We all know that BigCommerce and Shopify are two big players in the e-commerce space. They’re both large and well-funded companies. Each has a lot of buzz around them. Does it matter which ecommerce platform you choose? Read on for a more technical comparison of BigCommerce vs. Shopify.
A little history
Shopify is a Canadian company that was started in 2006 by two men who couldn’t find an easy-to-use shopping cart software that met their needs. Three years later, in 2009, BigCommerce was started in Australia.
Originally, BigCommerce was known as Interspire and was software that was licensed and hosted by the business. BigCommerce was originally designed for enterprise (larger) companies. Shopify was built as a SAAS solution for smaller businesses. Soon the founders at BigCommerce recognized the advantages of SAAS and changed their software to a SAAS format as well.
SAAS stands for Software as a Service. In simple terms, it means that the software is fully hosted and managed by the company. Many of the tedious aspects of software including hosting, updates, and security are all included in the fee. Business owners pay a subscription fee to use it.
How do their technical approaches differ?
Shopify is built on Ruby On Rails and uses MySQL. Shopify’s themes are based on its own proprietary language, Liquid. APIs exist that are used to allow developers to create custom applications and connect to other software.
BigCommerce relies on PHP with PostgreSQL. This means that for larger websites, site speeds may be faster while scaling up. It can also mean that the app feels more responsive because there are fewer database transactions per page load (although this depends on how well optimized your theme code is). They also have APIs available to extend functionality.
Both software companies use a CDN to ensure speedy site loading worldwide. BigCommerce’s CDN also converts images into newer, faster formats to help enhance site speed. Both companies provide a free SSL certificate to store owners.
Both BigCommerce and Shopify are quite fast, but it’s worth noting that BigCommerce is faster at scaling up when traffic volumes increase. This can be very important for enterprise-level stores. Smaller sites may find that this difference may not be significant enough to warrant any consideration of which platform will work best for them.
Focusing mainly on the technical differences between Shopify vs Bigcommerce, we might conclude they are very comparable in terms of functionality; however each platform has its own strengths which should be taken into consideration when deciding what will best suit your business needs.
The technical framework for development
BigCommerce’s front-end technology provides more flexibility for design and layout with more freedom to work on the back-end. Shopify is just now releasing Shopify 2.0 which has simplified the process of customizing the store but most themes are not yet compatible with it.
Shopify’s front-end technology is simpler and less flexible making it quite popular with those who wish to do it themselves but lack a programming and design background. Shopify uses a proprietary language, Liquid, for development.
BigCommece uses standard web-standard programming languages for its themes. It is built from the API up so the possibilities for custom features and connections are nearly infinite. They also allow for more API calls per second which can result in faster performance depending upon the type of applications you have connected and the order volume of your store.
One benefit of BigCommerce is that features and themes can be developed locally (offline) which is easier to work with. This is not available on Shopify.
That said, these technical differences may be important to any choice you make about which platform to use. How important will be based on criteria like traffic volumes and the desired features for your website design.
Design capabilities Shopify vs. BigCommerce
Both platforms offer theme libraries that make it easy for do-it-yourself owners to create a nice-looking store without hiring a designer or developer.
Both recently released drag-and-drop features for basic layout and styling of pages, however, this feature is so new that most Shopify themes are not compatible with it.
Shopify has more free themes than BigCommerce, but most stores quickly outgrow the basic free themes and will do better with a paid theme. Each theme store is adding new themes regularly.
Shopify themes can be easier to customize but BigCommerce offers a lot more flexibility for page layout and allows for the design of a custom checkout on any priced plan. The more advanced customization usually requires some development skills.
Shopify 2.0 will make it easier to customize all pages, versus far more limited options for those on original Shopify.
The checkout page on Shopify is not editable unless you are on Shopify Plus. Shopify Plus adds design flexibility, especially in the checkout but is priced for larger businesses.
By contrast, the BigCommerce checkout can be customized but complex needs are best handled by a knowledgeable programmer as security must be maintained.
The large theme marketplace makes Shopify especially attractive for the DIY store owner. Stores that want a more custom look and have either the skills or budget for design will appreciate BigCommerce.
Both platforms can be used for a “headless” build. This means the shopping cart software powers the ecommerce elements. The front-end (the part customers see) is created on other technologies. This opens the flexibility for unique customer experiences.
