Highlighting Some Favorite BigCommerce Website Designs for #PortfolioDay

It’s a new year, which means reflecting on all the projects I completed last year and the many amazing clients I had the pleasure of working worth. With Portfolio Day coming up this week, I thought it would be fun to highlight some of my favorite BigCommerce website projects, not just from 2021, but from the past few years.

Cornucopia Popcorn Website Design

Cornucopia Popcorn Custom Website Design

First up is Cornucopia Popcorn, which was of course fun because of the products! Who knew that someone could make so many amazing flavors of popcorn? Cornucopia Popcorn was also one of my favorite projects because it’s the epitome of a true local business. Based in Austin, TX, it’s clear just from reading their reviews that Cornucopia Popcorn is a beloved member of their community. They also give back with donations and sponsorships to local nonprofits.

In terms of the design, the Cornucopia website features a bright color palette that we used to draw attention to key buttons, headings and graphical elements. The sticky header shrinks when you scroll down, even the multi-color band that runs through their logo. For some reason, watching it get bigger and smaller always makes me smile! We also utilized BigCommerce’s custom fields feature to highlight important ingredient notes for each product, such as gluten-free, vegan and nuts.

Woodlore Website Design

Woodlore Custom Redesign

I’ve been working with the team at Woodlore for quite a few years now, and their current custom BigCommerce theme is the second one I’ve built for them. Even though they’re part of the publicly-traded Caleres company, Woodlore’s team still has the feel of a small business. They’re very customer-focused and passionate about their products, most of which are designed using USA grown cedar.

Collaborating with their marketing consultant, we gave the website a more upscale design featuring oversized photography, new fonts, bold headlines and more accessible content about the benefits of cedar. The end result was a much more modern looking website that really highlights the beauty and advantages of their products. If you want to keep those favorite shoes in like-new condition, I highly recommend their Combination Shoe Trees for men and women!

Marc Defang Website Design

Marc Defang Theme Customization

Unlike the previous two websites, Marc Defang’s new design utilizes a stock theme rather than a custom one built on Cornerstone. We chose the Covent Garden theme because of its flexible layout options and built-in merchandising features, then customized the header to overlap the homepage carousel among other changes. The end result was a high-end design that showcases Marc Defang’s gorgeous special occasion shoes, handbags and apparel.

I love working with Marc because he’s a great example of a small business that competes with the big players. His passion for design and his strong connections to the pageant community has truly made him a brand to watch.

Patricia Shoppe Website Design

Patricia Shoppe Migration & Custom Theme

Occasionally I work with clients who bring their own designers and mockups. Patricia Shoppe was one of those projects. Owner Erin had a website design in mind and we worked together to bring it to life as part of her BigCommerce migration. As the e-commerce arm of Patricia Shoppe’s Ann Arbor, Michigan boutique, it was important to maintain the store’s personality, just in online form.

The custom design includes oversized product images and classic background images reminiscent of the original Chicago Patricia Shoppe owned by Erin’s great-grandmother. We utilized the BigCommerce Page Builder to build the custom homepage layout so that images can easily be changed seasonally or to highlight new apparel and accessories. Working with another designer or a client with strong design ideas can sometimes require compromises, but it’s always a great learning experience for me. I think the final design came out beautiful!

Posted in News

4 Affordable Ways to Increase BigCommerce Store Sales in 2022

Every BigCommerce store owner wants to increase their sales. But sometimes you’re limited by your budget, whether that’s because you’re a startup or small business or because of expenses you’ve made for other business needs.

However, there are several budget-friendly ways to increase e-commerce sales, no matter how much you have to spend. As we move into the new year, here are my top four recommendations for increasing BigCommerce store sales in 2022 without breaking the bank.

Improve Your Store’s Search Results

In the early days of the internet, most shoppers browsed. They clicked on menus, navigating through categories and subcategories to find what they wanted to buy. This is partly because the early big “search engines” weren’t that focused on search. Instead, they were more like big internet directories.

That all changed when Google hit the scene. With no actual directory, Google presented just a simple search box. People started searching and they never looked back. Of course, many people still browse, and many do both browsing and searching. But there’s no doubt that searching has become an incredibly important (if not most important) part of the online shopping process.

