BigCommerce vs. Shopify: Who's Winning In 2020?

By Bruce Harpham Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Ecommerce has increased in 2020 as shoppers couldn't buy from many of their traditional brick and mortar retailers. Yet, the big winners in this online gold rush are not e-commerce store owners.

In the 19th-century gold rushes, many people sought to mine gold, but most were disappointed. Instead, entrepreneurs like Leland Stanford became wealthy by selling equipment to those miners. BigCommerce and Shopify, two of the most popular ecommerce software platforms, are playing a similar role today.

The Shopify and BigCommerce Statistics You Need To Know

On several fronts, Shopify has pulled ahead of its competition. Yet, many merchants still prefer to use BigCommerce.

  • Number of Websites. According to analytics service BuiltWith.com, 1,135,446 websites in the United States currently use Shopify (1.5 million websites use it globally). In contrast, BigCommerce is used on 37,000 websites in the US (49,000 globally).

  • Ecommerce market share. According to BuiltWith.com, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento currently have the largest market share in ecommerce software.

  • Revenue and Profits. BigCommerce's second-quarter 2020 results showed a year-over-year revenue increase of 33% to $36 million and a $7.4 million loss. In contrast, Shopify's results showed much higher growth, with total revenue growing by 97% in Q2 2020 compared to the previous year. Even more impressive, Shopify achieved profitability with a $36 million profit in the quarter and $714 million in total revenue.

  • Biggest Ecosystem. Only a small portion of ecommerce innovation happens inside Shopify. In reality, the company relies on a small army of consultants and software pros to develop new features. As of September 2020, there are more than 4,000 Shopify free and paid apps available for download. BigCommerce has several hundred apps available with coverage in sales, accounting, shipping, marketing, and other categories. While Shopify retains the lead in apps, BigCommerce has enough apps to remain competitive.

It's clear that Shopify has a substantial advantage in popularity and financial resources. However, Shopify's success and increasing size — more than 5,000 employees in 2020 — may make future growth more challenging to implement. In contrast, BigCommerce is nearly one-tenth of the size, with approximately 500 employees. Overall, Shopify has managed to grow its revenue far faster than BigCommerce.

There Is Still Plenty of Room for Ecommerce Growth

While Amazon and e-commerce options may seem ubiquitous online, they represent only a tiny fraction of online sales. According to the US Census Bureau, online sales represented only 16% of total retail sales in the US, a significant jump from 10.8% in Q2 2019. In the UK, over 25% of all sales come through e-commerce. UK ecommerce sales were 32.5% of total retail sales in May 2020. The British experience shows that there is still tremendous opportunity to grow e-commerce market share. While e-commerce sales are in the billions, the traditional retail industry is still far larger.

An "Old Economy" Organization Might Put a Brake on Ecommerce

A few barriers will hold back Shopify, BigCommerce, and other companies from growing further. Until Star Trek-style transporters are developed, physically shipping products around the country and further afield requires trucks, planes, and other logistics support. Unfortunately, traditional postal services like the US Postal Service (USPS) are struggling to stay afloat.

In its 2019 annual report to the US Congress, USPS reported losing money in 2019, 2018, and 2017. Downsizing doesn't seem to be helping either since the USPS has about 4,000 fewer employees in 2019 than it did in 2017. Part of the problem for USPS relates to its mission to deliver everywhere in the country. The number of "delivery points" is growing rapidly, with an added 1.3 million in 2019. USPS's report also indicates that its pricing is far lower than other developed countries, including France, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Digital Sales and New Shipping Point the Way Forward

While Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and other platforms may compete with each other on innovation and talent, their growth potential lies elsewhere. Over 80% of US retail sales do not occur through ecommerce. Moving more retail sales to the online world remains the number one opportunity.

The next best opportunity lies in obtaining more digital sales where there is no requirement to maintain costly physical infrastructure. For example, Apple’s services segment — which includes digital product sales — were up 14% from the prior year in Q3 2020, while iPhone sales only increased by about 1% in the period. By selling more digital products — including 10 million Apple TV+ subscribers, the company is reducing its dependence on shipping and traditional Apple retail stores.

Amazon has also shown its logistics success, which extends beyond the warehouse. As of mid-2020, Amazon is delivering two-thirds of its packages in the United States. We may see Shopify and WooCommerce develop similar capabilities to remain competitive.

About the Author


Headshot of Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book "Project Managers At Work" shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.

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