What is Big Commerce?
‘Hosted’ means that Big Commerce runs on its own servers — so you don’t have to buy web hosting or install anything on your computer to use it. As long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can build and manage your store from anywhere.
Big Commerce is a ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) product, which means that you don’t own the software — instead, you pay a monthly fee to use it.
The product comes with a range of customizable templates to help you design your online store; you can use it to sell either physical or digital goods; and there are also some tools provided to help you market your store.
The platform is mainly aimed at people without much in the way of web design skills — but it also allows more tech-savvy users and developers to take things further by tweaking the HTML and CSS of Big Commerce stores.
As with all hosted online store and website building services — Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo etc. — if Big Commerce were to shut down or change its feature set radically, you might find yourself in a position where you needed to migrate your store to another platform (reach out to ME if that happens!).
But unless you are in a position to develop your own online store from scratch, you are in all likelihood going to end up using a hosted solution like Big Commerce anyway to run your store, and the good news is that it is one of the more established products of its kind out there.
According to Big Commerce, the company has 60,000 customers; 1,000+ employees, and a client roster that includes Ben and Jerry’s, Skull Candy and Paypal.
Big Commerce offers four monthly pricing plans, which are as follows:
- Big Commerce Standard: $29.95 per month
- Big Commerce Plus: $79.95 per month
- Big Commerce Pro: $299.95 per month
- Big Commerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business requirements
A 10% discount is available for the ‘Plus’ and ‘Pro’ plans if you pay annually for them; and a 15-day free trial is also available — you can avail of this offer via this link.
The ‘standard’, ‘plus’ and ‘pro’ plans are aimed at individuals and small businesses, and are part of the company’s “Essentials” range of products.
The Enterprise plan is geared more towards larger businesses and corporations (users with very high bandwidth and advanced selling requirements).
Core selling features
As we’ll see below, the exact features you get with Big Commerce depend very much on the plan you opt for, but important features common to all plans include:
- the choice of 12 free templates
- the ability to sell an unlimited number of physical or digital goods, in categories of your choosing and using shipping rates of your choosing
- a drag-and-drop page builder
- integrations with Paypal and a wide range of other payment gateways
- unlimited staff accounts
- blogging functionality
- search engine optimization (SEO) features
- integration with various third-party apps
- discount coupons and gift vouchers
- product review functionality
- the ability to tweak CSS and HTML
- professional reporting
(You’ll learn more about the quality of all of these as you progress through this Big Commerce review).
This comprehensive set of features is fairly unique when it comes to online store builders — a lot of similar online store builders require you to upgrade to more expensive plans or install paid-for apps to access several of the above features.
This means that Big Commerce arguably offers considerably more bang for the buck than many competing products at its entry level monthly plan price point ($29.95 per month).
Differences between the BigCommerce plans
As you’d expect, how much functionality you get from Big Commerce depends on how much you’re prepared to pay for it.
Each plan offers a distinct set of features, which I’ll go through now.
Big Commerce Standard
Big Commerce’s cheapest offering, the ‘standard’ plan, costs $29.95, which is roughly the same price as Shopify, Volusion, Wix and Squarespace’s entry level ecommerce plans.
That said it is, in general, a much more comprehensive starter plan than any of these, providing:
- a standalone online store
- the ability to sell an unlimited number of products
- unlimited bandwidth and storage
- unlimited staff accounts
- real-time shipping quotations
- gift cards and discount codes
- ratings and reviews functionality
- multi-currency selling
- point of sale (POS) functionality (this lets you use a Big Commerce store to sell in a physical location)
- professional reporting
- AMP (accelerated mobile pages) functionality
As discussed above, this represents a lot of ecommerce bang for your buck — pretty much all the key ingredients of an online store are provided on Big Commerce’s standard plan; this is not always the case with entry-level plans from other competing products.
Significantly, the Big Commerce Standard plan facilitates selling in multiple currencies, with automatic conversion available — again, this is fairly unique.
The main criticism you could make regarding the entry level Big Commerce plan is that abandoned cart saving features are not included with it.
An abandoned cart saver is an important piece of functionality, because you can use it to identify people who have stopped their purchase mid-way through, and automatically send them a reminder email encouraging them to complete the purchase.
The similarly-priced Shopify ‘Basic’ plan includes this – but beyond that is useless except for beginners (AVOID SHOPIFY!!!), and it’s also available at a cheaper price point from Squarespace, so Big Commerce falls down a bit by comparison here.
