The BigCommerce ecommerce platform has an amazing array of advanced selling features and management tools designed to help startups and small businesses compete at the highest levels. Yet all of this power is surprisingly simple to harness. Even a web newbie can launch a full-fledged online store in a few hours following our 9 easy steps.
Step 1: Create Your BigCommerce Account
The BigCommerce ecommerce platform gives you a 14-day free trial, no credit card needed, no strings attached. Simply head to BigCommerce.com, and click Start Your Free Trial or Get Started (both take you to the same place):
Next, enter your email and you’ll be taken through some quick steps to create a password, provide your proposed or existing store’s name, and answer a few simple questions about your business. After this, you’ll have a demo store that fits your needs and is ready to customize for your business:
Remember, you won’t be asked for any payment information during your trial. Trying BigCommerce is totally risk-free. If you decide a BigCommerce online store is right for you, then you can select from several store plans, starting at just $29.95/mo. See all BigCommerce store plans and pricing.
Step 2: Tour the BigCommerce Dashboard
Once your setup is complete, you’ll see your new BigCommerce Store Dashboard on your screen with an option to take an onscreen tour of your panel. The tour is well worth the few minutes it takes since it walks you through the panel navigation and store features like sales channels, marketing, order management, and more:
You certainly can build and launch your store without an in-depth understanding of BigCommerce’s many advanced features. But before long, you likely will need to use them to market your site and increase your sales, so don’t skip this important quick tour. Also, be sure to check out their in-depth tutorials for more information. And if you ever have a question, their support team is available via phone and chat 24/7.
For this guide, we focus on what you need to quickly build and launch your store. For this, we’ll primarily be using the Storefront, Products, and Store Setup tabs highlighted below. We’ll also follow BigCommerce’s quick-start onscreen setup steps which makes the setup process quite easy:
Now that you’re familiar with the Dashboard, let’s set up a store.
Step 3: Add Your Logo & Homepage Carousel Images
When you set up your account, BigCommerce automatically applies a free Theme (design) to your store, complete with your store name at the top (ours is Bentley Drinkware) and demo images, like this:
It’s not a bad start to our online store! Now all we need to do change out the images, navigation elements, and products, and customize this theme a bit. We’ll cover how to do this in the following steps and by the end of this guide, our store will be transformed into one of our very own.
Before we continue, you need to know a bit about themes:
BigCommerce uses site templates, called themes, to control the overall design, look, and feel of your online store. They provide two free themes that have clean, modern, and responsive design, like the one above. In addition, you can choose from a huge selection of paid themes, that offer more layout and feature options than the free themes. These can be purchased with a one-time payment and run from about $170 to $295. Here’s a small sampling of your paid theme options:
Free themes let you change images, colors, typefaces, and customize some store elements, which we’ll explore in a moment. But they don’t provide many optional features to enhance your site, such as sidebars or added homepage elements. If you want a store with an upgraded design and added functionality, you’ll probably need to consider a paid theme.
If you’re new to working in ecommerce platforms and using themes, I suggest you set up your store and add at least a few products using the free BigCommerce theme to get the hang of how things work. After you’ve worked within the system a bit and have an idea of how you want your store to look and function, you can explore paid themes to see which one meets your selling needs. We’ll show you how to explore paid themes at the end of this guide.
Now, let’s customize the look of our store. To do that, we’ll click on Storefront > My Themes > Customize:
This opens the theme dashboard. On the left, we can select different theme elements to change. We have a store logo, so we’ll add that to our site. You can also just leave your store name as text, whichever you prefer. To add a logo, we first need to select Logo:
Once in this screen, you’ll select Upload a Logo (1), then check the Image Size (2) needed for this theme. Once you have your logo size ready to upload, you can select and Upload it (3) , and it shows up under Current Site Logo (4).
Let’s see how it looks in our store. You can quickly check your changes from any screen by clicking View Store:
Here’s our demo store with our logo:
Next, let’s change out the big image, which BigCommerce calls the Homepage Carousel image. We do that under Storefront > Homepage Carousel, and we see this:
First, let’s get rid of the demo images by clicking on the Red X’s.
