BigCommerce Review: Is BigCommerce Right for You?
by Aden Andrus • June 7, 2018
As one of the “Big 5 Ecommerce Platforms” in the online storefront space, BigCommerce serves over 150,000 ecommerce businesses. Clearly, the platform works—and works well—for many companies, but is it right for your business?
Looking at BigCommerce’s website, it’d be easy to assume that the answer is “yes”.
BigCommerce loves to talk about how much faster, cheaper and more effective it is than the competition, but no business is as good as it makes itself out to be. In this article, we’re going to take a close look at BigCommerce, where it shines and where it stumbles in an effort to help you answer the question, “Is BigCommerce right for me?”
Where Does BigCommerce Fit In?
With its massive userbase and well-developed ecommerce platform, BigCommerce is a big player in the ecommerce space. However, unlike competitors like Shopify or Big Cartel, it’s a little hard to nail down BigCommerce’s niche.
Shopify is designed for new-to-medium-size ecommerce businesses that are focused on selling mass-produced products. Big Cartel is great for artists or makers who want a cheap, easy way to sell their wares.
But BigCommerce? BigCommerce can’t quite seem to figure itself out.
In many ways, BigCommerce positions itself as a “premium” ecommerce platform. It costs more than the competition, but if you’re making a lot of money, paying a premium for a premium platform makes sense.
At least, it would if BigCommerce’s platform was actually better than the competition for big businesses…
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on really being the best ecommerce platform for large-scale companies, BigCommerce tries to be everything for everyone and—in my opinion—fails across the board.
Now, that being said, BigCommerce is still a great ecommerce platform. If you’re a BigCommerce client or decide to become one, you’ll get no criticism from me. Many business can and do run great ecommerce sites on BigCommerce.
So, why do I recommend that people think twice before signing up with BigCommerce? Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly sides of BigCommerce.
BigCommerce: The Good
BigCommerce outshines the competition in two areas: 1) search engine optimization (SEO) and 2) customer support.
Search Engine Optimization
While most ecommerce platforms offer some level of SEO support (Shopify is particularly good about this), BigCommerce uses a unique content delivery network that loads site page incredibly fast. Page load time is a big deal to search engines and users, so this feature can help improve the overall ranking of your products.
In addition, BigCommerce does a good job of putting your microdata and reviews out where the search engines can find them, which can further improve your results. Couple that with BigCommerce’s Google Shopping integration options and BigCommerce can help you get a lot more organic traffic to your site.
You’ll have to optimize your SEO directly inside of the product area of your store, but once you’ve done the initial leg work, don’t be surprised if your pages start to rise through the search engine rankings.
While BigCommerce makes a big deal out of its other marketing tools, these tend to be a bit underwhelming. They might be better than nothing, but not by a lot—especially once you learn how to set up and run ecommerce marketing campaigns on your own (which you’ll have to do either way).
But, this is the “good” section, so let’s get back to the other thing BigCommerce does well: customer support.
BigCommerce’s customer support is great, but not in the way you might be used to. If you want to be able to call a customer service representative at all hours, BigCommerce isn’t for you. Their phone lines aren’t always open and hold times can sometimes get long. Even online chat, which is available 24/7, isn’t always all that helpful.
However, if you’re like me and you like figuring things out on your own, BigCommerce has a fantastic knowledge base full of tutorials, videos and even a few active forums where users help each other out.
Compared with many other ecommerce platforms, BigCommerce’s level of online support is great. Since the platform seems to favor developers over non-technical users (we’ll get into that more in a bit), this is to be expected, but it’s still a great resource to have.
So, if you’re a self-starter with decent technical understanding, give BigCommerce University or any of the other customer support materials a try. Most of the time, you can find the answers to your questions there.
BigCommerce: The Bad
To BigCommerce’s credit, it’s pretty easy to set up a new store on their platform. In fact, I would say that BigCommerce’s setup phase is just as easy and intuitive as Shopify’s, which is great, since many new ecommerce business owners don’t have a ton of web design or development experience.
