To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

BigCommerce Essentials review: Online stores for ambitious small business

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £24.20
per month, starting price

BigCommerce has advanced capabilities for fast-growing stores, but isn’t the easiest option for small businesses lacking online expertise


  • Comprehensive product and inventory management features
  • Designed to scale up as your business grows
  • Good store analytics and reporting tools
  • Useful video tutorials and online help


  • Can be complex and inaccessible
  • Tools can be basic or unintuitive
  • Limited free theme selection

BigCommerce is less a website builder than a service for creating and managing online stores. What’s more, it’s a high-end proposition, with clients including Ted Baker, Skullcandy, Bensons for Beds, Nikon and Oral-B.

However, it’s also launched into the small business market with its Essentials plans, which gives you access to some powerful ecommerce features at a price that smaller companies can just about afford. It’s still fairly expensive by the standards of Shopify and other website builders, but is it worth paying the extra if you have a great idea and ambitions to grow?

View offers at BigCommerce

BigCommerce Essentials review: What do you get for the money?

BigCommerce Essentials plans start at $29.95 for the Standard option, then go to $79.95 for the Plus plan and $299.95 for the top-end Pro plan. There’s a 10% discount on the Plus and Pro plans if you pay annually.

Other ecommerce-focused website builders tend to differentiate their plans either by charging you higher transaction feeds on the lower-end plans, restricting the number of products you can have in your catalogue, or the storage space and bandwidth that your site can consume. To its credit, BigCommerce doesn’t do any of this. Transaction fees are a flat 0% across all plans – though payment providers are still going to want their cut – and you get unlimited products, storage and bandwidth.

The only real restriction is that the Standard option is designed for businesses with sales of up to $50,000, while the Plus and Pro plans set their limit to $180,000 and $400,000 respectively. Cross that threshold and you move automatically to the next plan, which isn’t unreasonable. Stay small and you’ll never spend more than $30 a month, but if you’re making $50,000 to $180,000 in sales, then you can probably afford the Plus plan anyway.

Otherwise, the big differences come down to features. With the Plus plan you get the option to segment customer groups, plus support for persistent shopping carts and stored credit cards from visit to visit, along with an abandoned cart saver feature. Move up to the Pro plan, and you get advanced product filtering tools to help customers track down the perfect product.

These are the kind of features you’re only going to need if you have a lot of customers and a large catalogue, so it’s fine to start on the Standard plan and move up as your store grows. Beyond all these plans there is the full Enterprise version, though with pricing quoted on a business by business basis, that’s really for companies with a turnover of $400,000 plus.

READ NEXT: Our round-up of the best laptops currently available

BigCommerce Essentials review: How easy is it to set up?

The basic setup couldn’t be much easier. You don’t need a credit card to sign up for the free 15-day trial, and BigCommerce asks you some questions about your business to help you get started with the features you need. The only thing you might find strange is that the initial setup is very catalogue-focused, with adding products the first task, followed by setting up shipping settings, payment settings and tax rates. You’re not even really prompted to select a template or theme for your storefront – it’s something that you’re left to discover for yourself later on.

The early stages involve filling out a lot of forms, and it’s a little frustrating that some features that could save you time, like setting up shared product options to cover different sizes, colours or finishes across a line of products, aren’t really explained. You can find them if you watch the tutorial videos or start playing with the settings, but it would make more sense to have them upfront. On the plus side, there are a lot of tutorial videos and there’s plenty of clear online help, so if you need to do something in BigCommerce Essentials, you can usually find out how.

BigCommerce Essentials review: What’s it like to use?

When it comes to design, BigCommerce Essentials prioritises consistency and functionality over flexibility and creative control. Most of your choices are constrained by your choice of theme or template, and the selection of free to use options isn’t huge. There are more paid-for themes, but you’ll usually be looking at additional costs of $195 to $300 (per year?) to use them.

Themes are, to some extent, customisable. Most contain two or more styles, while you can switch colours or fonts to others supported by that theme. You can add product selections, text sections, galleries and more widgets where there are spaces provided, and connect to social media accounts and feeds.

