Episode 43: BigCommerce vs Shopify

During today’s episode we talk about the common debate e-commerce founders have: Shopify or BigCommerce. In recent developments BigCommerce has made some polarizing changes to their services. The changes have alienated theme developers and price changes have alienated users. This has caused many users to move their business to Shopify.

We discuss this shift and compare Shopify and BigCommerce. We have both had experience with both sites so our conversation is more of a pro and con list.

The questions we answer today are:

  • Which site has the most capacity for products that require lots of options (ex: color choice).
  • Which site is most common (thus easier to work with for others)?
  • Which site makes managing orders easier.
  • Which site allows the best customer follow-up process.
  • Which site offers the best coupon or sale options to a customer.

Other topics we cover are:

  • What happened to BigCommerce’s business.
  • Why Shopify is so much bigger than BigCommerce.
  • Why check out conversation is a big plus for these sites.
  • BigCommerce’s theme changes and why it’s causing problems.
  • The pros of BigCommerce.
  • The pros of Shopify.

We tried to keep away from bashing these sites because both sites have their uses. It all depends on what an entrepreneur needs to do on their platform. So consider this episode as a weighing of the options. Go with whatever will best fit your product.

Resources Mentioned Today:




If you have any questions or anything you’d like us to discuss on the podcast please go to ecomcrew.com and fill out the contact form. Also we would really appreciate if you would leave us a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Related reading: Bigcommerce vs Shopify: What's Better for New Sellers?

Full Audio Transcription

Mike:   This is Mike.

Grant:  And this is Grant.

Mike:   And welcome to this week’s edition of the EcomCrew podcast.  How’s it’s going, Grant?

Grant:  It’s going pretty good.  I had a nice weekend of rafting in the water over in Washington on the east side.  That was nice and 90 degrees and the water was pretty much like bath water, so a lot of fun.

Mike:   Fun like when you took me rafting?

Grant:  Oh, that was just a little bit cold.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mike:   When there was like ice crystals floating in the top of the water, that’s usually a pretty good indication that it’s cold.

Grant:  It builds character, didn’t it?

Mike:   It definitely did.  It definitely did.  I had a great weekend of doing as little as possible, which was a welcome change after the last couple months of travelling and just working six-day weeks.  And it was nice.  We went to the driving range and hit some golf balls and took a swim in the pool and stuff.  It was a relaxing weekend.

Grant:  I know.  It’s very interesting realization when you’re an entrepreneur: if you just don’t do anything for the weekend, it kind of feels like a vacation.

Mike:   Yeah.

Grant:  Like a true, true vacation for other people.  So, you know you’re busy when justone day or two days is like, “Wow.”

Mike:   Yeah.

Grant:  “That’s amazing.”

Mike:   Definitely.  So yeah, besides that, I was actually just talking to you about this before the podcast, I had my first number one new release product on Amazon, which is kind of neat.  And you had asked me what that means and I don’t know, it’s just kind of cool.  It’s like a medal I guess in elementary school, a participation award maybe or something, but it’s kind of cool to see on the screen.

Grant:  Yeah.  Well, hopefully it translates to a bunch of new sales.  I mean it seems like they must give it a badge for a reason, right?  So I imagine there’s some kind of good that will come out of it.

Mike:   Yeah, I hope so.  I’ll keep everybody posted on exactly what that means.  So, besides that, yeah, this week we’re going to be talking about BigCommerce versus Shopify.  And Grant and I both have Shopify and BigCommerce stores and I guess the most popular post on our blog, or the most popular question at the very least, has been, “Why Shopify versus BigCommerce?”  And I guess there’s a lot to it.  It’s not just black and white, but for me, we’ve been moving our stores over to Shopify versus BigCommerce, and Grant has some things he’ll be talking about as to why he’s sticking with BigCommerce or even wishes that he was on BigCommerce in some cases.  But to kind of kick it off, for me, the number one thing is just the ecosystem.  You know, there’re more people on Shopify.  I think it’s kind of the Betamax versus VHS wars in ecommerce here, and even though Beta might’ve been a better technology, VHS won out.  I’m not sure what you think of that analogy, Grant.

Grant:  Well, here’s where I think the comparison is difficult because everybody would like to make an easy comparison.  And unfortunately, I just don’t think you can make an equal comparison across the board.  I mean we would be talking something such as the metric system to the standard system: which one is better?  And, in that particular example, I would argue that Shopify would be like the metric system.  It makes sense in terms of logic.  BigCommerce, though, there are other reasons why you would want to be on the standard system.  Maybe there’s not as much as the metric, but in the cases that you do need it, there are situations that it makes a lot more sense.

Mike:   So if you had to name one advantage for BigCommerce over Shopify, what would it be?

Grant:  That you’re not locked into Shopify Payments and that you’ve got a checkout on your own domain.

Mike:   Yeah.

Grant:  That, to me, is quite huge.

Mike:   Now, I mean there are ways around that obviously with Shopify Plus, but it’s significantly more expensive.  I’ve heard $2,500 a month I think is kind of the bottom line now.  Is that right?

Grant:  I believe that their Shopify Pro or Plus plan lets you do that, but I believe that they add half a point, like 0.5%, to your merchant rate in order to do that, which to me, is absurd.  Completely absurd.