Unfortunately, the default BigCommerce search box and accompanying search results just aren’t that great. The built-in search functionality doesn’t do well with part numbers, UPCs, skus or multi-word product names. It’s gotten slightly better over the last decade, but it still leaves much to be desired. And every time a shopper searches on your website and doesn’t get good results, they get frustrated, potentially leaving because they don’t think your store sells what they’re looking for – even if you do.

Searchanise is an affordable 3rd party search tool that vastly improves your store’s search capabilities. Installation is super quick and it’s shockingly inexpensive for the functionality it provides. Pricing is based on the number of products in your store, with a 500 product store costing just $9 per month. Have a larger catalog? Searchanise is just $18 per month for a 5,000 product catalog.

For that small fee, Searchanise provides:

• Instant search results from your search box
• The ability to search products, categories, pages and blog posts
• Customization of your search experience using CSS/HTML
• Keyword based redirects
• Filters on the search results page
• Merchandising rules
• Synonyms
• Analytics and more

Even if just one out of every 100 searchers on your website was able to find and buy a product easier each month, Searchanise would pay for itself. Imagine if a few dozen shoppers were able to find their desired product faster, or even a few hundred. Searchanise may be the most affordable way to increase BigCommerce store sales in one day.

Make Checkout Faster and Easier

You’re already spending money or time (if you’re using free marketing channels like social media) to get visitors to your website. But only a fraction of them will purchase. Even if you have a high conversion rate, 95% or more of your visitors aren’t going to buy. Therefore, a cheap way to increase sales is to convince more of your visitors to place and order.

One of the biggest barriers to purchasing is a long checkout process. Shoppers simply don’t like having to fill out forms, even if you’re using the fairly quick optimized one-page checkout that BigCommerce provides. This is especially true for mobile and tablet shoppers where forms appear even longer.

What if you could shrink your checkout to just a few fields so that customers could place their order faster? Enter FAST Checkout. Not only does FAST have a minimal number of checkout fields, the FAST checkout button can be placed directly on the product page. This lets shoppers complete their order without having to visit the traditional cart or checkout pages. Fast and easy! Plus, once a shopper creates a FAST account, they can sign in and checkout in even fewer steps on any website that offers FAST.

FAST Checkout has no flat monthly fees, only transaction fees on orders placed using FAST. And not only has FAST been shown to increase conversion rates, it’s also been shown to increase average order sizes – a nice added bonus. This means you can install FAST on your BigCommerce store at no cost. You’ll only pay if shoppers use it.

If you’re interested in trying FAST, contact me for a quick demo and I’ll provide FREE installation on your BigCommerce store. Talk about budget-friendly!

Allow Shoppers to Buy Now, Pay Later

You’ve probably seen pay-in-installment options on big retailer websites you shop. Buy Now, Pay Later services have become really popular in the past few years for a reason – they make it easier for shoppers to afford larger purchases that they otherwise might not make. Adding a Buy Now, Pay Later app to your website will not only increase conversions, but it’s a great way to increase average order size and thus boost your overall store revenue.

There are a lot of Buy Now, Pay Later apps available but my favorite is Sezzle. They’re a relatively new option, but they’re taking the market by storm for a few reasons. First, they take into account more than just traditional credit in their application, so younger shoppers like Millennials are more likely to be approved. Second, Sezzle doesn’t charge the customer interest unlike some other multi-payment vendors. And third, Sezzle works with smaller stores unlike some of the more established players like Afterpay and Affirm. You don’t have to be a multi-million dollar company; even small businesses can increase BigCommerce store sales with Sezzle.

The reason I like Sezzle the most is that they’re a B Corp. That means they’ve committed to caring about more than just profit, by focusing on sustainability and social responsibility. Becoming a B Corp is no easy feat, so I always try to support companies that have been certified when I can.

Sezzle is super easy to set up on BigCommerce through the app store. Like traditional payment gateways, you’ll pay a percentage of each sale plus a nominal fee for every order that Sezzle processes. Keep in mind that all Buy Now, Pay Later services charge higher fees than your normal credit card processor. That’s because they are taking a higher risk. But you’ll only pay Sezzle when a customer makes a purchase, so if you’re paying fees, it means you’re getting sales!

