BigCommerce released an email statement today indicating that they are going to change blow up their SSL policies with store owners. In the email, it states that Silver Plan members will no longer be able to purchase or install a dedicated SSL certificate, Gold Plan members will only be able to use a BigCommerce issued SSL certificate, while Platinum and Enterprise plans are unaffected.

Let me tell you why this is a dangerous dance with fire for both BigCommerce and store owners: conversion blackmail.

Here is the email in its entirety:

As part of our commitment to keeping our Partners informed, we wanted to let you know about an exciting new feature and some changes to how we handle dedicated SSL certificates on our platform.

Site-wide HTTPS
For merchants using Bigcommerce Enterprise, we’re introducing the exclusive ability to host every page on HTTPS. Besides the added security, the primary benefit is improved search rankings on Google. This feature is scheduled to be released to a limited beta group in March, and then to all Enterprise stores in April.

 

Dedicated SSL
We’re making some changes to our dedicated SSL offering on Silver and Gold plans to better align with the requirements of small- and medium-sized businesses. Existing merchants who have already installed a dedicated SSL will be grandfathered in, but the following changes will be put in place for stores upgrading on or after March 17, 2015:
  • The Silver Plan will no longer have the option to purchase or install a dedicated SSL certificate.

  • The Gold Plan will continue to have the option to install a dedicated SSL certificate purchased from Bigcommerce, but will no longer have the option to install third-party certificates.

  • Platinum and Enterprise Plans will continue to have the option to install a dedicated SSL certificate purchased from Bigcommerce or a third party.

 

Thanks,

The Bigcommerce Partner Team

For those not in the know, Google came out and said that SSL would play a factor in a website’s ability to rank in Google’s search results. While enforced SSL browsing isn’t a requirement for ranking, the writing on the wall is that Google is pushing for the entire web to transact over secure http traffic at some point in the future.

In the email, BigCommerce immediately acknowledges that SSL is used by Google as a ranking signal for SEO and offers this full secure browsing experience for their enterprise clients. On the other hand, while their introductory plans are still able to use SSL, they are removing the ability for store owners to use their own SSL certificates.

What does this mean and how does it affect you?  Let me show you.

Here is a screenshot from a BigCommerce store that sells men’s fashion clothing with the URL shown at the top.

non-secure-shopping

 

Here is what happens when you checkout and end up on BigCommerce’s shared SSL certificate. URL highlighted in red for posterity.

shared-ssl-bigcommerce

Introducing change to the customer in the all-holy conversion funnel is sacrilege.

Online shoppers already abandon carts 67.75% of the time  and 17%  of those shoppers indicate concerns regarding security as one of the reasons for leaving.  What would a customer who is shopping at www.amazon.com think if they were taken to http://store-x3tdis.mybigcommerce.com to complete their checkout?  What you would think if you were shopping at Williams-Sonoma and when you went to the register to checkout, the clerk took you to the stock room to checkout on a cell-phone app?  The answer is that introducing change to the customer in the all holy conversion funnel is sacrilege.

Making Life Tougher for New Businesses

With this new change, what new Silver Plan owners are going to face are additional headwinds to starting an ecommerce business. Silver Plans are already paying a 1.5% transaction fee, have no abandoned cart (an oxy moron when you consider the 1.5% fee), have no access to feeds and marketplaces and are now forced to push their customers to a non-branded domain to finish their checkout.

The reality is that if you’re even doing $500 in sales a month, jumping from the Silver Plan to the Gold Plan to gain access to the Abandoned Cart Recovery is worth it. If you can reduce your abandonment rate from 70% to 65%, that’s an extra $83 per month in your pocket and covers the extra $50/month. For the math inclined:

  1. Retention Rate = 100% – Abandon Rate (70%) = 30% = 0.3
  2. $500/month / Retention Rate = 500 / 0.3 = $1,666 (Total Sales Potential)
  3. Total Sales Potential * (Retention Rate + 5%) = $1,666 * 0.35 = $583/mo

So the problem isn’t the pricing,  because if you’re at even a small revenue stream, the business math makes sense. Who it doesn’t make sense for are the entrepreneurs still working their way to their first $500 month. Ecommerce is an industry with a high failure rate. How high? I don’t even know, because Google search reveals no published data from any reputable sources. None!  And you know it’s bad when nobody is willing to publish it.

At EcomCrew, we give it straight when we say ecommerce is not an easy business. But the idea of handicapping an incubating business is like withholding water from the slowest guy on the football field . They’re not going to get better, they’re gonna die of thirst. This business move by BigCommerce is going to exacerbate the burn rate of their new businesses, period.

What I believe is that management at BigCommerce realize this fact too: that between Silver Plans deciding to continue paying the $29.95/month and potentially losing customers with a shared checkout or upgrading to the Gold Plan @ $79.95, Silver Plans will make a calculated business decision and upgrade to Gold. This would fit BigCommerce just fine, because the harsh reality is that most SaaS vendors don’t make much on their starter or “teaser” plans. Like many businesses, the customers paying the least often cause the most headaches with support, setup and onboarding costs. The real money comes from enterprise level customers.

That said, the most vocal group of owners is going to be the Silver Plans (aka the Mom and Pop stores) that will be spreading their word around at anything that dips into their marginal profit centers. Every new batch of potential store owners that Googles around will eventually see the warning that if they use the BigCommerce Silver Plan, they will not have a chance to own their checkout funnel. That’s serious business, folks.

Most store owners are surprisingly lacking in tech know-how. But what they lack in tech they make up in business acumen; and owning the customer is Business 101. Serious players, the guys that are willing to commit cash and time into their stores are going to commit to the bigger plans anyways. The small fish, the guys who pay for the, “Learn How I made $X Million Dollars Selling Junk!” seminars will always continue to flounder. But the mid-level guys like us at EcomCrew, who started out small and grew it out, we would have had a hell of a time figuring out why our conversion numbers were so bad if we started on a system stacked against us. I would not be at all be surprised if this shared checkout is a +20% hit on top line revenue for small stores.

For store owners out there, especially those on BigCommerce, what are your thoughts?  For those on Silver Plans, will you upgrade or grin and bear it until you make enough revenue to warrant the jump?  We would love to hear your opinions.

For disclosure: At EcomCrew, we run our sites (IceWraps.com and CuttingBoard.com) on BigCommerce Gold accounts. We use dedicated SSL certs and will be grandfathered in, so this change doesn’t affect us.

Mike’s Bounce Back

My favorite thing in the world is when a company sends out an announcement, that they full well know is a negative for their customer base, and try to make it sound positive. BigCommerce could make so many other features part of their Gold and Platinum plans; picking SSL to be the one to hold hostage is a major mistake in my opinion. I wouldn’t be the least be surprised for them to update this policy within a year.