SCHAWEL+COLES | Big-time Opportunities for BigCommerce Stores
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Big-time Opportunities for BigCommerce Stores

Across the ecommerce landscape, there are several SaaS (Software as a Service) companies vying for the attention of online store owners. They all tout simple administration, beautiful pre-built layouts and powerful conversion components. Bigcommerce is one such service that offers a wide range of templates, features and convenience for ecommerce managers. Not every business can afford to support a development team, and even fewer can sustain a strong development team with years of experience (good ones can be expensive). Bigcommerce simplifies the management and curation of products and empowers business owners with a strong suite of tools that are easy to manage.

Bigcommerce Remains A Market Leader

While many ecommerce companies have struggled to remain relevant in the constantly changing field, Bigcommerce has grown to own a sizable share of the ecommerce market over the past several years and continues to project major growth moving forward.

What is Bigcommerce Blueprint?

For a while now, Bigcommerce store owners have used a framework called Blueprint. While it has been successful and easy to administer, Blueprint contains inherent limitations that stymied development. Developing on the same site customers use and seeing changes in real time is scary business. In essence, Bigcommerce Blueprint is geared for users that primarily favor ease-of-use over customization and standard development practices. 

Important note: Blueprint and the theme libraries are now entering legacy status.

The New Bigcommerce Stencil Framework

But now there’s a new option. Enter Stencil. Bigcommerce’s alternative to Blueprint alleviates many of the bugaboos that plagued Blueprint. Stencil is an improved framework that offers a similar level of usability while also providing a far more robust environment for companies with web development capabilities. Stencil enables developers to create truly custom features, test changes, have full control of assets and backup content. Finally, serious ecommerce sites can be aligned with the more modern web development practices and principles.

More Stencil Goodies

While Blueprint framework was intended for “soft” customizations using early web standards (HTML and CSS), Stencil allows developers to utilize the more modern tools to develop truly unique experiences. For owners who employ experienced developers, Stencil uses the CLI Command Line Interface and leverages Node Package Manager to install, update and integrate front-end web dependencies such as BrowserSync, Sass, Grunt, Gulp, which combine to making development more nimble and precise. Developers can now use Git (a popular backup and versioning software) to easily backup a store’s data and themes. Now, if something unexpected happens while making changes on a Bigcommerce store, you can forget curling up into a fetal position. Just go ahead and roll back the store to a stable previous release.

Some Stencil Caveats

The primary downside to the Stencil framework is for those times when you want to make major alterations to a template but don’t have an experienced developer on staff or agency on retainer. Installing and making major modifications to a theme using the Stencil framework can prove to be quite daunting for less experienced users. Making major changes to the core theme templates requires a deep knowledge of the Command Line as well as package managers like Node’s NPM. If a developer is only familiar with the web basics (HTML and CSS), Stencil could prove difficult to operate. Also be aware that, because the framework is so new, updates are released quite often and store customizations needs to be monitored.

Moving From Blueprint to Stencil

For store owners who either have an existing Bigcommerce site using Blueprint or ecommerce marketers using another SaaS platform, there has never been a better time to migrate to BigCommerce. The differences between Blueprint and Stencil are primarily oriented around aligning the development workflow and ecommerce store management to industry best practices. The good news is it that the clean, easy-to-use dashboard is still there and many owners can move forward with or without the help of developers. Stencil also offers additional admin features for customization that do not require any development knowledge.

Overall, Bigcommerce has taken a major step forward from its standard framework allowing for far greater customization while limiting the inherent dangers of developing in a live environment. Stencil is a serious programmatic framework, enabling developers to create custom modules and themes using the most up-to-date tools and practices. Current Bigcommerce store owners without developers on staff can still easily navigate Stencil-based templates but those entrepreneurs with big ideas and skilled developers stand to achieve the the largest gains.