Upgrade to Stencil – Benefits and Things to Know Before Switching

You’ve probably been hearing about Stencil themes lately. You may have been told to upgrade by a BigCommerce support rep when you called in for help. Or you may have received an email from BigCommerce suggesting you make the switch. If you’re active in the BigCommerce Community, you’ve probably also see a lot of questions from merchants using Stencil themes. But you’re probably wondering – why should I upgrade to Stencil?

There are lots of reasons to upgrade to Stencil, but there are even more benefits for stores that are on very old themes. BigCommerce websites with a separate mobile theme have the most reason to upgrade to Stencil, because they’ll be moving to a responsive theme – one where the design adapts to the screen size instead of having a different mobile experience. Since Google prefers responsive designs and is starting to base your rankings on the mobile experience, upgrading to a responsive Stencil theme can have a significant positive impact on your search engine rankings.

Below I’ve listed the primary reasons to upgrade to Stencil. As BigCommerce releases new features for Stencil themes, this list will grow, so check back later if you’re not quite ready to make the switch yet.

Reasons to Upgrade to Stencil

  • Responsive design (benefits older websites with a separate mobile template)
  • Built-in Customize menu that allows you to modify the design without coding
  • New theme options like restricting purchase to login and showing product price ranges
  • Ability to use “if/then” statements, which give your designer more flexibility in customizing your design and displaying content
  • Optimized code to make pages load faster
  • Ability to enable Google AMP, which makes page load quick for mobile users
  • Access to Akamai image caching to speed page load times
  • Improved schema markup so Google can index and display your product pages better
  • Customizable optimized one-page checkout (shown to increase conversion rates)
  • More attractive icons for social media and payment methods
  • Fixes/improvements to some functionality that didn’t work well on Blueprint themes
  • Access to new features and functionality that BigCommerce releases in the future

All of these benefits can lead to more traffic, higher conversion rates and increased sales.

With all that’s good about upgrading to Stencil, you should be aware that Stencil themes do come with additional maintenance costs. You won’t see this talked about much on BigCommerce’s website or hear about it when a tech support rep encourages you to make the switch. Many BigCommerce partners never mention theme updates when they quote you for your BigCommerce web design project. But it’s an important consideration.

Stencil Updates and Associated Costs

Because of how Stencil themes are built, it’s not easy to update a customized Stencil theme. When you purchase a Stencil theme and apply it to your store, you’ll have access to the built-in Customize menu, which gives you a good amount of control over the design. But what if you want to make further changes?

Let’s say you make your own products, so the concept of “brands” doesn’t apply. But your theme has a column in the footer for Brands and you want to remove that. You can disable brands in the Customize menu, but now you’ve got an empty space in the footer, which you’d prefer to use for your Social Media icons. To make that change, you (or your designer) will need to edit the theme files. But to edit the theme files, you have to make a copy of your base theme first. No big deal, right?

BigCommerce and theme designers release updates on a regular basis. These updates include bug fixes, code updates and new code to support features that BigCommerce has released. You can see release notes for all Stencil themes on the BigCommerce website here.

When those updates are pushed out, they’re only applied to the base theme. If you’ve copied your base theme so you or your designer could edit the theme files, your theme copy won’t get those updates. So when BigCommerce says that Stencil themes receive automatic updates, that’s true – but only if you haven’t made a copy. So how do you keep your theme updated?

Updating a copied theme is a fairly time-intensive process. It involves updating the base theme, then re-applying all the changes you made to your theme copy. Depending on how much customization you’ve done on your theme, this process will take at least a few hours. If you’re code-savvy, you may be able to handle this update process yourself. But for many store owners, the easiest way to keep their theme current is hiring a BigCommerce partner to do the updates for them. The cost will depend on the complexity of the code updates to the base theme as well as how much customization you’ve done to your theme copy.

The Stencil theme update process isn’t a reason not to upgrade to Stencil, but it’s worth considering as you decide whether to make the switch. Many store owners are using custom Stencil themes, so this situation is not uncommon. Part of the benefit of upgrading to Stencil is that your theme will receive new features that BigCommerce releases in the future. But you’ll need to pay a developer to update your customized theme if you want access to those features.

If you don’t have the budget for theme updates, you may want to stick with your Blueprint theme. Or you can upgrade to Stencil for the current benefits and not worry about future releases. If you’re on an older theme, upgrading to Stencil may be worth it even if you never update your theme in the future. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether an upgrade to Stencil is the right decision for your business.

If you’re considering an upgrade to Stencil, make sure you work with a certified BigCommerce partner and make sure to ask them about theme updates. Some may charge an ongoing maintenance fee to cover theme updates, others may do them quarterly or only when requested. It’s good to know all the implications of your upgrade to Stencil up-front so you can make an informed choice.

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E-Commerce Spring Cleaning: 5 Tips to Refresh and Renew Your Online Store

Update Your Imagery

When was the last time you updated your homepage carousel banners? Or changed your featured products? Does your Facebook or Twitter page still have the original cover image you uploaded when you created those accounts? Now is the time to update your high-visibility photos and images to give your brand an instant new look and re-engage returning customers and social media fans.

Clear Out Old Inventory

The more products you have, the more difficult it is for shoppers to find the item they want to buy. De-clutter your category, search and brand pages by removing poorly-selling of low inventory products from their primary category, marking down their price and adding them to a Sale or Clearance section. You can use your BigCommerce store’s built-in reports or Google Analytics to identify products that either don’t sell very often or get a lot of traffic without any conversions. Clearing out products frees up dollars to invest in new inventory and will save larger stores valuable shelf space.

