Choosing an ecommerce platform is a big decision for any ecommerce business, but especially those at enterprise level. It’s an understatement to say that the day-to-day running of a high-volume merchant is extremely busy, so these businesses need a platform that’s designed to grow and scale with their business and act as a partner to their ambitions.
Today we’re going to look at two of the biggest enterprise level ecommerce platforms on the market - BigCommerce and Shopify Plus. We’ll look at four of the factors that are most important to high-growth merchants, and why we believe that Shopify Plus is the better option for ambitious ecommerce brands.
Maybe one of the most important factors to high-volume merchants is how well their ecommerce platform scales. A lot can change in just a few months, or you may see a product go viral or your brand might take off in a way that you hadn’t anticipated, and in these cases it’s crucial that your store can handle the extra traffic and sales.
Shopify Plus is designed to scale, and has established itself as a trusted platform for some of the world’s fastest growing, high volume brands. Merchants on the platform have the ability to sell into 175 different countries, generating roughly $230 Billion in sales. Compare this to BigCommerce selling $9 Billion across 150 countries, and you start to wonder about where the difference is in the scalability of both platforms. Both are ready out of the box for merchants to start working on and growing with, but there are a few key differences that give Shopify Plus the edge.
One of those key differences lies in speed. This is a major issue for consumers - if your store doesn’t load fast enough, they’ll simply find another brand. When you’ve got a flash sale, a larger sale like Black Friday/Cyber Monday, it’s imperative that your store can not only handle the traffic but maintain that lightning quick load time that’s so important to the customer experience. Storefront response time on Shopify Plus is 45ms compared to BigCommerce’s 179ms, and Shopify’s checkout is up to 40% faster also.
A large factor in this lies in each platform’s Content Delivery Network (CDN). CDNs are servers distributed throughout different locations that help to minimize page load time. For example if you’re based in the USA and have a customer in France, they’ll be connected to the CDN server that’s closest to them rather than your US server. This reduces the number of times the content needs to pass through different servers to reach the users, and therefore reduces load times. It allows you to deliver content with the same speed and quality as you’re able to in your home country. Both platforms boast international CDNs, however BigCommerce is limited to a few set locations throughout the world whereas Shopify Plus utilizes a world-wide CDN called Fastly with several international locations and more still to be added.
When it comes to speed and scalability, an international CDN will be a vital tool for any high-growth merchant to ensure their store remains fast and responsive regardless of how much traffic it receives and where that traffic is coming from.
Customization & Themes
Businesses pour a lot of time, resources, and consideration into their branding and style. It’s important that your store reflects that, and looks exactly the way you want it to - especially if you’re an enterprise level brand. Replatforming to either BigCommerce and Shopify Plus allows merchants greater customization options and design flexibility without the restraints typical of other ecommerce platforms.
Most of the time, you’re going to start with a theme. If you want an off-the-shelf theme that’s ready to go, Shopify Plus has a much larger library of pre-built themes that can be customized and fine tuned to suit your brand. These all come mobile optimized and responsive by default, so you never have to worry about how to adapt it to mobile. Shopify Plus also has a feature called Shopify Scripts which allows you to change item pricing, shipping rates, and payment methods on the fly, depending who is shopping and what they’re buying. BigCommerce also has a theme library which are also mobile responsive, however aren’t as advanced when it comes to customization. The platform also has customizable checkout options but doesn’t allow for the same level of granular flexibility as customers are checking out.
Apps, Integrations, and APIs
Functionality is a huge part of ecommerce - the base platform is only the foundation. As your business grows, manual tasks around fulfillment and inventory management, and some elements of the customer experience such as support become time consuming. That’s when you start looking toward apps, integrations, and APIs.
This is where there are some big differences between BigCommerce and Shopify Plus, and a lot of it lies in opinion and attitude around the benefits of apps and integrations versus APIs. Shopify Plus has a constantly growing ecosystem of apps, developers, and agency partners that work with merchants to add new functionality and features to their stores. To quantify it, there are over 5300 apps in the Shopify App Store including Shopify Plus exclusive apps. These range from inventory, to customer care automation, to subscriptions and recurring payments, and more. BigCommerce has significantly less apps, as it pushes merchants more toward APIs.
