BigCommerce is one of the more popular e-commerce shopping cart systems out there. It seems to come with a lot of the common bells and whistles you would expect from an e-commerce system. I thought I’d try their free 14-day trial and have a quick look. Below is what I found.
What impressed me most:
- Implement a different theme from within the admin
- Edit the HTML and CSS code of any page from within the admin
- Easily edit home page carousel without coding
- Easily incorporate social media links
- Connect to your accounting software, such as QuickBooks, and MYOB (I thought I was the only one that used MYOB!?!)
What disappointed me most:
- Too much source coding
- No FTP access
- No database access
- No access to the php code for serious customizing
- Can’t customize the discount types
(+) Admin Interface
(+) Adding products
(+) Theme selection
(+) Shipping methods
(+) Payment methods
(+) Edit HTML & CSS code
(+) PCI compliant
(+) Email Marketing/Newsletter
(-) Source code: Too much inline code and too many links to external files
(-) I found product options/attributes difficult to understand
(-) You don’t have access to edit the php code
(-) Hosting (you can only host with BigCommerce. Nowhere else!)
(-) No database access.
(-) No FTP access. Only webdav.
Who’s BigCommerce for?
I’d say BigCommerce is for anyone who is just starting-up an e-commerce website, or migrating from a WordPress e-commerce plug-in such as WooCommerce or Shopp and doesn’t like to code. If you have just a few products or hundreds, it seems like BigCommerce should be able to handle it. Whether you have a small or large budget, they appear to have options for you.
Who BigCommerce isn’t for?
If you are the serious coding type, you’re out of luck, as you don’t have access to php. You can edit all the HTML and CSS you like, but if you want to write your own php, for example, conditionals, forget it.
If you plan on heavily customizing your e-commerce website outside of the usual features, look elsewhere, such as Miva Merchant.
1. Admin Interface:
At first glance, the admin interface seems fairly clean. The menu is on the left and it’s always there, but there’s no text next to the icons, so it will take a little getting used to. I’ll have to memorize what those icons mean.
2. Source Code:
Too much! I had to scroll down 2 pages until I got to the meat of the page. Search engines have to do the same thing and that slows them down and the loading of the page. Alright, maybe that’s just the demo/trial store. What about live stores? The first featured store I visited from their showcase page was twice as bad. I had to scroll down 4 pages worth of coding. Other showcase stores I visited had the same problem. I ran into this same problem with Shopify.
The default theme was mobile-responsive, so that’s good.
4. Choosing a Theme:
Right from within the BigCommerce store admin, I can browse different themes. That’s nice. I can also sort by ‘responsive’. i.e. only show me themes that are mobile-responsive. I can also sort by Free or Paid themes. I only saw 1 free theme. Applying a new theme or template was easy. Again, I did it right from the BigCommerce admin.
5. Editing Theme
The style editor reminds me of the WordPress style editor, but with fewer options. The BigCommerce style editor only lets me change colors of things.
a. Edit HTML/CSS:
The Edit HTML/CSS button lets me edit stylesheets (.css) and page template files (category.html)
b. Store Name or Logo:
Under the Logo tab of Store Design, I can choose to display my business name as text or I can upload a logo. If I choose to upload a logo, BigCommerce will resize my logo for me.
c. Mobile Settings:
Under the Mobile tab for Store Design, BigCommerce appears to use separate files for mobile devices. I pulled-up my new BigCommerce test store on my iPhone, enabled the mobile theme, then refreshed the page on my iPhone, and it changed slightly. I think that would be too bad if it used a separate set of files for mobile devices.
In the Carousel & Social Media section, I can edit the carousel without having to know any code. That’s nice. I can add images and search engine friendly text that lays on top of my images.
e. Social Media:
Who isn’t active on some social media site these days. That’s why every business should also be active. BigCommerce makes it very easy to add your Social Media links to your store. Just click and drag, and paste your URLs for the appropriate icon and you’re done!
f. More (Header Image, Favicon, Templates):
Under the ‘More’ tab of Store Design, you can customize templates for gift certificates a plethora of email templates such as the email that’s sent when someone purchases a gift certificate or when someone creates an account. You can also upload a Favicon (that’s the little icon that’s next to your URL in the address bar of your browser), customize the Header Image, or edit your store in what BigCommerce calls ‘Design Mode’:
“Design mode is a special feature that allows you to change the look and layout of your site without knowing HTML. More specifically, it allows you to:
- Change display text on all pages of your web site
- Rearrange the look of your site by dragging and dropping content panels
- Remove content panels using the right click button; without editing code
- Access X-Ray mode via the Design Mode toolbar to examine the elements of the theme currently applied”
I tried to edit my trial site in Design Mode, but I couldn’t drag & drop anything or change the text for anything. Maybe it’s browser-specific. I was using Chrome on Mac.