However, if you’re looking for a more freeform, drag-and-drop approach to design, then you’re going to be disappointed. Even changing the font size used in some elements is off the table, while you might find your control over, say, an image background or a promotional spot limited.

I also can’t describe BigCommerce Essentials as intuitive. Often, content needs to be changed at the back end rather than edited at the storefront, while you’ll spend a lot of time selecting elements from a list panel on the left, then working with the limited options you have to change them.

This approach won’t be for everyone, but it’s also a strength. BigCommerce and its designers seem to have put a lot of thought into what people expect from an online store and how they want to use it, and Essentials pretty much ensures that you’re going to produce a professional-looking storefront where everything is in the right place.

It might end up a little generic, but the different components are going to work well together and your store will look and feel like other successful stores. This isn’t a tool for creative expression – it’s a tool for building sites that sell.

View offers at BigCommerce

BigCommerce Essentials review: Is it good for ecommerce?

BigCommerce is built around ecommerce – and high-end ecommerce – so it’s no surprise that its back-end product and inventory management features are extremely comprehensive. It can handle physical and digital products or services from within the one platform, and the tools for organizing, tagging and filtering products are impressive. If you’re only planning to stock 30 to 100 products then BigCommerce is going to be overkill, but stores handling hundreds or thousands of products will be glad of the advanced capabilities. If not the number of fields that need to be filled in and options to be selected during the process.

BigCommerce recommends PayPal as a payment solution, but will also work with Stripe and Barclaycard, or a wider range of third-party payment providers, plus Amazon, Apple and Google’s Pay schemes.

On top of the fundamentals, BigCommerce Essentials also offers good tools for managing discounts and sales, bulk buy discounts and shipping, and marketing emails and campaigns. Not to mention managing customers and grouping them, so that you can aim specific offers at specific groups, though the most powerful features for handling segment-specific price lists are reserved for the bespoke Enterprise version. These are supported by useful customer and store analytics and reports. BigCommerce’s dashboards are both easy to read and informative.

BigCommerce doesn’t exactly take you by the hand and guide you through these features, or funnel you through SEO and marketing steps in the way that some website builders do. There’s a sense that this is a tool for serious business, and that you need to do your homework. In fact, I’d say that this is key to BigCommerce’s approach. If you go into it adding products on an ad-hoc basis without getting your product options, categories, brands and SKUs sorted first, then it’s going to be a long haul, though you can import existing SKU inventories from a .CSV file to speed things up.

READ NEXT: Stay secure online with our top VPN picks

BigCommerce Essentials review: What other features does it have?

As it’s not a general website builder, BigCommerce Essentials doesn’t give you tools to showcase a wide range of content, but it does support blogging as a marketing tool, albeit with a fairly basic, though clean, presentation. You can also add static content as a Web page using the rather spartan, text-based WYSIWYG editor or by cutting and pasting your own raw HTML.

We also like the way it handles design across desktop, mobile and tablet screens, with themes designed to work across all three formats and the ability to flick between them and preview almost instantly. This makes things a lot easier if you tweak something on the desktop storefront only to find that it looks awful on the mobile version.

BigCommerce Essentials review: Is there anything it could do better?

We weren’t hugely impressed by the tool for creating promotional banners on the website – another spartan effort with minimal creative control – and there are still some tools, like the blogging and Web page editors, that don’t match the slick presentation of the other features. There’s definite room for improvement when it comes to getting new users onboard, and on making the more complex features more accessible. Some more free templates also wouldn’t go amiss.

BigCommerce Essentials review: Should you sign up?

BigCommerce Essentials works best if you’re launching a serious online business rather than a sideline project, or if you have an existing brick-and-mortar store and you want to boot it into the digital era.

You can start off with the affordable but still feature-packed Standard plan and keep moving up as your business develops, confident that you’re on a platform that can handle any growth. If you’re working at a smaller scale, then there are more approachable options out there that give you more handholding at a lower cost. Shopify springs instantly to mind, while Squarespace still wins when it comes to templates and design tools.

View offers at BigCommerce

Read more