If you’re interested in trying Sezzle for your store, make sure to use my exclusive code DUCKSOUP during signup to get a discounted rate of 5.5% + 30 cents per transaction plus a 30-day introductory trial at 2.9% + 30 cents.

Leverage Email Marketing for Repeat Sales

I’ve always loved email marketing because it’s a cheap way to increase sales for your BigCommerce store. Many people get intimidated by email marketing, thinking that’s it’s going to take a ton of time, skilled writing and beautiful imagery to create effective campaigns. But with Mailchimp, it’s easy to create a simple email template and then quickly populate it with product photos and Shop Now buttons any time to want a sales boost. You can even use stock photos if you’re selling lifestyle oriented products like athletic gear, cookware, outdoor living décor or activity-based products.

Email campaigns can be set up in advance, so you can easily create a few when you have some extra time and then schedule them to go out on a weekly or monthly basis. If you have a marketing calendar, you can quickly match up your campaigns with upcoming seasons and key shopping holidays. Need to grow your list? Check out my video tutorial about growing your email list with a website popup.

But beyond email marketing campaigns, Mailchimp offers automation tools that can increase BigCommerce store sales with very little effort on your part. Once you add the Mailchimp app to your BigCommerce store, information about customer purchases will automatically sync to your email list. Now, it’s important to remember that not everyone who orders from your store will opt in to receive your email campaigns. But that’s okay, because you can create automation campaigns that are triggered when someone purchases.

Automation campaigns can be very broad, such as a post-purchase email that includes a coupon to bring customers back for a second order. Or they can be more specific, targeting people who bought particular brands with an email featuring other top sellers from those brands. You can also use content, such as product care tips, assembly instructions or “how to” FAQs, to follow up with customers who purchased certain brands.

While it can take a little time to set up automation campaigns, they are well worth the effort. I suggest starting with a broad campaign to get the hang of the setup process and then building out more niche campaigns as you get more comfortable. Klaviyo also offers advanced automation features, so you don’t have to use Mailchimp if you’d prefer another provider. I just like Mailchimp because it’s free for the first 2,000 subscribers and I find their interface easy to use, especially for those who aren’t super tech-savvy.

Have other ways you’ve found effective to increase sales on a budget? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in News

Supporting the Duck Soup Small Business Community During COVID-19

Things are tough for everyone right now – whether you’re working remotely under a “stay at home” order, suddenly homeschooling due to school closings or trying to keep your small business afloat. In times like these, we need to support each other however we can.

So today I’m highlighting Duck Soup client stores with great products to help you through the coming weeks and months. We can make our new lives a little more comfortable while helping small businesses who need orders to stay open. I hope you will give them your support, shop their stores and share them with friends – you might just find a new favorite brand.

Don’t forget, all of these e-commerce stores are run out of local communities, maybe yours! Many of them have brick and mortar stores that they’ve had to close or reduce hours, leaving online as their primary sales channel. By supporting them, you’re supporting jobs and businesses in cities and towns around the United States.

Stores included below were open and accepting orders as of the time of writing.


Stay Healthy

Boost your immune system with health supplements from top brands at Long Natural Health (Boulder, CO). Shop liquid herbal formulas for all types of conditions at Trilight Health (Morning View, KY). Or find the highest quality herbs for immunity, healthy lungs and more from the “Betty Crocker of Herbs” at MyHerbs.net (Live Oak, FL).

Hand washing doesn’t have to be a chore or tough on your skin. Try luscious handmade soaps from Comfort & Joy Apothecary (Stony Point, NY) or Chasworth Farm (Saint Albans, VT). Both shops also offer a variety of other body care products and even soap samplers to keep things interesting!

Treat Yourself or Loved Ones

Need something to snack on while you’re working from home? Try gourmet popcorn from Cornucopia Popcorn (Austin, TX) or My Popcorn Junkie (Orlando, FL). Both offer multiple size bags of unique popcorn flavors and large gift tins if you want to stock up.

Craving something sweet for breakfast or dessert? Grab a batch of World Famous Chipsticks or other fabulous cookies at Ricki’s Cookie Corner (Memphis, TN). Or shop The Challah Connection (Norwalk, CT) for delicious breads, bagels and other Kosher treats. They’re also both great places to shop for Passover foods if your local stores are closed or low on inventory.