There is an annual sales limit for Big Commerce Standard of $50,000.
Next we have the ‘Big Commerce Plus’ plan.
In addition to the core functionality as you’ll find on the standard plan, it provides
- an abandoned cart saver tool
- a ‘persistent cart’ (this saves products to a customer’s cart irrespective of device used)
- stored credit cards (this allows your regular customers to save their card details on your store)
- customer grouping / segmentation.
With regard to the last feature mentioned above, customer grouping, this lets you divide customers into different segments, so that you can reward different customers based on activity and particular purchases. You could, for example, use this functionality to create a loyalty programme.
The annual sales limit for Big Commerce Plus is $180,000.
Big Commerce Pro
This permits up to $400,000 in online sales, with an additional fee of $150 per month per $200k in sales.
One extra feature which is worth drawing attention to on this plan is Google Customer Reviews — a program that lets you collect and display feedback from users who’ve made a purchase from your online store.
If you’ve enabled Google Customer Reviews, once a customer buys a product from your Big Commerce store, they will be asked if they’d like to review it on Google (after it’s been delivered).
If the customer indicates that they want to do this, Google will email them a survey after their order has arrived. The collected ratings are then displayed on your site (via an optional Google Customer Reviews badge), on Search Ads, and in Google Shopping.
The other main features that you gain on this plan are advanced product filtering and custom SSL via a third party.
Big Commerce Enterprise
Finally, there’s Big Commerce’s “Enterprise” plan to consider.
As this plan name suggests, it is geared towards corporate users that have very high volumes of sales (typically, over $1,000,000), and, accordingly, advanced selling requirements.
Features that are included on ‘Enterprise’ but not on the cheaper plans include:
- price lists (this allows you to create pricing rules based on customer groups — so different groups of customers see different product prices based on how you’ve segmented them)
- unlimited API calls (Big Commerce’s API — ‘Application Programming Interface’ — allows developers to share data between your store and other apps, and the Enterprise plan doesn’t place any limits on how many times these ‘data sharing’ connections can be made. This makes it better suited to businesses that are expecting a high volume of traffic / API connections to their store)
- priority support (including API support)
- Big Commerce consulting / account management.
If you’re interested in the Enterprise plan you will need to discuss your requirements with Big Commerce to establish pricing — the costs will reflect your business needs, but Big Commerce claims that they are cheaper than those for Shopify’s enterprise grade plan (this is called ‘Shopify Plus’ and typically comes in at around $2,000 per month).
You can generally expect a lot more support from Big Commerce if you purchase an Enterprise plan — in-depth support with data migration, setup, account management can all be facilitated.
The annuals sales limit for Big Commerce Enterprise is negotiable.
Now, let’s drill down into sales limits in a bit more depth.
Transaction fees and sales limits
A question which many potential Big Commerce users ask is: “how much of a cut of my sales are they going to take?”
Well, the good news is that there are no transaction fees on any Big Commerce plan. This is in marked contrast to its key competitors.
However, you do have to pay credit card processing fees to the company you select to process payments. These will depend on the payment gateway you use (more on that in a moment).
The bad news, and as mentioned above, is that Big Commerce places a limits on your annual online sales.
These limits are as follows:
- Big Commerce Standard: $50,000
- Big Commerce Plus: $180,000
- Big Commerce Pro: $400,000
- Big Commerce Enterprise: negotiable.
(If you’re on the ‘Big Commerce Pro’ plan, you can increase the sales limit by paying $150 per month for every additional $200k in sales).
I contacted Big Commerce 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 are 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.”Big Commerce
I expect the limits issue won’t be a showstopper for most merchants — if your store is bringing in $400,000 a year you probably won’t be moaning too much about having to pay an extra $150 per month for breaching the limit…but for some merchants they will be a bit of an annoyance.
I have yet to come across these sorts of limits on competing products like Shopify or Squarespace, so it’s a bit of a ‘could do better’ here for Big Commerce.
Which BigCommerce plan represents the ‘sweet spot’?
For me, the best value Big Commerce plan is the $79 per month ‘Plus’ plan, because it gives you access to features that in most contexts will help you to sell considerably more products — an abandoned cart saver (essential!), persistent cart, and credit card storing. So long as you have a reasonably good flow of traffic to your site, these features will easily pay for themselves.
And, although I’d prefer not to see sales limits on any of the Big Commerce plans, the sales limit for this one is reasonably high: $180k.
