. It comes with a range of customisable templates to help you design your store; you can use it to sell either physical or digital goods; and there are also some tools provided to help you market your store.
The product is aimed primarily at people without much in the way of web design skills, but it also allows more tech-savvy users to tweak the HTML and CSS of their sites too.
As with all hosted store products (Shopify, Volusion, Squarespace etc.), if Bigcommerce were to shut down or change its feature set radically, you might find yourself in a position where you needed to migrate your store to another platform (Magento Go users can tell you all about that!).
But unless you are in a position to develop your own online store (an expensive and laborious undertaking) you are in all likelihood going to end up using a hosted tool like Bigcommerce anyway to run your store, and the good news is that it's one of the more established products of its kind out there, with a client roster that includes Toyota, Gibson Guitars and Travelpro.
Bigcommerce pricing and plans
Bigcommerce follows a software as a service (SaaS) model - meaning you pay a monthly fee to use it. There are four monthly pricing plans, which are as follows:
- Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month
- Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month
- Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month*
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business requirements
A 10% discount is available if you pay annually for your Bigcommerce plan.
The 'standard', 'plus' and 'pro' plans are aimed at individuals and small businesses; the Enterprise plan is geared more towards large businesses and corporates (users with very high bandwidth / advanced functionality requirements).
* This fee increases depending on what your annual sales figures are like - these sales limits are discussed in more depth below.
Bigcommerce's cheapest offering, the 'standard' plan, costs $29.95 per month and as such is a significantly more expensive than the equivalent starter plans offered by competitors Shopify and Volusion ($9 and $15 respectively) - but that said it is a much more comprehensive starter plan than either of those plans, providing
- a fully functional online store
- the ability to sell an unlimited number of products
- unlimited bandwidth
- unlimited file storage
- gift cards
- ratings and reviews functionality
- professional reporting
In short, you get an awful lot of e-commerce bang for your buck - this is arguably Bigcommerce's USP - its key competitors usually require you to be on a more expensive plan or make use of apps to get a similar feature set out of the box.
By comparison, the Shopify 'Lite' plan doesn't actually let you build a fully functional website - it is geared towards users who want to either set up a store on Facebook or use the Shopify backend in conjunction with a simple 'buy now' button or point-of-sale applications.
Volusion’s 'Mini' starter plan comes with monthly limits on data transfer (1GB) and limits you to selling 100 products.
A fairer comparison would be to stack the Bigcommerce 'standard' plan up against Volusion's 'plus' plan or Shopify’s ‘basic’ plan - see our Bigcommerce vs Shopify comparison for more details on the latter.
There is an annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Standard of $50,000.
As you move up the pricing structure ladder, you encounter 'Bigcommerce Plus'. This plan provides more functionality than the standard plan, including, crucially, their abandoned cart saver tool (more on that later).
Other key differences between this plan and 'Bigcommerce Standard' include pricing rules for customer groups (this allows you to provide discounts to specific customers) and advanced pricing rules.
The annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Plus is $150,000.
The next plan up in the mix is 'Bigcommerce Pro'. With this plan, you don't get a huge amount of extra functionality over Bigcommerce Plus - but you do get increased sales limits. This permits up to $400,000 in online sales, with an additional fee of $150 per month per $200k in sales, up to a maximum of $1m.
The extra features that come with this plan inlcude listings on Google Trusted Stores, faceted search (advanced product filtering) and custom SSL via a third party.
Finally, there's Bigcommerce's "Enterprise" plan to consider. This is really geared towards businesses that have very high volumes of sales (over $1,000,000), and advanced requirements. Its advanced features - that are not available on the cheaper plans - include:
- advanced product filtering (this lets your visitors search your store using your own custom fields)
- uptime service level agreement (SLA)
- staging environment
- unlimited API calls
- Bigcommerce consulting
- priority support.
If you're interested in the Enterprise plan you will need to discuss your requirements with Bigcommerce to establish pricing - the costs will reflect your business needs. You can generally expect a lot more support from Bigcommerce if you purchase an Enterprise plan - data migration, setup, account management and much more in-depth support can all be facilitated.