Cheer someone up with a delightful gift basket from Thoughtful Presence (Niles, IL). Choose from gourmet foods to spa products to toys and activity kits for kids. Or surprise kids feeling lonely with a new friend in the form of an adorable plush toy or teddy bear from Cuddle Bug Toy Factory (Titusville, NJ).

Even if we can’t be there in person, we can be there in spirit with a piece of jewelry from Heart on Your Wrist (Menlo Park, CA). Using your artwork or handwriting, they’ll create a truly personalized item that will keep you close to your loved ones while we’re all physically apart.


Eat Well

Everyone is doing a lot more cooking with many restaurants being closed. Why not try out some new recipes and cuisines? Shop Spices for Less (Roselle, NJ) for a huge assortment of spices and seasonings that will bring amazing flavor to any meal.

With grocery stores running low on some basics, why not make your own instead? The Cheesemaker (Mequon, WI) offers everything you need to make your own cheese, yogurt, kefir and kombucha. They also offer a wealth of recipes and tips so you can get started in no time. Cheesemaking is also a great activity for kids home for school!

Speaking of kids – they’ll love making their own cake pops! Just visit My Little Cake Pop (Dana Point, CA) for all the supplies, edible paint and adorably cute molds. Check out their Pinterest boards for creative inspiration.

Keep your kitchen clean and organized with plastic, foil and parchment paper dispensers from ChicWrap (Valencia, CA). Used by professional chefs like The Pioneer Woman, their dispensers make any cooking or baking project easier and more enjoyable.


Get Creative

Now is the perfect time to pick up a new hobby! Whether it’s a solo activity or something fun for the whole family, there are plenty of choices. Plus, you can always sell your handmade items on Etsy to pick up some extra cash.

Have a sewing machine at home? Shop Fabric Carolina (High Point, NC) for every type of fabric and trim you’ll need to make clothing, quilts, pillows, curtains and more. If you’re missing sports, keep you your team spirit with officially licensed fabrics from College Fabric Store or Fantastic Sports Store (Edgewood, NY).

If traditional sewing isn’t your thing, give knitting or crocheting a try! Expression Fiber Arts (Charlotte, NC) offers gorgeous yarns, supplies and patterns to get you started. They also have lots of video tutorials and tips on their blog for beginners to advanced knitters.

Make your own jewelry or add some sparkle to your clothing with beautiful Swarovski beads, buttons and stones from Rainbows of Light (Fort Collins, CO). You’ll find a huge selection of colors, shapes and sizes for any project plus resources like design ideas, video tutorials and more.

Looking for fun family activities? Pick up some rubber stamps from Prickley Pear Rubber Stamps (Science Hill, KY) to make stamp-based artwork or create greeting cards to send to family and friends. Shop Woodpeckers Crafts (Lakewood, NJ) for a diverse selection of wood craft products like balls, blocks, dowels, cut-outs and more. Check their blog for creative project ideas. Or host some family magic shows – Rock Ridge Magic (Brandon, SD) has cards, coins, balls, silks and instruction books to learn amazing tricks!

For the adults in the family, why not take this extra time to start home brewing? Pursuit Supply (Chicago, IL) has all the equipment, ingredients and hardware you’ll need to start making your own beer, wine and distilled spirits at home. They also have photography gear if you’ve been meaning to put that old 35mm camera to use.


Make Life More Comfortable

We’re all spending more time at home these days, so there’s never been a better time to invest in things that will make our living spaces comfortable.

If you’re working from home, you may have discovered you don’t have enough lounge clothes to avoid doing laundry every few days. Stock up on fun tees for the whole family at Nerd Kung Fu (Oakland, CA)! From superheroes to music to your favorite classic TV shows, you’re guaranteed find a shirt for your inner nerd. Then keep your feet warm and toasty with fun and colorful socks from PocketSocks (San Diego, CA).

Stay cozy during those binge watch sessions with throw pillows and blankets from Adirondack Country Store (Northville, NY). We also love Marcel Miller’s (Atlanta, GA) collection of luxurious handcrafted cotton and cashmere throw blankets.