Now we have a blank slate and can upload our Home Page Carousel slide images:
Note! The Carousel is the primary graphic on your homepage and should feature attention-grabbing shots that define your brand. If you’re not sure what types of images to use, check out your competition or a few online stores that you like. Look at their imagery. Do they use action, closeups, or thematic shots? How do they tell a story? How can you present your brand and products using similar images? Next, try taking the photos yourself with a good cell phone camera. You might be surprised at the results you can get without spending a dime on a pro.
Once you have your Carousel images, it’s time to upload them to your store. We’ll run through the basic steps here, but you can find more detailed instructions under the Carousel Builder Guide (1). Most BigCommerce themes use slide images sized at: 1200×600 pixels. Once our images are ready we just click on the Screen (2) and upload our image, then enter our Slide Heading, Text, and Button Text (3). We also can add several slides and Click & Drag (4) to change the order.
Note! You can Add a Link (3) from slides to specific products or categories, but we don’t have those set up yet! No worries, we can come back and add those links after we set up products. Nothing is set in stone in a BigCommerce store, you can always change it.
Here’s what we see as we add our slide information and it looks rather strange, but as BigCommerce explains (1), don’t worry! This is normal in this screen:
When we click on View Store, this is what we actually see:
In just these few steps, we already have a pretty professional start to our website! You can return to the Homepage Carousel page anytime and repeat the steps above to create a scrolling slideshow.
Next, let’s move on to the heart of our store and add our products and product categories. After we’ve done that, we can fix our store navigation to show our product categories.
Step 4: Create Categories & Add Some Products
In BigCommerce, it’s best to create your product categories first, then add your products. That way you can select the proper category as you add each new product. To do this, we’ll head to our Store Dashboard > Products > Product Categories:
Here, you’ll see your demo store is pre-loaded with categories. If the demo store categories match what you sell, you can keep any that you need and change or delete the ones you don’t. Our store needs 4 specific categories, so we’ll just create new ones. First, we’ll delete the demo categories by clicking on the Checkbox to the left of each category, then clicking the Trash Can.
Now, we can add our own product categories by clicking Create a Category. When we do, this screen opens up:
Here, you’ll find several fields for your category information. As the very least, you need to add your category Name (1), your category page URL (2), and a Description (3) to continue building your store. Elements 4-8 can be added now or later. To learn more about each element, BigCommerce has an excellent tutorial that covers each element used on category pages.
Note! You can upload a Category Image (7), but it’s not required. Our store doesn’t really need a Category Image (7) so we’re not adding one in our store setup.
Our store has four categories. After we’ve set them up, we’re ready to add some products. To do that, we simply select Add under Products, right from this screen:
Next we see our Add a Product screen:
And as we scroll down, we find more fields that we can use to enter our product data:
As you can see, there is quite a bit of information associated with adding products to your online store, but don’t fret. You don’t have to fill in every bit of information, but certain elements are key. At the very least, you need to have the following ready to enter products into your BigCommerce store:
- Product Name
- SKU or Product number (learn how SKUs work for your store)
- Inventory Count (if that applies to your items)
- Product Image or Images (learn how to take great product shots with your cell phone)
- Item Weight (optional, but useful for shipping labels)
- Item Description (learn how to write a great product description)
- Any Item Variations (Size, Color, etc.)
BigCommerce provides an excellent Product Entry tutorial, so we’re not going to delve into every detail of product entry here. Visit their tutorial to learn more about entering product data, adding options such as colors and sizes, and more tips for creating great product listings that sell.
Here’s what our product listing looks like after entering our key information:
As you can see, the free theme produces a nice, clean, distraction-free product sales page which is exactly what we want. Remember! When it comes to selling online, sometimes less is more. Clean, uncluttered pages tend to sell better than pages full of fancy sidebars and links to other pages.
After you enter a few products into our store, you can view them all in a list by clicking View under Products. At first, you’ll see new products, plus the demo products. Let’s delete these just like we deleted the demo categories earlier, by Clicking the Box to the left and clicking the Trash Can. When done, we end up with a list of our products, like this:
Next, let’s set up some key store information pages.