Mike:   Not with Shopify Plus because I know lots of people on Shopify Plus.  And with Shopify Plus, there isn’t that half a point.  If you want to do it with any of their standard plans, which I forgot their pricing tiers, but like their $29 or $79 or $199 plan, whatever they’re called, those do have the extra fee.  But if you’re on Shopify Plus, which is, like I said, $2,000 or $2,500 a month, then you don’t have to pay that fee.

Grant:  Okay.  Well, to give you an idea of the break-even point, and this is not even break-even, but at a 2.5% merchant charge, I mean you’re doing $100,000 at 2.5% to equal $2,500.

Mike:   Right.

Grant:  So I mean you’ve got a hell of a hurdle before you can start making some of the money back that you’re paying for those charges.  It seems ridiculous to me to charge that.  I mean they obviously charge enough on a monthly plan for Shopify Plus that they don’t really need to ding you one more time on the merchant side to really do that.

Mike:   Mm-hmm.

Grant:  They’ve got you locked in, so why not beat the horse a little bit?

Mike:   Yeah, and I’m getting ready to switch over a store right now from BigCommerce to Shopify and I agree the biggest disadvantage of this switch is going to be losing IceWraps.com as my checkout and going to Shopify or whatever that stupid URL is.  I forget now.  It’s the Shopify Payments URL.  Yeah, it’s definitely a bummer, there’s no doubt about it.  I was asking you kind of what the advantages are for you.  I mean, for me, one of the biggest advantages of Shopify over BigCommerce is, like I mentioned before, the ecosystem.  So there’re just way more apps available.  Shopify has made their API more openly available to developers, and from what I understand talking to lots of developers (because we’ve made a lot of friends in this industry now with people that make apps and software), is that Shopify is generally easier to work with to launch the apps and stuff.  There are people who have been trying to get stuff launched on BigCommerce for multiple years who can’t even really get a response back from BigCommerce.  And the biggest apps advantage for me would be the Yahoo integration and, probably even more importantly, Klavio because the Klavio integration with Shopify is way more tight.  So for me, that’s kind of outweighed the disadvantage of having the checkout on a sub domain.

Grant:  I would say that the other big advantage that BigCommerce has – and again, I’m not going to say that BigCommerce is simply better than Shopify because it really depends on your situation here – is options.  And between the two, Shopify can do options, of course, but you’re limited to three kinds of options.  So, for example, let’s say clothing.  That means you have color, so let’s say you’re selling shoe.  You have a type of shoe color and then you have size.  Then maybe you have a third option, let’s just say it’s if you want sparkles on there, for example.  Just throwing it out there.  So you can have the three options.  But let’s say you also want to see if you can add another option.  Now, out of the box, Shopify’s now stuck.  You don’t have any more options here.

The other problem too is that you only have 100 variants per product.  Now, again, most people aren’t going to hit the 100 variant limit.  That said, there are a number of types of business models out there where variants are very, very big.  A perfect example would be ChoppingBlocks, where I have countertops.  One variant from one vendor would be 14 inches.  The next variant is 16 inches.  The next variant is 18 inches and so on and so forth.  At some point, you run out of variants and then you’re suddenly stuck.  Well, going back to what I just said though, ChoppingBlocks I actually do have on Shopify.  Now, I can do that because I use another program that gets me over and above the amount of variants that I have, or I break it up into different products based on the kind of categorization that I want to use.  But there’re many products out there that just simply won’t perform well if you need to limit it to 100 variants.

So that is one big place where BigCommerce has an advantage because BigCommerce has unlimited options, almost unlimited variants, and you can do rule processing on them too, which is pretty huge.  If you pick a different variant, you can add, let’s say, weight to it, you can add a monetary value by percentage or absolute number.  So BigCommerce was really built to have options as a main feature and I’m not sure why they don’t advertise that more.  But do you use much options on your site, Mike?

Mike:   No.  I mean that’s probably one of the reasons why Shopify’s a good fit for us.  Our options kind of end at small, medium, and large on IceWraps specifically.  On ColorIt, we don’t even have any options.  It’s this book or that book or you want pencils or you don’t.  So yeah, we don’t really have as much of a need for options.  Obviously with cutting board and custom cutting board specifically, I can see that being much more of an issue.

Grant:  Mm-hmm.  And like you said though, Shopify does have a lot of third party apps and there are quite a few apps out there that can add many more variants and they add options.  So you can always go on that angle.

Mike:   Yup.

Grant:  Now, let’s see.  The other area that I would say BigCommerce does a better job than Shopify would probably be order management, and I would say we would both agree on this, right?

Mike:   Yeah.  I mean one of the things that Shopify – it’s amazing to me that Shopify doesn’t have order statuses.  I think that’s what you’re alluding to, right?  Where you can pick different order statuses as Pending or Shipped or whatever.  You can’t set that or filter on that in Shopify, which blew me away when we first launched Shopify.  And for someone like you, when you have things that are getting custom-made and they’re kind of in a Pending status, I don’t even know what the heck you do in Shopify at that point.

Grant:  Right.  In Shopify, I end up using tags for that.  I have to give a lot of different tags for different orders and say, “Okay Tag One, Tag Two, Tag Three, Tag Four,” but in BigCommerce, it’s natively built in.  It’s a dropdown.  And they even have things like Partially Shipped or Awaiting Verification.  Shopify has really just It’s Been Paid, You’ve Shipped It, or It’s Completed.  Ecommerce is not black and white and I don’t understand how Shopify does it that way.  So it’s very frustrating.