Doing some renovations with your new-found free time? Give cabinets or vanities a fresh new look with new knobs, pulls and hinges hardware from Complete Home Hardware (Franklin, TN). Or replace that dated medicine cabinet with a new concealed cabinet – the world’s only medicine cabinet with a picture frame door – from Fox Hollow Furnishings (Los Angeles, CA). They also offer wall niches to transform your closed medicine cabinet into open recessed shelves. If you’re finally tackling that refinishing project in your garage, check out Earth Pigments (Cortaro, AZ) for non-toxic pigments and decorative mica products for paints and coatings.

With hair salons closed, you might be worried about those roots starting to show. Try natural henna hair and beard dyes from Henna King (Las Vegas, NV). They’re organic, vegan and easy to use for covering gray and giving your hair a healthy shine.

Finally, for all those couples cooped up at home, with or without kids, stay connected with a little inspiration from Evernight Publishing (Barrie, ON). Their smart and sexy romance novel ebooks are great for keeping the flame alive during these stressful times. But to prevent your own baby boom, pick up a pack of organic, vegan condoms from Glyde America (Marina del Rey, CA) first!

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

*If you’re a BigCommerce business owner but not a Duck Soup client, I want to support you too! Email me or use the comments below to let me know about your company and what products you’d like highlighted.

Posted in News

The Best Magento Alternative is Bigcommerce. Here’s Why.

Magento has long been a popular choice for mid-size e-commerce companies looking for platform control, flexibility and scalability. But with Magento 1 support coming to an end in June 2020, many Magento customers are wondering whether they should upgrade to the “not quite ready for primetime” Magento 2 or switch to another platform entirely. And if they were to migrate, what is the best Magento alternative?

Though the deadline may seem like a long time from now, upgrading to Magento 2 is not a simple task – you will need to completely re-license, reinstall and re-setup your entire store on a separate on-premise solution. So let’s discuss why it’s time for you to break up with Magento and migrate from Magento to BigCommerce instead.

Magento is High Maintenance

Like a demanding boyfriend or girlfriend, a relationship with Magento isn’t cheap or easy to maintain. First, you’ve got the cost of hosting/servers to run the system, along with an IT person to keep them running smoothly. Then you have the cost of an in-house developer or 3rd party Magento partner, who you need every time you want to add new features or fix bugs. Many Magento fans rave about how “flexible” it is, but being tied to all that extra personnel means your business has less flexibility overall.

Magento Demands a Lot of Attention

It’s not just the complexity of upgrading from Magento 1 to Magento 2. If you’ve been running Magento for several years, you know that staying up-to-date with the latest versions isn’t easy or cheap. Sure you want the new functionality, but at what cost? It’s not just the planning and development time; it’s the website downtime and lost revenue if something goes wrong or doesn’t work quite right post-update. Even if you do upgrade to Magento 2, how long will it be before Magento 3 is available and Magento 2 becomes obsolete, requiring another upgrade?

There are Other Fish in the Sea

It used to be that Magento was the big catch – the platform that all the big players had to have. But over the years, more choices have become available for e-commerce companies. The biggest expansion has been in the growth of hosted e-commerce plaforms like Shopify and BigCommerce. With extensive feature sets, less overhead cost and no upgrades required, these e-commerce newcomers quickly became popular for online stores of all sizes – startups to Inc 500 regulars. At this point, you really don’t need to stick with Magento with such viable, and often better, alternatives.

Why BigCommerce is the Best Magento Alternative

Shopify may have a lot of name recognition, but when it comes to features and cost, BigCommerce is hands-down the winner in the hosted e-commerce space. How do I know? I’ve been building BigCommerce stores for nearly a decade, and a few years ago I decided to expand my offerings to include Shopify services. I spent a lot of time with the platform, set up a few test stores and even built a couple Shopify websites for clients.

I quickly learned that Shopify just wasn’t as complete a solution as BigCommerce. Their feature set is much smaller, they rely a lot more on 3rd party apps (which may or may not work as advertised) and they charge a transaction fee if you don’t want to use their proprietary payment gateway. Even with their Shopify Plus offering, they weren’t a viable or cost-effective solution for my larger clients, especially those with extensive product catalogs.

So let’s look at what makes BigCommerce the best alternative for Magento 1 users.