The annuals sales limit with Bigcommerce Enterprise is negotiable.
Core selling features
As discussed above the exact features you get with Bigcommerce depend on the plan you opt for, but important features include:
a choice of 7 free templates
the ability to sell a wide range of either physical or digital goods, in categories of your choosing and using shipping rates of your choosing
integration with Paypal and a wide range of payment gateways
full content management (CMS) functionality
good search engine optimisation (SEO) options – it’s very easy to add appropriate keywords to your products and site pages
integration with several e-mail marketing services: Constant Contact, iContact, Mailchimp and Interspire
automated reminder emails to people who abandoned their carts at checkout
discount coupons and gift vouchers as standard
product review functionality - this is particularly welcome: not all e-commerce platforms offer this as standard, and usually require you to fiddle about with third-party apps or services to enable it.
the ability to tweak CSS and HTML as desired
Not all of the above features are available on the Bigcommerce entry-level plan, but most of them are, meaning - and as touched on above - that Bigcommerce arguably offers considerably more bang for the buck than some competing products at the $29 monthly plan price point.
With some alternative e-commerce platforms, you'll find yourself having to be on a pretty expensive plan to access some of the above features, or paying for apps to provide the additional functionality you need.
As such, I'd say that the main strength of Bigcommerce is that it provides good value for money and serves as a good 'all-rounder' e-commerce platform out of the box.
To put this in context, Bigcommerce's $29.95 starter plan compares pretty favourably to Shopify's equivalent in that it offers 4 key features at this level that Shopify doesn't, namely professional reporting, gift cards, a built in ratings and review system and real-time carrier shipping quotes.
Transaction fees and sales limits
A question which many potential Bigcommerce users asks is "how much of a cut of my sales are they going to take?" Well, the good news is that there are no transaction fees on any Bigcommerce plan.
You will, of course, pay credit card transaction fees and these will depend on the payment gateway you use (see below), but unlike some if its competitors (notably Shopify) you don't have to worry about Bigcommerce taking a cut of your sales.
The bad news, and as mentioned above, is that Bigcommerce places a limits on your annual online sales. These limits are as follows:
- Bigcommerce Standard: $50,000
- Bigcommerce Plus: $150,000
- Bigcommerce Pro: $400,000
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: negotiable
(If you're on the Bigcommerce Pro plan, you can increase the sales limit by paying $150 per month for every additional $200k in sales, up to $1m).
I contacted Bigcommerce to see what happens if you breach these limits and the response was:
"There is an additional 1,000-2,000 order limit per plan that users be able to go over before being forced to upgrade. During this time users will receive notifications about upgrading their plan as they are over the limit. But we will not prevent additional orders from coming through until they exceed the additional 1,000-2,000 overage order provided."
I expect the limits issue won't be a showstopper for most merchants - if your store is bringing in $400,000 a year you probably won't be quibbling too much about having to pay an extra $150 per month for breaching the limit...but they are a bit of an annoyance. I have yet to come across these sorts of limits on competing products like Shopify or Volusion, so it's a bit of a 'could do better' here for Bigcommerce.
With all the plans referred to above it is worth pointing out that additional charges apply for use of a ‘payment gateway’ (software provided by a third party to process credit cards) – depending on what you plump for you are looking at a percentage of a transaction fee, or a monthly fee (or both). These fees are not applied by Bigcommerce but by the payment gateway provider you use.
Integrating a payment gateway with a hosted e-commerce solution like Bigcommerce can occasionally be bit of a lengthy process, which involves setting up 'merchant accounts' with your chosen gateway provider and configuring them so that they work with your store.
If you want to avoid doing this, you can use Paypal powered by Braintree as the payment gateway. Doing so makes for a very easy payment gateway setup and gives you preferential Paypal rates for credit card transactions (which decrease as you go up Bigcommerce's pricing ladder):
- Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c
- Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c
- Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c
It's worth looking at the various fees involved with other payment gateway providers though: depending on what you sell and how much of it, using a different payment gateway to Paypal powered by Braintree may still be the best route for you to go down, even if it involves a bit more setup time.
