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Implementing an E-commerce platform can quickly become a complicated task, even a very experienced web develop will readily admit this. Shopping cart solutions like Prestashop or Magento can take a while to set up and configure. Oftentimes, it makes more sense to opt into an all-in-one e-commerce platform when creating an online shop. Comprehensive hosted e-commerce services take a lot of the headache out of the equation. This is why they’re so popular across the board, from amateur developers up to professionals.
CHOOSING A HOSTED E-COMMERCE PROVIDER
While there are dozens of solid choices to pick for your shopping cart online, there are mainly three platforms that hold the most weight. These are Shopify, Volusion, and Bigcommerce. Each of which brings quite a bit to the table in terms of functionality and value. Every platform has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the right program for your specific situationnwill depend on a number of factors. The following analysis should give your decision making a little easier, as well we’ve take the trouble of ranking various aspects of each platform on a scale of 1 to 5 to indicate overall quality.
PRIMARY FEATURE OVERVIEW
In a lot of ways Shopify is like the WordPress of hosted e-commerce installations. It’s both incredibly easy to use, as well as very feature-rich, and allows users to quickly configure their online shop as they see fit. Shopify’s versatile drag and drop functionality allows ease of configuration for your website’s product pages and collections. It can also be used to publish articles and blog posts, making it a full-fledged CMS as well as a shopping cart. Shopify supports payment processing via PayPal, Google Checkouts, and every major credit cart by default. Thanks to its solid foundation built on the excellent Ruby on Rails framework, it’s responsive, sable and secure all at the same time.
Shopify also makes branding and promotion fairly painless, thanks to its comprehensive SEO tools. It features keyword tag suggestion utilities, the expected XML Sitemap engine and a whole lot more. It’s rather adept at getting your online shop found quickly. Additionally, Shopify boasts automated backups, a awesome Content Delivery Network, and a 128 bit SSL encryption. NICE! Regardless of how expansive or complicated your online store happens to be, you won’t have to fret about the integrity of your data with Shopify. Most importantly, Shopify does not rest upon its laurels and is constantly rolling out new features like their Free Shipping Coupons.
In line with other e-commerce platforms detailed here, Volusion abstracts away the back-end code and makes site administration about as easy as can be. Whitten in ASP.NET, Volusion is an E-commerce platform based on Windows and is simultaneously powerful and user-friendly. Its one-page checkout format is the stuff of legends. Like Shopify, Volusion handles all the annoying SSL security details and payment processing for you. It’s 100% PCI compliant, and it features unlimited product listings. Also, it is backed by a hardy CDN running on the Akamai network that helps ensure reliable shopping cart performance under any circumstances.
Volusion places an emphasis on presentation, delivering a superlative end user experience. This excellent UX leads to higher conversions than many competing shopping cart platforms. Thanks to the vZoom image resizing feature, potential customers can get a more in depth look at your products. As well, it boasts built-in product comparison for easier shopping and decision making. Volution also comes equipped with intelligent inventory tracking via their SmartMatch technology. Other significant perks you can expect are advanced analytics and ROI tracking as well as affiliate program management tools. Furthermore, layouts are optimized by default on mobile devices. Lastly, Volusion includes plenty of SEO tools for achieving high SERPs ranking.
Big Commerce is written in PHP. It should prove to be quite easy to use for those who are familiar with the LAMP stack. Users can edit HTML and CSS with ease to change the look of their online store. Additionally, BigCommerce gives customers nearly 100 different layout templates that they can choose from. The included drag and drop functionality makes the design process uncomplicated and seamless. BigCommerce automatically creates product photo galleries and allows administrators to automate email marketing, as well they have comprehensive mobile support that allows your shop to render perfectly on iPad tablets and Android phones.
As the name implies, BigCommerce takes a “Batteries included” approach to shopping cart design and implementation. It can handle everything from drop shopping with Ordoro to inventory and warehouse tracking thanks to Shipwire integration. The platform saves any Abandoned Cart info in the event that a customer doesn’t fully complete his transaction. This helps to substantially increase conversions and sales. As BigCommerce supports multiple currencies and numerous payment options, BigCommerce is a truly global shopping cart platform. BigCommerce has impressive default SEO capabilities and makes website optimization truly effortless.