Pricing That Encourages Growth

Cost is always going to be a factor for anyone seeking the best Magento alternative. Magento store owners can expect to pay at least $1500 monthly for hosting that’s capable of marketing-driven traffic spikes and the busy holiday season. Then add in the cost of your in-house IT person, developer and/or Magento partner(s), who you need to keep the platform running smoothly and handle updates. Finally, add in the cost of 3rd party services and apps. Magento can easily cost thousands of dollars a month regardless of how much money your website is bringing in. And that doesn’t include the license fee or Magento support, which costs over $3,000 per year!

BigCommerce is a hosted platform, so there’s no cost for servers or an IT person to maintain them. There’s a monthly hosting fee, but it scales with your annual revenue – small businesses pay less than large ones. There’s no license fee, and BigCommerce’s extensive feature set may save you money on 3rd party apps and custom development.

By reducing your platform costs, you’ll have more money to spend on marketing, hiring and investing in projects that take your business to the next level.

Reliability, Scalability and Support

BigCommerce maintains a 99.99% uptime for stores running on its platform, and has had 100% uptime between Black Friday and Cyber Monday for the last two years. BigCommerce Enterprise stores even have guaranteed SLAs (service level agreements) for infrastructure, database, application and support response times. Rather than worrying about whether your Magento hosting can handle the increased traffic of critical holiday times, you can focus on marketing and customer service.

Need help with your store? BigCommerce offers 24/7 support by phone, chat and email. This means you can get assistance any time you need it in whatever format is easiest for you.

Did You Know?

  • Magento offers a warranty on their licence as long as you have no customizations. But Magento is not an effective ecommerce solution unless you customize the platform to your unique business. Once you begin to do this, your Magento warranty is invalid.
  • Magento does not provide a real-time uptime guarantee. They offer a hosting uptime guarantee, but hosting uptime is not a substitute for real-time server uptime.
  • Magento’s support costs an extra $3,100 per year, is handled by a 3rd party agency and is typically only open Monday to Friday, 9 pm to 5 pm.

Automatic Updates and New Feature Releases

Unlike Magento, where updates require costly development to integrate, BigCommerce rolls out updates to your store automatically – and at no cost to you. That means you’re always on the latest version, without any involvement from an IT person or development partner. New features and bug fixes are applied to all BigCommerce stores as soon as they’re available, and because they’re developed by BigCommerce, they’ve been tested against the existing platform. You don’t need to worry about a new update breaking the functionality of an existing feature like you would with a customized Magento store. For current Magento users tired of the ongoing hassle of updates, this may be one of the most important reasons why BigCommerce is the best Magento alternative.

Trusted and Qualified Partners

BigCommerce’s partner marketplace is open and free to join. Unlike Magento partners, who must pay to join the marketplace (and aren’t required to show they’re proficient on Magento), BigCommerce partners must prove they are well-versed on the platform and can provide quality services to BigCommerce stores. BigCommerce has a certification program which denotes that partners have passed multiple tests about how the platform works.

In addition, the BigCommerce app marketplace only includes those which have been full vetted by BigCommerce, reducing any concerns about security vulnerabilities or plugins that might stop being supported over time.

The Myth of Owning Magento Code

Many Magento store owners will be wary of switching to a hosted solution like BigCommerce because of a fear of “not owning the code.” In reality, you don’t own the code – if you did, you’d pay for it once and wouldn’t have to pay a license fee. You’re paying Magento for the ability to customize the code to your needs. And once you do that, you not only lose your warranty, you lose out on automatic feature updates and bug fixes.

With BigCommerce, you don’t own the code. You own the content, which is really what makes your business unique. With a flexible API and the ability to extensively customize your storefront (thanks to the new Stencil theme engine), you can build a custom BigCommerce website, take advantage of automatic updates and new features, and never have to worry about uptime or “upgrading” to the next version.

Migrating from Magento to BigCommerce

Now that you know why BigCommerce is the best Magento alternative, are you ready to make the switch? Moving from Magento to BigCommerce is a very manageable process when you work with a Certified BigCommerce Partner like Duck Soup E-Commerce. We’ve worked with dozens of businesses who have chosen to migrate to BigCommerce from other platforms. From product creation to store setup, app installation to custom BigCommerce themes, we can provide everything you need to move from Magento to BigCommerce at an affordable cost. Contact us today for a quote.

Posted in News

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.

Posted in News