In terms of the number of payment gateways that you can integrate with Bigcommerce, there are around available (note however that whether or not you can work with a particular payment gateway will depend on the country you are selling from).
This compares pretty favourably with competing products - it's much better than Squarespace (which only offers integration with 2 payment gateways, Stripe and Paypal) but not as good as Shopify (which works with 70+).
Bigcommerce offers a good selection of responsive templates that you can use for the design of your online store.
There are 7 free themes and around 90 paid themes (ranging in price from $145 to $235) - and each theme contains a number of different variants, so there quite is a lot to choose from.
The free themes on offer are contemporary, professional in appearance and provide a good starting point for building an online store. However, a few of them are very similar to each other. This is a particular issue with the free themes: although there are technically 7 available, if you ask me it's more a case of there being 2 themes with different colours. This means that in the theme department, Bigcommerce doesn't provide quite so much bang for buck as other solutions, like Shopify or Squarespace.
To extend your options in the theme department, you can consider purchasing a paid theme. These are fairly reasonably priced, starting out at $145 and going up to $235 in price.
Bigcommerce’s abandoned cart saver feature
One feature worth drawing particular attention to is Bigcommerce’s abandoned cart feature – it’s one of the best out there. The tool allows you to create up to three automated emails to site visitors who go part of the way through the sales process only to leave your store without buying anything. This has the potential to dramatically increase your revenue with little effort – other than the 'one-off' time investment in setting up the automated messages – being involved.
Other online store building tools provide similar functionality, but Bigcommerce’s is in my view better than those offered by its key competitors because it is more flexible and allows you to program in more reminder emails (you can use three active autoresponders).
It’s important to note that the abandoned cart saver functionality only comes with Bigcommerce’s 'Plus', 'Pro' and 'Enterprise' plans, but it's one of the strongest reasons why you might use one of these plans over the entry-level 'Standard' plan.
Product variants and categories
Another particularly strong feature of Bigcommerce is the way it handles product variants. Unlike rival Shopify, which only allows you to present users with three product variants without resorting to workarounds, Bigcommerce's 'product options' and 'product rules' allow you to create a large number of product options (I'm not sure of the exact upper limit, but in tests, I created 10 easily). So if you are selling products that come in a lot of different formats, Bigcommerce may be a particularly good option. See accompanying video for more detail on how it all works.
A bit less impressive is the way that Bigcommerce handles categories - whilst creating and editing them is straightforward enough, you have to assign them to individual products in quite a manual fashion. It would be better - as is the case with some other leading online store builders, notably Shopify - if you could automatically categorise products based on product name or tags.
Dropshipping with Bigcommerce
Many prospective Bigcommerce users will be interested to learn how it handles dropshipping.
Dropshipping is a selling model where you don't keep what you're selling in stock. Instead, you take an order, send it the details a supplier, and they send the goods to your customer. The advantage of this model is that you don't need much start-up capital as there's no need to purchase any stock before you start selling.
Dropshipping is perfectly possible with Bigcommerce, but you'll need to install a third-party app to facilitate it.
There are six apps such apps available to help you dropship:
- Inventory Source
- E-product plug
- Ali-Express Dropshipping
- Wholesale 2B
These apps vary in price - depending on your needs you may be able to avail of a free plan; others cost between $29 and $55 per month.
Bigcommerce’s interface is straightforward and intuitive; similar in quality to Shopify's. It's not entirely dissimilar to a Wordpress dashboard either.
A vertical menu on the left hand side of the screen gives you easy access to the key features - and the labels ('orders', 'storefront design', 'analytics' etc.) make it obvious where you'll find all the key features.
In a nutshell, I've found it a very easy product to use - it stands up well in terms of usability by comparison to Shopify and Squarespace, and trounces Volusion.
The below video gives you a quick overview of the Bigcommerce interface.
Point of sale functionality in Bigcommerce
A nice feature of Bigcommerce is that it doesn't just let you run an online store - it can facilitate selling at 'point of sale' (POS) too.