Mike:   Shopify did have an app.  As I was trying to get around this, there was an app to download, but it doesn’t use the native Order Management screen.  So like when you click on Orders, it’s not there.  You have to go like to an app and then use that as your Order Management screen, which to me, is just too much disconnect there so I installed it and ended up not using it.

Grant:  Mm-hmm.  And the one thing that drives me completely nuts, and I actually ended up wonking my ChoppingBlock site over this, is that I did install a third party order management app because I was so frustrated with how poorly the native Shopify order management was.  And what I wanted to do was simply have the ability to edit an order after it got put in because I have a lot of customers that just end up putting in the wrong shipping address or something like that and I have to go correct it.

Mike:   Mm-hmm.

Grant:  And on BigCommerce, that’s not a problem.  I can just go into the back end, edit it no problem, and it takes maybe 10 seconds just to go in and fix it.  On Shopify, you cannot touch the order once it’s put in.  It’s completely walled off.  And I’m not sure of the logic behind there because, with the way that [PC? 13:20] is set up, you can’t recharge a customer’s credit card.  I mean that’s just not possible.  But Shopify just doesn’t even let you edit the order.  So you’re kind of stuck once you have it there.  So when a customer wants to fix their order, you have to fix it outside of Shopify or you have to recreate the order, grab the new credit card info.  I mean it’s just a total pain in the butt.

Mike:   Yup.  So while we’re on Shopify-bashing here, there’s another thing that drives me crazy about Shopify.  You can’t disable certain transactional emails, for instance, the receipt email or the shipped email.  There’s like no way to turn it off and when I first saw this, I couldn’t believe it.  So I was doing a Google search, looking on the Shopify forums and there was literally hundreds upon hundreds of people just up in arms about the fact that you can’t turn that off.  And they still haven’t done it years later.

Grant:  And they’re ugly, too.

Mike:   And they’re ugly, yeah.

Grant:  They’ve very ugly by default.

Mike:   So yeah, we have the ability send out these beautiful emails from Klavio or Receiptful I think is the name of the app.  We use that app as well.  We kind of hacked it a little bit.  What we did was we turned the transactional email from Shopify into like a personal thank you from the owner email, so it just basically says, “We’re a small company.  We wanted to personally thank you for your order.  If there’s anything wrong, let us know.  We just want to let you know that your order’s going to ship within 24 hours,” or within the next business day or however it’s worded, “And expect a tracking number within 24 hours.”  And then that’s the email that goes out instead of it being a receipt, and then we have Receiptful, which does an amazing job.  I mean it sends really pretty receipts with a coupon in there, and if you aren’t using that app, I’ll look up the name of it as we’re talking here and make sure it’s the correct name but it’s one of the best apps we’ve ever installed.  We’re using the free version and we have people use those coupons all the time and it’s actually quite amazing how often those coupons get used.  It’s definitely a great app.

Grant:  And are the coupons being used on ColorIt or is that IceWraps?

Mike:   It’s on ColorIt.

Grant:  Okay.

Mike:   We haven’t installed it on IceWraps because we’re still on BigCommerce for IceWraps.  It’s called Receiptful, R-E-C-E-I-P-T-F-U-L.  As a part of it, you can customize the receipt that goes out.  So it has a couple really neat functions.  The first is a single-use coupon code that you can set a time limit to, so it creates discount codes on the fly that are unique to each person so they can’t end up on a coupon site, and we do a 10% off discount that’s good for I think it’s 30 days.  I think by default it was 10 and we changed it to 30 and saw better performance.  And the other neat thing is there’s like a happy face and a sad face and the customer can click on it and leave you either a positive or negative feedback, and we’ve been able to nip a lot of the negative things in the bud.  So the customer will be complaining about something and they use that receipt.  So it’s something that went wrong in the order process or some other thing that they’re upset about and it can know about it really quickly without them having to email support at ColorIt, so it’s a great app for that.

Grant:  Yeah.  And we’re not trying to bash on Shopify here.  I think what we’re doing is kind of like going through and showing one side versus the other.  But coupons is another weak point of Shopify in my opinion –

Mike:   Yeah.

Grant:  In their general marketing.  Shopify has very basic coupons.  You can do a percentage off or a dollar amount off, and that’s it.  You’re just stuck with that.  Am I missing anything?  I mean you can set a timeline, but other than that, what other conditions can you put on?

Mike:   Free shipping?  I think.

Grant:  Okay.  Yeah, so that’s pretty much it, right?

Mike:   Yeah.

Grant:  It’s very, very limited.

Mike:   It’s definitely poor.  I mean there’re definitely, without question, things that Shopify is weak in compared to BigCommerce.  Obviously, I’ve chosen Shopify over BigCommerce because you have to kind of weigh the good with the bad but yeah, there’re definitely some things that Shopify misses on, and one of them is definitely those coupons.  It blows me away that, again, this is supposedly the number one ecommerce platform and they don’t have some of these just absolute basic building block things buttoned up as good as they could.

