Online entrepreneurs can count themselves lucky that they’re doing business in an era where they’re so spoiled for choice. The low barrier to entry in eCommerce together with the large variety of software available for free or modest fees means there’s a solution for every business need. This time we’ll examine Magento and BigCommerce.

The biggest difference between the two is that Magento is an installed app, while BigCommerce is a cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) app. This means that to run Magento, you need at least a website from a web host that does Magento hosting. All you need to run BigCommerce is a web browser.

Running a store in the cloud…

The perks of running BigCommerce are immediately evident. Access your online business storefront from anywhere using any device. Create multiple users accounts for your remote team and a full set-up to run your online business right out of the box. You can’t get more convenient than that.

For a modest monthly fee, BigCommerce offers an experience, not unlike many online vendor kiosk sites like eBay, Etsy, or Shopify. There are no hassles as with running a hosted website. All the headaches of upgrades, security, plug-in compatibility, infrastructure, and third-party integration are taken care of for you. You can go from nothing to being business-ready in a day’s time.

However, there are some drawbacks to BigCommerce. As with many cloud-based SaaS, your business is never fully in your hands. Instead, you’re beholden to a third party, who may change features later without warning. Cloud-based SaaS doesn’t scale well with business growth. And of course, BigCommerce is just the online store – your marketing, promotion, customer service amenities, and customer outreach needs might be better met elsewhere.

If your business needs can be met with nothing more than some social media promotion and an online retail kiosk, you’re good to go with BigCommerce. The service does include some modest CMS (Content Management System) support for blog content with SEO and email marketing features, but on the whole, it’s a small package that can quickly feel cramped for some industries or with business maturity down the line.

Your own store on the web…

Magento is an open-source online store application that installs on your website. It comes free of charge for the base software, with an optional paid service for Magento Commerce, which offers support services.

Web hosting is typically cheaper than paying monthly fees for individual cloud services, and if you need more functionality, you can combine several open source applications onto one web host for a full-stack online business. Magento’s interface is easy to use and customized design templates and plug-ins are available, making an experience that will feel very familiar to anybody who’s run WordPress.

However, as the old saying goes, “open source is free only if your time is cheap.” Sure, you can do all the work of set-up, installation, customization, and maintenance yourself, but it takes time to manage a website. You’ll likely want to add WordPress for CMS / SEO / marketing, or perhaps Drupal or Joomla for more advanced multimedia content. Between all of these running together on one website, there will be almost nothing you can’t do and no product or service you can’t sell, but with an obvious maintenance overhead. If your team has the manpower already, the overhead is no issue.

If you have an established online business or need to get started with more functionality, Magento is more than up to the task. There is always the option of the paid Commerce package if you need the extra support.

How they measure up…

Both Magento and BigCommerce offer standard eCommerce features, including:

  • Shipping support
  • Payment processing
  • Business analytics
  • Customizable design
  • Integration with major commerce software and eCommerce services
  • Some marketing support

Magento comes with many more features out of the box and more in some 5K+ available third-party plug-ins. Some of the noted Magento features are integration with global shipping carriers, more customizable promotional services such as coupon codes and promotional email notifications, and unlimited multi-store functionality. Plus Magento has an outstanding community thanks to its large market share.

BigCommerce wins on smaller business uses, ease of use, and is a simpler solution for sole proprietors. It does include an impressive array of features for a SaaS store, so small retailers selling in a narrow niche will never feel limited. BigCommerce even has its own tight community for support.