If you’re looking to get into the ecommerce business but feel overwhelmed by the complications associated with setting up an ecommerce store, you are the target market for BigCommerce. Founded in 2009 by Australians Eddie Machaalani and Mitchel Harper, BigCommerce has built a reputation as being an easy-to-use platform. This is ideal for ecommerce rookies—especially those who are also small business owners.
To date, 95,000 ecommerce stores have been built on BigCommerce, generating $17 billion in revenue. But does BigCommerce’s ease of use and popularity make it the right choice for your small business, as opposed to a different provider? That is the question we are going to try to answer in this review.
What Is BigCommerce?
When we say BigCommerce is an ecommerce platform, what we mean is that it is a software application, accessible via the internet, that allows a business to manage its online website, sales, and operations. But to say that is all BigCommerce does would be selling it short.
There is a robust feature set built into the BigCommerce platform that allows for so much more than just the buying of products online. BigCommerce can also process payments, market your business, assist with shipping, and plug into other software products to streamline your business management.
We’ll talk more about BigCommerce’s features later, but it’s important you understand all that BigCommerce offers from the jump.
What Can I Sell Via BigCommerce?
In a word, most things. Among the business categories listed on the BigCommerce website are art, automobiles, clothing, electronics, food and beverage, furniture, jewelry, home and garden, sports and outdoors, and toys and games, to name a few.
Things that can’t be sold using a BigCommerce platform are things that are illegal to sell online, such as liquor, weapons, and medicine.
How to Set Up a BigCommerce Account
To get started with BigCommerce, sign up for the 15-day free trial by clicking the “Get Started” icon on the homepage. You will be prompted to enter some basic business information, including a store name, password, and the size of your business (in terms of annual sales).
Once you sign up, you will be able to log in and access your store dashboard and control panel. Note that your store is not public when you first sign up, and will only become public when you choose to launch your store live.
Photo credit: BigCommerce
Navigating Your Control Panel
The BigCommerce control panel is where you will initially set up and configure your store, create your product catalog, customer and order management, and access sales and marketing reports.
The control panel is extremely intuitive and user-friendly. It’s designed so that the most commonly used parts of your store’s backend, like checking orders, adding/editing products, and updating customer data, are accessible from any other part of the store with just one or two clicks.
Next to your control panel is the dashboard, which provides you a quick overview of store reports and recent orders. The top of the dashboard shows notifications and store alerts/events like new order messages, pending reviews, products with low stock, and any updates to themes.
Below that is your store performance. This shows how your store data is trending over time. You can view store metrics for the current day, week, month, or year, and compare data from the currently selected time period to a previous time period.
There are also sections where you can view your store’s all-time stats, recent orders, and news relevant to your business. All sections of the dashboard can also be customized to fit your personal preferences.
Configuring Store Settings
The first thing you want to do after accessing your control panel is configure your store settings. Your store settings allow you to determine a myriad of details relating to the functionality and capabilities of your store.
In particular you can set your store URL, edit your SEO and display settings, tweak your store navigation, adjust the information available about your products, adjust sharing permissions, input your date and time zone, and more.
Adding Products to Your Store
You can access the product addition feature from your control panel. For each individual product you add, you have to fill out the following information, some of which is required:
- Tax class
- Product category
- Product type
- SKU code
- Product description
- Shipping cost
- Product image (in JPEG, GIF, or PNG format)
These are the most common fields you must add, but BigCommerce also provides for a variety of additional fields, such as inventory tracking information, related products, warranty information, and SEO settings, plus customizations for branding, the collection of product reviews, and the ability to edit the appearance of different product pages.
BigCommerce allows you to bulk upload a product catalog from a spreadsheet or migrate your catalogue over from a third-party ecommerce platform. See the Importing & Exporting Products page for more.
Photo credit: BigCommerce
Selecting a Store Theme
BigCommerce’s pre-made store templates are called stencil themes. There are 125 stencil themes available in the BigCommerce template store, with close to 500 variations. Seven of these themes are free. The rest range in price from $145 to $235.