BigCommerce was the first to release a truly headless store. The numerous and powerful APIs make headless a rich option. It also opens up the ability to have multiple storefronts that run off a single admin. BigCommerce is also a member of the MACH Alliance, a group dedicated to creating growth-proof, open technology solutions.
Shopify’s APIs are considerably less powerful and these would need to be improved to make them a serious contender for headless design. Those considering it should plan on using Shopify Plus due to the higher rate of API calls. On Plus you can run multiple storefronts as headless but there’s a limit on the number of storefronts.
In both cases, these are expensive builds designed for enterprise stores.
Core feature comparison
A simple checklist of popular, core features can make these two platforms seem equal but in many cases, it’s the fine details of how those features work that can make a difference in favor of one over the other.
Products with options
As an example, both stores can handle products with variations like size or color without another app. However, Shopify limits each product to 100 SKUs maximum, as compared to BigCommerce which offers up to 600 SKUs maximum. BC also has additional types of modifiers that offer deeper capabilities and can extend the 600 SKU limit. Shopify does have 3rd party applications that can expand on native variant handling.
Product reviews are native to BigCommerce. They are not on Shopify but they do offer a free app. Most stores will find the feature set better on one of the many 3rd party review platforms available in either marketplace.
Coupons and sales
Out of the box, without adding a paid application, the flexibility of BigCommerce’s promotions module does dramatically more than Shopify’s native feature. Their new advanced promotion module (free on Enterprise stores only) is extremely powerful. More so than any SAAS shopping cart on the market.
Both stores offer a variety of payment options that store owners can offer to their shoppers including pay-in-four and extended credit. Shopify offers its own Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe). BigCommerce’s default option is Braintree.
Both pair with popular payment wallets like PayPal and Apple Pay. Software that enables stores to offer subscription products exist for both platforms.
However, there are some significant differences. On Shopify, if you don’t use Shopify Payments, or can’t use it based on the products you sell (like weapons or CBD) or your country, Shopify will take a commission off your total revenue. This varies from 0.15% – 2% based on which Shopify plan you’re on and is on top of the credit card processing fees charged by your gateway and merchant processor of choice.
While all credit card processors charge a fee, BigCommerce doesn’t add any transaction fees on top of this, regardless of which payment processor you choose.
Shopify also has its new ShopPay which saves shopper information, making it super fast to checkout across many Shopify stores. This can be done on BigCommerce via a 3rd party paid app.
Unsure about which payment options you should use? Check out our article on the topic.
Both stores offer native features for shipping your orders without requiring another application. However, BigCommerce offers real-time shipping rates for common carriers natively. Shopify does not.
Shopify has a new app available, Shopify Shipping that offers store owners real-time shipping rates and discounted shipping rates. This new, free app also streamlines processes. This is great for smaller stores that can’t otherwise qualify for shipping discounts.
BigCommerce has discounted FedEx rates for store owners. Most BC stores use a 3rd party app to streamline shipping processes and gain additional discounted rates. There are quite a few available. Most are more capable than the free Shopify Shipping but are also not free.
Point of sale (POS)
Shopify has its own point-of-sale system that is very inexpensive and makes it easy for small businesses that run a bricks-and-mortar store to connect to their online shop and synchronize inventory. Small businesses on BigCommerce can choose from several small business POS systems such as Square or Stripe.
Larger retailers and those with multiple locations will likely opt for something more advanced but good choices are available for both platforms.
Both platforms have native integrations for popular marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, and Facebook. 3rd party applications make it easier to add many more such as Etsy or Walmart. BigCommerce recently partnered with Walmart to offer an easy integration.
BigCommerce also recently acquired Feedonomics which will soon add a lot more native global options, making it easier for store owners to sell on marketplaces worldwide.
Store owners on either may find marketplaces to be easier to manage via software designed for this purpose. Such software often comes with added flexibility to customize listings and optimize for each platform’s specific needs.
Both platforms offer abandoned cart emails. Shopify now has a basic marketing email platform built-in that is free up to 2500 subscribers. On BigCommerce you’ll need to use a 3rd party but several offer free levels to get new stores up and running.
However, store owners who are serious about email marketing should absolutely use email marketing software. Email can drive up your revenue 20-40% and thus a little extra investment here is warranted.
BigCommerce wins here with more native features that support your search visibility efforts. One big advantage – On BigCommerce you can choose your URL structure. This can be super valuable to stores migrating from another platform who wish to retain their existing URLs to minimize any drop in SEO due to the migration.