For a limited period, Big Commerce is offering 1 month’s free service on this plan (in addition to the 15-day free trial). You can avail of this free trial and try out the ‘Plus’ plan here.Learn more >
There are two ways to accept credit card payments in Big Commerce.
The simplest thing to do is to use the default payment option for Big Commerce, Paypal powered by Braintree. Doing so makes for an easy payment gateway setup and gives you preferential Paypal rates for credit card transactions (which decrease as you go up Big Commerce’s pricing ladder).
The US rates are currently as follows:
- Big Commerce Standard: 2.59% + 49c
- Big Commerce Plus: 2.35% + 49c
- Big Commerce Pro: 2.05% + 30c
- Big Commerce Enterprise: 2.05% + 30c
These fees can be lower in other countries — for example, in the UK, you’re looking at rates of 1.55% to 1.85%, depending on plan.
There’s also the option of using a third-party payment processor for your online store: these are called ‘payment gateways,’ and around 45 are available for Big Commerce, depending on your country of operation.
This number compares reasonably well with competing products. Squarespace only provides an integration with 2 payment gateways (Stripe and Paypal); Shopify, however, offers over 100.
Depending on the payment gateway provider you choose, you can expect to pay a monthly fee, a transaction fee, or both.
It’s important to note that these fees are not applied by Big Commerce but by the payment gateway provider in question.
(This contrasts positively with Shopify, which charges you transaction fees to use a third-party payment gateway – AVOID SHOPIFY!!!!!!!!!).
Integrating a payment gateway with a hosted ecommerce solution like Big Commerce can occasionally be bit of a lengthy process, which involves setting up ‘merchant accounts’ with your chosen gateway provider and configuring them so that they work with your store.
It is still worth looking at the various fees involved with other payment gateway providers though — depending on what you sell and how much of it, using a different payment gateway may still be the best route for you to go down, even if it involves a bit more configuration time.
Big Commerce templates
Big Commerce offers a reasonably good selection of responsive templates that you can use for the design of your online store.
There are 12 free Big Commerce themes and around 165 paid themes; each theme contains a number of different variants, so there quite 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.
However, a few of them are very similar to each other, with the main differences simply involving color scheme. This is a particular issue with the free themes — although there are technically 12 available, it feels more like there are actually just five themes to choose from.
This means that in the theme department, Big Commerce arguably doesn’t provide quite so much bang for buck as other solutions, like Shopify (which provides 10 very distinct free themes, with 2-3 variants of each) or Squarespace (which provides around 140 bundled themes).
To extend your options here, you can consider purchasing one of the paid-for Big Commerce themes. These are fairly reasonably priced, starting out at $150 and going up to $300 (occasionally you can pick one up at a discounted rate — I’ve seen premium themes available for $99 when on sale).
Again, you’ll find that some of these are a bit too similar to each other to merit being classified as different themes, however.
Overall, you will be able to create a professional design for your Big Commerce store using either the free or premium themes — it’d just be good to see the range of themes extended a bit.
Using the themes
One area where there could be an improvement made to the themes involves typefaces: the bundled font selection in most of the free themes is small by comparison to those offered by competitors like Shopify and Squarespace (in some cases limiting you to just 3 or 4 fonts).
Although adding another font is perfectly doable, it involves adding some code to your template file, which won’t appeal to all users.
It’s also a bit hard to hide certain site elements in Big Commerce templates — for example, when testing the ‘Vault’ theme for this Big Commerce review, I couldn’t find an obvious way to remove the search bar; in the ‘Fortune’ theme, I couldn’t hide the sidebar without resorting to adding some CSS.
On the plus side, all the free themes are fully responsive, meaning they’ll automatically display correctly on any device (mobile, tablet, desktop etc.); and significantly, they are AMP-enabled too (I discuss AMP — Accelerated Mobile Pages format — later on in this review).
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Product options, variants and categories
A particularly strong feature of Big Commerce is the way it handles product options and variants.
Unlike its rival Shopify, which only allows you to present users with three product options without resorting to coding or paying for third-party apps, Big Commerce lets you create a large number of product options (up to 250 per product).
Big Commerce’s product variant limit is generous too — you can present a product in up to 600 variants.
(Product variants are the number of product option combinations you can offer — for example a small, blue t-shirt would count as one variant; a large, red one would count as another, and so on).
Again for perspective, Shopify and Squarespace’s equivalent limits are 100 and 250 respectively.
