Published on 02/12/21 by Brad Houldsworth
A retailers technology stack choice will set the path for their digital performance, so choosing wrongly can be truly disastrous. Yet re-platforming is a huge undertaking for any retailer and should not be underestimated, however, it is commonly a requirement for growth – as many retailers will see small (or even negative) growth year-on-year, and will have hit the ceiling of capabilities of their current platforms.
As two of the most popular, fastest-growing commerce platforms in the market today, Shopify and BigCommerce are often two of the most popular choices when reviewing eCommerce platform providers – and more commonly now, in the enterprise space too.
BigCommerce is growing in popularity with medium-sized and large businesses, offering good scalability and headless options. Also, BigCommerce is certainly stronger for B2B eCommerce than Shopify. Shopify offers their ‘Shopify Plus’ proposition to small/mid-sized businesses looking for ease of use, a quick turnaround to launch their site and a good level of control. However, the trade-off is the limited flexibility and lack of customisation abilities.
Truth is, some of the largest retailers in the UK use these platforms to power their retail experiences – but the question remains, how much potential is being left on the table because of the known limitations.
So, what are the core differences and comparisons between these platforms? Below we review the most common features and popular questions.
How do these solutions compete on the following factors:
- Cost of ownership
- Market sector
- Integration partnerships
- APIs and Architecture
- Product and Catalogue
- Order Management
- Extensibility & flexibility
- Ease of Use
- Storefront Speed and Performance
1. Cost of ownership
Remarkable Commerce: The Remarkable Commerce platform is fully tailored for each retailer and therefore is not an ‘off the shelf SaaS’ product as its competitors are. The license fee is simply based on average monthly sessions, with tiered price bands – there are no GMV/commission fees. Build costs start at £50,000. The license fee covers unlimited use of the Remarkable Commerce platform for an unlimited number of admin’ users, unlimited amount of API calls and several product variations, telephone and email technical support during office hours, server maintenance, database maintenance, error log maintenance, third-party maintenance and browser maintenance.
BigCommerce: BigCommerce entry-level options depend on the value of online sales; BigCommerce Standard, BigCommerce Plus and BigCommerce Pro are available. All have 0% transaction fees. BigCommerce Enterprise licenses are based on order volume and gross merchandise value (GMV), and for a £20m p/a retailer, a license will be roughly £2k per month. Your license fee simply grants access to the platform. Build costs for larger sites typically range between £60,000 and £150,000, depending on requirements. Development/agency work is an additional cost to this.
Shopify Plus: Shopify entry-level options depend on the number of users and locations; Basic Shopify, Shopify and Advanced Shopify are available. With Shopify Payments, which is available in some countries, 0% transaction fees apply. For enterprise-level Shopify Plus minimum monthly fees start at £1,575 plus GMV (between 0.8% and 1.8%). Build costs for larger sites typically range between £30,000 and £100,000, depending on requirements. Again, development agency costs are in addition.
2. Market sector
Remarkable Commerce: UK Medium-sized B2C retailers – with turnover between £5m and £50m p/a. Particular sectors include fashion and apparel, sporting equipment, luxury jewellery and toys. The technology agility attracts the attention of retailers from many sectors, as the platform allows for infinite options and limitless configurations.
BigCommerce: Small and medium-sized B2B and B2C customers, an average retailer is approximately £4m p/a. With around 50,000 BigCommerce stores globally, yet only 2,000 in the UK. They have 5 key sectors which they market towards Apparel & Fashion, Health & Beauty, Food & Beverage, Manufacturing and Automotive.
Shopify Plus: Non-complex medium-sized B2C retailers, especially fashion and lifestyle. Typically Shopify Basic retailers grow with the platform and organically move onto Plus. There are around 100,000 Shopify stores globally and 5,000 of them are Shopify Plus – this highlights the scale of small stores which remain small, or more often than not, are launched but swiftly closed down.
3. Integration partnerships
Remarkable Commerce: The Remarkable Commerce platform has over 300 integrated solutions, covering a wide range of technology types. Although the integrations are not self-serving in the admin, all historic integrations are fairly plug-and-play and available with a short amount of development time. Click here to view the full list of integrations, updated annually.
BigCommerce: If the standard set of features provided by BigCommerce isn’t sufficient for your needs, then you might want to consider purchasing some apps from its App Store. A fairly wide range of integrations is available in the app store, which let you add many additional features to your BigCommerce storefront. Their App Store has grown quickly, however, the biggest downside of plugins is their extreme lack of customisation ability. Secondly, individual apps/plugins struggle to connect – meaning there is a large reliance on additional connectors, or in some cases, no ability to connect incredibly important data.