Thanks to some integrations with four POS providers - Square, Shopkeep, Springboard Retail and Hike - you can take payment and sync inventory when selling from a physical location (such as a store, market stall, event etc.). You'll need to research each of these providers carefully to ensure you find the right one for your needs, but it's good that Bigcommerce offers so many options on this frton. Other competing e-commerce solutions either don't offer POS at all (Squarespace being a case in point) or are more restrictive in terms of what hardware and software you can use.
Enhancing your Bigcommerce store's functionality via the app store
If the standard set of features provided by Bigcommerce isn't sufficient for your needs, then you might want to consider purchasing some apps from Bigcommerce's app store. These beef up the functionality of your store, and a pretty wide range of integrations is available.
You can add apps that deal with lots of different aspects of of running an online business - app categories include accounting, CRM, marketing shipping and so on. Integrations are available with many well-known business SaaS apps - for example, you'll find apps for Mailchimp, Zendesk, Xero and Salesforce.
In terms of how the Bigcommerce apps offering compares with competing online store builders, it beats Squarespace's offering hands down (Squarespace doesn't provide any app store at all) but is somewhat eclipsed by Shopify's (there are 2000 or so apps available in the Shopify app store).
iOS and Android apps for Bigcommerce
One area where Bigcommerce doesn't score highly for me is mobile apps. Unlike some other e-commerce solutions, no iOS or Android apps are available for store owners to use to manage their stores on the go. There was previously an app available...but it's been discontinued.
Obviously you can still be notified of sales etc. using a mobile device via email, but that seems a bit low-tech in this day and age. Additionally, there do seem to be some third-party Bigcommerce mobile apps floating about the place - but you won't be able to get support from Bigcommerce when using them.
Something to bear in mind if you are selling digital products: VAT MOSS
If you want to sell digital products - downloadable music, videos, books etc. - to EU customers with Bigcommerce, you'll need to familiarise yourself with something called VAT MOSS (short for 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop'). VAT MOSS requires you to apply country-specific rates of VAT to digital products - even if yours is a business that is based outside of the EU.
With Bigcommerce, you'll need to set up individual tax rules to cover each country in Europe - a boring manual process which is likely to take you a while. To be fair to Bigcommerce, many of its competitors don't cater well for VAT MOSS either. But I'd like to see a similar approach to Shopify's being implemented here, where VAT MOSS is applied automatically to digital products.
When you start a Bigcommerce free trial, you are provided with various support emails and resources aimed at helping you with the 'onboarding' process. There's a fair amount of hand-holding available if you want it, which should make it easy enough to get your store up and running.
For those who have purchased a Bigcommerce plan, the company provides 24-hour 'live agent' support. It's not hugely clear on their site what exactly this covers - phone, chat or email, and before you get access to relevant contact details you are encouraged to try to resolve the issue by searching for an answer to your query via the Bigcommerce help pages first (see accompanying screengrab). This will annoy some users a bit, although you do get presented with fairly easy-to-digest contact details once you've completed your search and ignored the help articles!
BUT - and here's a handy tip if you need to contact Bigcommerce support - if you want to bypass the 'search for an answer first' routine, you can. To do this, you click the 'contact' link on the Bigcommerce site, and scroll down the page past the 'common questions.' Underneath all these you'll find - ta da - links to live chat and email, along with a list of phone numbers.
For those who are more inclined towards trying to sort the issue out themselves first, there is a large range of video and text resources available from Bigcommerce, and a community forum.
Bigcommerce provides users with several types of reports as standard:
- customer reports (where your customers come from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last made an order)
- marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)
- search data reports (the phrases customers used when searching for products in your online store)
- finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)
- abandoned cart reports.
For an additional fee you can also gain access to an 'Insights' report, which provides you with more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts.
In short, the Bigcommerce analytics offering is pretty strong - and the best thing about it is that the bulk of the reporting functionality comes as standard on all plans. This is not the case with its key competitor Shopify, which requires you to be on its more expensive $79 plan before you get access to in-depth reports.
Of course in addition to using the built-in Bigcommerce reporting tools, you could also supplement your analytics arsenal by integrating Google Analytics into your site and using goals to measure conversions.
