BigCommerce is a hosted e-commerce platform which provides everything you need to create, manage and grow your online store.
A WYSIWYG website builder provides only seven free templates, but some excellent commercial themes are available for around $145-$195 (£110-£145), and the BigCommerce theme store makes it easy to browse and try them out. You can also customize every aspect of the site from the interface, or take full control by editing the raw HTML and CSS.
A built-in CMS enables building, categorizing and managing even the most complex of product catalogs.
If your own web store isn't enough, BigCommerce's wide sales channel support sees you able to sell on Facebook, Pinterest, eBay, Amazon and Square POS. Sales made on any channel are synced with a single central inventory, too, so there are none of the overselling issues you'll sometimes see elsewhere.
BigCommerce doesn't have any of the usual e-commerce catches. All the plans support unlimited products, file storage, bandwidth and staff accounts, and there are no transaction fees for any of the 40+ supported payment gateways.
That's not bad at all, especially as the BigCommerce Standard plan is priced at only $29.95 (£21.40) a month (that really is per month, not per year - no lengthy contracts here). This does have a couple of issues, though. The plan supports online sales of up to a lowly $50k (£35,700) per year, and there's no abandoned cart recovery (Shopify throws that in as standard with its Basic account).
The Plus plan lifts the sales figure to $150k (£107,000), adds abandoned cart handling, and throws in useful extras including a stored credit card option and useful customer grouping and management tools. It's available for $79.95 (£57) billed monthly, with a 10% discount if you pay annually.
The $249.95 (£179) Pro plan gives you a $400,000 (£286,000) allowance for online sales and adds smart product filtering options, custom SSL support (the ability to use a certificate you bought elsewhere) and more.
Put it all together and BigCommerce seems fairly priced, particularly for small startups who can get by with the baseline Standard plan.
Whatever you're after, BigCommerce makes it easy to find out more with a free 15-day trial, no credit card details required.
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With a large Getting Started button permanently visible on the BigCommerce website, it's not difficult to figure out how to begin. We clicked, entered our details in a form (email, name, phone number, country), and within a few seconds the process was complete.
It really is that simple. There's no requirement to verify your email address, or sit and wait until you get an email notification that your account is 'activated'. We were almost immediately logged in to the BigCommerce web console, while a welcome email arrived moments later with our temporary store URL (storename.bigcommerce.com) and some startup advice.
The opening BigCommerce interface looks a little intimidating, at least initially. A left-hand sidebar organizes service functions into various areas - Orders, Products, Customers, Storefront, Marketing, Analytics, Channel Manager, Apps, Store Setup, Advanced Settings, Server Settings, Account Settings - and clicking any of these reveals even more functionality to explore.
Fortunately, BigCommerce tries to help in various ways. A simple opening tutorial explains key areas of the interface, for instance, and the Dashboard starts with a display of the various steps you need to follow (add products, customize store, set shipping rates, enable payment gateways and review the results). There's plenty to do, but the website does its best to create an environment where even total e-commerce newbies will feel at home.
Creating your store
Some e-commerce platforms expect you to design your website first, while others believe you should focus on your inventory. The BigCommerce Dashboard suggests you start with the Add Products section, but as it already includes some sample products, it's just as easy to begin with the site.
Take the website route and you're able to choose a theme, then customize it with a logo and social media links. A neat Home Page Carousel option enables cycling through images of whatever products you'd like to highlight. You can add more pages, manage images and insert custom scripts to integrate with other services. There's even a blog, though only a simple one (you can't schedule posts, there's no built-in comments system, and so on).
An Import option enables importing your product catalog from other platforms. BigCommerce only supports CSV files but it can cope with files up to a huge 512MB (Shopify chokes on anything larger than 15MB.) The Import routine detects the fields in the CSV (the column names, usually) and enables mapping them to BigCommerce's own product fields. This takes a little work as you must wade through 50, 60, maybe 70 fields, and figure out which you want or need to translate, but you only do this once, and it's still much easier than retyping your entire catalog.
