25 min read

Headless Shopify vs Headless BigCommerce

Is Shopify or BigCommerce better for a headless store? Both platforms have roughly the same features.

Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson

Is Shopify or BigCommerce better for a headless store? Both platforms have roughly the same features. They’ve both invested development resources into supporting headless setups. Shopify has a much bigger user base and boasts many huge multinational eCommerce brands on its list. BigCommerce, on the other hand, has specifically implemented the option to move headless without needing to subscribe to a plan priced for larger companies.

The short answer is they’re both great platforms and make excellent headless solutions. If you want to check out a couple of examples of each platform in action, you can see them below:

FreshOnline. This is a store we created using Shopify, Prismic CMS and Gatsby.

ACME Storefront. This is Storyblok’s BigCommerce and Next.js demo.

Before we get too deep, if you’re investigating headless eCommerce options, but you’re still not 100% sure how it works, we’ve written a short, simple explanation that breaks down what headless eCommerce is in simple terms.

Let’s dig a little deeper into how each platform suits the headless eCommerce architecture.

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    Headless Shopify

    Shopify lends itself nicely to a headless setup. The Shopify storefront API is mature, well documented and accessible from a single endpoint which simplifies development. There are plenty of “starter” projects available on Github for integrating Shopify’s API with websites, eCommerce stores and even games.

    On Shopify Lite, Shopify Basic, Shopify or Shopify Advanced plans, your store gets access to most of the storefront API. In most cases, the default access to Shopify’s API will be enough for an excellent solution.

    The restricted parts of the API are gift cards, staff accounts, and “multipass”. These features can all be unlocked by upgrading to Shopify Plus.

    Most stores can get away without access to gift cards or their staff accounts through the API. The multistore is more of a problem. This feature allows user account information (i.e. purchases, settings, account details) to be shared across domains. Since regular Shopify plans force checkout to happen on Shopify’s domain, and headless stores use their own domain, there’s no way for your headless store to know the user’s purchase was made successfully. Similarly, there’s no way for Shopify to pre-fill the user’s details if they’ve already created an account on the site.

    This limitation boils down to users not seeing their past purchases and filling in their full details every time they make a purchase.

    You can overcome these problems by upgrading to Shopify Plus.

    Having to upgrade to solve these problems brings us to the first and only defining downside of using Shopify as the eCommerce engine in a headless store - paying $2,000 a month for a subscription. This price tag doesn’t phase retailers pulling in over $2 million a year, and they’re the businesses Shopify is targeting.

    Unlocking Shopify Plus also means your store can sell products in different currencies. This feature is desirable for plenty of larger companies pushing an international market, but it’s arguably more important for small to medium retailers in Europe.

    We’ve recently been consulting with a couple of European brands that aren’t quite ready to pay $2,000 a month but need to sell their products in different currencies because they’re surrounded by other countries that make up their target market.

    Along the same lines of multicurrency, Shopify integrates with a wide range of payment providers. It also has its own payment gateway, Shopify Payments, which Stripe powers. Depending on which plan you’ve subscribed to, Shopify charges around 1.75% per transaction for domestic cards and 2.90% for international cards. However, if you want to use a different payment provider, they add on an extra 2% on top, which can eat into your profit margins.

    Ignoring the Shopify Plus issue for the moment, and assuming this isn’t a deal-breaking problem for your store, there are unique benefits of using Shopify for a headless setup. The big one is that Shopify is a well-established platform, and there’s a significant development community supporting their transition into headless eCommerce.

    One of the most popular frontend frameworks for headless eCommerce, Gatsby, has its own gatsby-source-shopify plugin that pulls in all products information, collections, and other store data at build time. This plugin takes a ton of the development labour out of building a new headless store.

    Popular headless content management solutions like Contentful have released Shopify plugins to allow products to be inserted directly into blog content. Similarly, headless analytics platforms like Segment have developed integrations to track Shopify data through their API.

    Headless BigCommerce

    If you’re not already familiar with BigCommerce, it’s very similar to Shopify. It doesn’t command the same market share, but it’s a direct competitor and has a very similar set of features.

    In our humble opinion, it’s not quite as nice in a few intangible ways. The partner portal is a little harder to work with. The administrative interface isn’t quite as polished, and in general, the platform doesn’t have the same level of UX polish that Shopify does. However, it’s still a great solution and a completely viable headless solution.

    Over the past couple of years, BigCommerce has been pushing its API first approach and providing resources to support the development community in adopting it as a headless eCommerce engine.

    The most significant difference between headless BigCommerce and headless Shopify is that BigCommerce doesn’t restrict parts of it’s API based on your subscription level. By default, they provide a storefront API that allows a customised cart experience built on a different domain.

    The only big difference between BigCommerce’s lower level plans and their enterprise plan is the ceiling on the number of API calls that BigCommerce will process in an hour. The limit for Trial Stores, Standard, and Plus plans is pretty generous at 20,000 calls per hour, with the enterprise plan allowing 60,000 per hour. They also advertise that customers who upgrade to the enterprise plan will get support from the BigCommerce development team to fix any problems with the API.

    Another essential difference between BigCommerce and Shopify is their attitude towards payment processors. Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce doesn’t own a payment process, so they don’t have any incentive to charge additional transaction fees for 3rd party payment gateways. BigCommerce integrates with around 50 payment gateways, providing plenty of options to find a suitable fit for your store.

    BigCommerce has also been active in developing headless extensions for their platform, including a WordPress plugin, next.js app, Gatsby starter site, and a handful of other helpful guides, integrations, and resources.

    Which platform is better?

    The answer to this question is a bit subjective. Both platforms provide the tools to create a flexible and highly optimised headless eCommerce store.

    It’s hard to look past the fact that Shopify pushes users to upgrade to Shopify Plus. If your store is already using Shopify Plus, then this argument is moot, and you’re in the perfect position to get started with a headless setup.

    However, if your store isn’t on either platform and you’re not ready to shell out $2,000/month, then BigCommerce is probably the winner. Until your store hits the 20,000 weekly API limit, there are no limitations to building a perfectly tailored headless BigCommerce powered store.

    If you’re interested in talking about what’s involved in turning your store headless, you’ve still got questions, or you’d just like a quote, please drop our team a line on our contact us page!

    Written by
    Tim Davidson

    Tim Davidson

    Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!

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