Bigcommerce review conclusions
Bigcommerce is one of the strongest hosted online store builders I’ve tested.
Above all else, it is very easy to use – it’s one of the most user friendly products of its kind I've used. The standout aspect of it is arguably the comprehensive feature set you get on its entry-level plan, which provides significantly more bang for the buck than many competing products.
Other things I particularly like about Bigcommerce are the quality of its abandoned cart saver and the flexible approach to product options (in a Bigcommerce vs Shopify shootout, I suspect that this might sway quite a few users Bigcommerce's way).
The main things that would dissuade me from using it would probably be price (the entry level plan is more expensive than those offered by some competing products); the imposition of sales limits on store owners; and the support process (contacting support is not as straightforward as it should be).
I hope this Bigcommerce review has helped give you a sense of this product and whether it's suitable for your needs - but as usual, always best to try before you buy: you can avail of a free Bigcommerce trial here.
Finally, below you will find my summary of the positive and negative aspects of Bigcommerce.
Pros of Bigcommerce
Bigcommerce is one of the easiest-to-use online store builder I’ve come across to date, with a very intuitive interface / CMS. My favourite aspect of the whole product is this user-friendliness – many users of online store builders are small business owners, not web developers, and interfaces should not get in the way of building the store.
The overall feature set on entry-level Bigcommerce plans is comprehensive by comparison to competing products.
You get a good set of reporting tools on all plans - again, this is not the case with all competing products.
It comes with built-in product review functionality.
There are no transaction fees.
Its marketing features are very strong: it’s really easy to use several leading e-newsletter services with Bigcommerce, and the tool’s approach to SEO is very straightforward too.
The automated emails that are sent to visitors who abandon their carts are an excellent idea and likely to boost revenue from your store considerably. Their 'abandoned cart saver' tools are more comprehensive than similar offerings by competitors (including Shopify and Volusion).
It comes with a wide range of discounting / coupon tools out of the box.
It comes with a built-in blog. This is extremely important because it allows you to use inbound marketing techniques directly from your store, without having to make use of a third party tool like Wordpress (or set up a subdomain for your blog etc.).
You can avail of cheaper-than-usual Paypal card transaction fees with Bigcommerce, thanks to its preferential arrangement with Braintree.
Bigcommerce is a very flexible solution for vendors with a lot of different product variants.
Cons of Bigcommerce
Limits are placed on annual online sales - and if you exceed them, you'll need to upgrade to a more expensive monthly plan.
The price of the Bigcommerce starter plan is on the high side by comparison to other solutions, although the plan itself is more feature-rich than entry-level products by other leading e-commerce solution providers.
VAT MOSS rates could be better catered for.
There are no mobile apps available to manage your store on the go.
Although support is 24/7, it's not clear what level of support you receive with Bigcommerce across individual channels (phone, chat or email).
It's hard to find contact details on the Bigcommerce website for support - before you get to a phone number, you have to search for an answer to your problem on their site.
There are not as many apps available in its app store as there are in Shopify's.
Alternatives to Bigcommerce
As far as hosted solutions go, Bigcommerce's main competitor is probably Shopify, which is similarly priced and comes with a similar range of features. You can read our Bigcommerce vs Shopify review here.
Another option when it comes to building an online store is to use Wordpress in conjunction with an e-commerce tool such as Ecwid or Woocommerce. (Obligatory plug: we can help you with a Wordpress e-commerce project - contact us for more info).
You might also wish to investigate Squarespace, which whilst not as feature-packed from an e-commerce point of view, is a good product for those who wish to combine impressive visuals or content with the ability to sell products. Our full Squarespace review is here.
If you already have a website that you're happy with, and wish to add e-commerce functionality to it, you could do worse than check out Ecwid.
Finally, other well-known solutions for building online stores include Jimdo, Weebly and Wix but it's probably fair to say that these are more 'prosumer' products; Bigcommerce is aimed at a more professional audience.
Got any thoughts on Bigcommerce?
If you have any thoughts or queries on Bigcommerce, we'd love to hear them - feel free to express yourself in the comments section below!
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