Step 5: Create Your Store Information Pages
It’s important to create a few store information pages to communicate your brand to customers and answer common questions up front. Believe me, having a good set of store information pages will save loads of time answering customer emails and phone calls. BigCommerce makes this easy by providing customizable Web Pages for your store. We’ll set up some basic web pages now, and you can learn even more in their web pages tutorial.
Let’s start by setting up four basic information pages for our BigCommerce store:
Use this page to tell your story to shoppers and define your brand.
Here, include all pertinent contact information including hours of availability.
Shipping & Returns
On this page, list shipping options, rates, and expected delivery times, along with return instructions and refund policies.
To get to the Web Pages section, from your store Dashboard, select Storefront > Web Pages, and this screen appears:
Now, let’s edit and create our Web Pages.
To start, click on Shipping & Returns, as shown above, to open that page. Here’s what we find:
There are fewer elements on this page compared to a product page and you can see that BigCommerce has done much of the work for us. The Web Site Link selection (1), Title (2), URL (3) and Navigation Menu Option (5) are already set up. We simply need to replace the Page Contents (4) with our own Shipping & Return Information. After that’s done, we can fill in any Advanced Option fields (6) needed for SEO and specific display needs.
Remember! You can learn more about each of these elements in BigCommerce’s Web Pages Tutorial.
After we’ve edited this page to feature our Shipping & Return information, it’s time to preview our site. Here’s what we see:
Next, we change the existing Contact Us page using the same steps, then move on to adding a new Web Page for our About Us information. To do that, return to the Dashboard, click on Web Pages and in the View Web Pages screen, select Create Web Page:
This opens up a blank version of the page we just edited above. Simply fill in the needed fields and follow the same steps for any additional pages you need to include. After completing the information pages, it’s time to set up our store’s Navigation Menus.
Step 6: Set Up Your Store Navigation
To do this, from the Dashboard, select Storefront > My Themes, then click on Customize:
This takes us into the Theme Customizer screen, below. From the left side of the screen (1), you can access several areas of your theme to edit, including changing colors and typefaces, and much more. Too much, in fact, to cover in this guide. But BigCommerce has a great theme tutorial that explores every option so you can quickly learn how to customize look of your store.
What we need to do now is tidy up our Main Menu Navigation (2). Now that we have our own Category Pages listed in our menu underneath our logo, the menu has split into two lines. To fix this, I want to remove my Information Pages from this menu, but keep them in the Footer, where they are automatically listed, too.
To do this, I need to scroll down the left sidebar on the screen and click Header. This expands the Header Editing options, which you can see on the left:
Now I need to scroll down the left sidebar again until I can see all of the User Navigation settings:
Here, I just click Hide Content Pages in Main Menu (1), and look how tidy our store’s Main Menu looks now (2). Note! The Top Menu (3) is standard in most BigCommerce themes and requires coding knowledge to change, so it stays!
Next, let’s peek at our Footer to make sure all of my information pages are there. To do this, I simply scroll to the bottom of our editing screen, and there they sit, under Navigate:
With that step complete, we have a fully navigable, working website that includes categories, products, and needed contact and customer service information. Of course, there’s loads more we can do to customize the design and improve search rankings, but it’s a start and has only taken just a few hours to go from nothing to having an online store that’s ready to finish of and launch. Not bad.
Next, we’ll set up the final pieces we need to accept payments and ship orders before making our store live.
Step 7: Set Up Your Shipping Rates & Methods
You access the Shipping Manager under Store Setup > Shipping. BigCommerce gives you a lot of options when it comes to shipping, so it’s best to run through their Tutorial (1) to understand all you can do. For our website, we keep it pretty simple. We ship to US addresses with a flat rate shipping fee. This is quick to set up in BigCommerce from this screen:
First, we’ll click on Add Shipping Address (2) and input the address that we ship from. This way, BigCommerce knows our Origin location in case we ever want to charge customers actual shipping rates. For now, we’ll just stick with our flat rate fee, which we can set by clicking Edit (3), to open this screen:
We’ll toggle Flat Rate on (1), then click Edit (2) to set our rate in the screen below. Note! If you are interested in using Real-time Rates, scroll down the screen shown above (3) to find and set up your carriers.
Here, we just need to give this shipping method a Display Name that our customers see, set the Shipping Rate, and whether it’s applied Per-order or Per-item. Then click submit and we’re done.