Grant:  Yeah, and in BigCommerce, to give you all an idea of what you can do, you can set coupons based on category.  And they also have what are called Current Level Discounts, which are almost like automatically applied coupons, which are pretty big in my opinion.  I think that’s one area that BigCommerce is just slaughtering Shopify in.  I won’t say that about any other feature, but in this area, they are completely decimating Shopify because you can have essentially marketing done on your website automatically.  So if you add $100 worth of product to your cart, you automatically get free shipping, and it’ll mention that, or you automatically get a free item in your cart.  Or you buy one and you get something else free, or you buy two and get something else free in that category.  Buy X amount of this, you get a percent off that.  There’s a lot of mix and match.  You can set coupons to be used by only one certain type of customer group if you use customer groups.  Shopify doesn’t even have customer groups.

So there’s a lot more granular level discounting that you can do, which is very important to some industries, not that important to other industries.  But if you’re a high-markup industry like clothing, accessories, cell phone type stuff and it’s where you generally want to buy a lot of various products, BigCommerce is typically going to be a whole lot friendlier on the marketing side.  Again, Shopify does have the ability to have discounting engines, but they’re in app form, so now you’re adding more apps.  That’s one area where I think BigCommerce really does a very good job.

Mike:   Yeah.  So let’s kind of talk about kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back for me as to why I’m in the process of switching from BigCommerce to Shopify.  For me, that was just their pricing and the way they went about marking up their software.  We were going from I believe a $149 a month plan and they were trying to get us to go to something that was going to cost $5,000 or $6,000 a year, so almost double what we were paying.  And for me, it just kind of comes down to – like I have no problem paying that kind of money for my shopping cart software, but you should probably have some features that you’ve improved upon throughout that timeframe, and BigCommerce hadn’t made any improvements over that timeframe, including what I think is their weakest part, their checkout.  Yeah, even though they’re on a separate domain, I think Shopify’s checkout conversion rate is way better and that’s actually one thing that we didn’t talk about yet, Grant.  What are your thoughts on BigCommerce’s checkout versus Shopify’s checkout?

Grant:  I actually believe it ends up being a wash at the end of the day because the BigCommerce checkout is abysmal.  I mean I could do a better checkout in my sleep, no questions.  We obviously tried to correct the checkout as much as we could, and if you look on EcomCrew, you can see that we wrote a fairly popular article about how we increased our BigCommerce checkout conversion, but the reality is that the BigCommerce checkout is still just awful.  It gets maybe a D+ at best.  And this is the second or third largest ecommerce platform out there.  It’s an embarrassment.  UI and UX teams exist out there that would just laugh a how bad it is.  Shopify, on the other hand, has the most beautiful UI and they use all the best practices.  There’s a great institute called the Baymard Institute out there that does nothing but shopping cart checkout and conversion testing, and Shopify has applied all of their best practices there.

So, on the one hand, you’ve got your own domain with BigCommerce and you’ve got the ability to edit your cart and try to improve it and do what you can.  On the other side, you’ve got Shopify, which is on the Shopify domain unless you’re on Shopify Plus.  You’ve got the problem that it’s no longer on your domain, but you’ve got the best checkout possible.  In my opinion, I would think for a lower-value item, Shopify probably is way, way better on the conversion rate.  For a high-value item, I think you lose a lot of trust when you jump to another third party domain, so that’s where BigCommerce ends up having a little bit of an edge.  But you kind of lose that too because, again, the checkout is pretty poor.  So, for a customer that’s kind of committed, I do think BigCommerce ends up winning, but I don’t know why they can’t kind of both fix their inherent weaknesses.  I kind of have an idea, but I think it’d be a long fix for the both of them.  What do you think, Mike?

Mike:   Yeah.  I don’t know.  I know how much money they’ve raised and I know how big their development team is.  They know that this is a problem and they’ve actually had their Head of Development talk to me firsthand about it because we wrote a post on EcomCrew that’s actually by far and away been our most popular post as far as traffic goes and, you know, it’s basically how to fix BigCommerce’s checkout.  We apply some basic principles.  I mean there’s only so much we can do with it, right?  We don’t have full control over BigCommerce’s checkout, but we did some shading on the top button and had the focus set properly and had the Checkout as a Guest by default and limited some of the countries and just did some things to make it better, and those fixes alone like doubled our conversion rate, which is amazing obviously, just doing a simple thing.  You can think of how much better it can be if they made these other fixes.  And they’ve been talking about fixing this for a year and a half or two years now and it’s still the same checkout.  So I don’t know.  For me, the free pass or the benefit of the doubt period is definitely coming on and the single thing that kind of pushed me besides the pricing was the checkout.

Grant:  Yup.  I’m definitely onboard with BigCommerce management not being exactly forthright in a lot of their pricing.  And they really made a giant mistake, I think, when they upped their prices by the amount they did.  Let’s talk about the reasons why.  Shopify already did IPO.  I mean they’re a Canadian company.  Their stock is like in the stratospheric levels in terms of PE ratio, but BigCommerce, they’re trying to move toward that eventual IPO, so they’re trying to increase their top-line, show really good numbers, and at the end of the day, they really do want to go and try to take a lot of enterprise traffic because that’s where the money is and nobody really wants to cater to the bottom guy that’s making under $100,000 in sales and taking a lot of support time.