At least, that’s true as long as you don’t want to do anything unusual or unique.
If all you want to do is set up a basic store, BigCommerce is great. However, if you have a specific vision or look in mind and can’t find a them that fits that vision (a common problem for reasons we’ll get into in the next section), you’re kind of stuck. Unless, that is, you happen to know a web developer
Are you starting to notice a pattern here?
Unfortunately, BigCommerce’s Stencil framework for store design is a bit hard to navigate if you aren’t particularly tech-savvy. This can make it difficult for many small business owners to make the minor tweaks that can really set them apart or create a seamless shopping experience.
Now, if BigCommerce themes were as varied as Shopify themes, this probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal. However, most of BigCommerce’s themes are designed by Pixel Union, so they tend to have the same basic feel. Don’t get me wrong, Pixel Union’s themes are actually pretty good, but if their particular approach to ecommerce site design doesn’t match what you’re looking for, you’re kind of up a creek.
BigCommerce: The Ugly
As I mentioned early, BigCommerce is the priciest ecommerce platform on the market. When the entry-level price is as high as other platforms’ premium offering, you’d expect BigCommerce to blow you away with features.
However, BigCommerce’s features are pretty run-of-the-mill.
Sure, you can easily add and manage products on your store. You can set up customized shipping and product rules. You can optimize your pages for search engines. But you can do all of that on any decent ecommerce platform…and at a fraction of the cost.
In fact, while BigCommerce and Shopify charge the same for their base subscription package, you actually get more features with Shopify.
BigCommerce’s features don’t actually get very interesting until you reach Enterprise level, at which point you can expect to pay well over a thousand dollars a month. At this point, however, the big perk you get is the ability to directly interact with the BigCommerce API and custom code the exact features you want for your store…which kind of defeats the point of paying for more built-in features, if you ask me.
Unlike its direct competitor, Shopify, BigCommerce claims that they put a big emphasis on built-in features, rather than requiring users to add (and potentially pay for) apps to get the features they want.
Since BigCommerce and Shopify cost about the same, this would should BigCommerce a big edge. However, BigCommerce hasn’t done a great job of giving their clients the features they need. As a result, many clients have been frustrated for years by the lack of easy and obvious features in either the standard BigCommerce package or as plug-ins.
That being said, if you happen to have ready access to a developer who can custom code the features that you need, this may not be a big obstacle. But, when BigCommerce sells itself as the ideal ecommerce platform for growing brands—most of which don’t have a ton of surplus cash to spend on a developer—BigCommerce’s lack of features makes life difficult for many customers.
In many ways, BigCommerce feel like a payments processing company masquerading as a ecommerce platform in an effort to bring in more revenue. Like many payments processing companies, if you do all the heavy lifting and pay their fees, they’re more than happy to let you do whatever you want.
However, if you’re like most ecommerce business owners and don’t have the technical resources to build your own custom experience on their platform, BigCommerce forces you to make do with a rather underwhelming set of options.
The frustrating thing about BigCommerce is that it doesn’t work particularly well for any type of company.
Startups and small-to-medium-size ecommerce businesses will struggle with the fact that BigCommerce almost requires you to hire a developer to get what you want out of the platform. Bigger companies can afford the development resources to make the most of BigCommerce, but at this level, Shopify or Magento still offer better or more Enterprise-level features.
Honestly, BigCommerce is only really a strong candidate if you plan on running an ecommerce business focused on bringing in sales through search engine optimization (for example, you plan to do a lot of blogging or you sell very specific, niche items that your competition isn’t advertising for on Google Shopping) and you believe that your audience will respond well to one of BigCommerce’s existing templates. Aside from that, a platform like Shopify might be a better choice.
I’ll admit it, this is a pretty harsh assessment, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you tried BigCommerce? What was your experience like? Would you agree or disagree with my stance on BigCommerce.