Of course, charging customers for shipping is just part of the job. We will need to print shipping labels to ship orders. There are many ways to do this in BigCommerce. It supports built-in US Postal label printing, which is very convenient if your shipping needs are simple. Or, you can use a 3rd party service like ShipStation, Shipping Easy or Ordoro to compare all carrier rates, UPS, USPS, FedEx, and more, and print labels. We have a shipping guide that reviews and compares all of these options to help you make the best choice.
Our last major setup step is setting up your payment methods, and BigCommerce makes this a snap for new sellers.
Step 8: Get Paid! Set Up Your Payment Methods
Like everything else it does, BigCommerce gives you lots of options for accepting payments. If you don’t already use an existing payment provider like Square, PayPal, or your own merchant account, BigCommerce offers a built-in payment processor that’s already set up for you. To use it, head to your Dashboard Screen > Accept Credit Cards & PayPal and click Edit:
Next, the Payment Methods screen opens up. To use the built-in payment processing option, simply click Complete Setup and fill out the form with your business and banking information (for deposits).
If you already use Square, PayPal or another merchant processor to accept payments for another venture, you can use them for your BigCommerce store, too. Just click No Thanks, and scroll down this page to set up Square (1), or find PayPal and a host of other integrated payment processors under Online Payment Methods (2).
Note! Your store is already in Test Mode (3) so you can create test orders without actually processing credit cards. When you’re ready to launch your store, be sure to turn this off by clicking the blue checkbox.
In fact, we’re at that point now, so let’s see what final housekeeping needs to be done to take our store live.
Step 9: Finishing Touches & Launch Your Store
Whew! We’ve done a lot in a short amount of time. Thanks to BigCommerce’s simple user interface and many built-in features like shipping labels and payment processing, you can go from no store to a full operating store in an afternoon.
We’re just moments away from launching our store, but before we do that, let’s head to the Dashboard > Store Setup to enter our business information under Store Profile. This contact info automatically appears in the Store Footer:
Now we’re nearly ready to launch. We’ll head back to the Dashboard Screen to finish up one last task: Sales Taxes. Here’s another thing BigCommerce makes easy. We just need to click on Calculate Automatically (1) to complete our sales tax setup.
After that, we’re ready to Review & Test (2) our store. After a full run through, we can Launch (3) our new ecommerce venture:
And… if you’re wondering if we have to select a BigCommerce Store Plan and pay for it before launching a live store, the answer is: No! BigCommerce lets you operate a fully functioning, active store, complete with live orders and payments, during your 14-day free trial. Once your trial is up, they’ll notify you to select a plan. Only then do you need to provide your payment information. Talk about no-risk.
If you need more time to decide if BigCommerce is right for your business, you can contact them for an extension to your trial period. However, once your trial or extension expires without a plan being selected, your account will terminate and you’ll lose your store data and settings. So don’t wait too long.
Last, but not least, remember our discussion about themes and store design in Step 3? At anytime, you can change the look and design of your store by changing your theme. See BigCommerce’s huge selection of available themes by heading to Storefront > Theme Marketplace:
Here, you can preview how your store will look in any of them without a commitment. Click on any theme to see a full Demo, and to Preview with Your Store. I saved this bit for last since I find it easier to judge if a theme is right for your store after you’re somewhat familiar with the system and have your categories and products set up.
You can follow these 9 steps to get a BigCommerce online store set up in a short time. But, we’ve only scratched the surface of all that BigCommerce’s mighty platform can do to help you grow a successful online business. After building your store, head over to their tutorials to learn how to get the word out with email marketing, list products on sales channels like Amazon, eBay and Facebook, manage your orders efficiently from day one, and much more.
BigCommerce is just one of many terrific ecommerce platforms out there, but I think it’s a top pick for any startup since it’s truly a platform that grows with your needs. Plus, their pricing, even for the top-tier plans, is very reasonable. I’ve migrated stores across several platforms in the past and believe me, it’s no picnic. I’m moving my friend’s Bentley Drinkware store to BigCommerce for many reasons, but one overrides them all: I don’t want to have to do it again. That says it all.
Have you used BigCommerce? We’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.