So BigCommerce more or less kind of came out in their forum and really said that.  They just said, “Well, if you’re not doing a lot, then maybe you should consider switching platforms,” which pissed a lot of people off, and rightly so.  Now, that said, what pissed off the medium to larger guys, like myself and Mike, is that they went to us and said, “Well, your rates are now getting jacked up an incredible amount.”  And I like to think of myself as a fair negotiator, but when I tried negotiating with BigCommerce, I mean it was playing hardball.  Eventually, I just said, “Well, I’ve got one site over on Shopify, so now I’m going to take that much effort to switch the other one too.”  And after about three month of kind of saying I’ve got other options, they finally went down on price for me, but it was still not what I would consider a great price.  I’m still at about 250% above what I’m paying and I think that’s ridiculous to have that kind of a price jump almost overnight essentially.

Mike:   Again, without any additional features.

Grant:  Right.  Exactly.  So, on principle, they definitely have pissed a lot of people off.  And I think the majority of people that are asking us are people that are in the exact boat that say they obviously can pay but the way that BigCommerce is handling it is very unprofessional at best.

Mike:   Yeah.

Grant:  So there’re a lot of people who are just pissed off and there’s nothing you can do to fix pissed off.  When you violate that relationship, it says a lot about trust, because I kept asking BigCommerce.  I actually tried negotiating with them by saying, “Lock me in for these rates for X amount of years and guarantee me that,” and they actually wouldn’t guarantee me a 12-month rate or a 24-month rate.  And to me, that was insane because I said, “Well, what prevents you from jacking me up from $150 or whatever it was to $400?  And what prevents you from putting me from $400 to $1,000 a month sometime down the road?”  And they go, “Well, historically, we’ve never done that,” and I’m like, “Actually, historically, in the last month, you just did.  So what prevents you?”  They would not agree for anything past 36 months – or not 36, but they said they’d lock me in for 12 and I just said absolutely not.  So I put my foot down in the sand and I said, “If you can’t lock me in for 24 months, then you’re going to lose my business.”  They eventually agreed, but two years later, I have to imagine that they have more rate hikes coming.

Mike:   Mm-hmm.  You were kind of talking about being pissed off and stuff and I guess the other part of the straw that broke the camel’s back for me is they pissed off a lot of developers, and you probably know more about this than I do, Grant, because I’m not as technical, but I guess they changed their layout or their underlying architecture for their themes to was it Stencil?  Or what was the thing that they went to?

Grant:  Oh, yeah.  I could go on about this for a while.

Mike:   What was it called again?  It wasn’t Stencil; it was something else.

Grant:  So, the new one is called Stencil.

Mike:   It is Stencil, okay.

Grant:  Yeah, the new one’s Stencil, and the other word that you can call Stencil is Shopify lookalike or Shopify copycat because they essentially copied Shopify.  But yeah, go ahead.

Mike:   Yeah, so I mean the developer that we were working with – and I’ve had a long history of having a hard time finding good developers over my career as an entrepreneur.  We had finally found a really great developer team for BigCommerce and that was actually the reason why we ended up with BigCommerce at the time over Shopify.  We were poised to launch ColorIt actually on BigCommerce for that same reason at the end of last year, and then our developer email us and said, “Hey, look.  We’re no longer supporting BigCommerce starting at the end of this year.”  They were one of the biggest theme providers to BigCommerce.  They had I think three or four themes in the BigCommerce theme store that were doing very, very well for them, and from what I understand, BigCommerce basically said, “We’re going to this new format.  We’re kicking your themes out.  You’re no longer going to be allowed to sell on our platform,” and this is with zero notice obviously, “And you need to basically start adhering to this new standard.”  And they were just like basically, “F you,” and stopped supporting BigCommerce and we lost a developer.

So, in a panic, we started looking for another developer and it turned out that we found a better Shopify developer and that was kind of the thing at the time that made us switch.  But yeah, I mean I think they pissed off a lot of people in the development community and with it, we lost our support for BigCommerce so it’s like, “How do we possibly use BigCommerce without support for it?”  So that was kind of a high-level thing of what happened there with the developers.  I’m not sure if you had any similar experiences with that, Grant.

Grant:  Oh yeah.  So, to give everyone an idea, BigCommerce was on a type of theme model where there were probably more themes on BigCommerce than there were on Shopify.  And themes are generally developed by outside agencies or web design firms, and then ideally vetted by the companies.  On BigCommerce, there were a lot of themes that in my opinion, were not properly vetted and they were pretty poor.  Shopify generally does a better job, I think, having quality themes on there.  But one of the things about BigCommerce was that they really let you play a lot more in getting a lot of kind of nitty-gritty things, which led to both good and bad things because the more ability you give somebody to tinker under the hood, the more they can do right but the more they can do wrong.

And so I think what they did was that they really almost an overreaction to that because they probably had a huge amount of support cases by people who had bad themes, and as a result, they said, “Well, okay.  We’re just going to completely stop all of these third party developers.  We’re going to have one group come in.”  I think it was Pixel Union if I’m not mistaken, and those guys are a pretty well-known theme developer and, in my opinion, they’re way overrated.  And I’m going to go on my kind of haterade stance over there, but if you want somebody that makes you a very, very pretty website that doesn’t convert, you are well off with Pixel Union because their themes do not convert.  I’m putting the hammer down themes.  Don’t get a Pixel Union theme.  I know I’m going to get so much crap for that, but it’s pretty themes that don’t convert because most people aren’t selling jars of salt or a scarf.  Most people sell stuff that’s a little bit more nuanced that doesn’t rely solely on the picture to sell it.  And they don’t really optimize for conversion rate optimization in my opinion.