Both platforms provide for the customization of metadata. Product schema is theme dependent but both offer apps to assist.
Both platforms have basic blogs for you to add content and will automatically generate a sitemap to submit to Google Search Console.
One issue with Shopify is that depending upon how you organize the site, you can end up with more than one URL for the same page. There is no easy way to fix this. Shopify can also tag pages creating many variations for the same page.
On BigCommerce this can be managed in several ways, one of which is to assign short URLs. These remain the same no matter where the shopper came from.
BigCommerce owners can edit the robots.txt file. Shopify owners can too but it requires editing the file directly. It’s much easier on BigCommerce
Stores on either can still rank quite well. Great, original content and inbound links still lead the field for the more than 200 ranking factors.
We still recommend WordPress for serious bloggers. On BigCommerce content-driven brands can build the store into WordPress and avail themselves of all the SEO tools available on WordPress.
Either platform can use WordPress for a blog on a subdomain. Contrary to popular opinion, Google will see the subdomain as part of your site and this should not hurt your SEO.
We discuss blogging options further in our article.
Other popular features
Gift certificates, multi-currency, bulk pricing, and an order return system are native to BigCommerce. All require a paid app to offer on a Shopify store.
These are not the only differences but represent the ones most store owners look for.
Both platforms also offer app marketplaces that allow you to extend and customize your store’s features and functioning, as well as connect to third-party software such as inventory managers, order management, drop-shipping connectors, print-on-demand, email marketing, analytics and data platforms, live chat, and much more.
Shopify’s app store is much larger and features some apps that would require custom development on BigCommerce such as the ability to run live auctions. Despite its larger size, there are only a few types of applications in the Shopify market that do not have an equivalent in the BigCommerce app marketplace.
BigCommerce has more APIs available making it easier for developers to create custom applications.
How to choose the right cart for my business?
We strongly recommend that you and your team give deep thought to what features you need to run your business.
Map out what you want and need to run your store. What 3rd party marketing apps or types of apps do you plan to use?
Use this map to determine the best fit or talk with an ecommerce consultant that services both platforms.
Business-to-business (B2B) and hybrid (B2B & B2C)
BigCommerce has exercised more effort to meet the needs of B2B, business-to-business, businesses. Native features such as customer groups make it super easy to have different catalogs or pricing to sell to both retail and wholesale customers from a single site.
Bulk pricing, also known as “buy more, save more” is also native to BigCommerce. Both these features required paid apps to accomplish on Shopify, and many will find Shopify Plus, at a much higher price, better suited for one site serving two audiences. There is no requirement to move to a higher-priced plan to meet these needs on BigCommerce.
BigCommerce has a growing list of popular ERPs that are easily added. The new B2B edition adds features popular with B2B such as true wholesale, price lists, invoicing, quotations, quick reorder, and customer account permission tiers. All of this would need custom development on Shopify Plus, at a higher cost, to reach parity.
The API call limit is also a key factor as Shopify Plus is currently limited to 10 calls per second. BigCommerce’s limit is 600. This can be a huge pain point if you need your inventory to sync to your inventory management system or across multiple stores.
There are more native features built into BigCommerce that larger stores, especially B2B and hybrid stores need, thus this can save a store thousands of dollars per year. BigCommerce Enterprise also starts at a much lower price than Shopify Plus.
On the surface, it looks like the pricing for plans is essentially identical. Both companies offer a free trial. Both have several price tiers and an enterprise plan.
However, you really need to build out your feature plan before you can determine if one is less costly than the other.
One example is that Shopify’s price tiers are based on features. BigCommerce bases pricing on annual revenue until you get to the BigCommerce Enterprise plan which is based on order volume.
As you do the math, you need to compare which features will add additional monthly fees. Another factor is credit card fees. On Shopify, the fees do drop with plan size, but again, if you cannot, or choose not to use Shopify Payments, you’ll have to add the revenue share to your processing fees. This can add up to a large sum for a busy store!
The pricing structure for Shopify Plus also starts out much higher than the base monthly fee for BigCommerce Enterprise.
BigCommerce vs. Shopify: which platform will work best for you?
We admit that it isn’t that easy to choose one over the other. They are both fine platforms, from solid companies, that offer excellent customer support, and are continually improving their product.
With so many great options on both sides, it can seem difficult at first to decide between them. However, by considering what features you need upfront and how much money you’re willing or able to spend long term, we hope this comparison helps make your decision simpler!