Shopify Plus: The Shopify marketplace is vast and has many complementary systems. Over 80% of Shopify merchants say they rely on apps to run their business. Each of these important apps is a separate piece of code, which can at any time, require maintenance or stop working. Additionally, there is a commercial impact of relying on many apps – especially those which take a commission based on usage.
4. APIs and architecture
Remarkable Commerce: True innovation and development agility is possible when your eCommerce platform can be integrated with any solution and data can be accessed in real-time both manually and dynamically – this is why an open API is critical and is why Remarkable Commerce has a suite of APIs which can be used in a headless fashion to retrieve and post data to. Headless architecture and simple, API integrations give you the flexibility to engage customers across every retail touchpoint – web, mobile, apps, marketplaces, in-store – and deliver seamless omnichannel experiences. Remarkable Commerce has a pre-integrated front end accelerator that slashes ‘time to web’ for new digital storefronts, so you can focus on UX, brand strategy and optimisation.
BigCommerce: 90% of platform data is exposed to APIs, and allows for 400+ API calls per second – however, data access is only useful if configuration optimisations can be made, to improve performance. Unfortunately, many fundamental areas are non-editable – e.g. canonical URLs cannot be customized in a Bigcommerce site. Additionally, Meta field data can only be edited by the API user that created the data. Meta field data is the only data where the API applies this restriction and is a very common issue. Another large architecture issue for BigCommerce retailers is the lack of ability for creating automated attribute-driven categories, therefore manual and time-consuming attribute mapping is required.
Shopify Plus: Shopify is trying to dress their ‘Plus’ platform up as a “modular monolith” but the truth, is the platform can be hacked together, using script feature hacks in an attempt to resolve issues like complex product pricing, promotions, and custom checkout flows. In recent years, Shopify has heavily promoted its ‘Headless’ capabilities, but there are many complexities that arise with headless. When stacking up the pros and cons, we like to use the analogy of it being a bit like ‘building your own house’; if you’ve got the budget, the resource, the experience… you can make a real success of it. But brands mustn’t overlook all the lengthy considerations, meticulous planning, and fair bit of elbow grease it demands.
Additionally, Shopify’s multi-tenant architecture means peak demand on one merchant’s Shopify store can, in turn, degrade the performance of other Shopify stores – including yours.
5. Product & catalogue management
Remarkable Commerce: With an endlessly customisable admin (and storefront!), all Remarkable Commerce platform clients have heavily tailored functionality which saves them time and effort, when managing large amounts of products and categories. A few popular features inside the PIM module of Remarkable Commerce include:
- Product translations interface: allowing the retailer to bulk set translated copy
- Manual & Automated Cross-selling functionality: allowing the retailer to create mapped items
- Product image tagging: allowing the retailer to bulk create keyword tags, querying Google’s Vision API
BigCommerce: Instead of having its own dedicated admin area, inventory is accessed via each product screen (same as Shopify). It’s not a major disadvantage, but if you deal with a large number of items with high turnover, like a fast-fashion retailer, it will definitely reduce your productivity. However, you can set up flexible product inventory rules.
Without having automatic categorisation tools, it’s very common for stores with a large number of products to keep discontinued items listed, or products misclassified if using categories like “On Sale”, “New Releases”, “Best Sellers” or similar. If visitors browsing your site constantly run into the wrong type of products or products that are not available, they’ll get frustrated and assume your entire website is not been kept up to date. If you have access to automated or smart categorization tools, use these to automatically assign products to categories and sub-categories based on their attributes.
Shopify Plus: A common frustration with Shopify is that when you upload product images, they aren’t automatically re-cropped or processed to a suitable size/dimension. This will need to be done manually. While you can overcome this by editing your images before uploading, it (again) becomes a time-consuming task when you’re working with 100s or even 1000s of products. One of the biggest challenges you may face when working with Shopify, is your agency are unable to access server logs and historical data. Such as if you accidentally import incorrect product data, you cannot revert (or even ask your agency to revert the change back to a previous data iteration).
6. Order management
Remarkable Commerce: The OMS module in the Remarkable Commerce platform has many customisable fields and functions, with the base solution including Bulk Orders Management, Returns and Refunds Management, Custom Order tagging, Management of Order status emails, Bespoke Invoicing, Automated Courier Tracking, Automated Payment Tracking, Manual Order (MOTO) functions for Customer Service teams and a full suite of advanced reporting.