Refresh Content and Meta Tags for SEO

It’s no secret that search engines like fresh content. Make a plan to rewrite any text content on your homepage and category pages so that Google will re-evaluate your website’s organic value and relevance. I also suggest updating meta titles and keywords for major pages like your homepage, category pages, brand pages (if you use them) and top-selling product pages. When you’re done, make sure to login to your Google Console (Google Webmaster Tools) and resubmit your sitemap so that Google knows to come check out your new content.

Scrub Your Email List

If you do a lot of email marketing, it’s worth scrubbing your list of un-engaged subscribers every so often. Over time, some customers will stop opening your emails but won’t bother to unsubscribe, while others will change their email addresses, leaving you with ghost subscribers. This dilutes your open and click-thru statistics, making it more difficult to measure and compare campaign results. Most email providers allow you to search for un-engaged subscribers or create segments of subscribers who haven’t opened any emails for a period of time. If you’re hesitant to remove them from your list entirely, you can move them to a separate list that you target only for important messages like holiday sales.

Toss Out Bad Strategies

If you’re like me, you’re always testing new strategies, new marketing channels and new apps. If they aren’t breaking the bank, it’s easy to forget about them – whether or not they’re really working. Spring is a great time to review your business processes, marketing campaigns and 3rd party apps to see what has value and what doesn’t. By shedding old strategies that don’t add to your bottom line, you can focus in on what’s meaningful, save time and money, and put your business in a better position for peak selling seasons.

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Enhance Your BigCommerce Website with Duck Soup To-Go!

I’m excited to announce that you can now purchase on-demand design and store setup services for your BigCommerce website through our new online store, Duck Soup To-Go! From shipping rules to storewide banners, gift certificate design to Google Analytics setup, it’s never been easier or more convenient to order professional services for your BigCommerce store.

If you’re looking for a quick way to give your BigCommerce website a professional look, check out our downloadable layouts. We provide the HTML, CSS and instructions for adding beautiful pages or content areas to your store. These fully-responsive (mobile-friendly) layouts will work on both Stencil and Blueprint themes, and they’re designed to leverage your existing store’s CSS to perfectly match your design. Not comfortable doing it yourself? No problem! Add our installation service for a small fee.

Check out our new store at http://shop.ducksoupecommerce.com and let us know if there are additional services you’d like us to add.

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Avoid Gift Certificate Fraud in Your BigCommerce Store

Gift certificates are a great feature, especially for stores selling often-gifted products. However, online gift certificates can be a magnet for fraud. By changing the default gift certificate settings in your store, you can minimize the chances of getting hit with unwanted chargebacks.

Because gift certificates are sent immediately to the recipient upon purchase, scammers are known to buy gift certificates with stolen credit cards and then quickly turn around and use the gift certificate to purchase products from your store. Store owners, not realizing what has occurred, ship the orders out normally.

Then, a few weeks or months later, they receive a message from their payment processor that the original payment for the gift certificate itself has been reversed. This leaves the store owner without the products they shipped (when the gift certificate was redeemed), and without the money paid for the gift certificate itself. Meanwhile, the scammer has the products and can sell them online for 100% profit.
To minimize gift certificate fraud, you have two options. You can disable gift certificates entirely by going to Marketing in the left navigation and then clicking on Gift Certificates. Or you can make your gift certificates less appealing to scammers by changing the available gift certificate amounts.

By default, your store is set to accept gift certificate values of $1 to $1000 – the purchaser can enter any amount between those two amounts. However, you can change the setting to “Specify a list of allowed gift certificate amounts” and then type in a few set values like $25, $50, $75 and $100. Since fraudsters are looking to get the largest possible return for their efforts, they are less likely to pull this scam for only $100 in free merchandise. Additionally, you’ll have a much smaller loss should scammers target your store.

This post is an excerpt from my new book, 60 Killer BigCommerce Tips & Tricks for Managing Your Store Like a Pro, now available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon.com.

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Get Creative with BigCommerce Customer Groups

If your store is on the Plus Plan or above, you’ll have access to a feature called Customer Groups. Customer Groups allow you to segment customers so that you can treat them differently. The most common use for customer groups is separating wholesale from retail customers so that you can give wholesale customers access to case-pack products or allow them to purchase at wholesale prices.

But you can use customer groups for a variety of creative purposes. Here are some ideas to get you going:

Use customer groups to give your best customers exclusive discounts

Create a VIP group with a discount on all or select products in your store. You could market VIP status as something shoppers can earn after placing a certain number of orders, or simply reward customers who have purchased frequently by reaching out directly and letting them know they’ve earned VIP status.

Use customer groups to offer a Free Shipping subscription similar to Amazon Prime

Create a product called “Free Shipping” and sell it for whatever price you’d like. Create a Free Shipping customer group and then set up a cart-level discount that gives free shipping to only people in that group. When someone purchases the “Free Shipping” product, add them to that group.

Use customer groups to give certain customers a “first look” at new products

Create a category named “Preview” or “First Look” and then create a customer group with a similar name that has access to that category. Make sure to uncheck that category from your default customer group so that regular shoppers can’t access it. Then use whatever promotional method you want to reward shoppers with “First Look” access. It could be ordering a certain amount, placing a minimum number of orders, taking a survey, sharing content on social media, etc.

Customer groups can be a powerful promotional tool if you think outside the box!

This post is an excerpt from my new book, 60 Killer BigCommerce Tips & Tricks for Managing Your Store Like a Pro, now available in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon.com.

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