Application Programming Interface (API) systems help merchants implement more complex tools for their stores. They include systems like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Third Party Logistics (3PL), and Order Management Systems (OMS). Both platforms offer feature-rich APIs, however BigCommerce puts more of an emphasis on their open ecosystem and API as a superior alternative to Shopify’s App Store. BigCommerce’s argument for their lack of apps and integrations compared to Shopify Plus is that their open API allows for more control and customization based on individual merchant needs whereas Shopify requires third party apps to implement functionality. However the counter to that is that Shopify’s apps minimize development time and allow merchants to do a lot more work themselves with ease. Their highly experienced ecosystem of app developers and partners allows for more flexibility and choice and reduces the time-to-market for new features instead of developing the same functionality through API systems. Where apps won’t suffice, Shopify Plus’ APIs are robust and allow for complex customization, either via REST or GraphQL.
Internationalization and Omnichannel
When you’re growing your brand, you want to be able to sell wherever your customers are. Whether that’s being based in Canada and wanting to sell to customers in Australia, or making the checkout process easy when a customer spots a product they love on Instagram.
Internationalization and cross-border ecommerce are on the rise, and so too are customer expectations. International customers want the same experience as a domestic customer, and therefore it's up to merchants to deliver that if they want to compete on a global level. There are two crucial elements to this international customer experience - currency, and localization.
Currency plays a part in converting customers, with 98% of shoppers saying they prefer to be able to browse and pay in their local currency. Shopify Payments allows Shopify Plus merchants to sell in different currencies, and be paid in their currency. Currencies are displayed across admin and reports, as well as any other customer communication such as transactional emails. BigCommerce also allows customers to view your catalog and pay for orders in their local currency, although it doesn’t have its own native payment processor like Shopify Payments.
Localization is a key component of any international customer experience. Being able to browse a store in your own language or with country specific information and catalogs makes a big difference to the overall experience for customers. Shopify Plus makes it easy to create highly localized experiences for key regions by allowing merchants to create separate storefronts tailored to each market. These can all be managed within the same Shopify admin dashboard, giving a clear picture of sales, inventory, and traffic sources to each storefront.
Flexibility in where you sell to customers doesn’t just mean internationally, but also across different sales channels. You won’t always find your potential customers browsing your site; perhaps you’re hosting a pop-up store, or you want to make it easy for customers to buy a product they see on Facebook. The more channels you offer, the more likely it is that a customer will make a purchase. In fact, offering just two extra sales channels on top of your site can increase revenue by as much as 120%.
If you’re looking to manage different sources of sales from the same centralized location, Shopify Plus makes this simple and straightforward. Using Shopify POS, you can manage inventory, sales, and more from the same admin dashboard across different channels such as brick-and-mortar retail, pop-ups, and ecommerce. This is just one of 22 sales channels that Shopify Plus offers merchants which also includes Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, with even more available via integrations. BigCommerce also offers multi-channel selling across a range of platforms including Amazon and Google Shopping, and works closely with its partners such as Square and PayPal. However, it does require a third party POS system and this means it isn’t able to manage sales in the same way as Shopify POS allows its merchants.
If you’re on our blog, you may already know that we’re Shopify Plus Partners, therefore we have an obvious bias towards that platform over something like BigCommerce. However we have that bias for a reason - or several reasons which we’ve gone over in this article. Both platforms are industry leading, powerful platforms that allow you to grow your brand without the limitations of other ecommerce platforms or custom built storefronts. For us, what puts Shopify Plus on top is that it’s a long established, internationally minded platform that deeply understands the complexities and needs of running an enterprise level ecommerce brand. It’s fast, it’s highly customizable, and has a rich ecosystem that allows merchants to create amazing customer experiences perfectly in tune with their brand ambitions.