BigCommerce.com is one of the services that was on my short list of Ecommerce platforms to explore for my own store but I must admit, I went into it with some per-conceived notions and it was definitely down towards the bottom of my list. Thankfully I tried to go into each review with an open mind. I was pleasantly surprised to find that at least some of my thoughts on the service were wrong but is it the right ecom platform for me? Read the rest of the article to find out.
BigCommerce.com is a SaaS solution meaning it is remotely hosted. The company provides the software and the hosting and gives you access to it via a login. The upside to services like that is they take care of all the software and hosting issues, upgrades, security problems, etc… The downside to services like that is you always have less control than you would with an open source solution where you have access to all of the code and can make any change you want. I have never really liked SaaS solutions because I like to have full control over my web site. However, for this particular project, where I am planning on outsourcing most of the work and won’t have the time to attend to all the details, I am considering them more than I have ever considered before.
Before I really dove in myself, I had some per-conceived notions about the service. It was on my list but it was towards the bottom and I didn’t think it would end up being a serious contender. I am glad that I didn’t go with that initial reaction. The software impressed me more than I thought it would in some areas and disappointed me in others but all in all, I was pleasantly surprised. If you want to follow along with me before reading the rest of this review, start your free trial now and then come back to read what I have to say about it.
Things That I Like About BigCommerce
Feature Rich – One of the things I really like about BigCommerce is the laundry list of features that come standard with it. With carts like Shopify, the feature list is rather tiny. Shopify does the basics very well but that’s where it stops. BigCommerce packs a ton of features into every plan they offer. They have several different packages but cheapest to most expensive, they all have the same features. Only difference is how many products, storage and traffic your site can have. It’s perfect for sites that are brand new or established as the cost reflects the size of the site. While the list of features is a big positive, some of the features don’t work as well as they should but overall I am pretty happy with the functionality. Stay tuned for more on that later in this article.
Easy to Use – Most areas of the user interface are very intuitive and easy to use. The only area I had some confusion on was creating variations for products (sizes, colors, etc…) but the documentation guided me through it. They recently went through a redesign of their interface (in the middle of my trial) and while I thought the old interface was fine, I am a big fan of the change. It’s clean and easy to navigate. There are some areas where I think the navigation can be improved but overall it’s great.
Search Engine Friendly – BigCommerce has a few minor faults here but they can all be worked around. Out of the box, it’s a very search engine friendly platform and it makes it easy to build a store around SEO best practices which will help to give you a good opportunity to outrank your competition. A few years ago the system had more than it’s fair share of problems but it’s one area that they listened to their customers on and improved dramatically.
Lots of Apps and Integrations – Much like Shopify, there are a ton of apps you can install to enhance your experience with BigCommerce and a ton of services it can integrate with. This type of integration and the ability to add functionality through apps is what makes an SaaS solution worthwhile. The app directory on their site is a bit hard to navigate but nevertheless, they have some great features that you can add to your site on an as-needed basis.
Reliable Uptime and Track Record – Lot’s of people have lot’s of things to say about BigCommerce. Some comments are good; some are bad. It’s to be expected when you have thousands of clients. From my research and experience talking to a bunch of their clients, their uptime is fantastic. Their customer service has seen some rocky ups and downs but their uptime (one of the big things you are paying them for) has been consistently great.
Flexible Design and Template System – I am not crazy about the basic templates that BigCommerce offers for free but that’s the way it is with most ecommerce platforms. What I am impressed with is how robust their template system is and how flexible the design options are for a site that is remotely hosted. They give you quite a bit of access to control your own sites destiny.
Product Configuration Options – While I did find this area a bit difficult to figure out and navigate, it’s very robust. Once you have all the options down, you can make an almost unlimited number of of variations per product. I don’t need that many variations but I am planning on selling shirts that will vary in size, sex and color so I really liked this functionality.
Great Reporting – Unlike some of it’s competitors, BigCommerce offers a lot of great reports that let’s you know how your store is doing with a few clicks of a mouse. I keep going back to Shopify as my main comparison but that is mainly because Shopify and BigCommerce were the two SaaS solutions that I liked the most. Unfortunately, Shopify provides very little reporting and BigCommerce wins out immensely in this area. That kind of reporting is important to me as I use that historical data to decide what direction my business should take next. You can get most of the data you need out of Shopify by exporting it and manipulating it in Excel but it’s much easier to refer to pre-built reports for the most common data points.