So, what BigCommerce did by hiring these guys is that they’re trying to mimic Shopify.  Stencil essentially uses the same kind of programming architecture that Shopify uses in their templating system, which is called Liquid.  Almost verbatim same kind of stuff.  The thing that’s even funny to me is that BigCommerce was based on PHP and their Stencil kind of development mode is based on Ruby, which is the development language that Shopify is based off of, which is also Ruby.  They know that they’re behind, very behind, and they’re trying to catch up, and in doing so, they overreacted and, like Mike said, they’re pissing off a lot of their developers that were used to one thing and now they’re coming in saying that you can’t even do anything.

I’ll say one last thing before I hand it over to you, Mike, because I know I’ve been talking for a while, but one of the things that was new to even me is that, as part of a consulting gig, I went and helped somebody pick out one of the new Stencil themes because you don’t even have access to the old themes anymore and it’s a very limited theme library that you have now, which is really bad for BigCommerce because a lot of them, in my opinion, again, don’t convert well.  I figured, “Well, we can just grab one of these off-the-shelf themes and then modify it so that it’s not the terrible beautiful but horribly converting theme.”  I downloaded the theme, realized you cannot edit it anymore.  You can only edit like CSS, like maybe change the colors or little navigation menus here, and I was just completely aghast.  I mean you can’t modify the theme that you bought, which is kind of like buying a car that you can’t pop the hood.  I think some stupid company like Volvo did that.  They had the female Volvo car that had a hood that you cannot pop except for the mechanic.  And you never hear about that car anymore, right?  Because well, it obviously didn’t sell because it was made for stupid people.  So done with my rant.  Go ahead, Mike.

Mike:   I hope you’re not suggesting that all women are stupid.

Grant:  No, but I’m saying Volvo obviously had this –

Mike:   I know.  I was trying to make you get in trouble with all the women in the audience.  Yeah, I mean I don’t really have much to add to that.  I actually haven’t even downloaded one of the Stencil themes since our developer kind of ditched BigCommerce at the end of last year.  And the timing was good and bad.  It was bad from the perspective that we had already paid them to do a bunch of work on ColorIt to launch on BigCommerce, so that sucked.  But it was good from the perspective of I’m glad we didn’t launch on BigCommerce and have to switch over to Shopify later.  It was kind of the impetus to get me to kind of try Shopify out because I was a big BigCommerce fan at that time, and now that I’m on Shopify and I’ve used both – and I mentioned all the pros and cons.

I’m not a Shopify fanboy necessarily because I definitely think it has some weaknesses, but when you add everything up, all the things that Grant and I have been talking about, for me, Shopify wins out.  In my situation with the stories that we’re running, it’s the best fit for us.  And I realize that your mileage might vary.  Grant made some really good points.  I think if you have a store with massive amounts of SKUs and, more importantly, massive amounts of variations on those SKUs and/or you’re doing customized stuff or things like that, where BigCommerce is just a better platform.  Your mileage might vary.  Maybe BigCommerce is for you.  That’s kind of our 30,000-foot view of Shopify versus BigCommerce.  Do you have anything else to kind of add, Grant, or do you think we did a pretty good job of covering everything?

Grant:  Yeah, I would add maybe just a few more things over here.  I mean I know that we can go on – at least I know I can go on with this forever, having been the one that really has to dig deep and try to bang my head for every frustration on both platforms.  You can always find a lot of reasons to like each platform or not like them.  The 30,000-foot view, in my opinion, is that BigCommerce had a very big start over Shopify.  That said, Shopify has actually been around for a very long time, but BigCommerce had a lot of features and then they stalled out.  Shopify kind of took that lull in BigCommerce’s development and just started running with the ball.  And, at this point, they have a very, very big momentum and BigCommerce is just scrambling to catch up as best they can.

So, as it stands right now, I think it’s even.  But I think in the future, if Shopify continues, they will be ahead of BigCommerce just flat out.  So there is that, and I’m going to put it out there, even though I’m probably still going to use BigCommerce on one of my sites, that I do think for 80% of ecommerce owners out there, Shopify is going to be the correct answer.  Now, that said, for the 20% of the people out there, why would you use BigCommerce?  Again, I think stores that have high average order values or need custom orders or you need lots of SKUs, lots of variations, I would say industrial type businesses are not going to do well on Shopify.  B2B type businesses are not going to do well on Shopify.  Shopify’s just not really meant to handle that.

Any time you talk to any type of developer and they say, “Yeah, Shopify can do that with an app,” or, “But they can do this,” the thing that I always hate, and any developer will tell you this, the most bolt-on and add-ons that you start doing, the more that your website starts to turn into like a Frankenstein website.  When you’ve got more than three different apps to make it run, you are at risk of blowing your website up.  And the reason is all these apps are not made by Shopify.  Shopify lets the apps be made by third party developers.  Now, do you trust your third party developer to do everything that it takes to update that app.  If you go and search through that ecosystem, and I know it’s very, very large, you will actually find, in my opinion, that half to more than half are just complete crap.  Like the coders aren’t good, they don’t upkeep them anymore, the reviews are bad.  A lot of them are just there trying to make money on ecommerce operators because, at the end of the day, app developers are not in it to help you, they’re in it to help themselves.