BigCommerce: Heavily reliant on 3rd party apps like Brightpearl and ShipperHQ, which are shipping/courier management solutions that allow retailers to set up rates/rules themselves. However, there is key functionality that is not achievable – such as custom logic for dynamically identifying and flagging particular items that should be pre-order applicable, based on product data rules.
Shopify Plus: Shopify has streamlined its order management solution to consider the standard nuances of payments, refunds, gift cards and discounts. On top of this, Shopify retailers have the option to use the SFN (Shopify Fulfilment Network) – a white-labelled 3rd party logistics solution, competing against Amazon’s FBA ‘Fulfilled by Amazon’ proposition. There are clear commercial disadvantages of using this solution if you are protective over order margin and your P&L.
7. Extensibility and flexibility
Remarkable Commerce: One of the biggest USPs of Remarkable Commerce is how extendable the platform is. This is achievable because each retailer who uses the Remarkable Commerce Platform has a tailored version of the storefront, that is connected through APIs, to their fully-custom admin/control panel. Both the frontend and the admin are commonly extended to include additional modules, functions and connectors. With full access to every line of architecture code, the Remarkable Commerce agency team have no limitations or restrictions, leading to infinitely customisable customer experiences.
BigCommerce: When comparing all eCommerce platforms on the market, BigCommerce is one of the few which has an adequate level of extendable. They use plugins and 3rd party applications (or through their SDK if your wish to extend the Checkout), to achieve the vast amount of retailer requests. BigCommerce has understood that the future of eCommerce is not a closed ecosystem and that building every possible feature into the core platform and then putting a wall around it is a strategy that’s short-sighted. Instead, they focus on building strong robust core functions like catalogue management and customer management – with a reasonable amount of APIs.
Shopify Plus: Related to the Shopify Plus core CMS limitations are its inherent backend development limitations. It’s true that Shopify Plus allows a small amount of flexibility on the front end (even more so if you go down the headless route), but any integration on the backend has to work with their API. If you are using a specific inventory or fulfilment provider and their information doesn’t integrate via Shopify’s API, then you will struggle. As a hosted platform, you don’t have FTP or database access. Everything has to go through the front end or via the API. For some brands and IT departments, that can present a risk and be an inherent disadvantage compared to owning (or at very least, having full access) to the full technology stack.
8. Admin Ease of Use
Remarkable Commerce: The Remarkable Commerce Manager (admin portal) has been moulded over the last 20+ years, with the direction and direct input from clients of various sizes – this has led to a comprehensive and easy to use platform, where a retailer can complete key actions much quicker than other platforms. An example of this is promotion/campaign setup and launching, which can be achieved within minutes. Each client has a tailored version of the core admin where they request function and UX updates – ultimately leading the development roadmap for their own version.
BigCommerce: Being a true SaaS solution, the BigCommerce admin/control panel is the same for every retailer who uses it. The only difference is custom fields or any ‘apps’ installed into that area of the admin. This rigidity means the development of the admin is slow and too restrict for agile retailers relying on responsive trading.
Shopify Plus: In comparison to the standard Shopify admin, ‘Plus’ users gain access to the enhanced organisation version of the admin. This allows for retailers to use the self-serve functions like ‘Shopify Flow’, but also manage multiple stores at the organisation level (however, there are many known limitations for managing multi-store architecture and technical configurations).
9. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Remarkable Commerce: Remarkable Commerce is a totally bespoke platform so the admin can be tailored to suit your needs within the build phase. Due to it being flexible, it allows for custom rules and logic to be created to automate certain features that influence SEO, such as a product retirement strategy. It doesn’t, however, have plugins and any mar-tech integration would be actioned as a development project.
BigCommerce: BigCommerce offers a good CMS to update all on-page SEO elements within a website. It also allows you to stay on top of technical SEO elements such as redirects, mobile optimisation, schema and hierarchy. It has a small library of plugins that can be used to influence other areas of SEO but does not offer flexibility apart from what is offered natively via the platform or the plugins.
BigCommerce and Shopify Plus may be great platforms to start your journey into online marketing/SEO but they will never offer the flexibility and performance a custom platform offers.
Remarkable Commerce: Each retailer who uses the Remarkable Commerce Platform has their own unique roadmap of storefront and admin new functionality, change requests and version updates. This enables every retailer to take their own direction but also benefit from the larger frequent platform updates that every client receives.