6. Adding a Product:
a. Basic Information:
Adding a product is fairly straight-forward with Name, Code, Price, Description, Weight. There’s an option to choose whether the product is a physical product or a downloadable one. I like that. On that same page, I can assign the product to a category (or create a new category). I also like the built-in toolbar (MCE Editor) for the description. I can format the description, such as Bold, Italics, add a picture, choose a font family or size, etc.
Shipping details and product availability is also on this page.
Next to the Save button is an arrow. If I click on that, I have options to Save & Duplicate, Save & Add Another, or Save & Close. I’ll just click the Save button to save it and move on to adding photos.
b. Images & Video:
Clicking on the Images & Videos tab, I see I can drag & drop photos onto an area for mass upload, or I can click to browse my computer to find photos. Upon uploading 2 large photos (front and back) of a t-shirt, I see I can add a description for each photo and tell BigCommerce which is to be used as the thumbnail.
There’s also a YouTube video section where I can paste a URL to a video that’s on YouTube, or I can search YouTube. I’ll find a Maru video and paste that in there. Who doesn’t like Maru?
c. Preview Product:
I’m eager to see how my new product looks, so I save that and go check it out. I navigate to the Men’s category, which is where I told BigCommerce to put my Unicorn Crest T-Shirt and I see BigCommerce has generated a thumbnail from the large image I uploaded. If I mouse-over the thumbnail, there’s a QuickView feature, but if I click on the thumbnail that’s not covered by the QuickView box, or if I click on the product name, I can view the product on the product detail page. On the product page, there’s an Add to Wishlist button beside the Add to Cart button. Apparently BigCommerce has a built-in Wish list feature. That’s nice. Below the product image are two thumbnails. When I mouse-over the large image, I can see a photo in more detail – a zoomed-in feature. Also on the product page is Product Reviews, Similar Products by Category, and Related Products. These are collapsible.
Going into the Inventory tab, I see I can track this product. Pretty straight-forward.
There’s also global inventory settings:
The Options tab is where attributes are, such as Colors or Sizes. Also on that page, I can tell BigCommerce where to display the attributes – to the right of the product or below it. Default is to the right, so I’ll leave that. There appears to be 3 ways you can create options:
- Create options (create options such as sizes and colors)
- Group options into a set (create an option set, such as Apparel and add options to it)
- Apply set to products (on the add a product page, add the Apparel option set to the product)
There’s also two links to videos on the Options page so you can learn about them.
I’m actually a little confused by the Options page. I tried a couple times to get it to work without success. I’ll checkout their video tutorials sometime. I’m going to move-on to Custom Fields.
f. Custom Fields:
There, you can create new custom fields, for example a manufacturer’s suggested retail price. I added a MSRP field to my Unicorn T-Shirt and it showed-up when previewing the product.
g. Google Shopping:
Under the Google Shopping tab, you can enable Google Shopping and enter the item and part number.
h. Other Details:
Under the Details tab, are Related Products and other details such as warranty information, alternate template layout, seo, visibility, sort order, condition, if the product is Featured, and more. I manually related a couple products to my Unicorn T, went to preview my product, but couldn’t find the 2 related products. 🙁
i. Delivery/Event Date:
Under the Delivery/Event Date tab, you can choose if a customer must specify a date to purchase the product. I suppose that might be good if you’re selling tickets to an event.
j. Bulk Pricing:
Under Bulk Pricing, you can enter volume pricing discounts. e.g. buy 2 of the same product and get 5% off each. Buy between 3 and 5 and get 10% off each.
Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce, out-of-the-box, comes with several promotional types:
- $ amount off order total
- $ amount off each item
- % off each item
- $ amount off shipping total
- Free shipping
- Buy X items, get free shipping
- Free shipping on orders over $x
- Get an $x discount on orders of $y or more
- $ or % discount for repeat customers
Coupons can also be restricted by location or shipping method.