Ease of Installation and Setup
When it comes to ease of installation, it’s hard to deny that Shopify is anything other than the best choice. Even the most amateur developer can have a shop up and running in under 20 minutes. Once you launch the installation wizard, you’re greeted with a quick seven-step tutorial that gives you a rundown of the basics as well as tips on how to customize your site to your liking. As a hosted cloud-based cart, you won’t have to worry about getting a SSL certificate or hosting the installation yourself or dealing with back-end code and databases.
In the setup and configuration department, Volusion is just as well equipped as Shopify. To get started, just select a domain name, and check out the free trial. Select a service plan, and then go through the self-guided installation process. Volusion takes care of all these details, which makes the installation process about as painless as can be. Obviously, tuning the platform to fit your exact needs would take a bit longer. However, setting up a basic online storefront only takes a few minutes and is pretty straightforward.
Not every E-commerce platform can be all things to all people. BigCommerce has a lot going for it, but it’s not quite as foolproof for beginners when it comes to setup and installation. That’s not to say that it’s really difficult to use as a platform for your site, it just means it’s more feature rich and has more of a learning curve. Regardless, it’s not quite as intuitive as Volusion or Shopify, but anyone can work through the process in a relatively short period of time if you consult with the documentation and online support forums. Whether you’re a web development pro or merely a beginner trying to start your own online store, BigCommerce is pretty easy to figure out.
Extensibility and Configuration
While the basic, default capabilities of Shopify are rather impressive, the large array of available extensions that can be installed make it even better. Shopify has its own large App store where users can purchase and install extra modules for added functionality. Everything from printed out FedEx shipping labels to product upselling can be utilized with Apps from Shopify’s great appstore. Alternatively, web developers can utilize the full-featured Shopify API to craft their own extensions for any custom fuctionality.
Practically every hosted E-commerce shopping cart comes equopped with an app store of some sort for extending the basic functionality of the platform. Volusion gives users the ability to tack on extra features via the “Volusion Exchange”. As well, store owners can integrate features from Volusion’s many E-commerce Partners quickly and easily without having to shell out a fortune on plugins. From Quickbooks import to export support for Grasshopper VoIP, many plugins can be installed with a click of a button.
Much like its primary rivals, BigCommerce offers an incredibly diverse lineup of third-party plugins and modules. At present, there are over 110 extensions available that deliver Facebook integration by “SocialShop 2”, analytics from VisiStat and email marketing from Direct Mail Manager. Regardless of your own unique shopping cart requirements, BigCommerce provides a modular way to achieve your goals. For those who are more into crafting their own modules, the Developers API for BigCommerce will provide you with all the tools you need to do just that.
Marketing, Branding, and SEO
Promoting your website is the toughest part of any successful E-commerce project. Shopify takes most of the headache out of the equation by providing novice webmasters with all of the SEO tools they’ll need. The Shopify CMS is tuned for effective SEO right off the bat, so webmasters don’t have to sweat the small stuff like meta tags and on-page optimization tweaks. Also, it provides built-in Google Analytics integration, $100 worth of Google AdWords credit and capable default email marketing tools.
When it comes to marketing and SEO, Volusion boasts many of the same search engine optimization tools found in Shopify and BigCommerce. Volusion also features the ability to publish newsletters, incorporate customer feedback into listings and offer a Deal of the Day to boot. The Social Store feature allows webmasters to harness the power of Facebook for pumping up sales. One major perk of Volusion is the ability to embed YouTube videos into product pages, which assists customers in making buying decisions.
For SEO specialists, BigCommerce is a godsend when it comes to tuning an E-commerce storefront for the best possible SERPs rankings. Webmasters can choose from a number of different URL formats, manage “no follow” attributes to avoid duplicate content and intelligently generate meta tags. As well, BigCommerce makes email marketing dead simple thanks to its superb “iContact integration” as well as its “Mailchimp” support. BigCommerce also increases sales conversaions with its Abandoned Cart Saver system and its wide array of payment options.
