Platform Review: Is BigCommerce Right for Your Store?
During my time as an eCommerce professional, I’ve worked with clients in all types of industries, running stores on every eCommerce platform available. Often people will call my office and ask, “What platform do you recommend? Which one is the best?” The truth is, I can’t give a really good answer to that question, at least not at first. I need to get to know what kind of business the person on the other end of the phone is running. Each eCommerce platform on the market has different strengths and weaknesses that make them a better match for one type of business or another.
In this article I aim to talk about what kind of business is right for the extremely popular eCommerce platform, BigCommerce. Please bear in mind that you don’t have to fit into all of these categories perfectly to work well with BigCommerce. These are the triggers that I would look for when deciding if BigCommerce would be a good platform to recommend to you.
You Are An Established Mid-Market Business
By mid-market, I mean that your business earns somewhere between one and 20 million dollars per year. That’s not to say that businesses bigger and smaller don’t run perfectly well on the platform, but BigCommerce is developing their platform with the goal of becoming the leading eCommerce platform for mid-market businesses. Many of the changes and improvements being made to the BigCommerce platform are being made with this goal, and these customers, in mind.
You Don’t Have an IT Professional on Staff
BigCommerce is a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, also called a hosted platform. SaaS is defined as a software that is owned and provided remotely. In BigCommerce’s case, from the cloud. As opposed to Magento, BigCommerce’s biggest competitor among mid-market businesses, which is an on premise platform, also known as an open source platform.
The reason SaaS is better for businesses without permanent IT help, is that much of the messiness of running a website day to day has been taken off of your hands. BigCommerce takes care of hosting, security for the site, as well as updates. They also back their platform up with a support team, just in case you do run into trouble. Hosted platforms are also designed to be easier to edit without working in HTML or CSS. SaaS platforms are quicker to launch, and less complex to manage day to day. With an on premise solution, like Magento, you will need someone on hand, who is familiar with coding, to fix bugs and make updates as necessary.
There is, however, a double edge to this sword. Because a SaaS platform has to be as generally usable as possible, there are limitations to what a merchant can do with SaaS that don’t exist for open source platforms. On open source, you’re responsible for your own hosting and your own security, but that means you have a lot more free reign to customize your own store. SaaS platforms, like BigCommerce, need to restrict what their merchants can change, because they have more skin in the game. When BigCommerce merchants need customization, they have the option to seek out help from third party development partners. That’s where people like me come in. However, we will never be able to customize a hosted site as much as an open source site. Also, once you do customize your site on a hosted platform, you give up some of your freedom to make updates and changes at will. A platform update, made without consulting your developer, could end up wiping out all the customization work you just paid thousands of dollars for.
If you’re running a fairly straightforward eCommerce store, BigCommerce can reduce your cost by taking much of the day to day work of an on staff IT professional off your hands. This does not mean, however, that you will have zero maintenance costs. You will most likely need to reach out to a third party development partner from time to time to keep the store running smoothly. If you’re in need of unique customization, reach out to a development partner to make sure your requirements are possible before deciding on any hosted platform.
You Expect Your Business to Grow
Who doesn’t? Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing this. But scalability is a concern for serious eCommerce merchants, and I think that BigCommerce has attacked this issue in a particularly interesting way.
Each hosted platform has a different way of charging bigger merchants more. Shopify charges transaction fees, so the more sales you make, the more you pay them. Volusion enforces bandwidth limits, so the more traffic you get, the more you pay. BigCommerce prices their plans based on gross merchandise sales. In short, if you make over a certain revenue ceiling they will have you upgrade to the next level. You can see those ceilings here:
- BigCommerce Standard: $50,000
- BigCommerce Plus: $150,000
- BigCommerce Pro: between $400,000 and $1 Million
Anything above 1 million dollars qualifies for BigCommerce’s Enterprise plan. The Enterprise plan has no annual sales limit, and the price is discussed with the business’s BigCommerce representative.