So if you are selling products that come in a lot of different formats, BigCommerce may be a particularly good option. See the below video for more detail on how it all works.
Although Big Commerce is great when it comes to product options, it’s less impressive when it comes to product 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, notably Shopify — if you could automatically categorize products based on product name or tags.
To be fair, you can use a ‘bulk edit’ tool to speed up the process a bit, but I prefer Shopify‘s ‘smart’ approach to product categorization.
BigCommerce’s abandoned cart saver feature
A Big Commerce feature worth singling out for praise is its abandoned cart feature – it’s arguably 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.
It’s important to note however that the abandoned cart saver functionality only comes with Big Commerce’s ‘Plus’, ‘Pro’ and ‘Enterprise’ plans. This makes obtaining this functionality a bit more expensive than from competing products.
That said, the Big Commerce abandoned cart saver is more flexible than the equivalent offerings from its key competitors — most of them limit the number of automated emails to one, whereas Big Commerce lets you send three follow-ups. So there may be some justification for the higher price.
In my experience, abandoned cart saver functionality usually pays for itself, and if you are confident of receiving a large number of visits to your site, purchasing a Big Commerce plan featuring the abandoned cart saver makes a lot of sense.
Selling in multiple currencies
You usually get more sales if you sell in the currency used by your site visitors.
So, if you’re selling in multiple countries, it’s a good idea to let your potential customers choose their own currency (or, better still, present products in your site visitors’ currency automatically).
The really good news is that with Big Commerce’s free themes, you get a very good multi-currency solution out of the box — one that facilitates automatic currency conversion based on IP address.
If you’re using a paid-for template, you may need to use a third-party app to facilitate multi-currency — Bold Multi-Currency is a good option.
But overall, Big Commerce scores highly when it comes to multi-currency selling — some competing solutions don’t offer this functionality at all (i.e., Squarespace) and others don’t provide fully automatic currency conversion unless you use an app or on an expensive enterprise-level plan (Shopify being a key example).
For me, this multi-currency functionality is one of the strongest arguments for choosing Big Commerce over a competing ecommerce solution.
A multi-channel approach to selling
As with other leading ecommerce platforms, Big Commerce doesn’t restrict you to selling on your own online store — you can sell your products on several sales channels.
‘Out of the box’ options on this front include Facebook, Amazon, Instagram and Ebay, with more available via third-party apps (available from the Big Commerce app store).
Selling in multiple languages with BigCommerce
Big Commerce doesn’t have any built-in multilingual capabilities; however, you can still sell in multiple languages using the platform, thanks to an integration with the translation app Weglot.
The Big Commerce + Weglot approach brings both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, you can offer your site in up to 100+ languages; and the translations are automatic (with the choice to manually edit them).
On the down side, you will need to pay extra for the Weglot app on top of your BigCommerce fees — between $11 and $230 depending on needs. And, machine translations, whilst improving all the time, are not usually good as those provided by an experienced human translator.
Dropshipping with Big Commerce
Many potential Big Commerce merchants will be interested to learn how it handles dropshipping.
Dropshipping is a selling model where you don’t keep what you’re selling in stock. Instead, you take an order, send its details to a supplier, and they send the goods to your customer.
The advantage of this model is that you don’t need much start-up capital, as there’s no need to purchase any stock before you start selling.
(The disadvantage is that the low start-up costs mean that there a lot of people doing it, and it ends up being quite a competitive business area.)
You can use Big Commerce to dropship, but in order to do so, you’ll need to install a third-party app from Big Commerce’s app store (of which more in a moment) to facilitate it.
There are quite a few apps available to help you dropship with Big Commerce, with key ones including:
- Ali-Express Dropshipping
- Wholesale B2B
- Inventory Source
These apps vary in price to use, with free trials being available for some of them.
Point of sale functionality in Big Commerce
A nice feature of Big Commerce is that it doesn’t just let you run an online store — it can facilitate selling at ‘point of sale’ (POS) too.
Thanks to some integrations with various POS providers — including Square, Clover, Hike and Vend — you can take payment and sync inventory when selling from a physical location (such as a store, market stall, event etc.).
You’ll need to research each of the available providers carefully to ensure you find the right one for your needs, but it’s good that Big Commerce offers a few options on this front.
Other competing ecommerce solutions either don’t offer POS at all — or are more restrictive in terms of what countries they can be used in, or the hardware and software options that are available.