Pricing and Fees
In the world of E-commerce shopping carts, convenience will ultimately cost you. Shopify can be a bit uneconomical if you’re in a low-margin industry or don’t process a large volume of transactions. Pricing and commissions are Shopify’s only real weak point. They offer four pricing plans – Basic, Professional, Business and Unlimited The Basic plan is $29 per month and delivers 100 SKUs along with 1 GB of storage space. Unfortunately, it also charged 2% transaction fees. At the other end of the spectrum, the unlimited plan is $179 per month but provides unlimited everything and 0% transaction fees. Every plan comes with unlimited bandwidth, which is a definite plus.
Volusion boasts the best prices of any hosted shopping cart on the market at the moment. They offer five distinct plans ranging from the entry level Steel package to the top of the line Platinum package. Steel begins at $19 per month and delivers 1 GB of transfer bandwidth, 100 SKUs, 0% transaction fees and zero startup fees. Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans run $39, $59, $99 and $149 per month. Each plan ratchets up the included bandwidth and stock keeping units incrementally. The best value can be had with the Gold plan, which includes 15 GB of bandwidth and 5,000 SKUs.
As far as pricing is concerned, BigCommerce falls somewhere between Volusion and Shopify in terms of costs. They offer five price plans, starting with the bronze package at $25 a month and ranging up to the Diamond plan at $300 a month. BigCommerce doesn’t charge transaction or setup fees for any of their plans, which is a huge plus, and each comes with complimentary Google AdWords advertising dollars to get you started. You’ll need to select at least the $80 per month Gold plan to get access to certain features like the Abandoned Cart Saver. Ultimately, BigCommerce provides excellent value regardless of your expected sales volume.
Technical Support and Assistance
Even if you’re an old hand at developing websites, it still helps to have some technical support handy if you come across a stumbling block. Shopify provides excellent support via thorough online documentation, toll-free assistance numbers and the Shopify Experts program. In a nutshell, Shopify Experts is a comprehensive directory of designers, marketers, developers and other E-commerce gurus who can be hired to assist you in achieving the perfect online storefront. In addition, Shopify has some of the best community forums of any hosted shopping cart platform, period.
While Shopify and BigCommerce both have solid support programs, Volusion boasts the best overall support possible thanks to their 24/7 Live Chat services. Furthermore, Volusion hosts a bevy of videos and tutorials to assist you in building your store and troubleshooting any snags you run into. Clients can also open up a support ticket for minor issues that don’t need immediate attention. This combination of round the clock live support and extensive documentation make Volusion clearly the most well equipped and feature rich E-commerce program available when it comes to customer service.
All in all, BigCommerce delivers excellent support for the most part if you need help troubleshooting your E-commerce shop. Their documentation is fairly thorough, and users can get Live Chat assistance 24 hours a day during the business week. On weekends, Live Chat is available between the hours of 9 AM and 6 PM Central Time on Saturdays and 9 AM to 2 PM Central time on Sundays. Users can also contact a toll-free technical support line during daytime hours or submit a support ticket for immediate help from BigCommerce’s helpful staff.
NO ONE PLATFORM IS BEST FOR ALL!
Obviously, the right hosted E-commerce platform for your online business will depend heavily on a number of different factors. It’s tough to give catchall advice on which system to choose that will be widely applicable to every scenario. However, some basic generalizations can be made based on the above info. If you’re looking for simplicity, the best choice is Shopify. If you’d like to find a happy medium between customization and ease of use, Volusion is the most solid option. If you want to save money on fees and don’t mind a bit of extra legwork, BigCommerce is probably the best choice.
Picking the best hosted shopping cart CMS for your project is just the beginning. Once you’ve made your decision, you’ll need to leverage the built in features of your chosen platform to make your shop a success and perhaps engage a marketing firm. Fortunately, each of the aforementioned E-commerce systems boasts plenty of documentation and support to help you ensure that your store eventually thrives. These hosted E-commerce platforms are the best of the best, and it’s difficult to go wrong regardless of which one you eventually select. With the right hosted E-commerce platform, your vision can be achieved with the minimum of painful frustration.