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BigCommerce
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 to help you see if it's the right online store builder for you.

WHAT IS BIGCOMMERCE?

Bigcommerce is a paid-for 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 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 advanced users to tweak the HTML and CSS of their sites too.

BIGCOMMERCE PRICING

Bigcommerce offer four different plans:

Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month

Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month

Bigcommerce Pro: $199.95 per month

Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business requirements

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).

BIGCOMMERCE STANDARD

Bigcommerce's cheapest offering, the 'standard' plan, costs $29.95 a 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 website, unlimited products, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited storage, gift cards and ratings and reviews functionality. You get an awful lot of e-commerce bang for your buck.

(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 starter plan comes with monthly limits on data transfer and limits you to selling 100 products. A fairer comparison would be to stack the silver plan up against Shopify’s ‘basic’ plan or Volusion’s ‘plus’ plan.)

There is an annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Standard of $50,000.

BIGCOMMERCE PLUS

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 $125,000.

BIGCOMMERCE PRO

A relatively new addition to the mix is 'Bigcommerce Pro'. The significant additional functionality gained by 'Plus' users is sitewide HTTPS (this can provide some SEO benefits) and the ability to list your product in Google Trusted Stores. The sales cap on the 'Pro' plan is $1,000,000.

BIGCOMMERCE ENTERPRISE

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:

dedicated SSL and IP address

uptime service level agreement (SLA)

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.

TRANSACTION FEES AND SALES LIMITS

First the really good news: there aren't any transaction fees. 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 you don't have to worry about Bigcommerce taking a cut of your sales.

The bad news, and as discussed above, is that Bigcommerce places a limit on your annual online sales:

Bigcommerce Standard: $50,000

Bigcommerce Plus: $125,000

Bigcommerce Pro: $1,000,000

Bigcommerce Enterprise: negotiable

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 all merchants, but they do need to be born in mind if you expect your store to generate the kind of sales figures outlined above. 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.

PAYMENT GATEWAYS

Payment gateways in Bigcommerce

Payment gateways in 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).

Setting up a payment gateway can occasionally be bit of a lengthy process, involving setting up 'merchant accounts' with third party providers and configuring them so that they work with your store. If you want to avoid doing this you can use various 'one-click' options provided by Bigcommerce that allow you to use Stripe, Paypal, Simplify (Mastercard) with a minimum of fuss. 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 you sell, a third party payment gateway may still be the best route for you to go down, even if it involves a bit more setup time.

SPECIAL PAYPAL RATES

One potentially useful Bigcommerce feature is special Paypal rates. Bigcommerce have teamed up with Braintree to provide slightly lower Paypal rates - these decrease as you go up Bigcommerce's pricing ladder.

BIGCOMMERCE TEMPLATES

Example of a free Bigcommerce theme

Example of a free Bigcommerce theme

For quite a while Bigcommerce lagged behind competing products by not providing an extensive range of responsive templates. Fortunately, this all changed recently, with Bigcommerce rolling out a large selection of responsive themes. There are 7 free themes and 60 paid themes (ranging in price from $145 to $235) - and each theme contains a number of different variants, so there 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.

BIGCOMMERCE: MAIN FEATURES

As discussed above the exact features you get with Bigcommerce depend on the plan you opt for, but basic features include:

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-newsletter services: Constant Contact, iContact, Mailchimp and Interspire

integration with Alibaba.com

automated reminder emails to people who abandoned their carts at checkout

discount coupons and gift vouchers as standard

the ability to tweak CSS and HTML as desired.

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.

It’s important to note that the abandoned cart saver functionality only comes with Bigcommerce’s 'Plus' and 'Enterprise' plans.

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 seemingly endless number of product configurations. So if you are selling products that come in a lot of different formats, Bigcommerce may be a particularly good option.

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 - if you could automatically categorise products based on product name or tags.

USING BIGCOMMERCE WITH ALIBABA

Bigcommerce has a partnership with Alibaba.com, the Chinese giant online retailer. This allows Bigcommerce users to browse and buy 30,000 wholesale products from 300 of Alibaba's 'gold' suppliers (ones that have been vetted, basically) from within the Bigcommerce interface. This may prove useful to certain users who are stuck for stock ideas, but note that the shipping of the products will still be the responsibility of the Bigcommerce store owner - i.e., this isn't a drop shipping style arrangement, where you sell something from Alibaba on your site and have somebody else ship it to your customers (which would be pretty cool, thinking about it, providing the retailer shipping your product was reliable). See the accompanying video for more information about this partnership.

INTERFACE

Bigcommerce’s interface is straightforward and intuitive; similar in quality (not to mention appearance!) to Shopify's and way ahead of Volusion's. One thing I particularly like about it is that it is very easy to create a navigation menu with Bigcommerce; this is not always the case with Shopify (if you require more than one level of navigation in Shopify, you will need to use occasionally baffling 'link handles') and definitely not the case at all with Volusion.

MOBILE APPS

One area where Bigcommerce doesn't score highly 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.

BIGCOMMERCE SUPPORT

Bigcommerce 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 have to try to resolve the issue by searching their help pages first. This will annoy some users quite a lot, I suspect.

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 REVIEW CONCLUSIONS

Bigcommerce is one of the strongest all-round online store builders I’ve tested. Above all else, it is very easy to use – it’s one of the more user friendly store builders I’ve come across to date, with some excellent marketing functionality (not least its abandoned cart saver tool). The main down sides involve price (the entry level plan is more expensive than those offered by some competing products) and the imposition of sales limits on store owners.

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 USING 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.

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.).

Cheaper Paypal transaction fees.

Very flexible solution for vendors with a lot of different product variants.

CONS OF USING 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 much more functional than entry-level products by other leading e-commerce solution providers.

No mobile apps to manage your store on the go.

Because Bigcommerce is a hosted solution, if it shuts down or changes 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 able to code your own online store (an expensive and laborious undertaking) you are probably going to end up using a third party tool like Bigcommerce anyway to run your store, and at least it's one of the more established products out there.

Although support is 24/7, it's not clear quite what level of support you receive with Bigcommerce across indiviudal channels (phone, chat or email).

Have you used Bigcommerce? Let us know your thoughts on the solution below!
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