So even for me, with my technical background, I can go in there and take a look at a lot of what the apps are doing right and wrong and a lot of them are just heinously written.  I’m famous with Mike because I’m always bitching about the poor quality of coding for everything out there.  I’m like the person that can’t be appeased, but with BigCommerce, they have a lot less apps in there, but the apps that they do have are generally incredibly – it’s so hard to get on the BigCommerce system that you’ve got to be incredibly vetted to become an app developer there.  So there’s that.  I will say that if I had to put the victory, it would be for Shopify.  If you’re still undecided and you can’t figure out which one you want, most likely it’s going to be Shopify.  If you have technical talent, or again, you’re doing some big industrial or B2B stuff, you should definitely make sure you look at BigCommerce.  That’s kind of the end of my big overall view.

Mike:   Your big rant?

Grant:  Yup.  Second big rant.

Mike:   Cool.  Well, I think this has definitely been a good podcast because it’s definitely come up quite a bit.  Like I said, I know for sure it’s the highest-traffic blog post we have.  It might even be the most commented post we’ve ever had, so it’s been good to get a 40-minute podcast in here on the difference between BigCommerce and Shopify, and it’ll probably become a dated podcast within a year or even 6 months as these guys change functions and features so quickly, but at least for summer of 2016, it’s a good summary.  So, until next week, everybody, thanks for listening and we will talk to you then.

Grant:  Outro:  If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.  Head over to EcomCrew.com and sign up for the EcomCrew newsletter to get regular updates on what’s working in ecommerce today, and get the latest from our blog.  If you haven’t already, we’d really appreciate an honest review in iTunes.  These reviews help us make sure we’re delivering exactly the content you need to be successful.  And make sure you subscribe to the show for more tips to move you up in the business ladder and into success.  We’ll see you next week.

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1 year ago

I now use vpcart (vpcart.com) because at an affordable price it has more features than shopify. besides that we can make custom templates without having to have design or program skills. only using the design manager, even ordinary people can customize the shop design according to their individual tastes.

4 years ago

I love your guys candor here! Totally awesome.

Unfortunately, Shopify is still missing many of the basic features you talked about here, such as a flexible promotions system.

Shopify Scripts doesn’t help much. It’s too complex a system for marketers that just need to make a decision and go, go, go. You’ll notice that during this last BCFM season, all major merchants discounts were a flat 20 to 30%, so Shopify Plus merchants could avoid ripping their hair out. Yet such obvious, flat discounts can really hamper your sales the rest of the year. Pricing confusion in discounting is ESSENTIAL.

When I signed up for Plus, too, I didn’t realize that the most basic functions in the world, such as user accounts, were basically nonexistent. Not only are user accounts a useless joke (which angered quite a few people when I sent out more than 50k emails using Plus’ “user account inviter”), but an end user can’t even change their email address. Nor can the admin do it for them!

Nobody would even think to check for such a thing. Such ultra-basics are assumed, and for good reason. It’s completely bizarre that even the $2k+ a month Shopify plan doesn’t have a grasp of the most fundamental ABCs.

I used to think Shopify was more like a Mac or an Apple, but I really regret saying that now. I was just flat out wrong. Apple designs for both simplify and power. Something I wish Shopify would take their billions and invest in themselves. They have a killer name, but inadequate software and engineering. They’re playing ultra-weak game.

Another thing that’s ticked me off is that you’ll be told by sales how much you’ll save with Shopify Plus, but in reality you rate jacked up the ass. MANY apps, be it Rewind for backups or review apps or what have you, will charge you 5 to 10x more for the privilege of “paying less” with Plus. Yuck.

While Shopify is awesome for trying out a new concept fast, even Shopify Plus is basic to the point where it can really suck running a store long term. Big stores Tesla left for some good reasons, I’d say, even though they went with an odd choice — Adobe CMS.

Currently investigating BigCommerce again. I see their cool ex-CEO, Mitch, is nowhere to be found, unfortunately. I hope the platform is usable enough these days. At least the promotional system looks to be as flexible as Amazon, which is really what you need when you’re in it for the long haul.

Shops like vitacost.com, Nordstrom and most other biggies really need that flexibility. I helped move a friends $30m/yr nutrition business from WordPress/Ultracart to Plus, and we’ve regretted it significantly. So many everyday promotional activities suddenly became an uphill battle. So much so it looks like we’ll migrate again this year.

Also interested in WooCommerce, although the WordPress environment sort of weirds me out for non-writing functions. At least you get killer SEO when you set things up right. A plus for Ultracart, too, although you’d figure there must be much better options than UltraCart these days.

Magenta 2 is far too complex and a real bummer.

The British made some of the first and best converting carts out there in the earlier days, such as osCommerce and ZenCart. I wonder why we don’t see any good British SaaS cart these days. They’d probably kill it now, as well.

4 years ago
Reply to  David

Magento 2. Probably some other typos in there, too (both human and spellcheck generated). Ironic, since after I go on about Apple’s design, the spellcheck gets one over on me. Oops. Haha

Dave Bryant
4 years ago
Reply to  David

Thanks for the insight!

5 years ago

How would you compare Shopify and Bigcommerce Optimized One Page Checkout now that we are in 2018? I am with Bigcommerce, but thinking to move over to Shopify. You guys have stores on both platforms. Can you help?