BigCommerce: Although BigCommerce focuses a large amount of time on their ‘community hub’, where BG users can submit ideas and ask questions, the reality is that plugins and 3rd party apps are heavily relied on to deliver key operating functionality. The BigCommerce admin has not seen many function changes, instead BigCommerce focus on enhancing their storefront API (which is powered by GraphQL), so that developers can build headless experiences themselves (web stores, native app stores, custom PWA stores).
Shopify Plus: With an annual roadmap & large partner events attended by thousands of agencies and retailers to announce their plans, Shopify is extremely transparent about their plans – with many modules and functions of their admin seeing small regular updates. The benefit of a SaaS solution like Shopify Plus is you will receive and benefit from broad general updates made throughout the year, yet have very little control or influence on the said roadmap. Their general direction is towards building an eco-system of technology aimed squarely at small-mid sized retailers, who are looking to connect their online and offline customers.
Remarkable Commerce: Retailers need the ability to change, adapt and launch as quickly as possible, without needing to repeat tasks. This is the reason that we created functionality for retailers to launch promotions across multiple sites, apply configuration updates to multiple sites and publish content updates to selected sites in real-time. Removing restrictions, improving efficiencies and enabling revenue growth.
BigCommerce: The BG multi-currency features are available on all version/plans and was recently overhauled, however, the translation functionality is severally lacking – which makes international payments extremely less likely. Almost every BigCommerce theme/template is created with an English language set, and configuring language settings are labour intensive.
Shopify Plus: As Paul Rogers says, Shopify Plus is “not currently a good fit for international eCommerce businesses… heavy reliance on 3rd party sync’s and solutions…”. The biggest management overheads and time-consuming tasks when running an International Shopify Plus setup are: key trading functions like Visual Merchandising needs to be actioned individually for each site and creating promotions has to be done at a store level too – not a global level. There are many UK retailers who sell internationally using Shopify Plus (like Ring.com, Gymshark.com and VictoriaBeckham.com) – however, the question remains, how much performance benefit is being left ‘on the table’ due to the limitations.
The Remarkable Difference: Powering the World’s Fastest Growing Plus-Size Brand to £100m Turnover
Traffic increased by over 800,000 visitors during the last 12 months and Ecommerce sales conversion has consistantly increased by over 10%.
12. Storefront Speed, Performance and UX
Remarkable Commerce: With an obsession with site speed and storefront performance, the frontend developers at Remarkable Commerce pay particular attention to speed metrics and regularly undertake speed audits, to review what area of code can be optimised further. This continuous exercise ensures that our clients are providing the very best customer experience and quickest sites possible.
BigCommerce: The BigCommerce theme engine is named Stencil and incorporates industry best practices, however, can be likened to an oil tanker – which takes a very long time to move direction and generally improve. As a recent example, although the AMP (accelerated mobile pages) page type is not being fully endorsed and pushed by Google engineers – yet BigCommerce actively recommend the enablement of this page type.
Shopify Plus: Anyone running a Shopify store knows that they have to use a multitude of third-party apps. But many of these apps run scripts on web pages which reduce Shopify page speed. However, even if you uninstall an app, the code does not fully remove itself from your site and will continue to bloat until manually removed. Up until 2019, the standard Shopify storefront has based on a code framework that was originally created 15 years previous and lived within Shopify’s Ruby on Rails monolith. Over the course of 2019 and 2020, Shopify moved towards a new rendering solution that engaged a routing module (which they named the Lua routing module) and dynamically routed requests to their new implementation. This gradual roll-out is still in progress for their 500,000 storefronts – proving the slowness of the platform development.
The question of what eCommerce platform to use (or migrate to) is always a really tough decision for any business to make, especially when the retailer has a turnover above £50m p/a – as there is a lot more budget at stake, more stakeholders involved etc. Enterprise eCommerce solutions don’t come cheap and they require a huge amount of time (and a lot of people) to implement, run and maintain. This is why it’s incredibly important that you remain highly organised and systematic in your research and decision-making process, as selecting the wrong platform can have a huge impact on your business.
Ultimately, a retailers platform choice should be in line with both their current online performance and their growth ambitions. There are many pros and cons for both Shopify Plus and BigCommerce, and where one excels, the other underperforms. For retailers with a turnover above £5m p/a and considering a platform move, click here to take a deeper look at our platform page to learn more about the Remarkable Commerce Platform.