Also under the Marketing section is Abandoned Cart Notifications. This is useful is someone adds items to their cart/basket, but doesn’t checkout. BigCommerce can send them an email automatically in an attempt to entice them to finish their order. Coupons can be included in the email.
8. Shipping Methods:
BigCommerce, out-of-the-box, comes with these shipping methods:
- Free shipping
- Flat Rate (charged a fixed amount per order or item)
- Ship by (calculate shipping charge based on order value or total order weight)
or these dynamic, real-time methods:
9. Payment Methods:
By default, BigCommerce comes with Stripe, PayPal, and a Test Payment Gateway. You can easily add others, such as Authorize.net, PayPal Pro, Pay in Store, or Check. BigCommerce indicates that some payment methods require you to host your BigCommerce store with them.
That’s it for products. Let’s have a look at categories. By default, a few categories and sub-categories have been created for me.
Editing a category, I can change it’s name, url, add a description, assign it to a parent category, and add some seo stuff, such as page title, meta-description, and keywords.
I go to view the products and I see an option to bulk edit.
I’m curious what that does, so I select two products, select Bulk Edit, then Apply. On the next page, I can edit more than one product at once – name, price, category assignment, brand, tax code, visibility, featured, and if it has free shipping. I don’t see Inventory. That would have been nice – to edit inventory for several products at once. I’ll cancel out of there. Back on the View all products screen, in each product’s row, I see options for Visibility, Featured, or View, Edit, or Copy. There’s also 3 ways to view products in the admin – compressed, expanded, or grid. I can view all products, only products that get free shipping, the last products that were imported, only out-of-stock products, only products that aren’t visible to shoppers, only products that are visible to shoppers, or by a custom view (which you would need to create).
Exporting and importing products is an option in BigCommerce. If you’ve exported products from BigCommerce, you can tell it that by ticking the Re-import checkbox. Detect category name(s), overwrite information, field separator (delimiter), if the csv file containers headers.
You can export Customers, Products, and Orders
You can import Customers and Products.
Editing existing, or creating new pages in BigCommerce is easy. They give you 4 to start with: Contact, Blog, Shipping & Returns, and RSS Syndication. When creating a new page, you have 4 options:
- contain content using the WYSIWYG editor
- link to another page
- display syndicated content
- or create a contact form
Also when creating a web page, you can add it to your navigational menu as a parent or child page. You’ve also got some SEO fields such as Page Title, Keywords, Description. You can also choose to use a page as your home page.
13. PCI Compliant
They say on their website that they’ve been PCI Compliant since 2011. Great!
BigCommerce has a built-in blog feature. It has an area where you can enter the body of your blog post. That includes a toolbar for formatting your text, uploading an image or video, etc. For SEO, you can add a meta-description, post URL, and tags. It lists Published posts separately from Draft posts.
15. Email Marketing (Newsletter)
BigCommerce comes with an option to integrate your store with 1 of 4 well-known email marketing services:
- Constant Contact
Minutes after starting my free 14-day trial of BigCommerce, I got a call from a sales rep. That was nice.
Briefly browsing their forum, I found lots of people asking questions and providing answers, so that’s good to see.
Support documents and live chat is found at https://support.bigcommerce.com/
BigCommerce is what they call a ‘hosted’ system, meaning they host your website. If your website is currently hosted by someone else, for example HostGator, you can’t have BigCommerce. Personally, I don’t like being tied down like that. Their hosting plans are at $29, $79, and $199/mo depending upon storage space, number of API calls made/hr, abandoned cart automation, more.
18. Other Built-in Features:
- Live Chat (requires 3rd party service such as LivePerson, Olark, other.)
- Comments (built-in, Disqus, IntenseDebate)
- Gift Wrapping
- Accounting software connecting (QuickBooks, monsoon, saasu, xero, FreshBooks, MYOB)
- Merchant Notifications (email or SMS text – requires SMSGlobal account)
BigCommerce seems to be tailored to the store owner and not the developer. Even though BigCommerce comes with the standard set of commonly used, and expected, discount types (which you can’t after), even though you can change the theme from within the admin, edit HTML and CSS coding from within the admin, edit the home page carousel without coding, add social media links, and connect to your accounting software – as nice as those features are, it’s a big deal that you don’t have access to the php coding, or database, or FTP. This seriously limits BigCommerce. That means, you better be happy with what BigCommerce comes with. By comparison, Miva Merchant gives you FTP access, MivaScript coding access, and database access.
BigCommerce – BigLimitations.