The reason I like this method more than the other two hosted platforms, is because this is the most direct way of charging based on value. While the other two platforms attach their price increases to common indicators of value, BigCommerce has developed their price structure around value, and based it on mutual success.
You’re Willing to Pay More for More Features
BigCommerce plans are more expensive than their hosted platform competitors, but they come with more functionality. This is perfect for businesses who are already established, can afford a slightly higher price point, and might appreciate having a store with a more robust set of features.
One great feature, is BigCommerce’s abandon cart emails. They are probably the best in the business at the moment. This tool allows you to create up to 3 automated emails that will fire off to a customer who gets a portion of the way though the sales process, but does not complete their purchase. Abandon cart emails have been shown to dramatically increase conversion rates, and require very little extra effort.
Another feature advantage of BigCommerce is product reviews. Though it may seem hard to believe, not every eCommerce hosted platform comes with the ability for your customers to leave reviews. Instead, they require you to purchase a third party application to enable reviews. All BigCommerce plans come with review functionality.
BigCommerce’s feature set also shows it’s merit in it’s ability to set product variants. Shopify stops you at 3 product variants, before you need to purchase a plugin or find a workaround. If you know how to use BigCommerce’s product rules and product options correctly, you can set up a nearly endless number of product configurations.
I could go on about other features in which BigCommerce is stronger than it’s competitors, but that would be the entire article. When doing a price comparison, I think you’ll find that if you need anything more robust than a simple eCommerce store, the price of BigCommerce is worth paying for the extra features it buys you.
You Sell on Multiple Channels
Each eCommerce platform offers different levels of integration with the web’s biggest eCommerce marketplaces. Some will have a natural integration with one channel, but require a third party integration to sync with another. If multi channel selling is a particular concern of yours, BigCommerce has options, and limitations as well.
BigCommerce offers BigCommerce Channel Manager, which merchants can use to list products, and monitor sales on Facebook, Pintrest, Ebay, and Amazon. However, because many of these integrations are new, there are limitations which you should be aware of. For example, as of now, BigCommerce merchants can only list their products in a limited number of Amazon categories through Channel Manager. They are:
- Arts, Crafts & Sewing
- Beauty & Personal Care
- Health & Household
- Home & Kitchen
- Toys & Games
We expect this integration to grow, and include more categories, as time goes on.
Interestingly, BigCommerce is one of the few eCommerce platforms that can currently boast an integration with the Chinese eCommerce giant, Alibaba, but for buying not for listing. Currently BigCommerce merchants can browse and buy products wholesale from Alibaba’s 300 Gold Suppliers (vetted suppliers) for resale. The BigCommerce merchant is still responsible for arranging and paying for the shipping from China. As of now, this is not true drop shipping.
If multi channel selling is your priority, you’ll want to grill your platform’s sales rep on the particulars of their platform’s integration. BigCommerce, like all eCommerce platforms, has strengths and weaknesses in this area. You’ll need to assess how strong they are in your high priority channels.
If you’ve recognized your own business in any of the descriptions above, BigCommerce might be the right system for you. Of course, your business is unique, and this doesn’t cover everything you might need out of your eCommerce platform. Not by a long shot. You can start doing more in depth research by:
Signing up for a free trial: Each of the hosted eCommerce platforms have two week free trials that allow you to get used to that platforms admin area. Sign up for more than one, and perform a head to head test.
Ask for a demo: Sales reps at BigCommerce, and its competitors, are often more than happy to set up a time to go through their platform with you, and show you what it can do.
Call a professional: If you have specific and unique requirements, I would recommend that you get in touch with a 3rd party eCommerce professional, like myself. We may be easily able to endorse, or eliminate, some of your options.
More info on BigCommerce can be found on the BigCommerce community forums, and you can sign up for a free trial on their homepage. Every online business is different, but each business has one thing in common: with a little research and a lot of elbow grease, your eCommerce store can succeed.