File uploads and custom fields
Merchants who need to capture text to complete an order — for example jewellers who need personalised text for an engraving, or printers who need their customers to supply a JPG of a logo for a t-shirt — will find Big Commerce’s approach to custom fields and file uploads particularly good.
Creating custom fields and capturing data using them is really straightforward in Big Commerce — you simply find the relevant product, create your custom field, name it and then your site users will be able to enter information into it at the point of purchase.
Similarly, it’s really easy to allow your users to upload a file — again, it’s just a case of editing your product so that it contains an ‘upload file.’ Your customers will then be able to upload a file — up to a generous 500MB in size — when they purchase that product.
This functionality is implemented considerably better on Big Commerce than some competing products.
For example, while Shopify allows you to create custom fields and give users the option to upload files, it’s a fiddly process involving adding ‘line item properties’ to your code.
Squarespace allows you to create a custom field easily enough, but doesn’t facilitate file uploads.
So all in all, a thumbs-up for Big Commerce in this area.
Tax rules and VAT MOSS
US and Canada
One of the challenges of creating an online store is that you can end up selling goods in jurisdictions with differing tax rates — something that needs to be reflected in the pricing of your products. This is a particular headache for merchants based in the USA and Canada, where different states / provinces apply different tax rules.
Thankfully, Big Commerce allows you to apply tax rates automatically for these two countries, which is a huge time saver. You will however need to research and install a third-party app to facilitate this — Avalara, Vertex or Taxjar — so you can expect some additional costs.
(That said, Avalara can be used for free up until 2022, so long as you don’t exceed 5,000 tax calculations).
If you intend to sell digital products to European Union consumers with Big Commerce, and expect to raise over €10,000 a year in revenue from doing so, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with something called VAT MOSS (this is short for ‘VAT Mini One Stop Shop’).
VAT MOSS requires you to apply country-specific rates of VAT to digital products — even if you are running a business that is based outside of the EU.
Unlike key competitor Shopify, Big Commerce doesn’t seem to provide an automatic way to do this — you will have to set up tax rates manually in order to facilitate it.
Big Commerce allows you to set up a variety of shipping rules / methods:
- Free shipping rates
- Flat rates
- Price-based rates
- Weight-based rates
- In-store pickup
- Real time shipping rates from third-party carriers
BigCommerce has an edge over other ecommerce platforms when it comes to third-party real time shipping rates — you can access this functionality on any of its plans, whereas with leading competitors you’ll usually need to be on one of the most expensive ones.
However, some competing products — notably Shopify and Etsy — allow you to avail of discounted shipping rates if you are based in certain countries and are happy to use their preferred providers. These sort of discounts are not yet available with BigCommerce.
Enhancing your Big Commerce store’s functionality via the app store
If the standard set of features provided by Big Commerce isn’t sufficient for your needs, then you might want to consider purchasing some apps from its app store — or to call it by its proper name, the ‘Ecommerce Apps Marketplace.’
A fairly wide range of integrations is available in the app store, which let you add many additional features to your Big Commerce store.
You can add apps that deal with lots of different aspects of of running an online business — categories include:
and so on.
Integrations are available for many well-known other business SaaS apps — for example, you’ll find apps for Mailchimp, Zendesk, Xero and Salesforce. There is often a cost associated with these apps, but on the plus side they do open up a world of advanced features for your online store.
In total, there are around 1,000 apps available for Big Commerce. This isn’t as many as rival Shopify provides (it offers over 6,000), but a key app which IS provided by Big Commerce but not by Shopify is an official integration for Mailchimp.
(Due to a dispute between Shopify and Mailchimp over data protection issues, an official integration between these two platforms is no longer available and you will need to use a workaround to make two platforms talk to each other.)
Interface and ease-of-use
Big Commerce’s interface is in general straightforward and user friendly; it’s relatively similar in quality and appearance to Shopify’s and Squarepace’s. It’s not entirely dissimilar to a WordPress dashboard either, and anyone familiar with a contemporary content management system (CMS) should find it pretty easy to use.
A vertical menu on the left hand side of the screen gives you easy access to the key features — and the labels (‘orders’, ‘storefront design’, ‘analytics’ etc.) make it obvious where you’ll find all the key features.
Once you’ve selected an option from the menu on the left, the associated content or data is displayed on the right — you can then edit or view accordingly.
An interesting recent addition to the Big Commerce feature set is a drag-and-drop page builder; this lets you select content blocks (text, columns, images etc.) and drop them into position on your pages as appropriate.