BigCommerce also allows you to add products manually via a feature-packed editor which effortlessly outperforms most of the competition.
Other sites might allow you to insert videos and other content by using their standard embed code, for instance, but BigCommerce goes so much further. It has a YouTube search and preview tool to help you find the clips you need. It supports embedding YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe and Megavideo URLs directly. A separate Embed Media dialog enables using HTML5 video and audio, Flash objects and generic IFrames, and you can define their size, background, alignment and custom settings (Autoplay, Mute, Loop and Controls for HTML5 video).
There's similar attention to detail everywhere you look. Most providers support using simple tables in their product description, but few give you the formatting controls and options you have here: caption, cell padding, spacing, alignment, border color, background color or image, frame type, rules, even language type and direction.
Just browsing the Other Details section gives you access to valuable but unusual settings. You're able to include warranty information, search keywords to help users find the product, provide a custom availability message ("usually ships in 24-48 hours"), set a sort order to define where the product appears in product lists, maybe define a minimum and maximum purchase quantity. It's all hugely flexible and very well thought out.
You'll probably want to configure your shipping settings next, and they're easily accessed from the dashboard. BigCommerce doesn't set you up with any defaults beyond a single shipping zone for your own country, but it's easy enough to add a shipping address and additional shipping zones as required (country-specific, custom zones which include what you need, or a general 'rest of the world').
Tapping a shipping zone enables setting up simple static shipping rules (free, flat rate, costed by order value or weight, or pickup in store) or getting real-time shipping quotes from top companies appropriate to your country (for our UK-based review this was Royal Mail, FedEx and UPS.)
If that's still not enough, integration with ShipperHQ gives you enterprise-level shipping functionality including multi-origin shipping, drop-shipping, dimensional rating, estimated delivery dates, time in transit restrictions and more. It's priced from $50 (£36) a month.
Taking payments is more straightforward, as BigCommerce can accept PayPal and credit cards once you've provided just a few more details about yourself. Browsing the Payment Methods settings box reveals easy integration with Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, other big-name providers (Skrill, Square, and WorldPay, to name some) and assorted offline methods (check, money order, bank deposit, and more).
This all worked well for us, but if you run into issues, opening the Help page displays information on the current page and provides links to a wide range of other resources: video tutorials, a community forum and links to email, live chat and phone support.
Running your business
BigCommerce doesn't just excel with its store creation tools – once you're online, the service has plenty of ways to keep your business running smoothly.
Inventory management is very flexible. You can choose to update your stock levels when an order is placed, or mark as shipped. BigCommerce can send email notifications of low stock levels, and your store can handle 'out-of-stock' situations in several ways (hide the product entirely, hide it but keep the product page for direct links, redirect to the category page or do nothing at all.) This kind of control is great for ensuring the store works precisely as you'd like.
BigCommerce supports multiple ways to engage with your customers. A simple Comments system enables customers to review products, and there's support for several live chat services (LivePerson, Olark, a generic 'third-party' option.)
The features keep coming, wherever you look. There's a returns system, for instance, which enables customers to return items from others on their Completed Orders list. It's tucked away in the Settings dialog, but you can turn it on with a click.
If all this functionality still doesn't deliver what you need, no problem - BigCommerce has approaching 600 apps enabling it to integrate with an array of third-party services covering every possible requirement: payments, shipping, marketing, merchandising, accounting, CRM, ERP and more. Shopify does even better with more than 2,000 apps, but BigCommerce still outperforms just about everyone else and has some great extensions.
Just one example: the QuickBooks Online app can automatically sync your BigCommerce orders, discounts, refunds, shipping and more with your QuickBooks Online account, as often as once per hour, and it's free to download and use. Check out the other apps available in the BigCommerce App Store.
A powerhouse e-commerce platform, hugely configurable, yet it also has a very fairly priced starter plan. A must-see for anyone who needs more than the web store basics.