Each stencil theme comes with its own theme editor, which allows you to change the color scheme and display settings for your store. With it you can add credit card icons in the footer, set how many products display in a search result, adjust the universal image dimensions for products, and much more.
There is also a stencil command-line interface (CLI), which allows you to edit your theme code.
Setting Up Payments
As with any ecommerce platform, you need a payment gateway to accept credit card payments in-store through BigCommerce. Fortunately, BigCommerce integrates with most major providers, like Authorize.net and Skrill.
If you don’t need to accept payments in-store, you can have customers check out using one of the major payment service providers, like Stripe or Square. BigCommerce will not charge you extra processing fees for using a third-party provider (unlike Shopify). In addition, BigCommerce offers discounted credit card processing rates through PayPal.
Other useful payment options include the ability to accept different currencies, set recurring payments, and ask for age verification.
Setting Up Shipping
If you are selling products, you will need to arrange your shipping strategy with consideration to where you are shipping from, locations you want to ship to, and shipping options you want to provide for your customers.
The BigCommerce shipping manager, which can be accessed through the control panel, will allow you to set these guidelines. Through this portal, you can arrange domestic or international shipping zones, and your protocols for shipping to that area. This includes what shipping provider you will use, shipping method (flat-rate, overnight, free), the price for shipping to that zone, and your timeline for delivery.
BigCommerce also provides built-in, real-time quote integrations with major shipping providers, including USPS, FedEx, UPS, Canada Post, Royal Mail, and Australia Post. These providers will calculate the shipping cost based on the shipping zone, product dimensions, and timeline for delivery.
For more advanced shipping services, BigCommerce integrates with shipping management platforms ShipperHQ and ShipStation.
BigCommerce makes it easy to collect sales tax through your online store. You can access your tax settings through the control panel and set manual tax rates for areas you are required to collect sales tax. The sales tax is applied at checkout based on the shopper’s billing or shipping address.
When you set your tax settings, you will need to define your tax class based on your local tax laws, as well as the tax class and rate for the zones you ship to. BigCommerce also allows you to set different tax classes for shipping and gift wrapping, and configure your tax display settings.
If you’d rather not calculate your tax rates manually, you can integrate with a third-party service like Avalara.
Launching Your Store
There are a few things you should do before taking your store live. The first is to place a test order. This is to ensure your payment and shipping settings function as intended. The other thing you should do is preview your store online, which you can do by clicking the “View Store” option in the control panel. You will also receive a preview code, which you can provide to others if you want feedback on your store.
If everything looks good, you can take your store live by clicking the “Launch Store” icon in the dashboard. Note that you can make your store live while still subscribed to the 15-day free trial.
Once you’ve launched your store, you will be able to take advantage of all BigCommerce has to offer. Here are some of the notable features BigCommerce provides for their users:
- Customer Segmentation: Through the control panel, you can group customers by location, purchasing trends, and demographics.
- Blog: All BigCommerce websites come with a blog built-in, which can be a valuable tool for your marketing and SEO efforts.
- Analytics: BigCommerce will produce reports on your store performance that can provide you with valuable insight into your business. BigCommerce also integrates with third-party vendors like Google Analytics.
- Abandoned Cart Saver: The abandoned cart saver will send an email to customers who signed off with items in their shopping cart. BigCommerce claims this can recover up to 15% of abandoned carts.
- Discounts, Coupons, and Gift Cards: Apply discounts to specific products, or allow customers to use coupons or gift cards during checkout.
- Marketplace Integration: Integrate your BigCommerce store with major online marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Jet, and Walmart.
- Third-Party Integrations: We’ve mentioned several already, but there is a wide range of third-party apps BigCommerce integrates with that make managing your online business easier. The BigCommerce app store features over 600 apps, including major accounting, customer service, marketing, and security software.
- Security: On the topic of security, we should mention that BigCommerce is Level 1 PCI compliant, and all BigCommerce sites come with secure socket level (SSL) certificates.