Whilst not yet as sophisticated as Squarespace’s layout engine, or the new WordPress Gutenberg editor, it involves a similar concept.
So in general, I’ve found Big Commerce easy to use and get started with — certainly when it comes to managing products and catalogues, it definitely stands up well in terms of usability by comparison to Shopify and Squarespace, and it beats Volusion hands down.
However, when it comes to managing content and layout, there is room for improvement.
This is chiefly because despite the welcome addition of the page builder, it’s not as easy to change the layout of a Big Commerce page as perhaps it should be — some elements are hard to remove or hide, and as mentioned above, changing fonts is not as easy as it should be (the default range provided with the free templates is fairly limited).
Additionally, whilst the page builder is a potentially useful new development, there is scope to implement it slightly better.
You can only access the page builder if you go to the theme customizer — if you navigate to the web page you want to edit in the Big Commerce back end, you arrive at a rather old-fashioned WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editor. This is a bit confusing.
The below video gives you a quick overview of the Big Commerce interface.
Big Commerce SEO features
A key concern of prospective Big Commerce will be how good the search engine optimization (SEO) features in the platform are.
The short answer is that they’re very strong.
All the basics are covered nicely — it is easy to edit Big Commerce page titles, meta descriptions and headers.
You can also create and change product-specific URLs without difficulty, and, unlike some competing products (notably Shopify and Squaresapce), you can create short URLs (i.e., yourdomain.com/product-name instead of yourdomain.com/products/product-name), which is generally considered better for an SEO point of view.
Additionally, Big Commerce is no slouch when it comes to how a site performs on mobile. (This is crucial now that Google has introduced a ‘mobile first‘ approach to indexing content).
Not only are Big Commerce’s templates all responsive (meaning they are designed to adjust to suit the device they’re being viewed on – mobile, tablet, desktop etc.) but many also work as ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages’ (AMP), which can have some positive SEO implications.
Let’s drill down into AMP for a moment, as it’s an area that Big Commerce arguably leads the online store builder field in.
Using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in Big Commerce
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google-backed project which aims to deliver your site content extremely quickly to mobile users, mainly by creating streamlined pages that strip out certain types of code (scripts) and features (for example, blog comments).
The main advantage of using AMP on your site is that it drastically reduces the number of mobile users who leave your site as a result of your content loading too slowly. This means you’ll get a higher percentage of engaged visitors, and potentially sales.
AMP format can also provide some SEO benefits too — many SEO experts believe that pages with a low drop-off rate that people ‘dwell on’ for some time (two things that AMP can deliver) are rewarded by Google’s algorithms in search results.
At the moment, AMP format is typically used for blog posts and news articles — but it can also be used for other page types, including product pages on ecommerce sites.
(The fact that eBay is one of the early adopters of AMP format in the ecommerce world highlights that there are definitely some obvious benefits to using it in an online store context!)
Big Commerce’s AMP offering is excellent — its free templates facilitate AMP, and many of the premium themes do too.
Images that are sized correctly for the device they’re on and which load quickly can improve page speed significantly (with faster-loading pages being given preferential treatment by Google in search results).
Big Commerce provides image optimization via Akamai Image Manger. This optimizes all your images automatically, and according to Big Commerce, merchants using Akamai Image Manager as part of a closed beta for several months saw as much as 70% improvement in site load times.
Again, and in keeping with Big Commerce’s general ‘all-in-one’ approach to its platform features, this is included in all plans. A big thumbs up for this, because competing platforms either don’t provide this functionality, or require you to install a paid-for app to attain it.
All in all, I’m very impressed with Big Commerce’s SEO capabilities. In order to ensure your store ranks highly in search results, you will of course still need to engage in keyword research and link building — but the out-of-the-box technical SEO features provided by Big Commerce are excellent.
Blogging in Big Commerce
You might think that a blog is not an essential feature of an online store — but you’d be wrong!
Blogging is a key part of any successful inbound marketing campaign; when done well it can improve a site’s SEO and, by extension, traffic to it (with both improvements obviously leading to increased sales!).
Helpfully there is a built-in blog in Big Commerce. Whilst it’s not going to compete with a WordPress blog in terms of functionality, it will nonetheless allow you to create the sort of posts that can attract visitors to your site.
RSS feeds are useful because they allow your blog content to ‘travel’ — site visitors can use them to subscribe to new posts via RSS readers or embed your posts on other websites; and site owners can use them to automatically populate the newsletters sent by email marketing tools like GetResponse, Campaign Monitor, AWeber or Mailchimp.
