Part 4: The Best eCommerce Hosting Platform
Previously, on How to Succeed in eCommerce Without Really Trying: Joe does a sci fi podcast with his friends, and they are ready to start selling merch online. He’s been put in charge of creating their online store. There’s just one problem. When it comes to setting up a web store, he’s about as professional as a pair of Birkenstocks at a board meeting. So he’s setting up web stores in each of the three big names in eCommerce web hosting – Shopify, Bigcommerce, and Volusion – to see which makes the most sense to the eCommerce uninitiated.
To check out part one of the series, Joe’s rundown on Shopify, click here.
To see how Joe handled Big Commerce, check out part two of the series here.
To read Joe’s adventures with Volusion, part three lives right here.
In the past three weeks I’ve spent a lot of time building eCommerce stores. I’ve combed through help pages, I’ve filled out shipping forms in triplicate, I’ve spent longer than I’d like to admit weighing the subtle differences between the ‘District’ and ‘District – Coast’ themes. And now, finally, I come to the end of my journey. It’s time to put these three eCommerce hosting platforms in a head-to-head-to-head battle royale to see who comes out the victor. To do that we’re going back to our regularly scheduled categories. This is the best eCommerce hosting platform.
Shopify had the easiest page, Volusion had the most thorough page, but this category goes to Bigcommerce, because they thought of all the little things. I liked that they made it easy to change your product from physical to downloadable. I liked that they wouldn’t let you leave the products page without filling out all the essential information. It was annoying that Bigcommerce adds sample products that you have to delete, but overall Bigcommerce strikes the right balance between giving you the ability to delve deep into your product page, and providing the tools to help you swim on the surface if that’s all you can handle for right now.
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Adding a Theme
No contest, Shopify runs away with this one. Shopify not only has the most theme choices, but they have the highest percentage of themes offered for free. (6% as compared to 3.8% and 3.5% in case you’re curious) And here’s the other thing, Shopify’s themes look good. Just because they have a lot of options, doesn’t mean they packed their library with a bunch of stinkers. In fact, I remember seeing a lot more out of date looking designs in the smaller libraries of the other two platforms.
Another landslide victory, for the simple fact that Volusion let’s you edit your text in your web store’s front end. This means you’re not switching back and forth between your front end and back end all day long. Changing something, then checking it, repeat ad nauseum. This tool is especially useful for boosting SEO value. Once you decide what keywords your pages should be targeting, you’ll probably end up making a lot of little changes to the copy of your site. This is such a useful feature; it boggles the mind that the other two platforms don’t have it.
Social Media Integration
This was a close one, but Volusion squeaks it out, because it allows you to manage social media posts from your web store’s dashboard. Yes, this is not the most sophisticated tool for handling social media. Yes, there are services, like Hootsuite or Buffer, that will help you do it much better. You might even hire professional marketers to handle it for you. But these are pay services. If you’re just starting a business, they may not be in your budget. It’s not the best tool for running social media, but at least Volusion gives you something.
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Setting up Payments
Winner: Shopify + Bigcommerce
It’s a tie. Not because I wanted to make Shopify and Bigcommerce both winners, but because I really wanted to make Volusion the loser. Volusion makes you sign up for, and buy, your own SSL certificate. SSL stands for secure sockets layer. It ensures that all information passed between the customer’s browser and the hosting platform’s server is secure. Shopify and Bigcommerce take care of the SSL certificate for you, and make it easier to set up your merchant account. Volusion makes you wait two weeks for this stuff to process. Shopify and Bigcommerce are ready to take a payment before you’ve even set up any products to buy.
Setting up Shipping
I gave Shopify this one, but it’s actually kind of a wash, for two reasons. The first being that the prevailing thinking in eCommerce these days is that you should always offer free shipping on every item. Statistics have shown that many customers will abandon their carts in the checkout page if confronted by high shipping charges at the last minute. If we accept this premise, then a lot of the customization we do in the shipping page doesn’t mean much. The second reason is that a lot of the shipping process is going to end up out of the hands of your eCommerce platform, and on the shoulders of the company you choose to handle your shipping. Shopify takes this one because they were the only platform to plainly offer me a fulfillment service, right on the shipping page. For a fee, a fulfillment service will house your products in their warehouse, and ship those products when orders come in. This is a great option if you don’t want to think about shipping, which I imagine more than a few eCommerce newbies would appreciate.
Launching the Store
This category didn’t actually come down to the process of launching the store. That was mostly the same in each case. It came down to the monthly rates these companies charge to host your web store, and the kind of functionality you get for those rates. In that area Volusion takes the cake. It offers a good amount of functionality in every price range. In a few cases it offers certain functions, like abandoned cart recovery, at a price tier lower than it’s competitors.
Overall Impressions on eCommerce Hosting Platforms
At the end of all this, I don’t know that I’m able to decide a clear winner. I know that’s a little disappointing based on the ‘battle royale’ that I promised at the top of this post, but hang with me. A somewhat satisfying cop out is forthcoming. Shopify and Volusion tied with three wins apiece. Shopify is the most straightforward platform, Volusion is the most technical platform. I think Bigcommerce was damned in the above categories by striking a pleasant middle ground between the two.
My only full voiced recommendation, to any eCommerce amateur looking to start a web store, would be to do this exact exercise. Each of these platforms has distinct pros and cons, and your web store is going to have unique needs. These trials are free, and to some degree, they’re fun. Make a list of every eCommerce hosting platform you’re considering, and take a spin through their trial. Do all the steps I’ve outlined in these posts. That way, by the time you’re ready to launch your store, you’ll have two weeks of risk free practice using a web store. You’ll get a feel for the platform that you work best on, and which one makes it easiest to set up the kind of store you want to run. You’ll be able to make an informed decision about the best eCommerce hosting platform for you.
If you have experience with eCommerce hosting platforms, let us know what your favorite is in the comments below. If you could use any help setting up a really great eCommerce store, designing a template or developing a few custom features, make sure to give us a call. As for me, I’m getting back to work on my next web store, which sells tailored dinner jackets for dogs. I’m calling it Diamond in the Ruff.
- Joe Chilson
- February 26, 2016
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