- Customer Service: Another thing that speaks to BigCommerce’s ease of use is its customer service and technical support. Customers are offered 24/7 support via email, live chat, or phone. There is also an impressive amount of documentation via the BigCommerce Help Center, including a community forum, weekly webinars, and a video tutorial platform, all of which is free.
There are four pricing plans with BigCommerce: Standard, Plus, Pro, and Enterprise. Each comes with no setup or cancellation fee, and you can get a 10% discount if you purchase an annual subscription (as opposed to monthly). Each subscription level is based on your store’s annual sales revenue.
Let’s take a look at each plan.
The Standard plan costs $29.95 a month for stores with sales up to $50,000 annually. With the Standard plan you can have an unlimited number of products and staff accounts, a built-in point of sale (POS), discounts on shipping labels, social selling features, and the ability to accept Apple Pay.
If you use PayPal as your payment processor, you will get a discounted 2.9% + $0.30 credit card processing fee.
The Pro plan will run you $79.95 per month and can accommodate stores with up to $150,000 in annual sales. Along with all the Standard plan features, Pro plan users get the abandoned cart recovery and customer segmentation features, plus the ability to store customer credit cards.
The PayPal processing fee on the Plus plan is 2.5% + $0.30.
The Pro plan bumps you up to a $249.95 monthly subscription fee, but will allow you to handle up to $400,000 in annual sales. Additional benefits of the Pro plan include the ability to collect Google customer reviews, a customized shopping experience based on customer preferences, and a unique SSL certificate.
For Pro plan users, PayPal offers a 2.2% + $0.30 processing fee on credit card transactions.
If your online business is generating over $400,000 in annual sales, you should use BigCommerce’s Enterprise plan. The Enterprise plan price is quote-based and relative to your business’s needs. With the Enterprise plan you can expect 1:1 support, unlimited API calls, and strategic account services.
The Enterprise plan can offer even lower credit card processing rates through PayPal, although a specific rate is not specified on the website.
What all of this information tells us is that BigCommerce is a pretty darn good ecommerce platform option for small business owners. Here is what jumps out to us as its greatest benefits:
Ease of Use
Between the control panel and dashboard, theme editor, and Help Center, BigCommerce offers an intuitive and user-friendly experience, which matters for folks who are new to ecommerce. Unlike some other platforms, we feel you’d be able to set up a professional looking store without having needing programming assistance.
No Payment Processing Fee
Another factor that makes BigCommerce friendly for small business owners is the fact that it does not charge a credit card processing fee outside of what is required by the merchant services provider.
This is a differentiator between BigCommerce and their main competitor, Shopify, which charges an additional fee if you do not use it’s in-house payment processing system, Shopify Payments.
Although BigCommerce’s rating on TrustPilot isn’t great (2 stars out of five), there is some positive user reviews around the ease of use, SEO tools, and the company’s willingness to add additional features based on customer feedback. Speaking of, customers also say BigCommerce is very helpful when they reach out for assistance.
Like any company or service, BigCommerce isn’t perfect. Here are some things to be wary of:
Because BigCommerce’s pricing plans are based on your store’s annual sales, if you exceed your limit, you will be bumped up to the next level plan. If you are on the Pro plan and exceed your sales limit, you will be charged an additional $150 per month for every additional $200,000 in sales, up to $3 million.
These hidden fees could impact your ability to scale with BigCommerce.
As the TrustPilot rating indicates, users have a few bones to pick with BigCommerce. Some of the most common critiques include the aforementioned automatic price increases, as well as bugginess with integrations and general functionality.
Is BigCommerce Right for Your Business?
In our recent ranking of the top ecommerce platforms for small business, we determined that BigCommerce is the best alternative to Shopify. This is high praise, considering Shopify is arguably the most popular ecommerce platform on the market today.
BigCommerce is equal to Shopify in many ways, particularly in the array of features and price. Sure, there are tradeoffs between the two: Shopify has no annual sales limit, but BigCommerce has no payment processing fees regardless of your provider. Shopify offers more customization, but BigCommerce is considered more user-friendly.
To pick between the two, you need to decide what you value in an ecommerce platform. The good news is, you can’t go wrong either way.