If you feel the Big Commerce blogging functionality is not up to scratch, or if RSS is a deal-breaker for you, you can always integrate another blogging tool (such as WordPress) with your Big Commerce store.
It’s important to set this up correctly however — using a subdomain — as doing this incorrectly means that you may not benefit from the SEO / inbound marketing advantages that good blogging can bring.
Email marketing — a missing feature?
Something that’s provided by leading competitors — but is currently missing from Big Commerce’s feature set — is email marketing.
Unlike Wix, Shopify and Squarespace, Big Commerce doesn’t yet provide you with a way to host a mailing list and send e-newsletters out of the box.
However, integrations are available for Big Commerce with most of the leading email marketing solutions (AWeber and GetResponse etc.) — and these tend to provide a LOT more functionality than the built-in email marketing tools provided by online store builders.
Big Commerce analytics reports
Big Commerce provides users with several reports as standard, including:
- customer reports (where your customers come from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last made an order)
- marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)
- search data reports (the phrases customers used when searching for products in your online store)
- finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)
- abandoned cart reports (assuming your plan supports this feature).
For an additional fee you can also gain access to an ‘Ecommerce Insights’ report, which provides you with more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts.
This fee varies according to the plan you are on — ‘Standard’ and ‘Plus’ customers can avail of ‘Insights’ for an additional $49 per month; for ‘Pro’ customers it’s $99 per month; and for ‘Enterprise’ customers it’s $249 per month.
In short, the Big Commerce analytics offering is pretty strong — and the best thing about it is that the bulk of the reporting functionality comes as standard on all plans.
This is not the case with its key competitor Shopify, which requires you to be on its more expensive $79 plan before you get access to its more in-depth sales and customer reports.
Of course in addition to using the built-in Big Commerce reporting tools, you could also supplement your analytics arsenal by integrating Google Analytics into your site and using goals to measure conversions.
iOS and Android apps for Big Commerce
After several years without a mobile app available, the good news is that Big Commerce has reintroduced one.
Available for both Android and iOS, the new app allows you to manage your store on the go. It allows you to:
- access all your stores with one login
- check your store’s revenue, orders, visitors, and conversion rate by week or by month
- view and search your store’s orders, access individual order details, and update order status
- view and search all your store’s customers, access individual customer details (including order history)
- contact customers via in-app phone and email links.
The reviews for this app were initially quite poor, but Big Commerce seems to have fixed some key bugs and it’s receiving quite a positive reaction from users now. The iOS version seems to be generating higher ratings than the Android one, however (4.6 out of 5 versus 3.5 out of 5, respectively).
GDPR compliance in Big Commerce
With the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), there are several legal steps that website owners now need to take to ensure that they are adequately protecting their EU visitors’ privacy.
There are serious financial penalties for not doing so; and even if your business is not based in the EU, you still need to comply with the regulations where any site visits from the EU are concerned.
Now, please note that I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t treat anything here as legal advice; but that said, I’m going to spell out how I see GDPR issues affecting potential Big Commerce store owners.
Based on my understanding of the GDPR rules, the key things that Big Commerce store owners have to do are:
- provide adequate privacy and cookie notices
- process and store data securely
- get clear consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters
- provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website before they are run(and to log that consent).
It’s generally easy on most platforms to meet the first three requirements, although you will need to spend a bit of time (and possibly money on lawyers or legal templates!) creating the relevant notices and tweaking data capture forms in order to make them GDPR compliant.
The cookie consent requirement is harder to meet — but the good news is that unlike many competing platforms, BigCommerce actually does pretty well in terms of helping you do so.
To ensure GDPR compliance in this area, you are required to display a cookie banner to your website users which
- allows them to choose which cookies they want to run BEFORE those cookies are run (i.e., to give ‘prior consent’)
- logs their consent to run cookies
- allows them to revoke consent at a later stage.
So for example, if you use a Facebook Ads or Google Analytics cookie on your Big Commerce store, you will be breaking GDPR laws unless you have a solution in place which does all of the above.
Helpfully, Big Commerce provides a really straightforward way to add third-party scripts and ensure they are only run when consent is granted.
(It’s not clear however how to log user consent / facilitate revoking of it down the line — so there’s scope for improvement here).