Dave Bryant
5 years ago
Reply to  Henry

Hi Henry,
Mike has actually been off bigcommerce for a while now so hard to compare. We’re both very happy with Shopify though.

7 years ago

Shopify Plus $1500 a month, year commitment + 2.15% usa cc , 3.15 international cc using shopify payments quoted today

7 years ago

Great show. We are on Bigcommerce, with lots of variations, glad we chose without knowing the differences between the 2 before we started.

Grant, can you recommend a Bigcommerce developer? We really like how the product page look like on cuttingboard.com, would like to improve our online store presence. Right now, we are not doing any kind of customization.

Grant Chen
7 years ago
Reply to  Eve

Thanks Eve, that product page went through a lot of iterations and testing to get where it is today.

Unfortunately all of the development that I do is in-house. It’s fairly common to find BigCommerce developers on UpWork though depending on your budget. We used the BigCommerce Partners page when we first started to use a Platinum developer and went through the whole vetting process, but that was one of the worst mistakes we ever made. The design firm was Marketing Media, so go Google purposes, “Marketing Media Sucks” as BigCommerce developers would be how I would describe them. On the plus side, it forced us (well, me) to learn BigCommerce inside and out in two weeks. So, unfortunately hiring firms is always a bit of a crapshoot.

Right now there’s a bit of an upheaval in the BigCommerce development community due to Stencil, the new theme framework. You’ll want to find someone that can develop on Stencil, since they’ll probably expire their old system at some point down the road since it will be too hard to support.

Michael Jamin
7 years ago

This was an excellent discussion. Thank you, Grant and Mike. We’re hosted on BigCommerce, and I’ve heard so many amazing things about Shopify, I’ve always wondered if going with BC was the wrong decision. But after hearing this podcast, I feel a little better. Because we’re our own manufacturer, I really don’t think we need a lot of the bells and whistles that Shopify offers. I’m not thrilled with BC’s rate hikes, but after hearing this episode, I’m convinced I’m in the right place for now. Thank you both!

Grant Chen
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael Jamin

You’re welcome Michael, we’re glad to have helped. I definitely fall into the, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” category.

Nobody is happy with the BC rate hikes, but I do believe Shopify must raise their prices in the near future. It’s just a matter of how long they can burn through their investor cash in the name of increasing install base. At least that’s my theory, given their support is Canada/US based. That or they negotiated ridiculous rates with Stripe to take a solid 1-1.3% cut off the top of their customers as an invisible tax to help fund ops.

7 years ago

The Questions is, the Bet is whether Shopify will or could add the features Bigcommerce has and everyone likes or will Bigcommerce add the features that Shopify has to pull even? Which is more likely to happen, it’s not brain surgery Price vs. Price, Features vs. Features for your business needs.

Grant Chen
7 years ago
Reply to  Clifford

Honestly I don’t think Shopify will try to add features to compete against BigCommerce. More features = more support questions = more headaches. Shopify is growing very fast and keeping their support under control is probably one of the top priorities, right next to keeping their stock prices high. Adding more expenses to their line item probably is not in their interest at this moment. Same goes for BigCommerce, since they are readying for an IPO, they likely will have zero reason to push major development other than anything that brings in new recurring revenues.

Both Shopify and BigCommerce are pushing into the POS space, with Shopify POS and BigCommerce/Square integration. Retail stores are easy customers who have pockets, are easy sells (since most retail POS systems are literally a POS). That’s where I see the new battleground for the near future, along with adding multi-channel selling options (Amazon, eBay, etc).

7 years ago

Sorry I didn’t mean you specifically.. I meant Magento would require Dev work monthly., how is chopping blocks converting?

Grant Chen
7 years ago
Reply to  Sully

Yes, you need someone (internal or external) dedicated for Magento on your team. Whether to ensure continuity of operations or feature enhancements. At some point it makes sense to take over complete control of your site, however. Shopify and BigCommerce push their Enterprise level packages, but there’s just no substitute for getting access to the code base.

Chopping Blocks is converting fairly well, but more so due to the audience. It’s a work in progress still that unfortunately is not getting much attention due to other pressing matters.

7 years ago

Grant, Thanks for your feedback. From what I have heard, you are just battling updates and development every month..Is that not the case? Last month was a slower month as we moved to a new fulfillment center and had to pause a lot of our ads. That was around 2,200 orders. Thanks for the feedback.

Grant Chen
7 years ago
Reply to  Sully

I’m not really struggling much with BigCommerce, so I’ve got it mostly where I need it to be. There’s always things I would like to get done, but it’s smaller things at the moment. ChoppingBlocks is definitely in the “major updates” required stage however.

7 years ago

Conversion rate –

Do you think your custom checkout on BigCommerce would lose to shopify plus checkout? To be clear – shopify plus keeps your domain ?

We spend $1500 on BigCommerce because we do 2,000-4,000 orders a month. So $2500 is no issue but if we could increase conversion 10 percent it would be hassle of changing..

Also- what do you mean Klaviyo isn’t as tight on BigCommerce? We use it as well

Grant Chen
7 years ago
Reply to  Sully

For what you do Sully, if you’re pushing 4,000 orders a month I would probably be on Magento at that point. Why not own your store and checkout completely if you can afford it.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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