Things I m on the Fence About
Customer Service and Poorly Built Features – I am not sure how to rate them on customer service at this point. This was the one area where I thought for sure they were going to score terribly. I have read a lot of reviews, comments and blog posts on BigCommerce and one of the things that kept popping up consistently was terrible customer service. During my free trial, I spent a lot of time trying to configure and work with every aspect of the cart that I could. I thought most of it was easy to use and fairly intuitive but I did have quite a few questions for their support staff. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly (averaged 6 hours) they responded to each and every email. They were always friendly and helpful but when it came to real failures in their system, they responded but brushed it off a bit. After finding out that some of the issues I brought up to them were old issues that people have been bringing up for years, it was frustrating that they didn’t have a better response for well known short comings in the software.
BigCommerce is an excellent solution and they are making improvements but I think they are so focused on beating out the competition with the longest list of features and integrations that they fail to see that they have to make sure those features and integrations work as they should. They have received a lot of investment money recently and said they would be using it to increase the number of integrations they had. It’s my hope that they use at least some of it to go through their current feature list and improve upon them. Listen to the customers that are using your platform, collect their feedback and make the features you already offer better before you add more.
With all that said, I will say their customer service directed me to a new (or at least it seemed new) portal where paying customers can suggest improvements and the community of users can vote an comment on those features. You can check it out at ideas.bigcommerce.com
Things I don’t like about BigCommerce
Dealing with Out of Stock Items – BigCommerce fails pretty miserably here and it was one of the things that I brought up with their customer service. When I tested out their features I created a few inventory items that had several options. In this case, it was t-shirts and the options were sizes. In a perfect world, if a size is out of stock, it would say so and not be available to order but with BigCommerce, if a size is out of stock it shows up as an option and doesn’t tell you until AFTER you select it and hit add to cart that the size is out of stock. That’s pretty annoying. Their only solution was that I could manually go in and create a rule to remove that size from the item if I noticed it was out of stock. Pretty ridiculous that such a manual mundane task would still be necessary in a dynamic system in this day and age. If you have a lot of items with options, a customer is only going to try so many times before they bail on the site and stop trying to find an item they want in their size.
Single Page Checkout – The single page check out is lacking. It’s not truly a single page but tries to pretend it is. It lists all of the steps on one page but you still have to click a button to get from step 1 to step 2, and then from step 2 to step 3 and so on. It doesn’t list everything on one page that you can fill out and hit submit once to finish your order like a true single page check out should.
Free Templates – The free templates that come with BigCommerce are not very good. They are all dated in my opinion and need work. It’s another example of an area BigCommerce really needs to put some time into improving before they worry about adding more integrations and features. If I go with this solution, I know I will have to hire someone to create a custom design. Unlike other solutions, like Shopify, there isn’t even a good selection of 3rd party paid templates that you can work with.
Bad Marketing Decisions – I really like BigCommerce’s SEO features but what I don’t like is how they marketed those features. For quite awhile, they claimed that Aaron Wall (a famous SEO expert and owner of seobook.com) had optimized BigCommerce for SEO and endorsed it for it’s SEO capabilities. That was a lie based on a 5 minute conversation they had with Aaron years ago. I can understand the marketing department wanting to run with the idea that Aaron may have had good things to say about their platform but they took it too far and it took way to long for them to remove the endorsement after Aaron requested it. You can read all the drama on Aaron’s blog. They finally corrected the situation but it makes me doubt their integrity and any other marketing message they put out.
App Directory is Hard to Navigate – This is a minor issue but BigCommerce has so many good apps that integrate with it yet they make it very difficult to search or identify an app that might meet your particular needs.
Kicked Out Too Quickly – This is a fairly minor issue but the system kicks you out after 15 – 20 minutes of inactivity and you have no control over that. When you are working on a store, it’s not uncommon to go back and forth between what you are working on and the backend. I found myself having to constantly re-login. Not a big deal but it would be nice if you had the option of persisting the login a bit longer.
Bad Features that Just Don’t Work – This actually goes back to what I was saying about their customer service but the truth is some of the features they offer just don’t work that well and they have done nothing to improve them after years of users giving them LOTS of feedback. The first example is their ebay integration. They offer this as a standard feature which is great but it’s very limited. You can’t do more than one picture and inventory doesn’t get updated in both places in the way I would expect with a feature like this. These limitations have been pointed out to BigCommerce for years yet nothing has been done. It’s the same story with the out of the box QuickBooks connection feature. It’s sorely lacking and has been known to be lacking yet nothing has been done to improve it. People will be far more impressed with the BigCommerce feature set if all or at least most of the features work very well then they will at the long list of features (whether they work or not).
With all that said, the positives outweigh the negatives and I am actually very impressed with BigCommerce. It started out in mind mind towards the bottom of the list but got me pretty excited as it rocketed towards the top of the list by the end of my pretty extensive review. You can sign up for a free trial and check it out for yourself at BigCommerce Free Trial.