GDPR cookie consent functionality, in my view, should always be considered a ‘core feature’ and not something that users should have to look to an app to provide — so it’s great to see that this feature, or at least the key parts of it, are provided out of the box by Big Commerce.
Big Commerce customer support
When you start a Big Commerce free trial, you are provided with various support emails and resources aimed at helping you with the ‘onboarding’ process.
There’s a fair amount of hand-holding available if you want it, which should make it easy enough to get your store up and running.
For those who have purchased a Big Commerce plan, the company provides 24-hour ‘live agent’ customer support (via phone, email or chat).
Before you get access to relevant contact details however, you are encouraged to try to resolve the issue by searching for an answer to your query via the Big Commerce help pages first (see screengrab below).
This will annoy some users a bit, although you do get presented with fairly easy-to-digest contact details once you’ve completed your search and ignored the help articles!
You can also use ‘skip this step’ button to bypass this — this immediately brings up the phone numbers, live chat options etc.
And of course the good news is that phone support is available for a wide range of countries — and if you don’t see your country listed, there’s a helpful ‘all other countries’ number you can call.
For those who are more inclined towards trying to sort support issues out themselves, there is a large range of video and text resources available from Big Commerce, and a community forum.
And finally a note on the languages that customer support is available in: you can currently access it in English, French, Dutch and Italian.
Big Commerce review: conclusion
Ultimately, Big Commerce is one of the most feature-packed hosted online store builders I’ve tested — in particular, its entry-level plan provides significantly more ‘bang for the buck’ than many competing products. It’s strong on the SEO front, with AMP functionality and automatic image optimization features being provided out of the box. Its multi-currency selling functionality is really good too — and one the strongest arguments for using this product over a competing one.
The main thing that needs improvement in Big Commerce would probably be its template selection — I think the free options provided could be more varied, they’re not quite as editable as they should be, and it would be better if they give you access to a wider range of web fonts.
I hope this Big Commerce review has helped give you a sense of this product and whether it’s suitable for your needs — but as usual, it’s always best to try before you buy, and you can avail of a free Big Commerce trial here.
Finally, below you will find my summary of the key pros and cons of Big Commerce.
Our overall rating: 4.4/5
Key pros and cons of Big Commerce
Pros of Big Commerce
- The overall feature set on entry-level Big Commerce plans is very comprehensive. Many advanced features that other platforms charge a premium for are available at a much lower cost with Big Commerce.
- It makes selling in multiple currencies very straightforward.
- Third party real time shipping calculations are available on any plan — this distinguishes Big Commerce from key competitors like Squarespace and Shopify, which require you to be on a premium plan or buy an add-on to avail of this functionality.
- There are no transaction fees applied by Big Commerce, even if you use a third-party payment gateway.
- You get a good set of reporting tools on all plans — again, this is not the case with all competing products.
- It’s really easy to create custom fields.
- Allowing your customers to upload files during their purchase is really easy.
- It comes with built-in product review functionality.
- It comes with drag-and-drop page builder functionality.
- Its SEO features are great — you can create short URLs, AMP format is available on all its templates, and automatic image optimization is included on all plans.
- The ‘abandoned cart saver’ tool is more comprehensive than the similar offering from competitors.
- You get an unlimited number of staff accounts on any plan.
- It comes with a built-in blog.
- You can avail of cheaper-than-usual Paypal card transaction fees with Big Commerce, thanks to its preferential arrangement with Braintree.
- It’s a very flexible solution for vendors with a lot of different product variants.
- The built-in cookie consent feature helps you meet GDPR requirements in ways that other similar platforms don’t.
- You can try the product free for 15 days
Free trial of Big Commerce >
Cons of Big Commerce
- By comparison to some of its competitors, you have to pay quite a lot to avail of abandoned cart functionality.
- Limits are placed on annual online sales — and if you exceed them, you’ll need to upgrade to a more expensive monthly plan.
- The free themes are in many cases too similar to each other.
- The number of typefaces included in the free themes is very limited.
- The page builder functionality needs quite a bit of improvement — based on my experience, it can be a bit buggy, and it’s confusingly implemented.
- Unlike some competing products, there’s no shipping discounts available on any plan.
- It could be a bit easier to edit the free templates.
- The built-in blog doesn’t facilitate RSS feeds.
- VAT MOSS rates aren’t currently catered for.
I am the Nerd of Fortune. I have been hustling from home (part-time) for 10 years & working exclusively from home for almost 4 years – and loving it! I am a firm believer in making ‘working from home’ a success for everyone…